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Thursday, June 30, 2011

So this is Freedom?

Freedom is our most treasured national asset is also the most expensive. Since that hot summer day in Philadelphia 1776 thousands have given their lives to pay freedom’s toll. Yet not all of the founder’s generation sought a break from Great Britain. Many were content to live out their days in subjection to the British crown. Fortunately the voice of the patriots prevailed over that of the pacifists

One of the major tipping points leading to the Declaration of Independence was over tea. One of the colonist gastronomic pleasures the British Parliament surmised that rather than deny themselves this daily indulgence they would pay the tax. Rather than subject themselves further to authoritarian rule the patriots engaged in revolution. Thankfully they prevailed and our freedom was won. That freedom however is still in need of defending.

Today an increasingly authoritarian government is using food as a means to gain control over we the people. Rules and regulations on the amount of fat, salt and sugar are eerily akin to the tax on tea. Though these new rules are enacted to ostensibly protect our health they are nonetheless the unwelcome talons of a far over reaching bureaucracy. As our founders thought it worthy to oppose such tyranny so must we.

In this current front in the defense of freedom perhaps our current leaders would do well to remember the freedoms afforded us in the Declaration of Independence celebrated this July 4th. That document reminds us that our freedom is seated in Heaven not Washington DC and that it comes from God not our member of congress or the president. Furthermore they should remember that their role is to protect these liberties not impede them.

Undoubtedly there are those of our own generation who would prefer to live their lives as subjects. Their safety and security from the benevolent hand of government is preferred more that their right to liberty and freedom. Through the lens of history it is clear that there have long been people of like mind. Let us hope that today those who value freedom as our founding patriots did will prevail over the pacifists and oppression.

It may seem trite to argue that freedom is eroding because we are warned against too much salt and sugar. Yet if we don’t have the right to eat what we want are we really free? If I cannot decide for myself what to eat without government warnings and bureaucratic bullying then I am convinced freedom as expressed in the Declaration of Independence is vanishing from our land.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Homeostasis

Homeostasis is the first concept taught in biology 101. Homeostasis says that the body works toward a constant and steady state of being. Blood pressure and body temperature are examples of things the body attempts to keep constant. Another example is a paper cut which can introduce all kinds of foreign organisms into the body. When this happens the body’s natural defense mechanism kicks in to return the wound to normal. This healing is homeostasis in action returning the body to normal.

This same concept of homeostasis applies to all of our other bodily functions and processes. If we get a cold our body fights the virus, if our blood pH gets off the there are mechanisms to return it to normal, if we become dehydrated we have a thirst mechanism and so on. Could it be then that weight is also controlled by the same homeostasis?

Given that many lose weight only to gain it again it seems as though weight on an individual basis is controlled by a set point or homeostatic control. Many in the medical and health community have given credence to this idea that weight has less to do with the external and more to do with internal controls.

For a more observable validation of this theory simply look at how many you know who have lost weight with great effort only to gain it back with very little effort. In relation to the diet and weight loss industry it has been noted that the very existence of these businesses is proof they don’t work. In other words if it were easy or natural to lose weight and maintain that loss then the weight loss industry would over time go out of business because it would become needless. Yet that is far from the reality of the situation.

For all of the caterwauling of those in the health establishment that there is a benefit to weight loss long term weight loss is elusive to most. The truth in most cases is that weight loss is possible but maintaining that weight loss may well be a fight against nature itself.

It may be that a re reading of those old biology class notes is in order for a whole lot of smart people in modern medical practice. Homeostasis, the first concept taught in human biology is that the body is designed in such a way to maintain itself unless there is some underlying disease state. All that said why are some processes under such control and others not? It is apparent to at least me that there is more to the whole idea of thin and healthy that self control at the dinner table.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Healthy Economics

Daily news stories would have us believe that we are in perilous economic times on par with the Great Depression. This may be the way to build television ratings or sell magazines but the fear mongering doesn’t always play out in real life. For example it has long been assumed that eating healthy is expensive even in a bustling economy but is it really true?
Bluntly put the answer is no eating healthy foods is no more costly than eating regular foods. In fact it usually cost less to eat healthy foods prepared at home than it does to eat out at restaurants. To analyze and prove this hypothesis some parameters need to be set.
First maintaining a healthy diet usually means preparing more foods at home from scratch and dining out less at restaurants. Next healthy foods must be examined in light of established standards. For example you may order a burger at a restaurant large enough to cover a trash can lid but a healthier portion of meat is much less. A standard serving of meat is 3-4 ounces which is usually half of what restaurants offer. Finally we should compare the cost of home prepared meals with prices charged in restaurants. With these guidelines let’s take a look at the cost per individual serving.
Our menu for this exercise will be roast chicken, herbed rice and wilted spinach. Let’s say that we found boneless and skinless chicken for sale at the local market for $4 per pound, one pound of rice for $.78 and a 10 ounce bag of washed baby spinach for $2.99. The chicken purchased at $4 per pound will cost $1 per four ounce portion; the rice will cost roughly $.20 per half cup serving and the spinach about $.50 per 4 ounce serving. We will add to this meal a wheat roll with butter at a cost of $.15 and add in an extra $.25 for seasonings and other items used in the cooking process. The total for this meal then comes to $2.10 which is probably about a penny per calorie.
Take this example and begin to plug in other items you like. For example if fresh tuna were purchased for $6 per pound the total meal cost would only increase by $.50 to $2.60 per portion. If a medium sized baked potato were put in place of the rice the difference in cost would likely be less than what could be found in an old pair of trousers. Even if the vegetable portion was increased to one whole cup or eight ounces the cost would only increase by 2 Pac Man games. All of this without mentioning the lower fat healthier meal that you get by cooking at home.
To be sure I am not against eating out in restaurants. Our area has many great eateries to choose from and I can be found in one most nights of the week. I am however against misinformation and the notion that eating healthy is expensive is simply not accurate. It may absolve one of guilt to say that when they are choking down an entire cheese and sausage pizza but even most of those cost at least $2 per slice. Do the math, when is the last time a family of four ate in a restaurant for less than $10?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'm not buying it

For some years now there has been an all out effort to convince us that our children are getting fatter and can expect a shorter life span than we currently enjoy. These notions are most often tossed into the national discussion via news casts and other media outlets that seem to lack one integral piece of journalistic prowess and that is fact checking. Are our children really getting fatter? Is there really an epidemic of childhood obesity in America?

I contend that children on the whole are no different today than they have ever been. When I was younger there were big kids and little ones too. Today some kids are thin and others not so thin but to couch this in terms of an epidemic seem to somewhat overstate the issue. Going back even a little further there were the Little Rascals an early television show featuring a gang of mischievous kids some of whom were thin like Alfalfa and others who were plump like Spanky and Darla. Were they the only two fat kids in America at the time? Probably not but the Great Depression gave folks something to worry about other than the BMI of our children.

To combat this so called epidemic government at the federal, state and even local level have put on their do good badges and sought to fix the problem. A recent example of this are the deeply caring but sadly misguided members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who voted 8-3 to ban toys in fast food meals that have excessive calories, sodium and fat. Their goal in passing the waste of a piece of paper legislation is to curb the obesity epidemic. Has anyone bothered to ask if that would work?

Couple this with the nationwide move to ban cupcakes and other sweet treats from school functions. This assault on sweets is part of a federally mandated school wellness initiative that makes it seem like we may not live in America anymore. Has anyone asked whether cupcakes and other confections thwarted the learning process of generations since our nation’s founding or if such a ban will cause even one child to lose one pound?


As a nutrition professional the very fact that these arrogant public servants, meddlers better said, think that even one child will lose weight because of this ban is scary. Scary because if children do face real health issues related to nutrition a ban on toys, fat laden foods or any food for that matter will not change anything.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Health At Every Size

No one is an island but to hold the point of view on health that I do sure makes it feel that way. In a world where the health community exists largely in an echo chamber holding a differing point of view takes much courage and conviction. Case on point is the area of health as related to body weight.

By a large margin the health community promotes the idea that a lower body weight is directly related to a lower risk of health complications. Risk of cardiovascular disease, cancers, stroke and diabetes are mitigated by achieving and maintaining what they say is a healthy body weight. The measure for this is a body mass index below 30. To differ in any way with their mantra can quickly cause one to be labeled as a health heretic. My heresy however is not unfounded.

I recently discovered a co conspirator in Dr Linda Bacon PhD. Dr. Bacon is the author of the book Health at Every Size: the Surprising Truth about Your Weight. The thesis of the book is fat isn’t the problem but dieting is the problem. Furthermore the problem lies with a societal view that being thin is equal with being healthy when in truth it is not.

Rather than attempting to cram everyone into unrealistic cultural norms the health at every size idea is to listen to your own body. In the book Dr Bacon reveals that on average overweight people live longer than those of a “normal weight. She also dispels the myth that those who lose weight live longer since no scientific study has ever demonstrated this to be true. Finally Health At Every Size reveals that individual biology sets a persons weight and that weight loss is usually regained.

So now there are at least two of us on the island. In fact there are a growing number of doctors, scientists and clear thinking people who have begun to question the mantras of the health establishment. In truth that should be a welcomed and open discussion. Yet because there is such a goldmine in the weight loss arena that discussion is often swept under the rug.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Skinny Isn't Always Healthy

The drum beat sounding the march that everyone should be thin for better health is never ending. For decades now the mantra of maintaining a healthy body weight leads to better health has been the clarion call of health elitists. Yet statistics show that though we are getting fatter as a nation we are enjoying better health and longer lives than ever. What can we make of this dichotomy? Could it be that the weight loss mantra is meaningless?
Consider a few questions from the other perspective on the topics of skinny and healthy. First when is the last time we heard of someone in our country starving. Not just missing a meal or two but really on the verge of death from a lack of adequate nutrition? I contend that such is rare in our bountiful nation. The fact that we are obsessed with losing weight to achieve better health should be counted as a great blessing rather and a persistent plague. Billions of dollars are spent annually by thousands trying to get healthy when for all practical purposes they already are.
Next try and recall the latest news report on rampant vitamin deficiencies in America. Google all you want but you won’t find such a story because none exists. It has been over 70 years since there were issues on a large scale with lack of adequate vitamin and mineral intake in this country. Such problems were long ago solved with laws requiring the enrichment and fortification of the food supply with nutrients. Many of those strange sounding ingredients on a food label such as riboflavin and pyridoxine are simply the proper names of common vitamins and minerals. The idea that our food isn’t as nutritious as it used to be is flatly false.
Finally think about the last time you had trouble locating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy and lean meats to eat. The short answer is that no one ever has real difficulty finding such foods. Those pesky health elitists would have us believe that many have trouble locating these foods relegating them to consume a steady diet of easily accessible junk food. The only junk is this theory is this theory. It may be accurate to theorize that a lot of people choose to eat junk foods instead of fresh fruits and vegetables but certainly not due to availability.
The bottom line in this eating right and exercising are not a guarantee of good health. Not that they are inherently bad or wrong but why should anyone be guilted into doing them. Observation alone reveals that dieting has little if any long term benefits as most gain the weight back. Perhaps the health utopia that is being sought is just pie in the sky, pun intended!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Time Are Changing

The great American poet Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, wrote “The times they are a changin’” and how right he was. Hurricane Health is ripping and tearing away everything we every knew about good health and nutrition leaving no real clear picture of what we should be doing.
Although dieting has been practiced in some cultures throughout history the popular rendition of the term is relatively new. In fact up until about 100 years ago thinness was considered unhealthy and resulted in some interesting behaviors. Stories are told of young girls writing to publications such as the Ladies Home Journal seeking weight gain advice and of others padding their clothing to appear fuller figured. Men too reveled in the healthiness of portliness joining organizations such as the Fat Men’s Club of Connecticut to which men of great wealth, status and pant size belonged.
As decades wore on and the starlets of Hollywood became the standard by which we measure ourselves and the idea of a healthy heaviness faded. In their place was ensconced the eternal “truth” that skinny meant healthy and that anyone overweight was doomed to an early grave. Not only was thin the mantra of the Hollywood jet set it was fully embraced by the majority of the health care community. So much so it seems that anyone who has ever donned a white lab coat automatically has the authority to provide diet information, health advice and a condescending stare.
Interestingly what has happened in that short time span is that obesity has become a national crime and being thin is the new picture of health wealth and vitality. Being overweight which used to be the hallmark of the rich is now seen as typical of the poor. Too bad the obese poor of today didn’t live in the 1800’s at least they would have the image of wealth.
Furthermore research continues to demonstrate that the link between being thin, lowering risk factors and having good health is weak. For example a study was recently published indicating that less than 50% of patients admitted to the hospital for heart disease had high cholesterol by current measures. Another study published in the JAMA Journal of the American Medical Association found that after one year of intense lifestyle modifications of diet and exercise study participants showed no reduction in cholesterol or other cardiac risk factors. So in other words all the dieting and exercising in the world may not prevent heart disease or even add a year to you life!
Undoubtedly the times are changing but on what basis? Slim and trim as described by Hollywood is merely for image sake not for health. Truth be told many of the tinsel town A list do great damage to their health to keep their frames thin. Conversely many of the things we are told to do to be healthy may not be as beneficial as once thought. Nonetheless the desire for the perfect public image has become pervasive in our society. Imagine if you will a man such as William Howard Taft who at 350 pounds was elected as our nation’s 27th president? Today he would likely be deemed unfit and much too unhealthy for such high office. So Bob was right things are really changing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Freedom of Food

The USDA recently unveiled its new My Plate dietary guidance initiative. This replaces the My Pyramid which had been in place since the early 1990’s. In so far as anyone looks to the government for nutrition advice the plate or the pyramid are essentially the same. Even I find no fault in the basic advice offered in My Plate. I do have issues with several other facets of the program.

First why is the government even in the business of providing nutrition advice and guidance? Our Constitution gives no authority for the government to promote a national diet plan. Therefore it seems as though we have freedom of religion and freedom of speech but not freedom of nutrition.

The My Plate program is unnecessary because most people know how to choose a healthy diet. If they can’t then there are hundreds or private resources they can tap into. Yet having worked in the arena of food and nutrition for many years I have often ask people to describe the nuts and bolts of healthy eating and most without hesitation can easily do so. The issue with most is not their level of nutrition knowledge but the willingness to implement the knowledge they have. My Plate like many antiquated and needless government programs will probably never go away.

Another issue I have with the My Plate launch is how it was couched in terms of the “obesity epidemic”? Though it is true that we are as a nation a little heavier that we used to be I am not sure that constitutes an epidemic of obesity. But for the sake of argument let’s assume that such an epidemic exists and a cure is badly needed. Could we be confident that changing the geometric shape of the government’s dietary message from a triangle to a circle will solve that epidemic? If a national diet program has not changed our collective waist line in the past it is not likely to change it now or in the future.

In the end will My Plate result in a healthier America? If diseases such as heart disease and stroke trend downward in the coming years as they have in the past few years will that be attributable to My Plate? My guess is no. Individual health as it relates to nutrition is much more complex and nuanced than a big national diet plan can fix. Moreover health on an individual level is impacted by so many other factors besides nutrition and diet.

Please don’t misunderstand I really believe in providing good quality nutrition advice to those who are searching for it. In broad terms My Plate does that just fine. The issues that I have are focused on whether the government has a role in this discussion in the first place.