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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Are Not That Fragile

Consider the following statement.

The words ‘well-balanced meal’ and ‘balanced diet’ apparently suggest that a healthful diet is a precarious achievement.” It’s not. The human species would never have survived to this point if we were that fragile.

That statement from an article posted at stands in stark contrast to what usually passes as sound nutritional advice these days. The typical mantra is, in so many words, eat your vegetables and cut back on red meat for optimal health. Yet for all of the messages flying our way via various media outlets today rarely will one come close to saying “hey, we eat pretty will here”. If that is a difficult pill to swallow then consider a few observations.

First when is the last time you heard of a case of Pellagra. Pellagra is a disease characterized with symptoms ranging from dermatitis to death. It is causes by a deficiency of vitamin B3 commonly known as niacin. Historically Pellagra was unknown in cultures where corn treated with lime was a staple. In our modern diet niacin is commonly added to grain products to enrich or fortify the nutritional content. So the next time you eat a fast food burger remember the bun has niacin and you don’t have Pellagra.

Next can you recall the last outbreak of scurvy in America or the world for that matter? Since 1932 when ascorbic acid more commonly known as vitamin C was isolated and recognized as the cure for scurvy there have been few issues with the disease. Prior to that time scurvy was a deadly disease especially among those travelling across the Atlantic to the New World. So the next time you supersize your fries just remember that you are getting vitamin C from those potatoes as well as warding off scurvy.

Finally have you ever heard of someone being thiamine deficient? If you have then you are really old because thiamine deficiency from a poor diet that resulted in Beriberi a disease that causes weakness, wasting, mental confusion and many other harsh symptoms was eradicated in the early 1900’s. Now because our food supply is enriched with many essential vitamins and minerals such diseases are no longer a threat to anyone.

So the next time you hear how bad our American diet is take it with a grain of salt because it is not always true. The abundance we have may contribute to some being a little heavier but even still we are far healthier as a nation than at any other time in the history of the world. We may even have to say that even junk foods are good for us. The truth is we are not that fragile.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

America the Beautiful

Reading and singing these words should cause one to wonder where we as a nation have allowed our freedoms to be robbed by a few. Read and consider what a great price has been paid for you and I to live and to sleep in peace.

Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through
wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man's avail
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day

To you who answered the call of your country and served in its Armed Forces to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of a grateful Nation. As one of the Nation’s finest, you undertook the most severe task one can be called on to perform. Because you demonstrated the fortitude, resourcefulness and calm judgment necessary to carry out that task, we now look to you for leadership and example in further exalting our country in peace.

Harry Truman
The White House

This letter from President Harry S. Truman was addressed to George T. Yearty, my grandfather. It was sent to him and thousands of other young men and women returning victoriously home following World War 2 as an expression of thanks for their honorable service to our Country. Thanks to those whose sacrifice won our freedom.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Does anyone remember what color were we supposed to be before the admonition to go green? Is green the new brown or blue? Everywhere you turn there is something going green. Reusable grocery bags, squiggly light bulbs and hybrid cars exemplify this planet saving movement. Adherents to the green tsunami are quite passionate but many are unwilling to give ear to dissent on the issue.

To be certain I have no issue with anyone choosing to be green. Rather I give full throated support to the care and keeping of the environment for we have been entrusted with this duty by our mutual Creator. My natural curiosity though often leads me to question the greenies on what they believe and that tends to be unpopular. Can we really destroy the planet? Will the use of green products save the planet? Can no one be skeptical of the green movement? Is the end of the planet a foregone conclusion?

Similarly I find myself asking questions of those in my own arena. The world of nutrition is fraught with many claims subject to scrutiny and question. Like a number of issues with the green movement such as do humans even have the power to destroy God’s creation and even if we did would changing the type of light bulbs we use make a difference? Does eating less fat and having the right BMI guarantee good health and longevity? To my skeptical mind there are real questions.

In part these questions are born of observation. I myself have a BMI a little above the recommended range for good health yet I have no issues typically associated with this weight. I have observed this trait in a number of others therefore I am led to ask questions. One, are there others like me or am I a statistical outlier? Do health issues befall every one of us eventually despite our height, weight or diet? To the first I answer no and to the second a resounding yes. And the second I assert should be observable to all.

Questions also arise due to the nature of the messengers and the message. We live in the greatest country ever established in the history of the earth. There is less poverty and more wealth within our borders that anywhere else in the world. First rate healthcare and good nutrition is available to all who seek it yet a standard message heard is how our children may not have the quality of life we enjoyed and that we are in a steep steady decline in regards to health. Although I am not oblivious to the fact that there are those who need help I am also inclined to believe that this is not a problem unique to our modern society.

So where do nutrition issues and environment matters cross and why am I such a skeptic? Any school o thought that shuns debate or dissent is wide open to skepticism and both nutrition and environmental adherents are culpable. Moreover any set of ideas that cannot stand on its own merits and withstanding scrutiny leaves itself open to the questions of skeptics. Here again disciples of nutrition and the green movement often seem unwilling to allow anyone to peek under the fa├žade.

All I seek is open and robust debate. What I wonder is am I the only skeptic left? Is there no one moved by simple curiosity to ask if what they are told is true? I want to know if we eat the right way and weight what we are told we should will we live to 100 or 150 years of age free of disease? If we recycle cans and swear off the incandescent light bulb will we be able to stop the planet from burning up?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Big Brother is Watching You

Do you ever fell as though someone is always looking over your shoulder every time you eat something? No matter where you turn these days it seems like someone is sending the message that you should change your habits. Eat more of this, less of that and whatever you do not eat anything that tastes good or it’ll send you to an early grave. The message is often interpreted as “I must be content with bland tasting food”. The fact is we are inundated nutrition education messages warning of the dangers of an improper diet. As a practitioner of nutrition I feel overwhelmed at the seemingly endless exhortations to mend my unhealthy habits. I can only imagine everyone else feeling the same as I do in this case. I then begin to wonder if all of these warnings are making a difference.

Statistics citing an increase in overweight and obesity in the American population cause me to doubt how well the nutrition education messages are being received. Furthermore, there are reasons to seriously question the effectiveness of such well meaning messages stemming from surveys asking people to list their favorite foods. At the top of the list year after year are burgers, fries, pizza, and doughnuts. With untold millions of dollars spent annually for this type of education it appears as though we are not getting a good return on our money.

If money and the availability of education won’t keep us from making poor nutrition choices and we continue to crave foods that most say are bad for us what then should we do? In my characteristically unscientific way I have some suggestions and solutions to offer. These are observation taken from real experiences in my everyday work in this area.

First it must be understood that most, I believe greater than ninety percent, people already know how to choose a healthy diet. Rarely do I meet someone who hasn’t heard some version of choosing lower fat foods with more fruits and vegetables. Most are well versed in this dietary doctrine with some having reached master level. More education is no necessarily the missing ingredient, what is needed is motivation.

A majority of those I talk with need motivation to implement the education they already possess. Herein lies the great dilemma, the proverbial “You can lead a horse to water but won’t make him drink” sentiment. Until a person creates their own motivation and decides for themselves to make changes regarding nutrition and health it will not happen. No amount of urging, exhorting or down right brow beating will effect change in someone until they change themselves by conscious decision.

Personal motivation comes in many forms but rarely does it come from a handout or poster published by a government agency. Early mortality will not convince some to change. I personally have years of study on the subject of nutrition and health under my belt and that is often times not motivation enough for self change. Health is a little like inheriting money. Some will squander it quickly and wonder where it went. Others will invest wisely and live comfortably for years to come.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What if?

Across the spectrum of health publications and literature there is one prevailing thought on the subject of obesity. The one line of thinking is that obesity has increased exponentially in the last thirty years and the blame lies with sugary foods and video games. Adults and especially children have fallen prey to these culprits and their health has suffered as a result.

Some flesh out this hypothesis with the anecdotes of a Norman Rockwell portrait. They opine that when they were young they rode bicycles and ran around rather than sitting for hours in from of a television or computer screen playing games while piling on the pounds. Add to this their notion that all of their meals were home cooked and therefore healthier than what kids get today. What if there are other explanations for the so called obesity crisis?

Is it possible that what we eat or how much we eat has little effect on our girth? Could we not open up to the theory that no matter how much or how little we engage in physical activity our weight is little affected? These are distinct possibilities deserving of serious scientific inquiry because we all have different genetic makeups. No one of the over 6 billion people on the planet is alike. Consider that our hair colors and textures, eye colors and shapes, height, shoe size and so on are all different. Yet all of us in order to be healthy are supposed to have a similar weight set within a very narrow range.

What if it is just the case that some are naturally thin and some are naturally plump? What if it is our genetic makeup that determines this? For example I could assemble images of 4 or 5 members of my family all of who share the same basic body type and build. Is that a fluke? Is that an accident? No that is because we all share similar genetic building blocks. In fact those same people also share several common temperament and emotional traits. Again is this accidental?

What if weight and health are not as closely correlated as is currently thought? Sure extremes of weight on either side of the scale can have negative consequences but many studies show that a little around the middle is actually protective of health rather than destructive.

The truth is that a true science should not and cannot make a once for all definitive claim about anything. If they do they cease to be followers of true science which is the discovery of knowledge. To willingly close ones self off to other hypotheses seems quite unscientific.

What if the health community announced that they will no longer look at us with disdain for our weight or diet or lifestyle choices? Such might border on the miraculous. Science and the health establishment too often cross the line from reporting findings to binding personal beliefs on others. Such should not be the case since there are obvious alternative explanations for things in the real of health.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Unsaid

Have you ever noticed how the health literature is littered with words like tend to, can lead to and may cause? When you read those phrases what comes to mind? Other such words such as plays a role and may put you at risk should give you pause to consider if there is any concrete understanding of the relationship between health and how we eat.

Just as important as what is said in a piece on health is what is unsaid. Such phrases leave the impression that there is no dependable one size fits all health information. Might, may and could cause leave lots of wiggle room when it comes to health messaging. What is not stated in most articles is the fact that there is no one model of health or diet that can be held up for everyone to follow.

Why because we are all individuals. Consider that there are over 6 billion people alive on this planet right now and not one of them is exactly like another. Even identical twins have differences. Therefore to even attempt to coral into a one sized fits all model of health seems strange to say the least.

Not only are we different genetically we are vastly different in what we value in terms of health. Some who place a high value on their appearance will engage in many activities that get them toward their goal of that image they set for themselves. Others place a high value on being happy no matter what their outward image happens to be. Both are legitimate points of view and ought to be lauded.

The truth is that much of what passes for health literature praises the former while casting a scornful eye on the latter. Yet to read between the lines of what is written about the relationship of health and nutrition it is not hard to come away with the impression that the experts are not at all clear on what the perfect prescription for the right diet, weight or BMI is.

If it were the case that eating a low fat diet rich in fiber and vegetables was a panacea of health there could be no detractors. On the other hand was it the case that eating a diet high in fat and protein was a sure path to health there would be no way to argue against it. Yet the debate is not that black and white.

What is true is that health is an individual choice and it is solely based on individual values. What and how much anyone chooses to eat is only their business.

Friday, May 6, 2011

18 Inches

Dietitians and other health professionals often speak out on the need for everyone to choose a healthy diet. In what often comes across as condescension these health elitists speak about the food choices of the general public very negatively. In essence they miss the real issue by 18 inches. That is the distance from the head to the heart. The head or the heart can help formulate a response to something but the nature of either of the two is vastly different.

The head responds in an all too linear fashion to many choice related matters. For example it may be objectively true that eating too much butter can lead to certain diseases but that will do little to stop people from consuming it if they like it. It might also be true that too many sugary foods can impact health negatively. However constant finger wagging and the reciting a litany of scientific data will do little to turn folks from their favorite sugary foods.

The heart on the other hand understands the why behind the choices a person makes. This perspective considers the feelings that a person has toward a food or manner of eating. Though mortality rates and other scary data can motivate some it will never get to the heart of an issue. In truth the heart of the matter may just be “I like that food and I intend to eat it despite the consequences”.

So if you are a health professional bent on changing the world remember that unless you win the heart you’ll never change the mind. The way we eat is much more closely tied to the heart and than it is to the mind. So instead of berating people for what they eat or how much they weigh and what their cholesterol level is just give some good information and beyond that let it go.