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Farm Subsidies & The Unhealthy Low-Fiber USA Diet

From: <http://www.grantspassnews.com/articles/index.cfm?artoid=324096>
GrantsPassNews.com - Grants Pass,OR,USA

Farm Subsidies: How The Colon Got The Shaft
By Jeff Leach
Gut Feeling Column


While bulging waist lines and clogged arteries grab all the headlines, the
decreasing health of our colons through diminishing amounts of dietary fiber
as a function of government policy is a looming and disastrous health crisis
that will knock the healthcare system flat on its back.

AMIDST THE USUAL mob of protesters and tear gas, WTO ministers recently met
in Hong Kong to discuss - among many things - the crippling global affect of
low-cost export commodities from the US made possible by mammoth farm
subsidies. However, the effects of US agricultural policies on global
pricing continue to overshadow the more devastating health effects of these
policies within our own borders.

The farm bill signed by President Bush in 2002, which pledged an astounding
190 billion in subsidies over the next ten years, was the latest in a long
line of legislation that likely guaranteed that the next generation of
Americans will suffer higher rates of obesity and diabetes, have more
strokes and heart attacks, and consume less fiber than any previous
generation in human history. While bulging waist lines and clogged arteries
grab all the headlines, the decreasing health of our colons through
diminishing amounts of dietary fiber as a function of government policy is a
looming and disastrous health crisis that will knock the healthcare system
flat on its back.

As an anthropologist, I've had the opportunity to peer into our nutritional
past at the bits and pieces of meals and lifeways left by our ancient
ancestors. Fortunately, they were messy.

In ideal preservation contexts we often see evidence for daily intake of
diverse species of plants that provided 75, 100, and up to 150 grams of
fiber a day. This is similar to fiber intake noted among many healthy, rural
Asian people today, or what we saw 75 years ago in places like South Africa,
Uganda, and other far away non-westernized regions. But in the US today,
depending on gender, age, and activity level, our government recommends we
only eat 25 to 38 grams a day - give or take. Based on this guidance,
Americans promptly consume about half of that.

The important physiological role of fiber in human health lies in its
ability to stimulate the growth and health of the trillions of good bacteria
that live permanently in our colons. These evolutionary hitch-hikers have
evolved a special symbiotic relationship with humans over eons and have
become so intertwined in our health and well-being they are considered an
organ. Importantly, these healthy bacteria require fiber to live.

Our diminishing dietary intake of fiber is literally starving our colonic
bacteria, inhibiting their ability to defend us against invading pathogens
that make millions of people sick, many of whom will die. A healthy and
well-fed population of colonic bacteria increases mineral absorption (think
calcium), has positive affects on biomarkers of colon cancer, reduces
symptoms of IBS, and reduces the risk to coronary heart disease by
modulating bad cholesterol. And the list goes on.

We cannot simply go from a species that evolved on a diet of nutrient-rich
fibrous plants, to one that eats almost no fiber. The current US guidelines
for fiber intake are - from an evolutionary perspective - in actuality, low
fiber recommendations that represent nothing more than the efforts of
lobbyists who represent industries that have an interest in seeing the
"number of servings" for their "food groups" maintained or increased.

To understand the decreasing role of fiber in the American diet, we need not
look farther than farm subsidies. Aside from boosting profits within the
industry, these subsidies result in low-cost commodities - especially grains
- which end up as highly processed (read: no fiber) ingredients in many
popular foods. This is one of the reasons you can buy five boxes of macaroni
and cheese - which supplies nearly 6,000 nutrient-poor calories - for $1.
Further, the average American derives nearly 40 percent of daily caloric
needs from heavily subsidized added sugars and fats/oils.

Though the government says we should eat more fiber-rich fruits and
vegetables, these categories historically receive very few subsidies. This
is why fresh fruits and vegetables increased a whopping 120 percent in price
from 1985 to 2000, while grain, fats/oil, and sugar-laden products increased
far less. With an ever-increasing number of Americans barely making ends
meet, choices for "what's for dinner" have already been economically
predetermined, and fiber-rich foods can barely be seen on the plate.

As anthropologists of the future look back upon our society, what will they
see? Unless we stem the tide of unbalanced agricultural subsidies and
honestly address the gaps in nutrition education among consumers, I'm afraid
we will be judged on a never-ending sea of oversized caskets below a surface
littered with empty prescription bottles and crumbling Food Pyramids built
by congressional pharaohs run amok.

Jeff Leach is a science writer and anthropologist who specializes in trends
in human nutrition. He is the author of the forthcoming books Prebiotics:
Optimal Health and Well-Being and It's the Fiber, Stupid! He also writes a
weekly nutrition column and FREE newsletter www.gutfeelingcolumn.com

Contact info: Jeff Leach may be reached at jeff@gutfeelingcolumn.com.