Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Office Job Dangers

In a time where we face over-nourishment instead of under-nourishment, the office is a dangerous place. We earn our livings sitting on our butts instead of working in the fields. What this means is that even if we exercise, our jobs may cancel out that exercise. This article Stand Up While You Read This explains the problem well.

The solution offered in the following YouTube video is great! Too often my fellow students complain that they cannot exercise due to our studies. I manage to squeeze in necessary treadmill time by taking my study material to the gym. This is an even better strategy. Office jobs offer little physical activity and coworkers frequently bring in fattening treats to share. Many offices are even stocked with free soda and snacks; weight gain is the only cost.

Skeptical Sources

I was reading the New York Times nutritional version of Myth Busters and this one gave me the chills. I didn’t think anyone actually believed this. Then I remembered the New York Times Bestseller I read a few years ago, Skinny Bitch. I hate to deride any book that promotes a plant based diet, but it’s necessary. Despite the silliness of the book, there is a large amount that I agree with; unfortunately, it has three fatal flaws.

Agave Nectar
The authors rant about the audacity of sugar, HFCS, and artificial sweeteners. Agreed. However, they militantly promote Agave Nectar (over 90% fructose) as a sweetener despite the numerous studies associating high intakes of fructose with uricemia and metabolic problems. Their reason is that sugar is too refined; it is, but so is Agave. Agave also has a low glycemic index, thus it is appealing to diabetics. However, that low GI comes with potential consequences. Fructose is fine if it is consumed from fruits - the quantity in fruit is miniscule and the benefits of fruit are crucial. Caloric sweeteners (sugar in the raw, date sugar, etc.) all have the same amount of calories per serving and some level of processing. There is no magic alternative. Eat less.

When to Eat Fruit
The authors maintain that fruit eaten with any other food takes longer to digest and it will ferment in the stomach. Oh, my. Well, as the New York Times piece states, HCL and the length of our digestive tracts say their statement just isn’t so. Eat fruit whenever you want, with whatever you’d like. Just eat it.

Foods to Eat
Their book ends with a laundry list of packaged foods and processed meat alternatives to live off of. You will survive, but I wouldn’t call it living. It baffled me because the majority of their book criticizes the food industry and processed foods. Morbid curiosity prevailed and I bought their “cookbook.” None of the recipes interested me, but they did intrigue me. Most of their recipes called for some sort of processed ingredient (each of which had about twenty of its own ingredients).

This is a nation in dire need of higher intakes of fruit and lower intakes of processed foods and sweeteners. While I may have dismissed the book as a silly read, others have taken it seriously. This book may not be solely responsible for the myth of “fruit fermenting in the stomach”, but it made me realize something about myself. I am not inclined to ignore the flaws of a book, or a journal article, simply because I agree with its tenets. If I ever do, I will have become fatally flawed. Most importantly, before you buy into any type of diet book, check the references and do your homework!

See you in the library.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bill Clinton: Don't Eat Like Me

Political Hotsheet reports that Bill Clinton blames his recent heart troubles on the way he ate as a child. He realizes that this trend is still continuing in today's children; it will affect them as adults the same way it affected him.

"I ate too much fried food, too much ice cream, too much everything," added the former president.

Speaking of former Arkansas governors, Michelle Obama is to appear on Mike Huckabee's Fox News Show to discuss Lets Move!. I may find Huckabee politically repulsive, but I greatly admire him for saving his own life when the doctors told him he was eating himself into his grave. He was diagnosed with Type II diabetes and ten years to live. He began to eat less. When enough of the weight came off, he became a runner and then a marathoner! He is now a health crusader and wrote the book, Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork. It's great to see people put aside politics to discuss an issue that affects everyone.

See you in Arkansas.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dueling Evils: Part I

Grown not Made is the trade marked phrase on this jar of Heinz 57. I think they reversed that because Made not Grown would be much more accurate. The HFCS alone involves the following controlled enzymatic processes1:

  1. Liquefaction via amylase to produce dextrins
  2. Saccharification via fungal enzymes to produce glucose syrup
  3. Isomerization via glucose isomerase to produce a 42 percent fructose HFCS

Don’t get me wrong. There is a scientifically processed, man-made creation that I will not be caught dead criticizing: microbrew. Not the preservative laden, additive enhanced excuse for a beer such as Budweiser. I’m talking about a decent, craft beer. However, beer comes with a warning label, not an excuse to guzzle it by the gallon. Beer is made from barley, hops, water, and yeast, but the artists do not try to bully us into “drinking our grains.” Instead, they warn us of the potential side effects.

Ketchup manufacturers try to convince us that we are eating our vegetables. In reality, it is sweetened tomato paste. In other words, extra, empty calories in which to dip your greasy french fries. Luckily for me, I hate the taste of ketchup. If you like it, enjoy; I love my occasional chocolate chip cookie. Just do not think you are boosting your antioxidant levels. Now blood glucose levels are a different story... Where is that side effect warning label?

See you at the brewery.

1. Murano, SP. (2003). Understanding Food Science and Technology. Wadsworth.145.

The McOlympian?

NPR featured an excellent blog describing McDonald's audacious involvement with the Olympics. This has been a long standing frustration of mine. I'm glad that frustration is shared.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Unnecessary Evils

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is not the new trans-fat - that job is held by the artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, and saccharine). HFCS is chemically similar to sugar, and just like sugar, it contributes to empty calories and weight gain.

HFCS is not high in fructose. It’s approximately 50% glucose and 50% fructose, as is sucrose (table sugar). As a result, a war has developed between the sugar industry and the corn refiners. It is a battle between two evils. On one side is the sugar industry, on the other side is the HFCS industry. Americans have become the casualties of this war. Junk food sweetened with sugar has started labeling their packages as “HFCS-free.” As a result, sugar is viewed as more “wholesome and natural.” On the other hand, the corn refiners have retaliated with their “it’s just sugar” commercials, and then add that it comes from corn (after a lengthy process of enzymatic reactions). In turn, this has people viewing HFCS as “natural.” Cocaine comes from the coca plant; it’s not something I would consume.

Both products are useless; the less we eat, the better. The makers of King Corn say it perfectly with this video:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Meals Worth Preparing

Cooking. Teaching children to cook is crucial and it's something I don't think about. My only experience with children has been with my niece and nephew. They have been able to hold their own in a kitchen since they were able to reach the stove. I assumed that was normal. Apparently, not all kids are raised this way. Sadly, many cannot even correctly identify whole fruits and vegetables. Then they grow into adults who rely on TV dinners, packaged cereals, and fast food for fuel instead of cooking their own food. Don't get me wrong. I love to dine out, occasionally, but to depend on a stranger's cooking every day is... strange. However, I have seen those close to me succumb to the convenience of fast food and then watched them crumble. It's time to learn how to use all of our fancy kitchen equipment, once again. Every day.

This is just one of the many great points made in Jamie Oliver's TED presentation. It's a twenty minute video, but well worth your time. Nutritional diseases are preventable. There are no more excuses. We can only place so much blame on the food industry; the rest falls on our shoulders. Thank you for the link, Pedro.

See you in the kitchen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Battling Childhood Obesity

It's here! Let's Move! is Michelle Obama's year long, well-researched campaign to fight childhood obesity. This campaign (involving Mrs. Obama, researchers, and pediatricians) is addressing a problem that targets both ends of the political spectrum and everyone in between. Many issues contribute to childhood obesity (and many problems result from it). Children are no longer able to walk to school due to increased societal dangers. There are ways around this issue, but they aren't convenient. The food industry makes a more practical opponent. This is one of the areas the First Lady hopes to address, as indicated in the New York Times:

“The truth is, our kids didn’t do this to themselves,” Mrs. Obama said. “Our kids didn’t choose to make food products with tons of fat and sugar and supersize portions, and then to have those foods marketed to them wherever they turn.”

Food companies are lobbying hard in Washington. Soda taxes were not mentioned for a reason. These big food companies will not go down without a fight. Michelle Obama truly has a battle ahead of her, but she also has a plan and I wish her luck! I don't expect change to occur anytime soon, but this is the most hope I've had in a long time.

See you on the front lines.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Leaving Leftovers

Satiety cues were brought up during my most recent pediatric nutrition class. A fellow student was presenting and mentioned that babies have satiety cues, but those cues disappear along with infancy. Always the skeptic, I had to refrain from raising my hand to interject. Instead, I let it slide and then researched it at home. Sure enough, parents and the food industry are to blame.

Humans were born with the innate ability to determine when they were full and then stop eating, regardless of what was on their plate. In Americans, this ability disappears during early childhood. Other cultures, such as the French, do not lose this ability. Clinical trials reveal that children who were rewarded for cleaning their plates, increased their food intake (eating more than they needed). Conversely, those who were taught to stop eating when the hunger subsided had significantly less food intake.1 We’ve taught our children to become obese. The food industry takes it a step further with their oversized plates and king sized candy bars.

I’ve never understood the obsession with “cleaning your plate.” I hate wasting food, but I love the proverb, “it’s better to let it go to waste, than to your waist.” If you stuff yourself beyond capacity, you are doing harm. It’s going to become waste either way, but one of those paths will lead to more harm than good. The dictionary contains two important words: tupperware and leftovers.

On that plump note, I was impressed with last week’s State of the Union address. Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity initiative is actually what caught my attention. Whatever your political views may be, you cannot deny that this is a problem in need of a solution. Once and for all.

See you at the Container Store.

1. Ello-Martin et al. The influence of food portion size and energy density on energy intake: implications for weight management. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2005. 82 (1): 236S.

Friendly Foe

This isn't a real sign, but it is really true. is a website that allows you to generate your own signs (and make fun of fast food companies). It might come in handy for anyone else who disdains the fast food industry.

Book Recommendation: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. An oldie, but a goodie. It might even become a classic. It could do for modern day slaughterhouses what The Jungle did for the famous Chicago stockyards.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Embracing an Addiction

I recently stumbled across an article in the New York Times which responded to New York’s push for salt reduction; it hit close to home. I became conflicted. Many people eat poorly and have health problems all around, including hypertension. They should limit their salt intake as much as possible. People who are in good health, but have high blood pressure, need to watch their intake.

On the other hand, there are people who have very low blood pressure and eat a heap of salt (sweating most of it out during exercise). I am one of them. Should we be punished, too? Unlike many people, my salt intake does not come from processed food. Like the article states, processed foods contain so many chemicals that additional salt is a necessity, otherwise, they would taste horrible. The article mentions that chefs have a heavy hand with salt. Well, I love to dine out. I also love to cook and I will admit that my salting hand weighs a bit more than my left hand. Salt brings out a symphony of flavors that might not stand out, otherwise.

A heavy weight now rests upon my shoulders. Should I condone babysitting the unhealthy, at the healthy’s expense? Yes. I would fully support a “junk food tax” and I LOVE an occasional chocolate CHUNK cookie. The truth is that I am slightly uncomfortable with the idea of regulating any ingredient involved in a chef’s culinary creation. But... I still support the Big Apple in The Battle of Sodium Chloride. Heavy handed? Those laboratory results make me wonder if chefs use a ladle to add in the salt. Furthermore, this will also make it easier for those who are genetically hypertensive (many of whom regularly exercise and eat healthily) to enjoy dining out. The rest of us will just have to cozy up to the salt shaker; salt is much easier to add than remove.

See you in the salt mines... or not.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Thirsty? Drink Water.

The overuse of sports beverages is a growing trend and pet peeve of mine. Someone who has just finished a gym workout that consists of 30 minutes on a stationary bike while reading their favorite book, does not need a Gatorade afterwards. In fact, they would drink back all of the calories they just burned (and then some).

Parents are now concerned enough to give their children gatorade after simple activities such as baseball, or t-ball, where most of the child’s time is spent waiting for their turn to bat or catch. Other than running bases, baseball is not very aerobic. Soccer... another story, especially if it is hot outside. Sports beverages contain plenty of sugar and are very hard on teeth (eroding the enamel).1 If you still insist on providing it for your children, dilute it with water - they will easily receive the electrolytes they need, without as many unnecessary sugars.

Despite these issues, I also understand the importance of electrolyte replacement; however, this is mainly an issue for serious athletes who engage in continuous exercise for well over an hour. If you’re out in the sun all day working in a climate comparable to Phoenix, Az., you probably also need electrolytes; however, you can still get away with watering down your gatorade. Hyponatremia is deadly and can occur during long bouts of exercise from over hydration when blood salt (required for many physiological functions) becomes too low. Sadly, many athletes have died from it. For some people, salt is not the enemy. Salty foods, salty water, or diluted gatorade have sufficed in the past. The sports drink, Gatorade, was invented based on the chemical make up of sweat: sodium and dihydrogen monoxide... also known as salt + water. It was a great idea, but in order to become marketable, they added sugar, artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives.

G2 enhances the chemical smorgasbord by adding the chemical sweetener, sucralose, to cut back on its plentiful calories. It still has high fructose corn syrup for that quick, useless energy burst; therefore, it’s not a calorie free beverage, it just has one more chemical added to the mix.

A peek at the ingredients (reminds me of an old chemistry assignment):

Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sucrose Syrup, Citric Acid, Salt, Sodium Citrate, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Monopotassium Phosphate, Ascorbic Acid, Niacinamide, Sucralose, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Calcium Pantothenate, Alpha Tocopherol Acetate, Acesulfame Potassium, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Red 40, Blue 1.

Water’s ingredients: Water.

See you at the drinking fountain.

1. SM Hooper, JA Hughes, RG Newcombe, M Addy, and NX West. A methodology for testing the erosive potential of sports drinks. Journal of Dentistry. 2004. (33) 4.