Dr. Mercola Articles
If You Eat French Fries or Potato Chips, This Will Stop You
Wed, 28 Jun 2017 05:00:00 GMT

By Dr. Mercola

The potato has had a long history. The Incan tribe from the highlands of Peru worshipped the potato and people from Ireland blamed the potato for the Great Famine when a blight destroyed potato crops across Europe.1 Today, the potato is the fourth largest food crop in the world.

The potato is a perennial plant that is high in starch and has more potassium than bananas.2 The vegetable is also source of vitamin C and B-6, and is sodium and fat free. However, while there are benefits to the vegetable, it is also high in carbohydrates; one medium potato contains 37 grams of carbohydrates. I recommend you limit your net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber) to between 50 and 80 grams per day, depending upon your metabolism.

This means a single potato can be 45 percent to 75 percent of your daily net carb amount. The consumption of fresh potatoes has declined in the past 50 years, dropping from 61 pounds per year per person in 1970 to 36 pounds per year per person in 2008.3 However, consumption of processed potatoes, such as french fries or potato chips, has increased over the same period.

Processed potatoes cooked at high heat contain byproducts that are known carcinogens and trans fats linked to a number of health conditions. Recent research has now found a potential link between fried potato consumption and increased risk of death.

The Lowly Potato

In 1536, the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Peru and discovered potatoes. They brought them back to Europe, and before the end of the 16th century sailors were planting them along the northern coast of Spain.4 By 1589, they reached Ireland and over the next 40 years spread across the rest of Europe.

In the mid-1840s a blight on potatoes wiped out most of the crop in many countries across Europe, especially in Ireland where the potato had become a staple. Over the course of the blight, nearly 1 million people died from starvation or disease, and another 1 million people emigrated from Ireland to Canada and the U.S.5

Some believe Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France before the revolution, enjoyed the flower blossoms from the potato plant so much she put them in her hair and her husband, King Louis XVI, wore them in his buttonhole.6 Historians think this was an attempt to encourage farmers to plant more potatoes.

As Europe and North America adopted the potato, it initiated a template for an agriculture industrial complex, eventually leading to the use of intensive fertilizer and of arsenic as the first artificial pesticide to eradicate the Colorado potato beetle.7 Competition to manufacture potent arsenic blends opened the modern pesticide industry.

Fried Potatoes May Increase Your Risk of Death

McDonald's has sold millions more fries each year with the simple question, "Would you like fries with that?"8 Also known as an upsell, this simple technique has contributed to ever increasing waistlines for their customers. Now, researchers have found those who eat fried potatoes two or more times each week may double their risk of death from all causes.9

Eating potatoes that were not fried was not linked to an increase in mortality risk according to the researchers.10 The authors had been tracking nearly 4,400 people over eight years to study the effects of osteoarthritis when they decided to include an evaluation of the participants' intake of potatoes and the impact it had on their lives.

In analyzing the data from the study, the researchers found that people who ate fried potatoes had double the risk of death during the study. Fried potatoes included french fries, hash browns and potato chips. Any preparation of potatoes that required frying was included in the fried potato category in the study.

The data from the study was observational, which presents challenges to extrapolating the results. The gold standard for medical research is randomly controlled experimental studies. These are often costly, while observational studies can be completed more economically.11 However, observational studies may not enable researchers to accurately link cause and effect.

The study could correlate french fries with an increased risk of death, but the researchers could not assume that french fries caused the death. The researchers tried to control for variables, but as this was an observational study, other factors that may have been involved could have been missed.12

However, while this type of study precluded the ability to establish a link between an increased intake of french fries and death, performing a controlled study would be unethical as the researchers would have to ask participants to increase their consumption and then measure risk of death.

In 2014, Americans ate an average of 112 pounds of potatoes each year; 33 pounds were fresh potatoes and 78 pounds were processed.13 The potential danger of eating pounds of fried potatoes is generated by acrylamide, a chemical produced when the starchy potato is fried at high temperatures.

How Acrylamide Affects Your Health

Acrylamide, a byproduct of processing, is one of the most hazardous ingredients found in potato chips, hash browns and french fries. The browning process is what produces the chemical, so boiling and steaming doesn't create it. Beginning in 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended Americans reduce the amount of browned and overcooked foods that may be high in acrylamide.14

The FDA continues to recommend people cut back on the amount of foods high in acrylamide, as the chemical has been shown to cause cancer in animals and may also be responsible for causing cancer in humans.15 Acrylamide is also found in coffee, cereals, crackers, breads and dried fruit, to name a few. In fact, it may be found in up to 40 percent of calories eaten each day.16

In a study evaluating the amount of acrylamide found in chips, researchers found levels over the upper limit set by the European Union (EU) in 16 of the 92 brands tested.17 Currently, the EU set the upper limit at 1,000 micrograms per kilogram (mcg/kg) for crisps and they are considering lowering that benchmark to 750 mcg/kg, as acrylamide has been demonstrated and identified by the World Health Organization as a cancer risk.18

Although scientists knew the chemical was present in plastics and water treatment facilities, it wasn't until 2002 that scientists discovered it was present in foods. While acrylamide is a known carcinogen, links have been found between acrylamide-hemoglobin levels and estrogen receptor positive breast cancer.19 Higher levels of dietary acrylamide have also been linked to an increased risk of postmenopausal endometrial and ovarian cancer.20

Storing starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, in the refrigerator increases the amount of acrylamide produced if you do cook them at high heat or brown them.21 The process of increasing the amount of sugar in the potato that then produces more acrylamide during cooking is called "cold sweetening." Instead, raw potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark place above 42 F (6 C).

Trans Fat Found in More Than Potatoes

Acrylamide exposure is not the only risk associated with fried potatoes. Trans fat products are often used to fry the potatoes and chips, adding another layer of risk. This short video shows you some of the foods where trans fat may hide. There are two types of trans fats; one is made by hydrogenating vegetable oil in a chemical process and the other is found in natural meat products and has no harmful effects on your health.

Processed trans fats have been linked to heart disease,22 insulin sensitivity23 with type 2 diabetes,24 inflammation,25 damage to the lining of your blood vessels26 and cancer.27 Aside from french fries and potato chips, harmful trans fats may also be found in:28,29,30

Pie crust

Cakes and cookies

Biscuits

Breakfast sandwiches

Margarine

Crackers

Microwave popcorn

Cream filled candy

Fast food

Doughnuts

Frozen pizza

Cake mixes

Frostings

Pancakes and waffles

Nondairy creamer

Ice cream

 Meat sticks

Frozen dinner

Packaged pudding

Creamy frozen drinks

Asian crunchy noodles

Eating Potatoes Linked With Negative Health Conditions

Steaming or boiling potatoes may reduce your exposure to acrylamide and trans fat, but the potato itself may still increase your risk for other health conditions. They are high in carbohydrates, creating a blood glucose spike and resulting release of insulin. One cup of potatoes has a similar effect on your blood sugar as a can of Coke.31 This roller coaster effect of rising and crashing blood sugar often leaves you feeling hungry within hours, leading to overeating, weight gain and an increasing risk of type 2 diabetes.32

In 2010, more than 2 in 3 adults were considered either overweight or obese33 and in 2014, 9.3 percent of the population had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.34 These numbers are continuing to rise each year, and both of these conditions contribute to heart disease, stroke and a higher risk of death.

A recent study published in The BMJ found that those who ate four servings per week of baked, boiled or mashed potatoes had an 11 percent increased risk of high blood pressure.

Those who ate french fries or potato chips four times a week raised their risk by 17 percent.35 High blood pressure in turn increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and is linked to kidney disease and peripheral vascular disease. In other words, while potatoes carry some health benefits, they are best eaten baked or boiled in moderation.

Some French Fries Are Worse Than Others

Although all french fries are unhealthy, some are worse than others. In this short video, American journalist, author and activist Michael Pollan explains how "the desire for a certain kind of [french fry] leads to a certain kind of agriculture." McDonald's french fries are made with Russett Burbank potatoes, a particularly difficult potato to grow.

They must also be free of blemishes, so to eliminate the aphids that cause net necrosis in the potato, farmers will use an exceptionally toxic pesticide. It is so toxic they cannot venture into the fields for five days after spraying, and harvested potatoes have to off-gas in atmospheric-controlled sheds for six weeks before they're even safe to eat.

Your best potato choice are sweet potatoes. While they share the same name, they don't come from the same family of plants and have many more health benefits than the standard white potato you find in french fries, hash browns and mashed potatoes. Both white and sweet potatoes have the same number of grams of carbohydrates, but sweet potatoes have more than double the amount of fiber, thereby reducing the glycemic load on your body.

This fiber content may be referred to as digestive resistant fiber, an important prebiotic necessary for the nourishment of beneficial bacterial colonies in your gut. A large number of studies have linked an imbalanced gut microbiome with a number of diseases, including obesity, depression, anxiety and inflammatory diseases.36

Minimize Your Acrylamide and Trans Fat Exposure

Thus far, acrylamide has been found in foods heated to 250 F (120 C), which includes most processed foods. Basing your diet on whole foods, with a significant amount eaten raw, slightly cooked or steamed, is one of the best ways to avoid this cancer-causing byproduct. Raw foods are also recommended for general good health as it helps to optimize your nutrition.

For a step-by-step guide to making the transition to a healthier diet as simple as possible, see my optimized nutrition plan. For the times you would like to cook your food, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Frying, baking and broiling appear to be the worst offenders, while boiling or steaming appear to be safer
  • Longer cooking times increase acrylamide, so the shorter the duration of cooking, the better
  • Soaking raw potatoes in water for 15 to 30 minutes prior to roasting may help reduce acrylamide formation during cooking. Chilling the potatoes after cooking (and other starch-rich foods such as rice and pasta) will make it healthier by turning much of that starch into digestive-resistant starch that helps optimize your gut health. Potato salad is perhaps one of the healthiest ways to eat your potatoes
  • The darker brown or blackened the food, the more acrylamide it contains, so avoid overcooking your food
  • Acrylamide is found primarily in plant-based carb-rich foods such as potatoes and grain products (not typically in meat, dairy or seafood)

Healthier Potato Recipes

Sweet potatoes are a deliciously sweet and satisfying potato option you may eat baked or in a tasty potato salad.

Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients

  • One sweet potato
  • Sea salt, coarse
  • Black pepper, ground
  • Olive oil (coconut oil can serve as an even healthier option as it withstands heat better)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 450 F. You may or may not peel the potato. If you don't peel the potato, clean the skin.
  2. Cut the potato into large chunks about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick.
  3. Place the sweet potato fries onto a baking sheet and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper. Next, drizzle the fries with about 1/8 cup of oil. You may add more if you wish.
  4. Place in the oven for 15 minutes. Afterward, take them out and flip and return to oven for 10 minutes.
  5. May take 1.5 hours to make and can serve 2 to 3 people.

Sweet Potato Salad courtesy of BBC Good Food:37

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds. sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

For the dressing

  • 2 shallots (or half a small red onion), finely chopped
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • small bunch chives, snipped into quarters or use mini ones
  • 5 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Toss the sweet potato chunks with coconut oil and salt and pepper; spread on a baking parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes until tender and golden. Cool at room temperature.
  2. When just about cool, whisk together the dressing ingredients and gently toss through the potato chunks — use your hands to avoid breaking the potatoes.
How to Get Rid of a Stye in Your Eye
Wed, 28 Jun 2017 05:00:00 GMT

By Dr. Mercola

Your eyelids protect your eye from injury, help regulate how much light is admitted to your retina and maintain a film of tears by distributing tears over your eye and pumping tears from the conjunctival and lacrimal sacs. You have Meibomian glands at the base of your eyelids, near your eye lashes.

These glands secrete an oil that combines with your watery tears to lubricate and protect your eye from drying.1 Without enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye, the orb can become irritated and you may develop an inflammation of the cornea, leading to blurry vision, redness and a burning and scratchy sensation, if left untreated.2

A stye may develop on your eyelid in the Meibomian gland duct. These irritations present as red lumps along the edge of the eyelid. While they can be annoying or painful, they are rarely serious. Styes can often be successfully treated at home, but before determining your course of treatment, you’ll want to make sure you’re not dealing with chalazion or cellulitis, which may require other or additional medical treatment.

What Is a Stye?

A stye is also known as a hordeolum. It is an infection, often involving the bacteria staphylococcus3 that grows along the edge of your eyelid. The infection creates a small painful bump that may take on the appearance of a small pimple or boil. It’s common for it to be filled with pus. More often than not, styes appear one at a time, as they are not contagious and don’t spread along the lid in the way other infections may.

However, it is possible to have more than one stye at a time. A stye is formed when dead skin, dirt or oil builds up in the oil glands along the edge of your eyelids and bacteria begins to grow inside, causing the stye to develop.4 A stye may also occur under the eyelid, as there are oil gland openings there as well. When this happens it is called an internal hordeolum.5 These styes are treated in the same way as those you find along the edge of your eyelid.

How to Identify a Stye

As a stye grows, your eyelid may become swollen, red and inflamed. The growth period often lasts three days before the stye naturally breaks open and begins to drain.6 Your eyelid may become painful and it may feel like there is something in your eye that doesn’t come out.

A stye may be itchy, but refrain from scratching it. The area may also have crust along the edges of the stye and your eye may water.7 The infected gland triggers these symptoms but, while irritating, they do not threaten your eyesight and are not serious. It is important to differentiate between a stye and another infection of your eyelid that is far more serious and may threaten your eyesight, such as cellulitis.

Cellulitis is also an infection and may occur on the eyelid tissue, but it is an infection that affects a larger area and doesn’t appear similar to a pimple or boil. This infection is often triggered by a trauma to the eyelid, such as an insect bite, or from a sinus infection.8 Although both a stye and cellulitis may cause redness and swelling of the eyelid, cellulitis often causes a greater amount of swelling, including the tissue around your eye.

Complications from cellulitis may include spread of the infection to the eye socket and the eyeball, causing eye pain, vision problems and even blindness. Confusing a stye with cellulitis may lead to serious permanent problems. Take care to fully evaluate your eye swelling and infection before deciding to treat your eye at home.

How to Treat Your Stye at Home

A stye infection typically responds relatively quickly to the treatments you use at home. If you notice the infection getting worse, spreading or becoming more painful, seek medical care for evaluation and treatment. These strategies help reduce the swelling from the stye and help it to mature and heal more quickly.9,10,11

Wash hands frequently

Keep your hands away from your eyes and your face as much as possible. Your hands carry small particles of dust, dirt and grime that may easily clog your oil glands, triggering a stye, or may irritate a stye you already have. Washing your hands frequently helps to reduce the irritation to your eyelid and speed healing.

Warm compress

The most effective means of treating a stye and reducing your discomfort are warm wet compresses over the eyelid. You may make these with a wash cloth and warm water from the sink. Never warm the washcloth in the microwave with the intent of placing it over the delicate skin of your eye as it may burn your skin. Test your warm compress against the skin of your wrist to ensure it’s not too hot.

Keep the compress over your eye for 15 minutes, three to four times each day. When the wet compress becomes cold, run it under warm water again. If it doesn’t cause too much discomfort, you may massage the area while the compress is in place.

Keep your eyelids clean

Styes may be triggered when the glands on your eyelids become clogged, so keeping them clean helps to prevent a new stye and will help to heal the one you already have. Use a mild, chemical-free soap to gently wash your face and eye area.

Refrain from using makeup or contact lenses

The stye is filled with bacteria, so you may infect your makeup and contact lenses with the bacteria and reinfect yourself later.

This includes any makeup that is applied near your eye, such as mascara, eye shadow or concealer. Contact lenses may not only carry the bacteria but may also increase the risk of damage to your eye or your contact lens from the stye. Be sure to throw away any items used near your eye right before the stye developed to avoid reinfection.

Let the stye open naturally

Squeezing the stye can release pus filled with bacteria, and thus spread the infection to other oil glands or to your other eye.

Coriander seed wash

Coriander has antibacterial qualities that may help your stye to heal. Brew a coriander tea from the seeds and then use the fluid to clean your eyes after the fluid has cooled.

Warm tea bags

Typically black or green tea bags work well for warm compresses over your eye. Naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, tea will help reduce the irritating inflammation around your eye and help heal the infection in the stye. Steep a cup of tea and let the bag cool so it doesn’t burn your skin when you apply it. Keep it over your closed eye for 10 minutes and discard the tea bag after one use.

Discomfort relief

Cool moisture helps to bring relief from the discomfort of the stye and reduce the inflammation. Cold cucumber slices are a simple and effective method of reducing the irritation from a stye. Slice a cucumber from the refrigerator and place a slice on your eye for 10 minutes.

Avoid painkillers

A stye is uncomfortable and irritating, but over-the-counter painkillers do nothing to reduce the inflammation or treat the infection. A better option is to frequently use warm compresses and intersperse these with cool moisture to help alleviate the discomfort.

When to Call the Doctor

An infection on your eyelid has the potential for reaching your eye socket or your eye, increasing your risk of vision loss. These are some of the symptoms that may indicate it’s time to seek medical attention:12,13

The stye gets worse quickly

The stye bleeds

Your vision is affected

The stye spreads to your eyeball

The skin around your eye or cheeks becomes red and swollen

Your eye, not just the eyelid, hurts

You can’t open your eye from the swelling

You get recurring styes

Your eyelid turns red

Your stye gets very large

What May Trigger a Stye?

Once you’ve had a stye or eye infection, it’s important to replace your eye makeup, including your mascara and eye shadow, to prevent recurrence of an infection. Eye makeup should also be replaced every six months as it may become a breeding ground for bacterial growth, increasing your risk of infection. Wearing too much eye makeup, eye liner or sharing eye makeup with other women may increase your risk of developing a stye.

Wearing makeup overnight increases the risk of plugging your glands with mascara or eye liner and developing an environment for bacterial growth.14 Men and women who are under a significant amount of stress may also find they experience an increased risk of developing a stye.15 If you touch your eyes frequently, or insert your contact lenses without disinfecting them, you may increase your risk of depositing dust or dirt near the Meibomian gland duct.16

A stye may be triggered when the oil glands are blocked by dirt, grime and dust, so keeping your eyelashes clean helps to prevent styes from developing. A lack of essential fatty acids in your diet may result in flaky skin, which may also block your oil glands. Essential fatty acids are not produced by your body and must be consumed in your diet.

Essential fatty acids help the formation of healthy cell membranes, thyroid and adrenal activity, and support healthy skin and hair and hormone production.17 Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid and a-linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid, both of which are needed in your diet since you cannot synthesize them in your body. A lack of these fatty acids increases the risk of your skin becoming flaky, and thus increases the risk dead skin may plug your Meibomian glands and develop into a stye.

You might be at higher risk of developing a stye if you suffer from blepharitis, or inflammation of the eyelids when the oil glands are blocked. This may occur more frequently when you suffer from environmental allergies, such as allergies to pollen.18 The condition triggers the formation of dandruff-type scales along the eyelid and eyelashes. In many cases, a regular cleaning routine to your eyelashes will help control the condition.

Stye or Chalazion?

A stye is very similar to a chalazion. In the case of a stye, the inflammation and swelling is the result of a bacterial infection. A chalazion is triggered from some of the same risk factors discussed above, but the swelling does not include a bacterial infection. A stye often resolves within a week with simple home treatments, while a chalazion will present with swelling and redness but not discomfort or pain.

A chalazion is often larger than a stye and will be located under the upper lid and not along the eyelid. The formation of a chalazion occurs when your oil glands are blocked and the oil forms a swelling. The lump is painless, often on the upper lid, and less frequently on the lower lid.19 The fluid in the oil gland thickens and is unable to be excreted. You may experience tearing, mild irritation and blurred vision if the lump is large enough to press against the eyeball.

A chalazion is more common in adults than children, while styes are more commonly found in children. Although many chalazions will disappear without treatment, they often recur if you don’t address the trigger that caused the chalazion in the first place. These triggers are the same as those for styes and also include acne rosacea, seborrhea, viral infections and tuberculosis.20

Obesity Takes Greater Than Ever Toll on Global Health
Wed, 28 Jun 2017 05:00:00 GMT

By Dr. Mercola

According to research published in 2013, 1 in 5 American deaths is associated with obesity,1 and the younger you are, the greater obesity's influence on your mortality. Considering one-third of American children between the ages of 2 and 19 are now overweight or obese, chronic disease and mortality rates will likely climb dramatically in coming decades as the health of these youths begins to fail.

Since 1980, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S., the rate of obese teens has quadrupled from 5 to 20.5 percent, and nearly 9 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds are now obese.2 As of 2014, the obesity rate among adults over 20 was just shy of 38 percent, costing the U.S. medical system $147 million annually.3

In December 2011, severe obesity was included as a qualifying disability under the American With Disabilities Act, further raising the cost of obesity on society as a whole. Being overweight during pregnancy also increases the risk of birth defects, recent research warns, and the more obese the mother, the greater the risk.4,5

More than half of all Americans also struggle with chronic illness6 — a truly shocking statistic when you consider modern health care is supposed to be the best mankind has ever been privy to. It really says a lot about the influence lifestyle wields on your health, and the price we pay for convenience.

Obesity — A Greater Health Threat Than Smoking

Data collected from tens of thousands of Canadians confirms obesity surpasses smoking in terms of creating ill health, and Dutch researchers recently predicted obesity and inactivity will overtake smoking as a leading cause of cancer deaths specifically.7 Processed foods shoulder the greatest blame for this trend. Many children are raised on fast food from the time they're able to eat solid foods, and are given sugary sodas and juices at even younger ages. As recently noted by Bruce Y. Lee in a Forbes op-ed:8

"The human population is in desperate need of an intervention … the kind organized by your friends when you don't realize how bad your problem has gotten and need to be confronted about it … How much more convincing do people really need? Continuing to gather more evidence without taking much more action is like continuing to check the water level while your toilet is overflowing without even reaching for the plunger.

In both cases, the result will be messy. The latest additions to what has become a growing mound of scientific evidence are the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Obesity Update 2017 report9 and a just published study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)."

1 in 10 Adults Worldwide Is Obese

According to the OECD, the global obesity rate among adults is now 1 in 10, or 10 percent.10,11,12 In 2015, excess weight accounted for 4 million deaths worldwide (just over 7 percent). Thirty-nine percent of people who died from cardiovascular disease were overweight but not obese, prompting a warning that health problems are not relegated to obesity. Carrying even a modest amount of excess weight can have a significant impact on your health.

The NEJM study13 reviewed over 1,000 published studies and data from more than 170 countries, looking to extrapolate and measure health effects associated with different body mass indexes (BMI). This study presents an even grimmer picture, showing a total of 12 percent of adults, globally, are obese, and 5 percent of all children.

When you factor in those who are overweight but not obese, the global rate is about 30 percent. Echoing previous studies, these results suggest there are now more overweight people in the world than there are underweight ones.14 No less than 73 countries have seen obesity rates double since 1980. Disturbingly, but not surprisingly, obesity rates are increasing much faster among children than adults. Lee continues:15

"The study also quantified the high amount of suffering caused by obesity using a measure called disability-adjusted life-years … which is the number of years lost to impaired function. All of this is not simply because people have gotten lazier or are making worse decisions.

With such 'big' numbers, something greater is amiss. Too many countries now have broken systems (e.g., too much garbage in food, too much garbage everywhere maybe affecting our metabolism, too much garbage on the internet, television, in our jobs and in our daily lives to keep us from eating well, exercising and sleeping) with the U.S. leading the way.

And not enough people are doing anything to change these systems … [T]he Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to scientific and public health funding and rolling back [Michelle Obama's] healthy school lunch initiatives, which may be like throwing more toilet paper into an overflowing toilet …"

BMI Is a Poor Metric of Health

Most studies, including those above, use BMI to determine whether an individual is of normal or excessive weight. A BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight; anything over 30 is obese. Your BMI is arrived at by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. The problem is, this method fails to differentiate between muscle and fat tissue. It also doesn't take into account the actual distribution of body fat on your physical frame.

As noted in a recent Popular Science article,16 "… [B]elly fat might be hidden on your 6-foot, 2-inch frame, but it could still contribute to problems that kill you." We now know that excess visceral fat — the fat that accumulates around your internal organs — is far more hazardous to your health than subcutaneous fat (the more noticeable fat found just under your skin).

The danger of visceral fat is related to the release of proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, and affect how your body breaks down sugars and fats. Two tests that give you a far better idea of your body composition and health risk are your waist-to-hip ratio and your height-to-waist ratio.17

Either one will be far more accurate than BMI. As noted in a 2015 study,18 men with normal BMI but central obesity (fat centralized around the midsection) had TWICE the mortality risk of men considered obese according to their BMI but who had no central obesity.

Two Tests to Evaluate Your Health Risks

To determine your height-to-waist ratio,19 measure your height and your waist circumference with a measuring tape. Your waist circumference should be less than half of your height. Having a height-to-waist ratio of at least 2-to-1 is associated with longer life expectancy and a lower risk of inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.20

Your waist-to-hip ratio has the added benefit of giving you a better idea of the actual distribution of fat on your body. Having an apple shaped body is indicative of carrying more harmful visceral fat, which is associated with an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. Carrying more fat around your hips and buttocks, on the other hand, is associated with lower health risks as this subcutaneous fat is not nearly as harmful as the fat around your internal organs.

That said, some body types may render this technique less than perfect as well. For example, women who are very thin and "straight" (i.e., don't have an hourglass figure) may end up in a higher risk category than is warranted. In such cases, you may want to measure both your height-to-waist and your waist-to-hip ratio to get a better idea of your overall risk.

To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, get a tape measure and record your waist and hip circumference. Then divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. For a more thorough demonstration, please see the video above.

Waist to Hip Ratio Men Women

Waist to Hip Ratio: Ideal

Men: 0.8

Women: 0.7

Waist to Hip Ratio: Low Risk

Men: <0.95

Women: <0.8

Waist to Hip Ratio: Moderate Risk

Men: 0.96-0.99

Women: 0.81 - 0.84

Waist to Hip Ratio: High Risk

Men: >1.0

Women: >0.85

Food Policies Have Worsened Obesity Epidemic

Government policies have contributed to the growing obesity epidemic in a number of different ways, starting with the issuing of flawed dietary guidelines. Hand in hand with that you have agricultural subsidies promoting the growing of junk food ingredients rather than healthy fruits and vegetables, and the subsidizing of factory farms rather than smaller family-run farms. The U.S. government is even funding consumer outreach and education programs to promote acceptance of genetically engineered foods.21

Government policies have also made it far easier for minorities to open fast-food franchises rather than grocery stores, thereby contributing to the growing problem of "food deserts" — areas where all you can find are fast-food joints and gas station fare.

One of the reasons why fast-food franchises are given preference for Small Business Administration (SBA) Equal Opportunity Loans is because they have a far greater profit margin; a fast-food restaurant can have a profit margin as high as 6 percent, whereas a grocery store typically only has a profit margin of 1 percent, so loans are more likely to be repaid.

As noted in a recent NPR article reviewing professor Chin Jou's book, "Super Sizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food With Government Help":22

"'African-American consumption of fast food today is not a function of any longstanding preferences for fast food,' Jou told NPR … She says that it's a consequence of 'targeted relentless marketing,' as well as historic developments like the [SBA] loan program and high unemployment rates among African-Americans …

Fast-food companies, which had saturated their original markets of roadside stops and suburbs, needed expansion in order to grow profits. Reaching out to potential African-American franchisees was their roadmap to success. In fact, fast-food companies couldn't open restaurants in many urban areas without them …

Jou quotes Brady Keys, former NFL football player turned franchisee, who put it more bluntly: 'They [fast-food corporations] know that doing business in my area is hell. There's cutting, shooting, killing. So they say, we really don't want to do this ourselves, so why don't we get this black cat over here and franchise him?'"

Fried Potatoes Double Risk of Early Death

There's simply no doubt that processed foods are at the very heart of the obesity problem. The risks of a processed food diet, high in added sugars, harmful fats and synthetic ingredients have been demonstrated in numerous studies. Most recently, a study23,24 published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that eating fried potatoes more than twice a week can double your risk of an early death, compared to not eating fried potatoes at all.

The researchers believe this is due to the cooking oil, which is high in trans fat. As noted by author Nicola Veronese, trans fat raises LDL cholesterol, a risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Vegetable oils also degrade into toxic oxidation products when heated, including aldehydes, which are highly inflammatory and have been implicated in heart disease and Alzheimer's.

Cooking oils are also a source of damaged omega-6 fats, and a lopsided ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 is yet another contributing factor to obesity. Studies show a connection between the consumption of omega-3 fats and a decrease in fatty tissue development, along with increases in beneficial brown fat and weight loss, while eating too many omega-6s promotes fatty white tissue and chronic inflammation, two of the biggest red flags indicating obesity.

Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, when taken in large amounts, also cannot be burned for fuel. Instead, they're incorporated into cellular and mitochondrial membranes. Here, they become highly susceptible to oxidative damage, which ultimately damages your metabolic machinery. Not surprisingly, the National Potato Council has rebuffed the findings, saying that "it is very much a stretch to brand fried potatoes, or any other form of potato, as unhealthy."25

Metabolic Mitochondrial Therapy to the Rescue

Modern food manufacturing processes have failed to improve health or increase longevity. It's time for a radical U-turn. Compelling evidence shows your net carbohydrate intake is a primary factor that determines your body's fat ratio, and processed grains and sugars (particularly fructose) are the primary culprits behind our skyrocketing obesity, diabetes and chronic disease rates.

In short, most people eat far too many processed foods, net carbs, unhealthy fats and protein — and too few healthy fats. The result is weight gain and insulin resistance. Exercise cannot compensate for the damage done by a high-carb, low-fat diet, and most do not get enough physical movement to boot. These factors set in motion metabolic and biological cascades that deteriorate your health.

In the video above, Dr. David Perlmutter26 and I discuss my No. 1 best-seller, "Fat for Fuel," released on May 16. In this book, I explain the principles of metabolic mitochondrial therapy (MMT), and the metabolic advantages you gain once your body regains the ability to burn fat for fuel. As explained in the interview, and in my book, a foundational cause of most degenerative diseases is the fact that your mitochondria, the little powerhouses located in most of your body's cells, are not receiving sufficient amounts of proper fuel.

As a result, your mitochondria start to deteriorate. Mitochondrial dysfunction lays the groundwork for subsequent breakdowns of various bodily systems. Your mitochondria are nourished by some nutrients and harmed by others. So, a healthy diet is a diet that supports mitochondrial function, and having the metabolic flexibility to burn fat is the key.

The vast majority of people on the planet who eat a primarily processed food diet are burning carbohydrates as their primary fuel, which has the devastating effect of shutting down your body's ability to burn fat.

This is why obesity is so prevalent, and why so many find it nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off. When your body burns primarily carbs for fuel, excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals are also created, which damage cellular mitochondrial membranes and DNA.

Healthy dietary fats, which are a cleaner-burning fuel, create far fewer ROS and free radicals. This lays the groundwork for many of the metabolic benefits of this program. Fats are also critical for the health of cellular membranes and many other biological functions.

Dietary Keys to Health

The initial strategy of my MMT program involves restricting net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber) to 20 to 50 grams per day until you start burning fat for fuel. To replace the lost carbs, you increase healthy fats, so that you're getting anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of your daily calories from fat. Examples of high-quality healthy fats include:

Avocados

Coconuts and coconut oil (excellent for cooking as it can withstand higher temperatures without oxidizing)

Animal-based omega-3 fat from fatty fish low in mercury like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies and/or krill oil

Butter made from raw grass fed organic milk

Raw nuts (macadamia and pecans are ideal as they're high in healthy fat while being low in protein)

Seeds like black sesame, cumin, pumpkin and hemp seeds

Olives and olive oil (make sure it's third party certified, as 80 percent of olive oils are adulterated with vegetable oils)

Grass fed (pastured) preferably organic and humanely raised meats. Avoid CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) animal products

MCT oil

Ghee (clarified butter), lard and tallow (excellent for cooking)

Raw cacao butter

Organic, pastured egg yolks

Fats to avoid include trans fats and highly refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils.27 I also recommend limiting protein to just what your body needs. I've previously given out the details on how to calculate your protein requirement, so for a refresher, see "Are You Sabotaging Your Health and Longevity by Eating Too Much Protein?"

It's important to emphasize that MMT is not merely adding more healthy fat to your current diet or eating as much fat as you want. It is absolutely crucial to restrict net carbs, or else you're merely increasing the number of calories you consume. Raising the amount of fat and decreasing net carbs is what pushes your body into burning fat for fuel. Eating high amounts of both fat and net carbs will NOT allow your body to make this shift, as your body will use whatever sugar is available first.

Another crucial tenet of MMT is something called feast-famine cycling. The ketogenic cycling is implemented once you're out of the initial stage and your body has regained the ability to burn fat. At that point, you begin cycling in and out of nutritional ketosis by upping your carb and protein intake once or twice a week (ideally on the days you're doing strength training).

Getting Started

To be successful on this program, precision is important. You cannot guess when it comes to the amount of fat, net carbs and protein you eat. In the beginning, you have to measure and track them. To do this you need:

A digital kitchen scale to weigh food items

Measuring cups to measure food amounts

A nutrient tracker. I recommend using www.cronometer.com/mercola, as it is the most accurate nutrient tracker available, it's free, and it's already set up for nutritional ketosis.

Based on the personal base parameters you enter, such as height, weight, body fat percentage and waist circumference, it will automatically calculate the ideal ratios of net carbs, protein and healthy fats (including your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio) to put you into nutritional ketosis

Opportunities to Learn More

To learn more, consider joining me at one of the following live events. August 3 through 6, I will lecture at the Low Carb USA event in San Diego, along with Gary Taubes, Stephen Phinney and several other experts. You can see the entire list of invited speakers lower on the page.

I am also speaking in Florida in November. If you are a physician and are interested in learning about how you can use the ketogenic diet and other therapies for cancer, heart disease, Lyme and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, please be sure and come to our ACIM conference in Orlando, Florida, November 2 through 4 at the Florida Conference and Hotel Center. Early Bird price for all three days ends July 1.

If you are a patient, there will be a separate and less expensive track on the same date and location. However, you will need to come back to this page at a later date, as the registration page for the event is still unavailable.


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