Plant-based Diets: A New Way to Think About Health

Posted on July 20, 2013. Filed under: against the current, Alzheiner's, Autoimmune disease, Cancer, Diet, Neurodegenerative disease | Tags: , , , , |

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Salt, Sugar, Fat: That’s how they getcha

Posted on June 19, 2013. Filed under: against the current, Diet, Food industry, What is food? | Tags: , , , , , |

Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler exposed the food industry’s purposeful use of sugar, salt and fat in his 2009 book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.

Now, New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss takes the subject a step further in his book Salt, Sugar, Fat by taking a closer look at how the food industry makes the decisions they do; in the lab, not a kitchen.

Take away: Processed food is designed to be bad for you. Period.

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What Is Food?

Posted on May 27, 2013. Filed under: Diet | Tags: , , , , , |

Do you eat food?  Are you sure?

I said we would spend a lot of time talking about food on this blog and I think it makes sense to start with the basics.

What is food?

When you really contemplate that question, what do you come up with?  Last night’s chicken dinner, was that food?  Was this morning’s Cheerios food?  We really need to define food to decide if these can be considered food.  A quick Google search gives us this definition:

Any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth (emphasis added).

So, did that chicken dinner help to maintain your life and growth?  If the chicken involved was pasture raised then it very likely contains some of the nutrients necessary to maintain your life.  Pasture raised birds eat their natural diet rich in seeds, green plants, insects and worms, which fills the chicken with all the nutrients it needs for a healthy life.  Compare this to a diet of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals flush with additives of conventionally raised birds and what do you get?  National Geographic reported on a comparison of pasture raised to conventionally raised chickens.  The pasture raised birds were found to have:

  • significantly less fat and less saturated fat
  • 50% more vitamin A
  • significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids

Vitamin A contributes to vision, immune function, bone development, cellular differentiation, growth and reproduction so that extra vitamin A will likely be put to very good use.  Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in reducing inflammation, proper cell membrane function, cell signaling, gene expression and disease protection.  It sounds like a pasture raised chicken is nutritious and meets the definition of food.  A conventionally raised chicken, while less nutritious, is probably still food.  But where is the line between food and not food?

Let’s take a look at Cheerios, considered so wholesome as to be a common first finger food for babies.   The fact that it lists whole grain oats as an ingredient means that the grain they use includes all three parts of the kernel-bran, germ and endosperm- which is good because this is where the nutrition lies in whole grains.  Fiber, iron and B vitamins are the main nutrients associated with whole grain foods so it is funny that the Cheerios website goes on to list fiber, iron and B vitamins as Cheerios ingredients-things they purposely added to the product.  (When I compare the Nutrition Facts of

Cheerios Ingredients

Cheerios Ingredients

Cheerios to that of another whole grain oat product-Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Oats Flour-I see that the cereal has less fiber and protein than the flour, which is a one ingredient food).  I don’t know what kind of whole grain oats Cheerios is using, but if it has to add the very nutrients whole grains are known to have naturally I can’t help but be curious about the quality of the whole grain they are using.

As for the rest of the ingredients in Cheerios, some are items I use in my own cooking-sugar, water-and others are chemicals for thickening, stabilizing and preserving and I can’t say that I’ve ever put those items on my shopping list.  And, what about the added vitamins?  The Handbook of Cereal Science and Technology reveals that cereal manufacturers have added vitamins and minerals to cereals to compensate for the losses that occur during processing (this may explain the discrepancy between the whole grain oat cereal vs flour mentioned earlier). I have too many questions and concerns about this addition of vitamins to address here, but I’ll mention a few.  Which form of each vitamin do they use?

  • For B12, do they use premethylated methylcobalamin or synthetic and cheaper cyanocobalamin?
  • For vitamin E do they use the preferred alpha and gamma tocotrienols or the lower anti-oxidative tocopherols?
  • Are the vitamins they use synthetic or naturally derived?

While I am not opposed to supplementation, I do ascribe to the thinking that the best way to get our nutrients is from food sources as they contain all the cofactors necessary to activate the nutrients.  It seems to me that Cheerios starts with a known food-whole grain oats- and then processes out some of what make it food and then tries to put some of it back in and then some.  I’m having a hard time calling this food.

I’m sure I am not putting as fine a point on this food vs not-food point as I mean to, but that’s because it is still forming for me.  The food industry seems to think that anything that is edible is food and they’ve led us to believe they are the same thing. Only, the simple Google definition of edible helps us to see the difference:

Fit to be eaten (often used to contrast with unpalatable or poisonous examples).

Food and edible are not really synonymous.  Food is about nutrition and edible is about being tasty or not poisonous.  I think it would be a HUGE step in the right direction if we simply refused call things food based on the item’s edibility.  Velveeta cheese may be edible, but it is not food.  At best, combining Velveeta’s ingredients gets us a cheese-like product, not cheese.  If we could gain agreement on this one simple thing then maybe we could gain some traction on a number of social/political issues regarding food.  I will now be making a point to outwardly recognize the difference between food and non-food items.  Will you join me?

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