Salt, fat, and sugar have reeked havoc on the overall health of Americans, and without serious changes, Americans are positioned to be more unhealthy than ever before.
I’ve been helping people overcome their addictions to drugs for more than 40 years. When I founded Our Family Drug Abuse Program in 1970, we treated people who were addicted to drugs like cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines. Now I treat people who are addicted to sugar, fat, and salt. Being addicted to any drug can harm our lives. Cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines are truly dangerous drugs, but they are not nearly as deadly as sugar, fat, and salt.
It may surprise you that I call sugar, fat, and salt “drugs.” Let me explain. A common definition of the word drug is any substance that in small amounts produces significant changes in body, mind, or both. According to health expert Andrew Weil, M.D., in his book From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind Altering Drugs, whether we call something a drug or food is often arbitrary.
Most people would agree that heroin is a drug. It is a white powder that in small doses produces big changes in the body and mind. But is sugar a drug? Sugar is also a white powder that affects the body and mind. How about salt? Many people think they cannot live without salt in their diet and it also has a powerful effect on body and mind. And anyone who has tried to resist the attraction of McDonald’s French fries knows that fat can have the same addictive pull as other drugs.
What do we mean by addiction? When I was teaching people about addiction I told them that there are three indicators of addiction. I call them the 3Cs: Compulsion, Loss of Control, and Continued Use despite consequences.
We’ve all felt the savage pull of compulsion, that irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against our own conscious wishes. We know we’ve lost control when we set limits on when we’re going to use (only on weekends) or how much we’re going to use (just one bite), and we can’t stop using more than we intend. And we’ve all had the experience of saying “I’ll never do it again,” but finding ourselves repeating the behavior over and over. The “it” may be drinking too much or it may be stuffing ourselves with a third helping of chocolate cake (which is often loaded with sugar, fat, and salt).
Why We’re Dying Sooner and Living Sicker
We know that diabetes is a deadly disease. According to the CDC, “A person with diabetes has a shorter life expectancy and about twice the risk of dying on any given day as a person of similar age without diabetes.” David Katz, M.D., Founding Director of the Yale University’s Prevention Research Center says, “Diabetes increases risk of heart attack, blindness, amputation, and kidney disease.”
Diabetes is on the rise and the primary cause is the weight we are gaining due to the food we are putting into our bodies. If current trends persist, the CDC is projecting that one in three adults, roughly one hundred million people, will have diabetes by the year 2050. What’s worse, we are teaching our kids to follow in our foot-steps. In his book, Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well, Dr. Katz says, “Less than a generation ago, type 2 diabetes was routinely referred to as ‘adult-onset diabetes.’ In the past two decades, type 2 diabetes has been transformed from a condition occurring almost exclusively at or after middle age into a childhood epidemic affecting children as young as six.”
Our Deadly Addiction to Sugar, Fat, and Salt
Diabetes isn’t the only health problem that is related to diet. Katz reveals that we can reduce our risk of every major chronic disease—heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, and obesity—if we change the way we eat. David A. Kessler, M.D., a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a colleague of Dr. Katz believes a good place to start is to address our addiction to sugar, fat, and salt.
We don’t need to review the latest CDC statistics to prove that 2 out of 3 of us are overweight. We just have to look at our expanding waistlines. A study that followed Americans for three decades suggests that over the long haul 9 out of 10 men and 7 out of 10 women will become overweight.
We don’t have to look far for the reasons. The food industry has learned how to get us hooked on sugar, fat, and salt. In his book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, Dr. Kessler says it simply. “Sugar, fat, and salt makes us eat more sugar fat and salt.”
“Nobody’s binging on spinach or broccoli,” says Ashley Gearhardt, PhD, assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of Michigan. As co-creator of Yale University’s Food Addiction Scale, she’s contributing to a growing body of research that puts “food”—or the processed chemicals that pass for food these days—in the same category as drugs of abuse.
How can a bag of chips, a slice of pizza, or a Cinnabon cinnamon roll turn us into addicts? Blame sugar, salt, and fat, says Gearhardt. Our bodies have not evolved to handle this over-stimulating trifecta. Long before Mrs. Fields was selling cookies in shopping malls, sugar was a rare treat, found in fruit and guarded by stinging bees; salt was a simple garnish; and fat was a nutrient that had to be hunted or foraged. Now, processed foods often contain all three (remember the bacon ice cream sundae?)—minus the protein, fiber, and water that help your body handle them.
Prevention Magazine lists their 10 most addictive foods. Which ones are you hooked on?
10. White bread
3. French Fries
1. Ice cream
The food industry drug pushers know how to keep us hooked and they’ve become masters at killing us slowly (don’t want to lose customers too soon) while addicting us as children (want to develop life-long customers). That’s good for the big business. It’s deadly for the health of human beings.