Food Is Not Your Enemy

New Nutrition Facts Labels on the Way
February 27, 2014, 4:21 pm
Filed under: Dairy, food politics, Fruits, Sweets, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

Good news–over the next two years, the nutrition facts labels will change on our packaged foods. Most significantly, serving sizes will become more realistic, calorie counts will be larger and bolded, and added sugars will get their own category. You’ll now be able to see how much sugar in your yogurt, for instance, occurs naturally in the yogurt itself or the fruit added to it, and how much is added sweetener. Given that added sugars are a very large part of why our nation is suffering from an obesity crisis, this is a really positive change. You can read all about the new labels and see a graphic of what one will look like here.

Sugar, Not Fat, Causes Heart Attacks
February 11, 2014, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Eggs, food politics, Food/Health Blogs, Sweets | Tags: , , , , ,
I totally love the work done by Dr. Mark Hyman. He’s a firm believer in fixing the causes of our health problems, not just the symptoms. The latest newsletter from him said the following:

“It’s over. The debate is settled.

It’s sugar, not fat, that causes heart attacks.

Fifty years of doctors’ advice and government eating guidelines have been wrong. We’ve been told to swap eggs for Cheerios. But that recommendation is dead wrong. In fact, it’s very likely that this bad advice has killed millions of Americans.

A rigorously done new study shows that those with the highest sugar intake had a four-fold increase in their risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intakes. That’s 400%!”

Eye-opening, right? But depressing that we’ve been led down a bad path by some specious government recommendations.

When in doubt, choose the whole, natural foods that humans have been eating for generations (like eggs). And question the “wisdom” that we’d be better off eating a food made in a factory.

Genetically Modified Organisms: Are These Foods Really Safe?

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, have been in the news lately for two reasons: First, a new study has found that the regular ingestion of foods that have been genetically modified caused massive tumors in lab rats; second, on Election Day, Californians will not only be voting for president, they will also be voting on Proposition 37, which is pushing for the mandatory labeling of all foods that contain GMOs.

Foods that are often genetically modified in the U.S., such as soybeans, sugar beets, and industrial corn (the kind used for animal feed and high-fructose corn syrup), have had their DNA manipulated so that they become resistant to insects, crop diseases, herbicides, and pesticides. The widespread use of GMOs began in 1996, soon after the Food and Drug Administration designated GMOs as “generally regarded as safe,” meaning that the food industry was not compelled to conduct long-term safety studies on GMOs.

The problem with this approach is that, while to date there is no documented case of anyone having an acute reaction to GMOs, according to Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott, it is unclear what the long-term, chronic effects of eating foods not normally found in nature might have on us. Rates of such maladies as type II diabetes, obesity, food allergies, and celiac disease have been rising for decades, and it’s hard not to wonder if the way our food is grown is playing a possible role. I personally have worked with a few clients who, while suffering from digestive problems when eating “regular,” non-organic wheat products likes commercial sandwich breads and pizza, found that if they ate organic wheat products they felt just fine. Just from these few cases, I have real reservations about how we’ve come to cultivate our food.

The rat study, conducted in France, certainly adds to the growing concern. The rats fed GMO corn and/or low levels of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide (which is used on GMO corn in the fields) developed large mammary tumors as well as liver and kidney damage. Critics of the study charge that these types of rats are more prone to tumors in general, and that the study’s sample size was too small. However, the high rate of early death in these rats compared to the control group means, at the very least, that further study is warranted, and that we perhaps shouldn’t be so quick to accept the notion that GMOs are perfectly safe.

Right now, GMOs are banned in many European countries. But in the U.S., not only are they allowed, but foods containing them do not even need to be labeled as such, despite a growing call from consumers that we all have a right to know what we’re eating. This is what California’s Proposition 37 is all about–letting consumers know if a food contains GMOs so that they can choose for themselves whether to eat it or not. The food industry and big agribusiness are fighting the proposition, but polling shows that Californians are heavily in favor of the measure.

If you’re concerned about eating foods containing GMOs, the best thing to do is buy organic. This is your only guarantee that the corn in your tortilla chips or the soy in your veggie burgers has not been genetically modified. Because until further studies are done, who really knows whether this stuff is really okay to eat?

At Last: Better Lunches for Students
January 26, 2012, 3:05 pm
Filed under: food politics, Fruits, Vegetables, weight loss | Tags: ,

In an effort to reduce the rampant problem of childhood obesity, the White House has announced its long-awaited changes to school cafeteria meals. Kids can expect more fruits and green vegetables on their breakfast and lunch trays, and a whole lot less salt and fat. Great news.

Pizza Sauce To Count as a Veggie?

Echoing the days when President Reagan declared that ketchup counted as a vegetable on school lunch trays, now it’s looking like the sauce on frozen pizza may be headed for the same distinction. Thanks, lawmakers. At a time when our nation’s childhood obesity rate is skyrocketing, should we really be looking to cut corners like this, and find ways to ensure that our kids are served no extra veggies and fruits with their school lunch? Do we really want to pat ourselves on the back for serving our kids frozen pizza, justifying that this is a healthy option?

UPDATE: And…. yes, the House of Representatives has in fact now voted to protect pizza as a vegetable.

Nutritionists and Dieticians Influenced by Food Industry Giants

Disturbing piece about just how much sway companies like McDonald’s, Kraft, and Coca-Cola have over the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and its members. These companies are now actually exhorting the dieticians and nutritionists who are ADA members to encourage their clients to eat processed food, as processed foods “represent sources of important nutrients,” according to one exec.

It’s nice to see that some members are walking away from the ADA as a result of Coca-Cola sponsorships and the like.

This is one of the reasons I chose not to pursue a career as a registered dietician, and instead went the alternative route to become a holistic nutrition counselor. My approach and my recommendations are based on using whole foods and science not funded by the food industry. The fact that some dieticians are buying into what the likes of Kellogg’s has to say about proper eating is pretty alarming.

Out With the Pyramid, In With the Plate
June 2, 2011, 5:19 pm
Filed under: food politics, Fruits, Grains, Meat, Vegetables | Tags: ,

At long last, the USDA has ditched the confusing pyramid and has unveiled instead, ta da, the plate! It all became official today.

The plate is a real improvement over the pyramid–easier to understand, clearer about portions. But I still don’t love that the USDA is sticking with its “make half your grains whole” recommendation and continuing with its big push to drink lots and lots of milk. But hey, I wasn’t really expecting perfection from an agency that still must answer to the food industry.

Will Ronald McDonald Retire?

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece today about the pressure being put on McDonald’s to stop marketing its food to kids, and to send its cherry-haired clown packing. People will pooh-pooh this kind of campaign, being waged by the likes of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition, and Dr. Andrew Weil. But the bigwigs at McDonald’s know full well what Happy Meals and clowns are all about, no matter how much they go on about how their restaurants offer lots of choices and that they believe in nutritious food–it’s about money. And getting kids excited about McD’s, so that they then bug their parents to take them there so they can get the Buzz Lightyear with their burger, is just good business. Good business like pushing Camel cigarettes via the cartoon character Joe Camel was good business.

Does “Organic” Mean It’s Healthy?
February 8, 2011, 10:36 am
Filed under: food politics | Tags: , ,

Organic foods used to comprise a miniscule percentage of food sales. But no longer. As the amount of money spent on organic food in the U.S. has risen over the years, food marketers have started to pay attention to the potential of this part of the market. Ping! Cue cartoon man with his tongue hanging out and dollar signs in his eyes.

So, no surprise, we’re now seeing more and more foods in the supermarket trumpeting on their packaging that they’re ORGANIC. Seems like a good development, right? Not so fast. The organic label, according to the USDA National Organic Program, signifies the following:

“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.”

What’s not to like? Well, there’s plenty to like about organically grown whole foods–things like fruits, vegetables, unprocessed meats, milk and cheese, nuts, whole grains, beans, and the like. These foods not only meet the criteria defined above, but they’re also healthy, nutrient-rich foods.

But the problems start with products that are essentially junk foods that happen to be processed from organic ingredients. A perfect example: the soft drink known as “Honest Kids.” These soft drinks are pushed as healthy, and I’ve seen many health-conscious parents buying these for their kids. But these drinks contain only 10 percent juice–the rest is sugar water. The grape flavor, for instance, has water and sugar as its first two ingredients. Yes, the sugar is organic. That doesn’t make it a healthy choice, however–it simply means the sugar cane was grown without pesticides. Organic sugar has the same number of calories and the same negative effect on our blood sugar and health as conventional table sugar.

And it doesn’t stop with soft drinks. There are organic chips, cereal bars, cookies, crackers, and countless other types of junky snack foods now that happen to be produced without pesticides. Are these products better than non-organic snacks? Sure. But are they good for you? Not really.

So don’t be fooled by all these new products; stick with what you know is true healthy food–the stuff that didn’t require a factory machine to make it.

Mark Bittman’s Food Manifesto

Nice piece by Mark Bittman in the NY Times–titled “A Food Manifesto for the Future”–succinctly listing some of the major problems with our food/agriculture in the U.S. I particularly love that he called out the issue of home cooking–the fact that so few people cook nowadays is a major contributor to our nation’s obesity and health crisis, in my opinion.