Functional Health Services for Your Well Being

A Better Guide To Food – part III

written by Alex Boersma


Danger foods are quite simply not good for you.  With the exception of sugar, they are all products of the modern food processing industry. Most of them barely qualify as food.  All of them are involved in most of the diseases of ageing, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s.

Make no mistake about it…unlike the caution foods, none of these foods have any redeeming factors! In a perfect dietary world, these foods would not exist.  If they did not exist, the incidence of any of the above diseases would be cut at least in half.  Imagine how much money that would save our health care systems?  Imagine how much money that would cost the pharmaceutical companies?

Having said all that, I have given some leeway in this section.  For most of the danger foods, the bulk of the damage they do can be controlled if we make sure to consume them only in small doses.  There is room for a processed treat here or there…even a can of pop every once in a while.

Let’s put this into perspective.

A recent study found that pop and “fruit drinks” just moved into the lead as the primary source of calories for Americans.  That’s right, the average American gets more calories from pop and fruit drinks (read extremely high levels of high fructose corn syrup) than from anything else! And guess what fell to second place?  White bread!  Gee, I wonder why obesity and diabetes are sky-rocketing?

Can anybody say “Recipe for nutritional disaster!”

Keep these foods down under 10% of your daily caloric intake and you should be fine.  But remember that a “treat” is defined as a rarity. If you have it all the time, it is no longer a treat…it is now a toxin.

ingredients list

In this case, I thought a few hundred words were better than a picture.  These are the ingredients of a common breakfast cereal bar.  This is the stuff we are feeding ourselves and our children because we are too busy or too lazy or too cheap to buy and make real food.  Don’t let the list of synthetic added vitamins fool you…this is a bunch of extremely refined grain with tons of sugar and high fructose corn syrup; no less than 9 refined vegetable oils (some of them hydrogenated), an artificial sweetener and a whack of chemicals.  Eat this every day for breakfast and you will become sick.  It’s just a matter of time.


Ah sugar! Nothing could be sweeter. So why is it so bad for you? Let me count the ways:

  1. Sugar consumption decreases insulin sensitivity (think diabetes)
  2. Sugar consumption increases triglyceride levels and decreases HDL levels(think heart disease)
  3. Sugar consumption decreases immune function (think getting sick)
  4. Sugar consumption causes inflammation (think arthritis)
  5. Sugar consumption leaches minerals from body tissues (think osteoporosis)
  6. Sugar consumption acidifies the digestive tract (think yeast infection)
  7. Sugar consumption increases cortisol levels (think abdominal fat)
  8. Sugar consumption increases estradiol levels in men (think man boobs)
  9. Sugar feeds cancerous growths (think dying of cancer)
  10. Sugar consumption promotes lipogenesis (think obesity)

And that is just what comes to mind quickly.  In the last 50 years, while the medical establishment has been focusing on saturated fat and cholesterol, sweetener consumption is up 33%, obesity has quadrupled, diabetes is increasing at epidemic rates and heart disease, while better managed, continues to increase.


What about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)?  HFCS has made it into the media quite a bit lately, mostly for its association with pop.  Many claims have been made about its toxicity, mostly associated with the fact that it is high in fructose.

The biggest problem with fructose is that it is metabolized differently than glucose.  Almost all the fructose you ingest has to be metabolized by the liver, which preferentially turns it into fat.  The kind of fat produced and some of the other products of fructose metabolism are highly associated with heart disease.  The process is also quite toxic to the liver, causing a condition known as non alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Basically, fructose follows much the same pathway in the liver as alcohol, with all the same toxicity.

Another problem with fructose is that it seems to interfere with leptin, a hormone which signals satiety.  Because of this, it is thought that fructose consumption is at least partly responsible for overeating and may be a key player in the epidemic of obesity we are experiencing.

Where the confusion arises, though, is in claims that HFCS is worse for you than old fashioned sugar, otherwise known as sucrose.  The truth is, sugar is composed of 50% fructose and 50% glucose.  HFCS is composed of 55% fructose and 45% glucose.  So yes, HFCS has about 10% more fructose in it which will produce 10% more of the toxic effects mentioned above.  Most studies, though, have shown little difference between the effects of sucrose consumption and HFCS consumption.

The real problem with HFCS is that it is cheaper and easier to use in processed food.

It also is often misconstrued as healthy because of its association with fruit.  Because of this, it has found its way into thousands of foodstuffs in North America, and many people don’t even know they are consuming a toxic substance.

So is HFCS worse than sugar?  Not by much.  Is either one of them harmful in the small doses our ancestors would have consumed?  Not really.  But with the average American consuming a combined 150 lbs or so of sugar and HFCS (Canadian numbers are probably close, but the distinction is not clear in our statistics),  for a total of about 80 lbs of fructose a year?  Absolutely!  This is a toxic substance on par with alcohol and tobacco.  We all need to be aware of the scope of this problem.

Just so you know: A 2003 WHO report recommended that sugar consumption should not exceed 10% of daily caloric intake.  The American Sugar Association responded that 25% of daily caloric intake is safe and threatened to pressure congress to withhold $400 million in funding if the WHO recommendations weren’t changed.   The WHO stood by it’s recomendations and the ASA eventually backed down, but this just shows you the extent to which politics and money are involved in the “game” of deciding what is good for us.


As mentioned earlier, humans cannot digest grains unless they are processed, at least to a certain extent.  The guy in the picture above probably predates the agricultural age.   If he wanted to eat grains, he would have to go out into the grassland  and find edible varieties, pick them by hand and then grind them with a stone to remove the husk.   Then he would probably have to soak them for a day and wait for them to sprout for another day before they were even remotely digestible.   A lot of work for not that much energy.  (remember, this was long before the days of breeding for high energy-content grains).   Still, the product he would have been left with would have been similar to what we call a whole grain.

The difference between whole grains and refined grains, though, is quite significant.  Refining removes the bran and the germ from grains.  Along with the bran and the germ go all the fibre and a good percentage of all the vitamins and minerals.  What you have left is pretty much pure glucose.

Granted, glucose does not have to be processed by the liver, so it does not have the same tendency to turn to fat as fructose does.  If glycogen stores are depleted, glucose is readily stored in the muscles.  If glycogen stores are not depleted, however, glucose eventually makes its way to the liver which eventually turns it to fat.

The downside of not being processed by the liver is that glucose from refined grains has almost immediate effects on blood sugar.  One minute you eat it, the next it is in your blood. The most detrimental effect of this rapid digestion and absorption is that large doses of glucose drive blood sugar levels up very quickly.

The body, being reasonably smart, responds quickly by secreting insulin from the pancreas. Insulin attaches to receptor sites in various tissues and basically “opens the door” for glucose to move into these cells and get stored as glycogen.  The blood gets rid of the sugar; the tissues get extra stores of glycogen…everybody’s happy!

Well, for a while, everybody is happy. Remember the receptor sites?  After a while, they seem to get tired of having insulin knocking on the door all the time saying “Hey, I’ve got more glucose for you!”.   Like a kid playing on his X-Box, the receptor sites begin to tune out the sound of insulin knocking on the door. When this happens, glucose hangs around in the blood a while longer, looking for some place to go.  Blood sugar continues to stay elevated.

The body responds by increasing insulin levels again.  It simply “knocks harder” on the receptor site doors.  Eventually, when enough insulin is secreted, the cells reluctantly open their doors and allow the glucose in

Repeat this sequence enough times, and you eventually get to a point where extremely high doses of insulin are required to deal with even the least bit of glucose.  Congratulations!  You have just joined the ever growing ranks of insulin resistant diabetics, otherwise known as type II diabetics.

Refined grains are not the only culprit here.  Many foods drive blood sugar levels up, particularly when they are processed.  There is something called the glycemic index, which tells you how quickly the glucose in different foods gets absorbed.  The faster the glucose in a particular food gets absorbed, the higher it’s number is on a scale of 1 to 100.

Guess what the glycemic index of white bread is?


But refined grains are particularly bad for a number of other reasons:

  1. Their ubiquitous presence in almost all processed food.  The truth is, whole grains do not keep very well on a shelf.  It is therefore much easier to make processed foods with refined grains.  So beware also of processed food which sells itself as “whole grain”.  The processors have to load this food with preservative so the whole grains don’t go rancid before you eat them.
  2. Their total lack of mitigating nutritional properties.  Pumpkin and watermelon both have high glycemic indexes but at least their glycemic load comes packed with a variety of other nutrients.
  3. Refined grains are often bleached so that they look white enough.  Do we really want bleach added to are dietary intake?

Take home lesson: Avoid consuming refined grains as much as possible.  The biggest culprits are bread, pasta and baked goods.  If you are going to consume these foods, look for products that are 100% whole grain and buy them fresh from a bakery, not wrapped in a plastic container.  And remember, even whole grains should be consumed, at best, in moderation.


The only “good” use for vegetable oil

First of all, if you were under the impression that vegetable oils were good for you…you can forgive yourself.  Hundreds of millions of marketing dollars have been spent in an effort to make you believe this.  Scientific and political careers have literally been made or broken on this debate.  In the end, the polyunsaturated fat (that’s vegetable oil, for the most part) people won the battle.  Let’s hope they don’t win the war.

The important thing for you to know, though, is that there is a war.  The political and medical establishment would have you believe that there is no debate here, but there is.  All I can say is this; the same people who argue that vegetable oil is not good for you are the ones who for twenty years said that trans fat was not good for you.  Perhaps they know a thing or two.  Perhaps we should at least consider what they have to say.

Before we go on, we need to make a few distinctions.  When I talk about vegetable oil, what I mean is poly-unsaturated omega 6 fatty acids.  Olive oil is a vegetable oil as well, but is composed primarily of mono-unsaturated fat, which is nowhere near as toxic as poly-unsaturated fat.  The most common vegetable oils being used are soy oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil and canola oil.  All but canola oil (and canola oil has plenty of it’s own issues) are composed of at least 65% poly-unsaturated omega 6 fatty acid.

I will grant vegetable oil only one thing…it lowers LDL cholesterol (that’s the “bad” one). However, we now know that LDL cholesterol is a very poor indicator of cardiovascular health. A much better predictor of cardiovascular health is the combination of:

  1. triglyceride levels – the lower the better
  2. HDL ( that’s the “good” cholesterol ) levels – the higher the better
  3. Small, dense particles of LDL (that’s right, not all LDL is bad for you) The fewer of the small, dense particles, the better
  4. Markers of inflammation (C-reactive protein, usually) levels – the lower the better

So let’s take a look at what vegetable oil (polyunsaturated omega 6) consumption does to these markers of cardiovascular health:

  1. Blood triglyceride levels – inconclusiveve
  2. HDL levels – are lowered by consuming these vegetable oils (that’s bad)
  3. LDL –  shifts towards the denser particles (that’s also bad)
  4. Markers of inflammation – polyunsaturated omega 6 is highly inflammatory (that’s also bad)

But cardiovascular disease is not the only issue with vegetable oils.  The biggest problem with these oils is the process used to make them available to us.  To understand how harmful this processing is, we need to be aware of the fragility of polyunsaturated fats.  Of all the fats, polyunsaturated are the most fragile…sensitive to both heat and light.  To get them out of the plants and into a bottle of vegetable oil, though, they must be exposed extensively to both high temperatures and light.  The chemical hexane is added to get maximal oil extraction.  It is, of course removed afterwards, but residues of 100 parts per million are acceptable.

By this point the oil is quite rancid and full of free radicals.

The natural vitamin E which helps to preserve the oil has been destroyed.  It is often steam cleaned or bleached to get rid of the nasty odours and un-appetizing color.  And then, if the manufacturer wants to turn it into margarine, it is hydrogenated, a process which creates more free radicals and often Trans fats as well.

To make matters even worse, we must understand that the abundance of omega 6 polyunsaturated fat in our modern diet is responsible for many of the inflammatory processes which plague us today.  Our bodies evolved to consume omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in a ratio of about 3 to 1.  That means, for every 3 grams of omega 6 we eat, we should eat 1 gram of omega 3.  Keeping this fatty acid ratio balanced will keep most inflammatory processes well under control.

Most North Americans eat at least 10 grams of omega 6 for every gram of omega 3.

Here’s a list of diseases caused by uncontrolled inflammation:

  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Arthritis
  • COPD
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease

And that’s just the big and clearly proven ones.  There are literally dozens of others that are associated with inflammation.

Vegetable oils are everywhere.  If you start paying attention, you’ll notice them on the ingredients list of almost every processed food you can find.  They are a nutritional mistake and you should try to avoid them like the plague that they are.


The free radicals, the chemicals, the excessive inflammatory omega 6’s…all implicated in cancer as well as cardiovascular disease.  And all this to replace natural wonders such as butter and lard!

Take home lesson: Go back to butter and olive oil for cooking and on your bread.  Use lard if you want to deep fry.  Don’t buy anything that says “vegetable oil”.  Especially if it says hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil! Avoid all commercially fried foods (read French fries, potato chips and corn chips).  If you like baked goods, bake them yourself with healthy fats…they smell and taste better anyway! And watch out for any vegetable oil they market as healthy… they still are heavily processed.


Although by now most people are already aware that Trans fat is bad for you, I thought it deserved its own section for two reasons:

  1. Because many people don’t understand what it is or just how nasty its effects can be.
  2. Because it is a perfect example of the political and scientific craziness which has gotten us into the nutritional mess we are in.

Let’s start with what they are and why they’re bad for you.  Trans fats are the product of a process called hydrogenation, a misguided effort to make solid or spreadable fat out of a vegetable oil which is normally liquid at room temperature.  Hydrogenation moves a hydrogen atom around on the poly-unsaturated fat molecule.  The molecule goes from being kinked to being straight, a configuration rarely seen in nature.  The Trans molecule is toxic to humans, but it looks so much like the original molecule that our digestive system does not recognize it as the poison that it is.  Ultimately, these toxic fat molecules are absorbed into our cell membranes.

Normally, poly-unsaturated fats in the cell walls are very active in the transport of nutrients into and out of the cell.  When the Trans fat takes the place of the poly-unsaturated fat, though, this natural transport system gets all messed up.  Certain nutrients which need to get into the cell are rejected, and other nutrients which should not get into the cell are mistakenly absorbed

Just a few of the results:

  1. Cells in blood vessel walls let in inflammatory particles… cardiovascular disease
  2. Cells in muscles do not allow insulin to attach to them… insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.
  3. Cells in the digestive system let undigested food particles in… autoimmune disease and allergies.

And, as an added bonus, trans fats also drive LDL up and HDL down.

Clearly, Trans fats are not something we want to be consuming.  The question is, why were they developed in the first place, and why were we not warned of their dangers earlier?

Crisco was probably the earliest mass marketer of Tran’s fat with their hydrogenated shortening.  Their early 20thcentury success was a product of expensive butterfat and inexpensive soy bean oil.  Later, World War II butter rationing gave Trans fat production another boost.  Finally, in 1957, the American Heart Association gave hydrogenated fat products their full endorsement in an effort to decrease American consumption of saturated fat.

As early as the mid 1950’s, there was significant debate regarding the safety of Trans fat.  Ancel Keys, the “father” of the ‘saturated fat is bad” movement himself noted that there were health issues with Trans fat in 1953.   Mary Enig produced a number of papers throughout the 1970’s indicating the potential toxicity of Trans fats…it is important to note that each one of these was aggressively attacked by organizations such as the Institute for Shortening and Edible Oils.

By 1984, the evidence against Trans fats was overwhelming.  Still, it took until 1999 before a bill proposing mandatory labelling of Trans fats was even proposed. That proposal was rejected as a result of heavy lobbying by oil marketing boards as well as a general reluctance among law makers to go back and admit that they were wrong.  In 2002 the US government finally admitted that no levels of Trans fats are safe, and by 2006, it had become mandatory for all packaged food products to display Trans fat levels.

Where does this leave us, the consumers?  Well, at least we now know that Trans fat is bad for us and we can look for it on the labels of processed foods.  But the question remains, how much Trans fat is a safe level?  The World health Organization has arbitrarily said no more than 1% of daily caloric intake should come from Trans fat.  For somebody eating 2000 calories per day, that would amount to about 20 calories per day, or about 2 grams.  Keep in mind that the WHO recommendation is a compromise. All the research recommends 0% Trans fat…but its ubiquitous nature has led regulatory bodies to try and minimize it instead of eliminating it.  The political and economic ramifications of banning Trans fat would be equivalent to banning alcohol or tobacco.  The profit margins of billion dollar companies such as Nabisco and McDonald’s would be seriously affected.

The truth is that trans fat consumption should be ZERO!

Even so, one would think that 1% would be easy enough to achieve.  Just read the labels and avoid any foods withTrans fat on the label.  But this is where the processed food manufacturers got themselves a loophole.  If a serving of food has less than .5 g of trans fat, then it can be labelled “trans fat free”.   Make your serving sizes small enough and just about anything can be labelled “tans fat free”.  A 30g serving of potato chips, about 20 chips,  can be labelled as trans fat free, but who eats 20 chips?  How much in a 1/2 bag?  Who knows.  It’s not on the label.  If you eat a lot of processed food, you can be guaranteed that you are consuming over 1% of your calories from trans fats, even when everything you eat claims to be “trans fat free”.

And what about eating out?  One large serving of McDonald’s French fries, depending on what country you eat them in (mysteriously, in countries with strict limits on Trans fat, McDonald’s is quite capable of producing low Trans French fries) will provide you with up to 6 grams of Trans fat.  That’s almost 3 times the WHO limit for the average person!  And we haven’t even added the Chicken McNuggets (another 8 grams) which many people choose in order to avoid the saturated fat in the hamburgers.


In an interesting development, many food manufacturers have figured out how to turn poly-unsaturated fat into a solid fat without creating Trans fat. The process is called interestification, and it produces a solid fat called interestified fat. This is how we can now have so many processed foods and margarines which are labelled “trans fat free”. As you might suspect, early research on interestified fats is already beginning to show that it has its own issues…it seems to drive blood sugar levels up and lower HDL levels. I’m sure we’ll hear more about these fats in the near future.

Take home lesson: Eat the fats that Mother Nature made available to you…butter, olive oil, lard, and coconut oil. Avoid processed food, because it invariably contains Trans fat or some other toxic form of man made fat. Stay away from fried foods unless you have made them yourself in a natural fat. And just because it says “trans fat free” doesn’t mean you should eat it!


By now, this one would seem pretty obvious.  If we are going to try to minimize foods which are new to our nutritional heritage, then anything artificial would certainly be first on the list of things to avoid.  Just so we’re clear, most of the foods in the danger section are artificial foods.

Even modern sugar would have been difficult for our Palaeolithic ancestors to produce.  Certainly HFCS, processed grains, vegetable oils, and Trans fat would have been beyond their capabilities.

What we are talking about here, though, are the numerous chemical products which are added to processed food to add colour, flavour, consistency or shelf life. Food colouring, artificial flavouring, artificial sweeteners and preservatives are the main items at issue here.  And although there are probably many innocuous substances under these headings, our inability to distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly leads me to advise against the consumption of any of them.

Some of the most publicized culprits include aspartame, tartrazine, and monosodium glutamate. The raging debate surrounding each of these highlights the difficulty with determining the toxicity of most artificial substances. The truth is, conflicting research stemming from conflicting sources can prove or disprove just about anything. We are left with literally thousands of papers proving nothing about anything. The sugar people say that aspartame is bad for you. The aspartame people say that sugar is bad for you. I say they’re both probably toxic, and the foods they are primarily used in (namely pop) are definitely bad for you.

Take home message: Avoid processed foods, especially the ones with long lists of ingredients which you don’t recognize and probably can’t even pronounce.  Some may not be as bad for you as they sound, but even the biochemists out there can’t tell you honestly which ones are good and which ones are bad. Eat Real Food!



  1. Eat the foods you evolved to eat.  Meat, eggs, seafood, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Make these the staples of your diet.
  2. Fat in your diet does not make you fat. So don’t be a fat-phobe.  You were designed to eat plenty of fat.
  3. Saturated fat and cholesterol are not the cause of cardiovascular disease. There simply is no scientific evidence to prove this association. It’s a theory. And a pretty bad one at that.
  4. The less food you eat, the higher the percentage of fat in your diet should be. Beware low fat dieters. The right fats are essential for keeping your hormones in balance when you diet.
  5. Fructose belongs in fruits. Not in any of the other things you eat or drink. Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup are everywhere. Their prevalence is one of the main reasons we are so unhealthy.
  6. Vegetable oils belong in vegetables. Not in bottles or tubs. The promotion of refined vegetable oil over animal fat is the biggest mistake the nutritional establishment has ever made.
  7. The closer a food is to its natural state; the better it is for you. Processing tends to take the good stuff out and replace it with bad stuff.
  8. Vegetables are higher in fibre than grains. Vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and phytonutrients as well. And they do not havea negative affect on your health. Can someone explain to me why the food guide recommends twice as much grain as vegetables? And half of it from refined grain!
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