Life Extension Magazine®
Germinated seeds in test tubes in changing of farming practice

Food Fix

In his book Food Fix, Mark Hyman, MD, provides practical solutions for creating healthier individuals, healthier farming practices, and ultimately a healthier planet.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, on February 2021. Written By Mark Hyman, MD.

Reversing the global epidemic of chronic disease, healing the environment, and reviving economies, can all be accomplished through, in one word: Food.

In his latest book, Food Fix, Mark Hyman, MD, Cleveland Clinic doctor and best-selling author, explains how our current agriculture policies are driving chronic disease, climate change, poverty, violence, and more.

According to Hyman, ultraprocessed foods kill 11 million people every year and make 60% of Americans sick with a chronic disease.

How we grow food is the number one cause of climate change—and the culprit behind the alarming loss of soil, water, biodiversity, and pollinators.

Due to current farming practices, it is estimated that the world will run out of topsoil in just 60 more harvests. No topsoil means no food.

We are depleting fresh water sources at one trillion gallons more per year than can be replenished by rain.

According to Dr. Hyman, we don’t need to fix the food system for a better future; we need a food fix for a future.

Fortunately, there are solutions.

In addition to highlighting the enormity of the problem, Food Fix provides practical solutions for creating healthier individuals, healthier farming practices, and ultimately a healthier planet.

In this interview with Life Extension®, Dr. Hyman talks about why we desperately need a “food fix”—and provides specific suggestions for ways to restore the broken system.

—Laurie Mathena

LE: Why are we in such desperate need of a “food fix?”

Dr. Hyman: Our most powerful tool to reverse the global epidemic of chronic disease, heal the environment, reverse climate change, end poverty and social injustice, reform politics, and revive economies is food.

Woman in grocery store reading label

The food we grow, how we grow it, and the food we eat have tremendous implications not just for our waistlines but also for our communities, the planet, and the global economy.

Chronic disease is now the single biggest threat to global economic development. Lifestyle-caused diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer now kill nearly 50 million people a year, more than twice as many as die from infectious disease.

Lobbyists’ influence over policy makers has put corporations, not citizens, at the center of every aspect of our food system, from what and how food is grown to what is manufactured, marketed, and sold.

When money rules politics, it results in our current uncoordinated and conflicting food policies, which subsidize and protect and facilitate Big Food’s and Big Ag’s domination of our food system to the detriment of our population and our environment.

LE: How do these companies have such a big influence on the system?

Dr. Hyman: Big Ag and Big Food co-opt politicians, public health groups, grassroots advocacy groups, scientists, and schools, and pollute science and public opinion with vast amounts of dollars and misinformation campaigns.

The consolidation and monopolization of the food industry over the last 40 years from hundreds of different processed-food companies, seed companies, and chemical and fertilizer companies into just a few dozen companies make it the largest collective industry in the world, valued at approximately $15 trillion, or about 17% of the entire world’s economy.

And it is controlled by a few dozen CEOs who determine what food is grown and how it is grown, processed, distributed, and sold. This affects every single human on the planet.

We are also depleting nature’s capital—capital that, once destroyed, may only be able to be partially reclaimed. The threat is not only to our health and our children’s future, but also to the health of the planet that sustains us.

Our industrial agricultural and food system is the single biggest cause of climate change, exceeding all use of fossil fuels.

Current farming practices may cause us to run out of soil and fresh water in this century. We are destroying our rivers, lakes, and oceans by the runoff of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which is creating vast swaths of marine dead zones.

LE: How do current farming practices impact our health?

Dr. Hyman: Eleven million people die every year from a bad diet. And more than a billion people in the world are overweight and sick from eating our processed, industrialized diet and not eating a healthy, whole foods diet. In fact, the number one factor causing these deaths is the lack of fruits and vegetables in our diet.

Farmer holding crate of farm fresh food

The sad thing is that in America only 2% of our farmland is used to grow fruits and vegetables, despite our government’s recommendations that 50% of our diet should be fruits and vegetables.

Fifty-nine percent of our farmland is used to grow commodity crops (corn, wheat, soy) that get turned into ultraprocessed foods that we know are deadly. These processed foods make up about 60% of our diet!

Why does this matter? For every 10% of your diet that comes from processed food, your risk of death goes up 14%. That means a lot of extra deaths because we support agriculture that creates food that makes us sick and fat and harms the environment, and not the production of fruits and vegetables and whole foods that make us healthy.

The complexity of the problem prevents people from connecting the dots and taking action. And most of the true costs are not even recognized, limiting the motivation to change the system.

LE: What is the economic impact?

Dr. Hyman: The World Economic Forum estimated that between 2010 and 2030 the global health care costs for chronic disease will exceed $47 trillion.

They declared this the single biggest threat to global economic development. General Motors spends more on health care than on steel, and Starbucks spends more on health care than on coffee beans!

Any way you slice it, the costs of obesity and chronic disease are weighing the world down. There is little health care infrastructure, few doctors and nurses to treat these problems, and even less money. The “cheap” food that causes disease is not so cheap after all.

LE: How do America’s food policies impact this situation?

Dr. Hyman: If I had to describe the state of America’s food policies in one word, it would be this: chaos! If I got a second word, it would be: disaster.

Eight agencies oversee the government’s food-related policies, and they largely work in silos. They rarely coordinate with one another to achieve a common goal, which makes their policies confused and conflicted. In many cases, they directly contradict one another.

On top of that, most of our food and agriculture policies undermine public health, harm the environment, and increase private profits.

LE: How is the government subsidizing this problem?

Dr. Hyman: Some of the most heavily subsidized foods, like corn and soybeans, are plants that are not inherently unhealthy. But the vast majority of these crops are not consumed whole.

Only 1% of American-grown corn is sold and eaten whole as corn on the cob. Much of the rest is either fed to factory-farmed livestock to fatten them up before slaughter or converted into biofuels.

As for what does hit your plate, America’s heavily subsidized bounty of corn and soy may start out as whole foods, but by the time you eat them, they’ve been manufactured into ultraprocessed oils and sweeteners and food additives.

Even worse: If those farmers want to diversify and grow tomatoes and broccoli on their farms, they lose all their government support.

As a result of farm subsidies, taxpayers are footing the bill for the chronic disease epidemic while simultaneously underwriting the production of the very foods that are causing it.

LE: Food is the problem…but it’s also the solution.

Dr. Hyman: The reason this problem is pretty much ignored or attacked piecemeal is that this epidemic has come on fast and furiously over the last 40 years and blindsided society and governments. And better medication or medical care can’t solve these chronic diseases.

The solution? Our forks.

Mounting research proves that food is medicine and demonstrates how whole foods, especially an increase in vegetables and fruit, can prevent or reverse chronic disease.

At Geisinger Health Systems, providing food-insecure poorly controlled type II diabetics with a year’s worth of whole foods reduced health care costs by 80% and dramatically improved their health outcomes.

According to Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, “The idea of food as medicine is not only an idea whose time has come. It’s an idea that’s absolutely essential to our health care system.”

LE: Let’s switch gears and talk about the environmental impact of our current food system. How are current farming practices harming the planet—and threatening our future?

Dr. Hyman: Our food system isn’t just making the world’s population sick; it’s making the environment sick. Innovations in agriculture over the last century have allowed us to produce more food than ever, but at a serious cost.

The methods we use to grow food are contributing to our future inability to grow food, by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, raising temperatures, and making current cropland unfarmable.

The U.N. projects that in 60 years we may completely “mine” all our topsoil, making it almost impossible to grow food. Soil gone. No food. No people. That’s 60 more harvests.

What will your grandchildren eat?

Water scarcity is also a huge issue; at the World Economic Forum, I heard Jim Kim, the former head of the World Bank, say, “The wars of the future will be fought over water, not oil.”

Through tillage and erosion, soils have lost 133 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere since we started farming, driving global warming.

Big fertilizer conglomerates produce 20 million metric tons of fertilizer a year using fossil-fuel-intensive processes. When that fertilizer is applied to farms, the damage is wrought on the soil, and it weakens plants, pollutes water systems, and drives huge external costs.

Halting land degradation has become an urgent global imperative.

LE: How could regenerative agriculture help solve the water shortage problem?

Mobile irrigation of crop field

Dr. Hyman: Water is a limited resource. Only 5% of water on the planet is fresh water. We are depleting our ancient aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them.

The biggest one in America, the Ogallala Aquifer in the Midwest, is being depleted by more than a trillion gallons more a year than can be refilled by rain. Irrigation of crops is the main cause.

Dirt can’t hold water. Soil can. If we switched to range (grass)-fed regenerative livestock production, we would restore soils, draw down carbon (reversing climate change), and store massive amounts of water, which can prevent floods and droughts.

LE: What could be done politically to change this destructive system?

Researcher studying grain seeds

Dr. Hyman: For starters, the government has to reform its subsidies system. Farmers need incentives to grow more nutritious foods using regenerative practices.

Subsidies should also support farmers to transition to organically or regeneratively grown crops, grass-fed and grass-finished pasture-raised livestock, and organically produced milk. These subsidies can help farmers buy new seeds, develop new crops, and purchase new farm equipment that will help them transition to more regenerative practices.

Beyond subsidies, the federal government feeds millions of people in schools, hospitals, and prisons, as well as military and government workers.

It can promote healthy eating and create markets for farmers by requiring that schools, prisons, and military bases use a percentage of their budgets to buy locally sourced food from nearby farms and, at the very least, healthy whole foods that promote health rather than disease.

A national food policy would transform our broken food system into one that aligns public health objectives with economic and environmental goals. It would make healthful choices the default option for Americans while slashing health care costs and helping farmers, protecting the environment, and reversing climate change.

LE: How can individuals advocate for change?

Dr. Hyman: These are just a few of the many innovations and ideas moving from the margins to the center and providing a road map for fixing our food system.

It is the great work of our time. And it depends on all of us.

We need a national (and ultimately global) campaign to fix our food system. If you’re interested in helping transform our food system and want to learn more, please join our campaign and prescription for a new food system at www.foodfix.org.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

Reprinted with permission from Food Fix by Mark Hyman, copyright © 2020. Published by Little, Brown Spark, an imprint of Little, Brown Books.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For a quick reference guide to all the solutions outlined in Food Fix, visit www.foodfixbook.com. To learn more about any of the issues that stem from our food industry, take a look at the online resource guide for articles, studies, reports, books, videos, companies, and organizations that are raising awareness and changing the conversation at www.foodfixbook.com/resources.

Cover of Food Fix by Mark Hyman, MD

About the Author:

Mark Hyman, MD is the Head of Strategy and Innovation for the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, and founder and director of The UltraWellness Center. He is the bestselling author of numerous books, including,Food: What the Heck Should I Cook?; Eat Fat, Get Thin; and The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet.

To order a copy of Food Fix, call 1-800-544-4440 or visit www.LifeExtension.com

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