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Dr. Hyman: 'Your Fork Is the Most Powerful Tool to Transform Your Health and Change the World'

Food

Are you confused on what's healthy to eat? If so, Dr. Mark Hyman, who has been studying nutrition for 35 years, brings clarity to what you should be putting in your mouth and what you shouldn't in his book Food. What the Heck Should I Eat?.


Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has been touting for more than 20 years the importance of eating a diet that supports organic and regenerative agriculture to improve human health, advance fair trade/fair labor practices, protect the environment and combat global warming. Dr. Hyman's new book outlines so many of these same principals.

We had a chance to ask Dr. Hyman a few questions regarding the importance of being a conscious consumer and how switching to a regenerative farming system can reverse climate change. Here's what he had to say:

OCA: Can you explain why you think our forks are the most powerful tools to transform our health and change the world?

Dr. Hyman: Food and the way we produce and consume it is the nexus of most of our world's health, environmental, climate, economic and even political crises. That's why it is our fork, and what we decide to put on it every single day that is of the utmost importance. I truly believe that when we choose organic, grass-fed, local, sustainable foods, we are voting for a healthier planet.

OCA: I love the food is medicine connection you make in your book. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this?

Dr. Hyman: Food contains information that speaks to our genes, not just calories for energy. We are learning from research in the field of nutrigenomics, that good "talks" to our DNA, switching on or off genes that lead to health or disease. Every bite of food regulates your gene expression, hormones, immune system, brain chemistry and even your microbiome. What you eat programs your body with messages of health or illness. This is what I mean by food is medicine.

OCA: How is the current industrial food system responsible for chronic diseases and epidemics like diabetes, obesity and allergies?

Dr. Hyman: The food industry includes seed producers, factory farmers, food growers and the processed food and fast food industries. These organizations spend millions of dollars each year on lobbying to influence our Department of Agriculture. And there's a huge problem with this. Our dietary guidelines are actually created by the Department of Agriculture, the same agency that is in charge of deciding which crops our tax dollars subsidize! Seems like a big conflict of interest to me.

This results in subsidies that support commodity crops—corn, wheat and soy—which get turned into high fructose corn syrup, white flour and soybean oil. Even though more than half our diet comes from these three crops which are the building blocks of sugar-sweetened drinks and processed foods, they are definitely not what we should be eating. Yet, 99 percent of the government's food subsidies go to support these crops, while only 1 percent goes for "specialty" crops—fruits and veggies. If these are "specialty crops," then why does the government tell us to eat 5-9 servings a day? The truth is that our government is funding our chronic disease epidemic.

And the food industry heavily markets poor-quality foods designed to be addictive.

OCA: Can you explain how the health of our soil impacts the health of humans?

Dr. Hyman: Because of depleted soils from modern industrial farming and hybridization techniques, the animals and vegetables we eat have fewer nutrients. Crops like wheat, rice and corn are typically grown as monocultures, meaning that a single crop is planted repeatedly on the same land, season after season. Monocultures farmed with tilling deplete the soil of its nutrients, and as a result they require huge amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Damaged soil leads to erosion and runoff, which contaminates the water supply with pesticides. When you purchase organic and grass-fed, you are voting for healthier soil. Organic matter in the soil holds water and sequesters carbon. Our modern farming techniques result in droughts, floods and climate change.

OCA: Thank you for touching on crop desiccation in your book. Can you explain how this process—the spraying of the herbicide glyphosate just before harvest to increase yield—impacts human health?

Dr. Hyman: Glyphosate aka Roundup, made by Monsanto, although it didn't exist until 1974, is now the most heavily used weed killer in global agriculture. (It's also the second-most popular herbicide for home use). It is sprayed on wheat crops to exfoliate them to make the wheat easier to harvest. Those residues end up in our wheat products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it's safe for us, but there's evidence suggesting it may have something to do with the rise in celiac disease and other gluten sensitivities. Glyphosate exposure has been associated with increased risk of cancer, kidney disease, lymphoma, reproductive difficulties and damage to our gut bacteria.

OCA: I've heard that you're a big supporter of regenerative agriculture. What role does regenerative farming play in the future of food and the health of people and planet?

Dr. Hyman: Early research has shown that regenerative farming may be the future of meat that is healthy for us as well as the environment, and humane for the animals, too. For example, well-managed grazing operations can actually offset or even completely compensate for methane and other greenhouse gases linked to beef production by trapping carbon in the soil. The grass soaks up and stores, or sequesters, carbon, preventing carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. These operations also involve regularly moving the animals to fresh pasture and keeping them away from streambeds, which can help prevent water pollution. For the most part, pasture-raised cattle do not rely on irrigated crops for feeding, which lessens the amount of water required to produce meat. By choosing grass-fed meat from small, sustainable farms, we also support the fair treatment of workers and livestock.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.