Why the American Diet does not Deserve all the Blame

The concept of a “healthy diet” was described by the early nutritionists starting in the 1930’s and 1940’s. There were two B  vitamin deficiency diseases that did come from a poor diet. Pellagra and beriberi both resulted from very limited diets, pellagra from cornmeal only, beriberi from rice only. Clearly a “diet” made up entirely of a daily serving of a single starch is not a “healthy diet” but when they added back meat and vegetables they were able to cure the disease, so from then on we’ve been taught that “the B vitamins come from food”. ( See the blog “Healthy Bacteria Healthy Sleep” to learn why the B vitamins come from the intestinal bacteria, not from the food.)

At the time that the first “healthy diets”, (the five food groups etc.) were proposed, in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, most people still lived outside and the term “irritable bowel syndrome” had not come into common use. Most of the population still had the healthy bacteria living inside them. All of the primitive diets that are described as a solution for our modern ills were also eaten by humans who lived outside and had a healthy gut! Therefore, all of us who have unsuccessfully tried to find the “right diet” really need the “right bugs” and probiotics alone are not successful. In order to live inside us the “healthy” bacteria need our vitamin D and the “B vitamin soup” that they create to support each other. When we lose them our digestion suffers, our immune system suffers and even our sleep suffers.

Though I would agree that a diet of hamburgers and donuts is not a healthy diet, I do not agree that our eating habits alone have caused the epidemic of obesity and sleep apnea. Many of my patients tried so hard to lose weight by following a healthy diet, and were unsuccessful. There is really much more to this picture! Remember what I said about hunger being involuntary, it’s run by your brain, it’s also affected by the bacteria inside you. The bacteria in our intestine are now known to have very important effects on our appetite. Certain bacteria make chemicals called short chain fatty acids that are absorbed into our blood, go up into our nose and make donuts smell very good! In the past a change in the intestinal bacteria that promoted hunger in the winter, when the D was low, would enhance our survival, it made us try harder to find high fat, high calorie foods to sustain us until the winter ended. But this change in bacteria and increased appetite was not supposed to continue through one’s whole life while abundant food was all around. After converting the intestinal bacteria back to the healthy foursome most of my patients found it easier to be successful with a healthy diet. The diet was easier to follow, their hunger was less and their weight loss was more successful. Because the bacteria that live inside us affect our diet, our sleep and our pain level most patients also found that they had enough energy to start exercising and suffered less pain afterward. Thus, even those who do not have gut complaints still need to have the right bacteria in order to live the healthy life we were meant to have.

The cells in the brain that help us sleep correctly need B vitamins too, to do their job. At least one of them, pantothenic acid (B5), is not in any of the foods we eat. I will explain in a later blog why the statement “pantothenic acid deficiency doesn’t exist because it is in every food” is not true, despite being widely accepted. And, why this one mistake produced a global change in our sleep and our health.

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