If there is one topic that Americans are generally confused about it’s nutrition. Although the word simply means the materials necessary in the form of food to support life, our cultural understanding of it has shifted dramatically—with various industries co-opting the word and changing its meaning. Michael Pollan calls this “nutritionism” in his book In Defense of Food. “No idea could be more sympathetic to manufacturers of processed foods,” he writes. “Nutritionism supplies the ultimate justification for processing food by implying that with a judicious application of food science, fake foods can be made even more nutritious than the real thing.”
Convincing people of the healthfulness of these new foods—processed foods that have been refined, stripped, and altered, with synthetic vitamins, added whole grains, or antioxidants put back in—requires experts to help convey this message. In addition to the billions of dollars spent on advertising directly for food products, Big Food companies also recruit America’s nutrition professionals to spread their gospel. This is the topic of public health lawyer, Michele Simon’s new report which details “the food industry’s deep infiltration of the nation’s top nutrition organization.” Read more
Jane Brody, a long-time health columnist for The New York Times, has undoubtedly written great columns over the years, but her most recent one, published on December 31, 2012, was not one of them. In fact, this column, which claims to debunk health myths, is one of the most misinformed columns on health, nutrition and the environment to be published recently in the Times, filled with factual errors as well as outdated nutrition information. The piece warrants a detailed rebuttal, because so many people turn to the Times and to Brody for health advice and this time she was way off the mark. Read more
Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a ban on the use of bisphenol A, or BPA, in baby bottles and children’s cups. BPA is an estrogen-mimicking chemical that has been used in hard plastics, the linings of cans, food packaging, and dental fillings, even receipts–for which the Environmental Protection Agency is now investigating alternatives–for years. We’ve reported about the dangers of BPA on Civil Eats here, here, and here. This move essentially made official a practice that many manufacturers of baby bottles and cups already follow in response to growing pressure from consumers.
Questions of safety remain when it comes to the use of any plastic products that come in contact with our foods. The FDA ban is raising concern and creating headlines about what manufacturers will substitute in place of the BPA. A 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that all plastics contain estrogenic activity (EA) and in some cases, those labeled “BPA free” leached more chemicals with EA than did BPA-containing products. The study’s authors write, “Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled—independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source—leached chemicals having reliably detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA free.”
Two days ago I wrote here on Civil Eats that it may not be long before the food industry will be proven wrong about their two favorite messages: All calories are created equal, and it’s all about personal responsibility. Well, it appears that science may be one step closer to proving at least half of that equation wrong and that in fact; all calories are not created equal. The latest study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this week, found that when it came to weight loss and maintaining weight loss, those who ate a low carbohydrate, high fat diet kept more weight off than those who were on either a low glycemic diet or a low fat, high carbohydrate diet.
While all participants in the study ate the same number of calories, the types consumed varied. The low fat diet contained 60 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. The low glycemic diet contained 40 percent carbs, 40 percent fat, and 20 percent protein (with a focus on minimally processed foods). The low carb diet had 10 percent of calories from carbs, 60 percent from fat, and 30 percent from protein.
Compared to those on the low fat diet, those following the low carb diet burned 350 calories more per day and those on the low glycemic diet burned 150 calories more per day.
The most compelling part of this study is that it calls into question the long-held belief in the scientific and medical communities that all calories are created equal. Read more
There was a time when corpulence was a sign of wealth and luxury. But in modern day Western countries, quite the opposite is true. In fact, a recent study found that fully one third of homeless people living in Boston are obese. “This study suggests that obesity may be the new malnutrition of the homeless in the United States,” wrote the researchers, led by Harvard Medical School student Katherine Koh, whose study is forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Health.
And it’s not just the U.S. that is reporting these kinds of findings, a New Zealand study of preschoolers found that 82 percent did not get enough dietary fiber and 68 percent did not have enough long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in fish and nuts. Despite these nutritional deficiencies, the researchers also found that fully one-third of preschoolers are overweight or obese.
These findings highlight an interesting contradiction—obesity correlates with malnourishment. Read more
The controversy surrounding New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent plan to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces ranges from praise for taking on “America’s expanding waistline” to deriding him as a “nanny” for infringing on our personal choices and freedoms. But what’s largely missing from the debate is a real critique of the true villain in this battle—Big Food. Read more
Paula Deen’s public admission that she has Type 2 diabetes and her follow-up announcement that she is also a paid spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, and its diabetes drug, Victoza, has sparked an interesting debate about the deeper issues surrounding our food system—especially the impact it has on the many people diagnosed with diabetes. And according to Deen’s comments on the Today show, she implies to her millions of fans, that the primary ways to deal with this largely diet-related disease are through personal responsibility and pharmaceuticals. Read more
How much do you know about your Thanksgiving turkey? If you buy your turkey from a typical grocery store–and most Americans do–you might not realize that the approximately 46 million turkeys consumed every year come from a factory farm.
But if Thanksgiving is truly about offering gratitude for what we have, it seems fitting to also be grateful to the turkey that many of us will eat for dinner. We ought to think about how that turkey lived before ending up on our tables. Read more
If you are paying attention to Occupy Wall Street—and by now most people are—the anti-corporate message is coming through loud and clear. Most participants at the events now spreading across the country say they are no longer willing to let powerful corporate interests determine the course of their lives. These Americans realize that a participatory democracy is essential.
As it stands today, 75 percent of the population are obese or overweight and many are chronically ill with diet-related diseases. They are also largely dependent on an increasingly unhealthful and contaminated food supply that is heavily controlled by corporate interests. It’s obvious that this is our moment to drive a very important point home: Upending corporate control of the food supply is a fundamental change that must occur if the “99 percent” are to be healthy participants in a true democracy.
This could be a catalyzing moment for the food movement with a real chance for average Americans to see and hear the connection between corporate control of the food supply and our nation’s health crisis. Indeed, the declaration of Occupy Wall Street (available on its Facebook page), addresses issues the food movement has been working on for years. The declaration states, “They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.” Read more
Food corporations enjoy carte blanche on what they can say about their foods, how and to whom they advertise, and even (to a large degree) the ingredients they choose to put in their foods. But when the Obama administration recently proposed voluntary guidelines [PDF] for the types of food advertised to children, industry giants decided to preempt these guidelines and create their own. Read more