Saturday, January 25, 2014

Food Chemistry: Fast-Food and Obesity {Week 3}

Did you guys know that obesity is one of the leading causes of death in the United States? Obesity, characterized by high body mass index (BMI >30) is a growing epidemic in our country. Here's a visual that might just scare you, or move you into creating it your lifelong career pursuit to combat this disease (or at least thats what happened to me!)
So I decided to first start off with the year I was born, 1992. If you look at the map, there aren't very "alarming" colors which corresponds with really high obesity rates. California in particular is only around 10-14%. 

By the time I was 10, in 2002, California has only increased by one color going from 10-14% to about 15-19%. But if you take a look at Mississippi, it climbed two colors and went from 15-19% to 25-29%. I chose 10 years old, because it was around 2002 when I first discovered.... In-n-out- burger. Yep, I said it... I loved fast food. Now, by  no means am I saying In-n-out is the culprit here, but... can it be the fast food industry?

Fast forwarding to 2010, my high school graduation year is a little scary. It seems as though every state has just kept increasing. My question here is... What's would the map look like now? Would there be a totally new bracket: >40% or even worse >50%!
What's interesting to note here, is that as the obesity map keeps increasing, we also an increase in convenient food commodities. Now, convenient can mean "frozen TV dinners" or it can mean "fast-food joints" or even some restaurants that pride themselves on giving you good food quickly and without the hassle.  The food industry found that "hey! people like foods that can be made quickly and they want them to be cheap and taste good!" What's the common denominator here? -FAT.

Yes, the "F" word. Fat. Fat. Fat. 

By Fats i'm talking mostly about solid, saturated fats. If you didn't know, fats come in two variations, unsaturated/saturated and liquid/solid (respectively). Unsaturated fats are commonly found in plants such as grapeseed oils, olive oil, or nuts such as peanut oil. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, for example, beef fat (tallow) or lard. The difference in saturation is seen in the chemical structure of these oils. Without getting into too much of the chemistry here, basically any unsaturated fat can be hydrogenated to yield either a fully saturated or partially saturated fat. That is, it is chemically altered to yield something else. I'm sure you've heard of "partially hydrogenated", well that's what it means... some of the bonds of the chemical structure have been given there Hydrogens back, and some still remain unbonded (unsaturated) therefore the overall molecule is considered "partially hydrogenated". So what does that mean for physical structure? Well, you would think that if it's partially hydrogenated it should be a mix of solid/liquid, and you would be right! A prime example is, Margarine.
Margarine is technically solid at room temperature but spreads evenly like a liquid almost. The food industry caught hold of this phenomenon. They needed a way to make cheap fats that would resist rancidity but would still taste good and add that extra "boost" of flavor that consumers desired. Cue in chemically created fats from vegetable oil. By hydrogenating vegetable oil the shelf life increases and therefore it can be used for more things, and it's way cheaper than actual animal fat. 
So the shift in commodities began. Producers were striving for vegetable-oil rich commodities so that they could harness the oil and create fat. Basically, instead of asking, "how nutritious is this food item?" or "What health benefits does the crop i'm growing provide?" farmers began asking, "can this crop be adapted into a fast food item?
Personally, this is really sad for me to hear. As most of my readers know, or should know, I've become fully Paleo for almost 2 years now. Being Paleo means, no fast-food, no chemicals, yes you can cook your meats (that would be gross!) but you don't eat chemically enhanced foods, everything in its "raw" form. So I personally haven't tasted vegetable oil, or that "canola/vegetable" mix going around for almost 2 years. But I on my birthday I did cave in. Yes, I went to in-n-out. What's sad is In-n-out should be the "better" one. But man oh man, I felt terrible afterwards. Not a guilty terrible but a gut-wrenching, tightness in my tummy that was borderline unbearable. My body had seen no chemicals, toxins etc. for two years! It was going crazy with this non- grass-fed beef. I know!! All my Paleo readers are squealing, "she hate non-grass-fed beef! blasphemy!" Well, believe me... it won't happen again. But it just breaks my heart to see the true roots of farming going to waste on fast-food commodities. Sure, that oily goodness tastes good at the instant. But I can assure you, in a couple hours, you will have wished you opted for a baked potato or grass-fed beef burger instead. 

I like that this class has so far broken down the food industry to it's raw parts. Honestly, i'm not even mad at the industry. What are they suppose to do? If they kept offering just raw commodities, how many would buy them? Sure, the Paleo-eaters out there are raising their hands. But we (unfortunately) do not make up the majority of the population... yet! So the industry must survive, that's the point, to provide "food" to nourish people that in turn will make money for the producers. Who do we yell at then? Is it our own fault? Is it the original fast-food joints fault? Who is responsible for this shift in the industry? 

What do you guys think? Tell me below! Answer to follow, on next week's' recap!


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