The Little-Known Reason You Overeat—And 3 Ways to Stop

The Little-Known Reason You Overeat—And 3 Ways to Stop

Each day, more than 80,000,000 Americans eat fast food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When cruising the drive-thru, chances are they’re not ordering highly nutritious, good-for-you items. The Bacon King burger at Burger King, for example, contains a whopping 1,150 calories and 2,150mg of sodium, not to mention 79g of fat. Of that, 31g is saturated fat—50 percent more than you should get in an entire day, based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.

On the other hand, if you’re feasting on a tasty baby kale salad, 100% whole wheat bread or a side of fresh peas, well, you’re expecting to get a big nutrient bang for each bite. And while these foods are still much healthier than fast foods, nutritionally speaking, they're not quite as powerful as they used to be. 

Less bang for your bite
Unfortunately, a combination of yield-increasing agricultural-biz changes in plants and the effects of increasing CO2 and methane in the atmosphere have altered plant nutrient levels. Even kale, whole wheat and tomatoes are delivering fewer vitamins and minerals per bite, while carbohydrates per bite have gone up.

How does this happen? As CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere, it increases the sugar (carb) content of plants and decreases their levels of calcium, phosphorus, zinc and iron, as well as the amount of protein in wheat and rice. And, depending on whose data you look at, the drop could be between 2 and 8 percent. One 2004 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that found that between 1950 and 1999, 43 garden crops had notable declines in essential nutrients, such as protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C and riboflavin.

What’s the significance? It’s important to realize that you can suffer from hidden hunger— even on a plant-based diet. Moreover, under- or malnutrition may drive you to overeat even more empty calories. This can disrupt your weight-managing and nutrient-processing gut biome and set you up for everything from type 2 diabetes to heart disease—and even some forms of cancer.

Power up your nutrition
There’s a lot you can do to make sure you get the nutrition you need without overeating, even as your food supply dips in nutrients.

  • Opt for locally grown, organic seasonal veggies. Why? Because they haven’t been picked, kept super cool (apples and pears may be stored for up to 12 months), shipped half way around the world (that takes weeks), trucked across the country (five to seven days) and then stored in your fridge for a week before you eat them. Why that matters: Green peas stored around 33 degrees Fahrenheit for seven days—which is a lot colder than most fridges—lose 15 percent of their vitamin C, and green beans lose 77 percent. For non-local, non-seasonal produce, it’s fine to consider frozen; it may have more nutrients than long-ago-picked produce.
  • Make sure you get seven to nine servings of produce daily. Most folks get so little produce that upping the ante to that level has huge, immediate health benefits.
  • Upgrade your snacks. Have sliced and diced fruit and veggies on hand. Enjoy nonfat, no-added-sugar yogurt with fresh fruit. Drink beverages without any added sugars or syrups.

Help your body to use essential nutrients to improve your health and wellbeing by getting 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity or 150 of moderate physical activity each week. Increased muscle tone helps burns nutritional fuel to help strengthen your immune and cardiovascular systems and brainpower. Keep in mind however, every bit of exercise has health benefits—even just a two-minute walk.

Medically reviewed in October 2019.

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