Archive for the ‘Public Policy’ Category
Have you ever felt out of control with your eating? Like you just couldn’t stop even though you wanted to and knew you should?
If so, you probably felt a certain amount of guilt, or even shame, about how much you eventually did eat. That guilt made you feel bad about your own ability for self-control, and that, coupled with a food-hangover, made you feel pretty terrible in general. Physically and emotionally. You wouldn’t be alone if this turned into a destructive cycle that brought you back again and again for that very same food, followed by guilt and depression. Perhaps this even happened with seemingly healthy or “diet” foods. Even worse!
A fascinating article came out recently in the New York Times Magazine called The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food that explains why it’s so hard to put down the snack bag – and it’s NOT your lack of willpower. I just want to say that again, and in obnoxious all-caps: IT’S NOT YOUR LACK OF WILLPOWER.
It’s been known for quite a while that sugar and fat are addictive – this article in Scientific American describes how rats, given access to high-fat foods, “showed some of the same characteristics as animals hooked on cocaine or heroin–and found it hard to quit even when given electric shocks”. In non-technical terms, when you eat high-fat and high-sugar foods, your brain releases chemicals (neurotransmitters) that make you happy. This makes you more likely to eat that food again. After a few times you become desensitized to that food “high” and need more to get the same level of satisfaction. Therefore you eat more and more. It works just like drugs, with the lovely side effects of becoming fat, nutrient deficient, and probably depressed.
Food manufacturers, however, don’t just leverage high levels of fat and sugar to hook you on their food, although that’s part of it. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by giants like General Mills, Kraft, and Nabisco, to create food products (I can’t call it food) that encourage you, the consumer, to eat as much as possible. They have actually discovered ways to bypass the body’s natural regulation systems that would normally tell you to stop.
Here’s an example, as described by food scientist Steven Witherly:
“‘[Cheetos are] one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.’ He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. ‘It’s called vanishing caloric density,’ Witherly said. ‘If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.’”
In this way food companies are maximixing pleasure while minimizing satiety. It’s the perfect storm for you, and the perfect money-maker for them. Which, let’s be honest, is the primary goal of a large food product company – to make lots of money, keep share-holders happy, and continue to grow.
The important thing to realize in all of this is that 1) these food products are not real food and 1) your body does have a beautiful regulation system that will work, if you eat foods that are real. Have you ever over-eaten bananas? Or oatmeal? Probably not. Because when you eat these foods your body will naturally tell you when it’s time to stop. You will feel pleasantly full and satisfied.
If you have a food addiction, realize that it is an addiction that will have to be broken. And the cure isn’t so unpleasant, as it’s to focus your diet on real foods that are naturally satisfying. It takes a little time, and can benefit from a few tricks during the process, but it’s well worth the effort. You’ll feel freedom you haven’t felt in years.
If you’d like support in breaking a food addiction and discovering real food, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questionable Safety, Consumers in the Dark
The first genetically modified animal food product could hit shelves this year in the form of GMO salmon. Scientists from AquaBounty Technologies of Waltham, Massachusetts have created a salmon species that grows twice as fast as normal salmon and can therefore go from birth to market in twice the time. The scientists achieved this result by “adding a growth hormone gene from one fish plus an antifreeze gene from another”. The FDA has already ruled this fish safe for consumption, although several experts on the panel have voiced concerns about poor or missing data from the analysis and risk assessment.
Safety issues aside, the current issue being debated is whether the GMO salmon should be labeled on supermarket shelves. The industry representing these GMO fish is heavily pushing the FDA to leave the salmon un-labeled, citing a concern about “irrelevant” health concerns that consumers may have and thus prevent the sale of their product. Currently GMO grains and vegetables are not required to be labeled as such, and the concern is that this status-quo will apply to salmon as well.
Personally I find it unbelievable that GMO salmon could hit the market unlabeled, but I fear nonetheless that this will be the case. I still have safety concerns – nutrition and medical “experts” have made some pretty bad mistakes in the past – they used to think trans fats were healthful, for example, and yet still get confused about the simple chicken egg. How can they be certain about the unknown unknowns of eating GMO animals?
Again, safety issues aside, help ensure that consumers – yourself included – at least have the right to choose for themselves. Sign this petition to ensure that GMO foods are labeled.
I thought about that title for a while before publishing this post, believe me. But I just can’t get around how true it is…and I’ll get to my logic in a minute. First the background: a couple weeks ago Congress changed parts of a bill that contained nutritional requirements for the National School Lunch Program. In an effort to slow down the devastating increase in childhood obesity and diabetes, the law had several proposed changes, essentially amounting to more vegetables, less salt, more whole grains, and fewer french fries. Congress changed it back: eliminating or delaying these updates. Why? Because the frozen foods, potato and salt lobbies wanted them to ($wonder why$).
Most public schools participate in the National School Lunch program:
“The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 101,000 public and non‐profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provided nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2010.” (Italics are mine.)
This is a tremendous amount of food: 31 million children x 270 school days per year = 7,440,000,000 meals (that’s nearly 7 and a half billion). To receive reimbursement a school must follow nutritional guidelines established by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Those regulations currently mandate a certain number of vegetables and fruits and provide general quidelines around numbers and percentages of calories (from fat, carbs, protein, sugar, etc). Even children who don’t qualify for free or reduced price meals participate in the program, as their meals are still reimbursed, just at a lower rate.
Those all seem like pretty reasonable guidelines. So why does school lunch frequently look like a piece of pizza, side of potatoes, and chocolate milk? Because currently legislation allows 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, the amount on a frozen pizza, to count as a vegetable. Pizza is therefore one of the two vegetables on the plate. French fries are the other.
Presumably, nutritional guidelines were originally instituted to ensure that these millions of kids are fed nutritious foods that enable them to thrive, vs. junk foods that make them prone to illness and sluggishness. Well it doesn’t take a nutritionist to know what is healthy and what is not: fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy, processed foods like pizza and french fries are not. These guidelines aren’t protecting anyone but industry, whose interests are at odds with the very kids they were supposed to protect.
Congress made the decision to backtrack on better nutritional guidelines because of industry pressure – specifically the potato, salt, and frozen foods industries. The updated guidelines would have required them to spend more money to change their products and use higher-quality, fresher ingredients. Can’t have that.
This is effectively choosing the interests of powerful lobbies over the interests of children. This makes me upset, largely because children do not have a legal voice. They can not vote. They need responsible adults to help guide them so they can meet their potential. And in this case, the adults who are supposed to be looking out for them have consciously enacted guidelines that promote harm, not health. This is very, very sad.
“What harm does a little pizza do?”, you might be asking yourself. Perhaps Congress justified their actions with the same light-hearted thought process. I like pizza, too – as a treat. The problem is that pizza, french fries, and other ultra-processed junk food have become staples, not treats. Halloween candy is great too – on Halloween. Birthday cake is fantastic- for birthdays. But all of this stuff that we know (intuitively, if not consciously) are “treats”, have become 95% of the meal, vs. the 5% they should be. Birthday cake every day for breakfast doesn’t make sense, and neither does the daily junk-fest for lunch. The result of this lack of common sense/imbalance is unprecedented obesity and diabetes. All preventable and reversible with diet and lifestyle choices.
Child abuse is a pretty serious allegation. But when adults knowingly do something that harms a child, I call it child abuse. What causes obesity and type II diabetes? Too much junk food and not enough healthy food. Obesity causes diabetes, diabetes shortens life span and dramatically reduce quality of life, and that is tangible, serious harm. Again, all preventable.
To tell your congressperson or senator that this bill is unacceptable, write or call. Get involved in your local school’s food program. See what you can do. Today’s kids have a shorter life expectancy than you do. This has to change.
I’m super pumped, because my new dinner planning newsletter, No Plan Meal Plan has finally launched. Check it out! There are so many ways this can help you with your dinner-time routine; maybe you want to spend less time planning and be extra-efficient, perhaps you’re looking for fresh new dinner ideas, or maybe you’ve been wanting to eat healthier and reap the benefits of a cleaner diet, but aren’t quiet sure how to get started. NPMP will help you in all of these aspects.
For once I’m encouraging you to put less time and energy into dinner! Go on, check it out! Don’t take my word for it, read the great reviews here.
A new study of over 61,000 women in Sweden shows that high calcium intake did not lower the risk of developing osteoporosis or of having hip or other fractures. Only women who consumed less than 700mg of calcium experienced higher rate of these problems. In fact, the highest consumers of calcium actually had a higher rate of hip fracture:
“Dietary calcium intakes below approximately 700 mg per day in women were associated with an increased risk of hip fracture, any fracture, and of osteoporosis,” the study authors conclude. “The highest reported calcium intake did not further reduce the risk of fractures of any type, or of osteoporosis, but was associated with a higher rate of hip fracture.”
While it’s not a good idea to have low daily intake of calcium, the US recommendation is to have as much as 1,200mg daily (while quite beneficial to the dairy industry) appears to be rather high.
For the healthiest sources of calcium, make yourself a serving of one of the following vegetables (info was taken from this cool website).
Today I planned on having a nice, productive day working on things at home, such as my No Plan Meal Plan, among other things. But I’m finding myself rather distracted by the news, which I saw in an editorial in today’s Plain Dealer, about the UnitedHealth CEO making serious bank. More money than any other CEO in the US – $101MM to be exact, although not including stock, of course. That would make it a whole lot more. Even so, Stephen Hemsley from UnitedHealth beat out CEOs from big oil, tech firms, and even the CEO at Walt Disney.
That’s right, Stephen Hemsley tops the list of America’s highest paid CEOs of 2011 .
Meanwhile the cost of your and your family’s health care plan has more than doubled since 2001. An individual plan now costs nearly $10,000. And pretty soon, your employer is going to get sick (pun intended) of paying for it. If they haven’t already, they’re going to start transferring those costs to you – the Reuter’s report (linked above) cites a shift of 12% next year.
Who is to blame for the rising costs might just be the biggest blame game around right now. Insurance companies blame rising health care costs and a sicker population. Doctors blame law suits. Some blame health care reform (which, btw, is estimated to account for a relatively small 2-3% of the 15% rise in premium rates this year). And so on.
Almost everyone has a legitimate point to be made. But it’s VERY hard for me to feel that sorry for health insurance companies when they’re booking record profits and paying their CEOs such enormous wages.
At the same time, I really shouldn’t be that surprised. UnitedHealth is a for-profit company. It exists to make money, therefore leadership is paid to figure out how to make the most money possible. How to insurance companies make money? By maximizing revenue – charging as much as possible for their services (insurance in this case) - and minimizing their costs (i.e. paying claims). It’s built into their incentive structure to raise rates, and skimp on coverage. I have an economics degree, but it doesn’t take an economist to understand that individuals, and companies, act in line with their incentives. The more profit Stephen makes his company and his shareholders, the bigger his yacht.
I could go on, discussing my thoughts on the economics at hand here, and what I think are viable solutions. But I don’t want to. I really just wanted to throw the above facts out there. It’s maddening, and as a society we need to decide how to fix it.
In the mean time, it’s in your best interest to “avoid” the need for health care. Preventative medicine, so to speak. Eat well (and by “well” I DO NOT mean low-fat, low-carb, lean meats only, or any of that nonsense) and move your body. 80% of what people are experiencing these days in terms of illness and health care costs are completely preventable. We’re in a really sad state in the US at the moment – we’re so sick that we think being sick is normal. It’s not. You can be healthy and vibrant and running marathons into your 80s and above.
Cleveland tops another list! We were just ranked the second best city in the country for local food. The study cited our 225 community gardens, 12 farmers markets, community-supported agriculture subscriptions (City Fresh, Blue Pike Farm and others), urban farms, and of course talented chefs and local food procurement (Fresh Fork and others).
What’s interesting about the study is not just that it says Cleveland rocks, but that it describes the incredible potential that urban farming has for the local economy. The study says that a shift in 25% of our food sources, from out-of-state to a local source, could provide up to 27,000 new jobs. That’s putting 1/8 unemployed workers back to work. And of course there’s the accompanying increase in state/local taxe revenue associated with the additional income (estimated at $126 million state/local per year).
This is all super fabulous, but not exactly easy to achieve. To work towards this goal, the study advocates creating a NEO Food Authority. I certainly hope that we can work towards this goal one way or another. A 25% shift would be huge, but so would the benefits. Economic, yes, but also for public health and general societal benefit. We’re talking about eating more fresh local fruits and vegetables and fewer little debbie snack cakes. More green space and fewer abandoned buildings. More gainful employment, less crime.
To support local food, shop at farmer’s markets (find one near you here). When you go out for a night on the town, try to pick restaurants that support local food. Vote with your mouth, so to speak. Your food will taste better anyways
Very cool! The March issue of O Magazine includes an article featuring health coaches, and specifically highlights 5 experts who happen to be grads from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition – the school where I did my nutrition training. I can’t wait to get a paper copy and include the article in my portfolio.
Health coaching is still a relatively new profession and concept, and it’s great to see it (and IIN) receive some good press. Dr. Oz has also recently endorsed health coaching – you can watch a clip on YouTube here. I love how Dr. Oz explains that health coaches are a “layer” of the health care pyramid, and that we make it easy for our clients to make the right decisions for their health. That’s what it’s all about – providing information but most importantly, the SUPPORT that you need to really succeed. If you think you’d benefit from high-quality support to reach your health goals, contact me today!
This article hits close to home for me, as I have serveral close friends who work in healthcare. If you or someone you know is a nurse, pharmacist, doctor, or other healthcare worker that mixes, administers, or otherwise handles chemotherapy drugs, take the time to read this article in the Seattle Times about “secondhand” chemo exposure. Chemotherapy drugs are known to be highly toxic – they’re actually descended from the deadly mustard gas used in WWI – and are themselves carcinogenic. Yet the federal government does not require safety protocols that protect workers from contamination. With approximately 2 million workers in the US who actually mix and dispense chemo, this is a huge public health concern. Chemo drugs are increasingly being used in vets offices as well, opening up the potential harm to another huge population of people.
The article outlines the health dangers associated with secondhand chemo exposure – multiple cancers as well as miscarriages and birth defects, as well as others. These health dangers aren’t a new discovery – in 2004 the CDC issued extremely strict guidelines and safety precautions for workers who handle chemo. However, the guidelines are voluntary. And the high costs associated with the “chemo gowns, double-gloving, use of sophisticated “closed-system” devices and specialized ventilation hoods, face shields and respirators” that they recommend certainly aren’t speeding up their adoption.
Workers who handle these drugs have gotten cancers as early as their 20s. Sad. If you know anyone who could be affected, pass on this article to spread the word. This is a public health issue and changes in federal regulations can be hastened by increasing awareness and demanding change.
I was really looking forward to watching this show, where Britain’s celebrity “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver promises to re-make the cafeteria food in Huntington, W Va. which was recently names as the most unhealthy city in America based on its rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and mortality. Jamie’s mission is to get fresh, from-scratch foods with healthy ingredients into the town’s school lunches. The program documents his many struggles in accomplishing this goal, which in the first episode (which aired last night) included the strong-willed school cooks, the principal, the food budget, the school kids’ taste buds, and the completely illogical USDA school food requirements.
In my opinion the show did not disappoint, and I highly recommend watching it, for so many reasons. Perhaps reason #1 is that with very few exceptions school food is the same all over the country. If you are a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, friend, or colleague of anyone with school children you will get an enlightening view into what our kids are being fed on a daily basis at school. Pizza for breakfast, chicken nuggets, fries (which meet USDA criteria for a vegetable), and flourescent colored strawberry milk are just a few tantilizing menu items. I know enough to understand that most of these heavily processed foods have scary, unnatural, and dangerous ingredients, but even I am shocked at some things. For example, Fast Food Nation found that one strawberry milk has 59 ingredients, most of which are chemicals and ”E” words (and no actually strawberries). Chicken nuggets can be less than 30% actual chicken (in England one study found 16% – which includes skin), and the process that is used to make them is beyond frightening. I’m not even going to go into that here. I watched a clip of Jamie’s show online and freeze framed a shot of ingredients on the chix nuggets box – here are a few of the contents: sodium benzoate, caramel color, vegetable protein product, pyridoxine hydrochloride, partially hydrogenated soybean oil (read: trans fat), disodium guanylate, and sodium phosphate. And that’s just what I could read, based on the 50% of the label in the shot. Some of these ingredeints are fillers (i.e. misc vegetable protein), some are chemical preservatives, and some are artificial flavors that the nuggets need to taste like anything. MSG anyone? Perhaps the most disturbing indicator of the food quality is that the actual label for the product reads: “Meat/Meat-Alternative for Child”. That alone speaks volumes about the quality of the content, and there’s certainly some sad irony in the “for child” part of the label.
Jamie states that one of his goals is to make us angry about this sad food reality. That serves a purpose, but the show also portrays what we’re up against, which will be helpful for any activist looking to initiate some change in their local district. I like and appreciate that Jamie is not afraid to call out the powers that be – the food and fast food industries, the USDA, and our own tendency for reluctance to change. These are substantial powers, and 2/3 have large budgets and affinities for lawsuits. I’m a little scared for him, honestly.
I will keep watching, and hoping for a positive conclusion. If there are lessons that we can learn from this show and then pass them on to our own school systems, wouldn’t it be great? Think of all the millions of little lives that can be improved. We are in a day and age where type II diabetes is striking younger and younger, people in their 20s are experiencing heart disease, and kids’ life expectancy is less than their parents, all due to a crap (gov’t sponsored!) diet. I sincerely hope that this show can pioneer a process for wide-spread change, and can’t wait to see the rest of the season.
To sign a petition supporting Jamie’s efforts, go here: http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution/petition