Bill Clinton Trades Fast Food for Whole Food | Civil Eats

Bill Clinton Trades Fast Food for Whole Food

Last week, when asked about his new trim physique, Bill Clinton stunned CNN’s Wolf Blitzer by revealing that he has lost 24 pounds eating a mostly “plant-based” diet.

The former President told Blitzer that he mostly eats beans, legumes, vegetables, and fruit and takes a protein supplement in his morning fruit and almond milk smoothie. Clinton underwent a quadruple bypass in 2004 and had two stents put in this past February after learning that one of his bypassed arteries was blocked again. While many commentators are hung up on his dramatic weight loss and the debate about the nutritional value of veganism, they are missing the most important story: Clinton’s change from a life-shortening Standard American Diet (SAD) to a plant-based diet of whole foods.

The SAD is loaded with sugar, trans-fats, refined carbohydrates, additives, chemicals, pesticides and hormones, while being basically void of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods. One of the many problems with the SAD diet is that it will eventually catch up with you. As part of the aging baby-boomer generation, Clinton is one of many dealing with a chronic condition or a health scare and looking for alternative diets or complements to medications to help reverse the damage.

Most Americans aren’t eating anything close to a plant-based diet, and are instead consuming large amounts of processed and packaged foods. In their most recent study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day. As a result, the SAD is typically nutrient and mineral deficient and has contributed to one third of the population being obese or overweight. It is also at the root of chronic diseases and conditions like heart disease, diabetes and many cancers. As contradictory as it may seem, many overweight people are also nutrient starved, and one theory holds that this is due to the fact that our bodies drive us to overeat when the foods we’re eating are not supplying us with the nutrients we need to thrive.

This is why it’s important to remember that what you don’t eat is just as critical as what you do eat, and when you stop eating junk, as Clinton has done, you’re bound to start eating whole foods. While I don’t know exactly what Clinton is eating, if he truly is eating a plant-based, whole foods diet, then there are several harmful ingredients being left out of his menu: high-fructose corn syrup, or refined sugar of any kind; trans-fats or other poor-quality oils; and refined flour products, like white bread in all of its forms. These are the real culprits behind obesity, elevated cholesterol levels and a host of chronic health conditions. And since Clinton was notorious for his love of junk food, sweets, and fast-food (in fact, Saturday Night Live even performed a skit about it), it’s no wonder that by cutting all of this out, he’s lost weight and feels better.

It’s nothing ground-breaking, or rather, it shouldn’t be. Eating healthy foods is not mysterious or all that hard. It’s just not what you see advertised on television and it’s not what you’ll see in the supermarket (unless as Michael Pollan has advised, you only shop the perimeters). Processed foods and beverages have become so commonplace that people often don’t see them for what they truly are: chemicals and additives masquerading as food. On top of this, big food companies are actively misleading the public through advertising, and as a result most people think processed, artificial food substances are actually real foods—and sometimes they believe they’re healthy foods too.

Kellogg’s was recently slammed by the Federal Trade Commission for making false claims about not one, but two of their cereals. They first claimed that their Frosted Mini-Wheats were “clinically shown to improve kids attentiveness by 20 percent.” Turns out that wasn’t true—big surprise! Then for the second time this year, they were reprimanded for claiming that Rice Krispies “now helps support your child’s immunity” and “Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has been improved to include antioxidants and nutrients that your family needs to help them stay healthy.” The bottom line is to be wary of any food that comes in a package and steer clear of foods for which advertisements or health claims are made. Even many so-called “health foods” are equally processed and are often just as harmful as junk food. You don’t see corporate ad campaigns for bunches of kale or spinach and there’s no ingredient list to read on the bulk bin of steel cut oats. You can be assured that these are whole foods with no agenda behind them.

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Clinton’s shift in thinking about the foods he eats seems to be indicative of a greater movement underway. Although his change was born out of necessity, we can only hope that he will serve as a role model to others hoping to avert catastrophic events like bypass surgery. The more Americans who understand the connection between their diet and their health, and who can see behind the insidious claims the big food corporations make, the better off we’ll be as a nation. We need to shed extra weight, become more healthy, and rely less on a food industry that clearly doesn’t have our best interests in mind.

Clinton with Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

This is the second piece in a regular column by holistic nutrition expert, Kristin Wartman. (The first piece is here.) She will examine food, nutrition, and the way the industrial food industry affects our food system and our health.

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Kristin Wartman is a journalist who writes about food, health, politics, and culture. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Huffington Post and many others. Kristin's first book, Formerly Known as Food—a critical look at how the industrial food system is changing our minds, bodies, and culture—is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press. Read more >

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  1. GoneWithTheWind
    Like most people who diet he did a lot of things in addition to cutting out meat. It would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that a vegetarian diet was responsible for losing that much weight. Many fad diets do indeed work initially but not long term.
  2. apt
    vegetarianism is not a fad diet. entire cultures have eschewed meat for thousands of years.

    anecdotally, everyone i've ever known to eliminate or even cut back on the animal products in their diet have lost weight. every one.

    it shouldn't be so difficult to admit that the correlation between meat consumption and overweight is clear- just track per capita meat consumption and rising levels of obesity over the 20th century.

    and obesity is clearly our number one health problem, and a major drain on our pocketbooks, both private and public.

    less meat= healthier people= lower healthcare costs.
  3. GoneWithTheWind
    In general obesity is genetic. You get it from your parents not meat. Anyone who is genetically predisposed to be obese will not be able to lose substantial weight unless they go on a starvation diet. They will not be able to keep the weight off without staying on a starvation diet. If they do this as a vegan or an omnivore it still requires that they diet.

    Obesity is our number one publicly acclaimed health problem. But I'm sure if you have one of the truely serious diseases you would be glad to trade it for obesity. If you truely believe obesity is the great drain on our pocketbooks that you claim it is you need to look up "the obesity paradox". In brief what it is; is that a BMI higher then the recommended ideal of 24.9 is actually healthier for you then a BMI equivalently lower then 24.9. For example if your BMI is 30 you are statistically healthier and will live longer then someone with a BMI of 19.9. The BMI was an arbitrary scale and the choice of the ideal BMI of 24.9 was arbitrary as well. After many years with the BMI scale we now know that the empirical ideal BMI is 27.5 not 24.9. That is the healthiest and longest lived BMI is 27.5 and that health and longevity declines when your BMI goes in either direction.

    One of the common causes of low IQ and mental illness in babies is the mother not getting enough protein in their diet during pregnancy and the single biggest cause of that is a vegetarian diet. So check everyone you know who is a vegetarian and see if they have destroyed their child's ife with their fad diet. I hope not.
  4. yay food
    everyone i've known anecdotally who ramped up the meat/fat consumption and cut out the grains and sugars lost fat and maintained muscle, every one.

    meat consumption has dropped since the 70s, but obesity has increased. something to think about. americans primarily consume cheap grains and plant-derived oils, not meat, and this leads to the obesity-- plant-derived products, not saturated fats from meat, eggs and dairy.

    this is not to defend CAFO meat, eggs and dairy, of course-- sick animals produce sick animal products. but meat and other animal products are sources of excellent health and weight maintenance and not vehicles of fat gain or heart disease.
  5. I'm glad that Clinton made a decision to eat healthier, and be a role model to other Americans. I really think this is because he increased the amount of whole foods, esp veggies and fruits and cut back junk and prepared foods and soda and alcohol significantly. This will help anyone to lose weight. Yes, you'll probably lose weight and be healthier by cutting back meat, but you don't have to cut out from your diet. It's all about variety, and eating as many things (as fresh and whole as possible) in moderation.

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