Located in Sterling, VA (703) 421-1200

November 2017

Most of what you eat is corn, soy and wheat!

The quintessential American meal is a cheesburger with fries and a soda. Every fast food restaurant serves this, as does every bar, pub, and casual restaurant. You can also find it at many backyard cookouts. What is this classic combo meal really made of? I will deconstruct this meal down to its original ingredients and see what we are really eating.

The beef: Americans consume over 50 billion burgers every year. Most burger beef comes from cows that feed on corn, soy and silage, rather than pasture.

The bun: Of course, the bun the burger is served on was of course made of wheat.

The cheese: Even the cheese on that burger came from a dairy cow that was fed mostly corn and soy.

The fries. Obviously fries are made from potatoes, not corn, soy or wheat. However, the vast majority of french fries served in the United States are cooked in, you guessed it, corn or soybean oil.

The soda: Most soda is carbonated water sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which obviously derives from corn.

Lest you think this volume of corn, soy and wheat derived food is limited to a fast food burger meal, the fact is the same is true of most food products Americans eat today, minus fruit and vegetables. Pasta and bread are of course made from wheat. Both broiler chickens and egg laying hens are fed predominantly corn and soy based feed. Farm raised fish? You guessed it - corn and soy product. How about something like pizza? Well, the dough is made from wheat, the sauce contains high fructose corn syrup and the cheese came from corn and soy fed cows. Crackers? Cookies? Yes, these two are made from wheat, corn and soy product (in fact, most boxed food items in the grocery store contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil - it stays stable at room temperature and hence extends shelf life.

So most of the protein, grains, and even fats(in the form of vegetable oils) we eat are really predominantly corn, soy or wheat. I would guess that 80% of the average American's diet originates with these three crops.

Can this preponderance of corn, soy and wheat in our diets be a healthy thing?

The old saying is we are what we eat, and that alone should be enough to concern us regarding this reduction of our food variety. However, it's not just what we eat, but also what is eaten by what we eat that determines our true nutritional intake and hence our health.

These three crops dominate American farmland today. Most are grown in massive monoculture settings (a single crop spread over many hundreds of acres) using chemical pesticides and herbicides. (For example, most conventionally grown wheat in the U.S. is sprayed with Glyphosates like Roundup just before harvest in order to kill the crop uniformly and ensure an even harvest.) Then, much of the corn and soy is used for animal feed, as discussed earlier. Cows are ruminants. They are meant to eat grasses and other forage. Cows convert something humans cannot eat (ex. grass) into something humans can eat (ex. beef). However, in the name of productivity but not health (either that of the cow or the human eating the beef) most beef are fattened up and at least finished on corn and soy. So, that burger you ate recently was most likely predominantly the product of Corn and Soy. However, since this food is not natural fare for most animals, they get sick, so they must be treated with antibiotics. Other soy and corn is used to make the oils used in our everyday cooking using chemical processes such as hexane based extraction. Much of the wheat, after harvest, is refined (stripped of all nutrients in order to prolong shelf life) then enriched (select vitamins like iron are added back in at supranormal levels in order to enhance palatability) along with some additional unappealing processes like bleaching and bromating the flour.

I would argue that having such a high percentage of our dietary intake deriving from just three items (corn, soy, wheat) in and of itself is not healthy. The nutritional profile is very incomplete. Add in that these products are heavily adulterated with chemicals and various questionable processes, and that the animals eating them are further treated with various medications, there is bound to be some negative effects at the top of the food chain, you and I.

I believe many current maladies and diseases of western civilization are at least exacerbated, if not directly caused by this reduction of our food variety. For example, various diseases of inflammation (heart disease, certain cancers, etc.) are correlated to the lack of proper balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids in our diet (Omega-3 levels are higher when cows eat grass and fish eat algae, and Omega-6 levels are lower when we eat natural fats like grass fed butter instead of corn oil). Additionally, Iron overload from excessive enrichment of grains may contribute to various metabolic disorders such as diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimers.

We need a variety of healthy foods in our diets. Humans are omnivores. We should consume animals that have eaten what they are naturally supposed to eat and plants that have not been radically altered or contaminated with modern mass production practices. How can we reduce the volume of corn, soy and wheat in our diets? Whenever possible, choose foods from organic sources. This eliminates the pesticides and herbicides. Opt for grass fed or pasture raised prducts such as beef, poultry, eggs, butter, cheese, milk, etc. Read labels carefully when choosing bread, rice, pasta or other grains - look for just a few ingredients (ex. semolina wheat flour). By taking a little extra time and perhaps a little extra money, we can eat food that was grown naturally and in line with our health and wellbeing. Make the investment in your health now, so you don't have to make the investment in your lack of health later!

Posted November 10, 2017 by Matthew Romans

Fitness Trackers - Are they a worthwhile investment? by Matthew Romans

Fitness trackers have become an increasingly popular product on the market. In the past, I would see people wearing them while they were performing some type of physical activity or competing in an event/race, but now I even see people in business clothes wearing them. According to one statistic I read, people who wear fitness trackers tend to be 30 to 40 percent more active than those who do not. How exactly is this measured? Is this an example of selection bias (ex. more active people happen to enjoy wearing fitness trackers)? Do fitness trackers really provide substantial benefit? Are they an essential accessory in one's pursuit of health and fitness? These are questions that I asked myself as I recently examined a list compiled by Health magazine of the best fitness trackers that are available on the market.

The fitness trackers on the list ranged in price from as little as $20 to as much as $450. Some of the features included tracking the number of steps traveled, miles traveled, calories burned, a built-in GPS, and the ability to measure your speed of movement. Other features include a water-resistant design, the ability to measure water temperature, and also a sensor that encourages you to get up and move every so often. I should note that most smart phones now have applications (most of which are free) that can measure most of the things that fitness trackers measure. The main advantage of the fitness tracker, in this case, is that it can be worn on the wrist instead of having to be carried.

However, fitness trackers really do not track fitness. One of the most common myths perpetuated by the commercial fitness industry is that exercise is about burning calories. It is not. No form of activity (jogging, swimming, high-intensity weight training or otherwise) burns a significant number of calories when you consider what you can eat in a very short period of time. Bear in mind that any tally of calories burned will also include the calories you burned through your basal metabolic rate, so the number on your fitness tracker can be misleading. Also, if just walking a certain number of steps in a day or getting your heart rate to a certain level were effective ways to improve your health and fitness, there would be way fewer sick, overweight people in the world.

Exercise is about safely, effectively, and efficiently stimulating body improvements by triggering a growth mechanism (achieved by pushing to and beyond momentary muscular fatigue), and then allowing the body to recover and adapt without being overtaxed by excessive activity. Some of the fitness trackers I researched have some nice features, but none can really track the cellular, metabolic and cardiovascular stimuli of real exercise.

In my opinion, fitness trackers may be useful if you are training for a specific race or event (marathon, triathlon, etc.), but if you're just going for general fitness they're probably not necessary.

Posted November 08, 2017 by Matthew Romans