Guest post from Brad Shepherd, www.fooduciary.com.
The truth is, weight gain or loss is about much more than calories in and calories out. More important than the quantity of calories is the quality of calories and what those calories are saying to your body. The information shared to your genes from broccoli calories is much different than what comes from cookie calories. But it seems there may be an additional level to this story—fat chemicals.
Environmental chemicals known as obesogens are found in many places, including pesticides used on conventional produce. They program our bodies to store fat and develop disease and do so to such an extent that, in theory, a head of conventional romaine could actually cause more weight gain than a grass-fed burger.
Obesogens belong in the class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. This class of toxins simulates the effects of natural hormones and disrupts normal hormonal responses. In terms of weight gain, “chemical calories” may actually be more significant than the caloric value of those calories.
How do obesogens exert so much influence? One method is by disrupting the normal release of leptin, the hormone that tells the brain you’re full. In addition, obesogens encourage the body to store fat by reprogramming cells to become fat cells, and they also contribute to insulin resistance. What’s more, they’re inflammatory substances, producing oxidative stress and causing damage to the body’s energy source, mitochondria, which then has a cascade of negative aftereffects.
Certainly some people are more sensitive to these toxins than others, though some are highly susceptible. Obesogens can have significant effects on children in utero, causing the fetus to produce more fat cells and increasing the likelihood of childhood obesity.
At the source
With those types of concerns and possible outcomes, the big questions are, where do these chemicals come from and how do you avoid them?
Meat and dairy are two major sources. Commercial meat production operations are permitted to use a variety of six hormones to promote growth in beef cattle or milk production in dairy cows. Studies have shown that people who eat hormone-treated beef have higher levels of foreign hormones in their blood and tissues, and one study with 10 universities as participants states a connection can be drawn between hormones found in dairy and the drastic rise of obesity rates.
Fish aren’t off the hook either. The feed pellets given to farm-raised fish include antibiotics that are classified as obesogens, and the flesh of farm-raised fish has been found to have high levels of pesticide residue.
As mentioned, conventional produce is another large contributor. The sprays used on crops are estrogen mimickers and thyroid disruptors, both attributes that promote weight gain.
Sadly, there’s more. BPA and other chemicals in plastic disrupt the endocrine system and increase the size of fat cells. Same goes for the pesticide residues, traces of pharmaceutical drugs and other toxins in tap water (The National Institutes of Health classifies tap water as a major source of endocrine-disrupting chemicals).
Fragrances found in household and beauty products make the list, and so does that microwave popcorn your coworkers love so much. The popcorn, as well as non-stick and water-resistant products, contains perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), an obesogen that promotes tumor growth. Female fetuses exposed to PFOAs are three times as likely to be overweight or gain weight easily.
It seems that these obesogens are everywhere—one study showed 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies. The question is, how do we make sure we’re part of that other 7 percent?
How to avoid obesogens
The good news is that we can control and limit much of our exposure, and the results can be dramatic. In one study the participants lost an average of 15 pounds in just six weeks by avoiding obesogens. How do you do that?
- First off, buy your food from sources you can trust that use chemical-free growing methods. Buying from local farmers and ranchers who use sustainable production methods is ideal. Choose organic when shopping in the grocery story. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, familiarize yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s list of the Dirty Dozen, the most toxic conventional produce you should make it a priority to avoid.
- Avoid conventional dairy (milk, butter and cheese), and be very picky about your meat. Pasture-raised, grass-fed and grass-finished are the best options, and that goes for eggs as well. Make sure your seafood is wild-caught, and avoid canned options unless they’re from a reputable source like Vital Choice. Wrap your meat and cheese in butcher paper or wax paper instead of plastic shrink wrap.
- Speaking of plastic, always verify your water bottles and food containers are BPA free, and even better, use glass, ceramic or compostable materials when possible.
- Of course only drink filtered water, and add tub and shower filters to your wish list, since your skin is no barrier to obesogens.
- Make your own fragrances with essential oils, buy natural versions or do without. This goes for home and body. Cosmetics are a common source of harmful toxins.
- Make your popcorn from scratch with organic corn or buy brands that state PFOA-free on the label. And for the rest of your cooking, ditch the non-stick. Stainless steel and cast iron are better options.
- If you can believe it, high-fructose corn syrup makes this list as well (how is that stuff still allowed in food?!!). HFCS affects appetite by interfering with insulin and leptin, so there’s one more reason to always avoid it.
Foods you should eat
Finally, some great news: there are foods that can help you eliminate the toxins you do come in contact with. All vegetables are fantastic for aiding the body in its detoxification and elimination processes, and cruciferous veggies are the superstars in this regard. Kale, cauliflower, broccoli and other crucifers metabolize the harmful forms of estrogen and show them the exit when they’re all done.
All that said, this article isn’t meant to scare you into becoming a subject for the sequel of What About Bob? Just as our immune system protects us from foreign invaders, most of our bodies are naturally good at eliminating toxins if we give them the fuel they need to do it and make a conscious effort to keep our exposure levels at a minimum.
Go out and enjoy life, try to be mindful of the sources of these fat chemicals, feed yourself clean food, and watch those fat cells melt away.