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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fragile?

A box labeled fragile gives a certain impression that the contents need careful handling. A set of fine china or crystal are usually considered fragile and the utmost care is taken not to break items like these. I have some of my grandmother’s china that is close to 100 years old and still looks new even though it is fragile because it was handled with care.

Are we like that china? Are our bodies fragile? The answer is both yes and no. Yes we as human beings as we age learn that life is fragile and will come to an end at some point. Most of us will have to deal with one form of disease or another which may ultimately cause our demise. On the other hand does this mean that every single thing we put in our mouths will cause harm, no.

In many ways we are pretty resilient. Many in the health establishment seem to ignore this fact. Some of those would insist that certain forms of sugar will cause harm to the body. Yet the facts tell another story. It is commonly reported that high fructose corn sugar is more harmful to us that cane sugar. Yet is the body so sensitive to sweets that it will reject one in favor of another? Will one cause harm while the other heals? No and the truth is that no matter what form of sugar is eaten it is all used in the body the same way. In the end sugar is energy no matter if it comes from a cane or from corn. We are not that fragile.

Likewise fat and cholesterol are the same way. Fat is a necessary part of our diet yet it has been told for decades that saturated fats from animal based foods are directly linked to heart disease. After almost 100 years of hearing that mantra the truth is being revealed. Many who consume high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol have no associated heart disease. For example Dr Malcom Kendrick demonstrates in his 2007 book The Great Cholesterol Con that Switzerland has the highest cholesterol levels in the world and the lowest incidence of heart disease. Conclusion: we are not that fragile.

The truth is that we all face an end at some point. On the path to that point we are bound to develop one or more diseases. Most of these diseases cannot be thwarted by eating a certain way or avoiding certain foods. Why is this? The answer is because the physical bodies we have are pretty good at using what we eat to support life. Of course too much of anything can have negative consequences. The point is that eating a burger and fries now and again will probably not do much harm and eating foods with corn syrup won’t either. At least it hasn’t happened to me yet.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Big Brother

Do you ever feel 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. 


Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Religion Obesity, Global Warming and Evolution

As I have long suspected the obesity issue especially when it comes to children has taken on religious significance to many especially those in public health. A recent blog post by Marion Nestle Professor of Nutrition at New York University, staunch advocate of public health policy and proprietor of the Food Politics blog demonstrates this very point.

In her post Nestle an advocate of increasing government regulations to protect the health of the public recently made comments equating the science behind childhood obesity to the science that supports global warming and evolution. The comments were from a letter to the Obama administration asking that they support voluntary standards for how food manufacturers can advertise their products to children as established by the Interagency Working Group.

To true believers in the epidemic of childhood obesity Dr. Nestle et al there can be no alternative or dissenting point of view. To the faithful there is an epidemic and that is final. This point of view of course constitutes faith. Furthermore the faithful conclude this epidemic of obesity is caused by a diet high in sugary and fat laden junk food and low physical activity. Members of the church of childhood obesity also believe that this epidemic is destined to break our national healthcare bank and result in shorter lives for those plagued with obesity a.k.a. the new leprosy. These are the tenets of the fat faith.

If these “truths” are as rock solid as global warming and evolutionary science then their faith may be a house of cards. Global warming is far from accepted science by every member of the scientific community. Just because the church of global warming is attended by celebrities, hippie activists and former communists with a former vice president acting as prophet, priest and king does not equate to an infallible message. Many on the other side of the global warming argument have demonstrated that the hole in the ozone layer is naturally occurring, SUV’s are not killing polar bears and our continent is not about to sink into the ocean.

Likewise if the science supporting childhood obesity is as sound as the science of evolution then it is on shaky ground. Over and over the so called missing links found in remote locations around the globe typically turn out to be those of animals. The idea that humans an observably complex organism made up of billions of cells all working in concert to sustain life are a result of a great cosmic case of happenstance is a very shaky doctrine. It would seem that any educated individual could observe that order does not come as the result of chaos. In other words life as we know it and see it was either accidental or it was intentional which is more logical?

 You may be fully immersed in the thought that obesity, evolution and global warming are true and have no detractors but you would be mistaken. Each of these ideas has at least one who doesn’t worship at the altar.

Sunday, October 2, 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?