2014 resolutions – how did I do?

We’re finally to the last day of 2014.

Before I can finalize my goals for 2015, I need to check back in on 2014 and see how it went. You can see the other goal posts for 2014 here: January, AprilJuly and October.

Here’s how I did!

Mind

Read 75 books.

Knocked this one out of the park. As of right now, I’ve completed 99 books. There is a high likelihood that if I get to take a lunch break today, I’ll hit 100. I didn’t anticipate blowing this goal so far out of the water, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Reading is like plugging myself into the Joanna charger. I only feel like me when I have a chance to read every day, even if it’s only 5 pages. I read some truly great books this year, which is a post unto itself. I didn’t finish the two sub-goals of finishing Atwood’s canon and reading a Russian doorstop, so I am considering whether or not those are still goals for 2015.

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I wrote one in April on the DARK Act, and I wrote again in the fall regarding funding for food assistance. But I didn’t hit the third letter. Fall was a very busy time for us – the craziest of the year – so my ability to read up on the current food issues was somewhat limited.

medal resize 1Body

Run a marathon.

Done. Boom.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
This has been pretty close, so I’m calling it a win. I am trying to turn to water when I want coffee in the afternoon at my desk and I’ve done that more often than I’ve given in, so that’s a win too.
 

 

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Finished this one earlier in the year, though I need to get a better restart going. I tried to do one after the marathon was over, but the room wasn’t warm enough to inhibit mold growth. So I think I’ve found a warmer spot and will try again soon. This will be ongoing.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Did this. And also sewed this Star Trek Quiet Bookt-shirt blanket resize

Can one new thing.
We made one new variant of jam this year, but mostly we canned the usual.
Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I didn’t do as well with this one as I would have liked, but most of my flowers stayed alive all season, so that’s huge progress for me.
Make the chickens some treats.
Done. With two days to spare!

Organize the basement.
I did this. And then it creeped back to cluttered, and now it’s a mess again. I think when we put away the Christmas decorations, I’ll take that opportunity to work on it again. We’ve given over the larger room to Mark’s work space, so I need to make the best use possible of the remaining space. Definitely an ongoing challenge.

movie review: fed up

fed up resizeFed Up came out in May of this year, and at the time, I kept meaning to see it in theaters, but I missed it. It came out on video in September (I still say video, like I could go rent a VHS at Hollywood Video or something), and I have been on the waiting list for it at the library for weeks. Finally, I was able to watch it this weekend with my mom.

Going into it, my expectation was that it would be well done, but that I wouldn’t hear much that was new to me. I was pleasantly surprised – not just at what I learned, but also the fact that I’ve been mulling it over since I saw it several days ago.

The basic premise is that what we’ve been taught for decades about the keys to a healthy lifestyle – eat less and move more – isn’t exactly right. And that the obesity epidemic is less “our fault” than we think it is. The film details the history of this epidemic and what factors have led to it, and how science no longer backs up the “all calories are created equal” mantra that Big Food likes to spew when the safety of their products is questioned.

Type 2 diabetes cases are skyrocketing, particularly in children and adolescents, to the point where Type 2 is no longer called “adult onset diabetes.” We spend the GDP of a small nation on weight loss drugs and gym memberships, and every container of food in the supermarket has some health claim on it. Yet if America had a blood work panel done, it would show that by and large, as a nation we are pretty sick.

Setting aside the idea of the “obesity epidemic” for a moment, let’s talk about what got us to this place.

The filmmakers (as well as the World Health Organization and other esteemed health science groups) believe the primary culprit is sugar. When your body digests sugar, it needs fiber to slow down the absorption of the food. When something is high in sugar, but lacking in fiber, the body digests it quickly, overloading the liver and creating both fat and insulin. And that fast sugar digestion is what creates “sugar highs” and the related “crashes” once your body comes down off of the sugar. (They often liken sugar consumption to heroin or cocaine consumption, because it lights up the same parts of your brain.) It’s because of the way your body processes sugars that not all calories are created equal. 160 calories of almonds has a different effect on the body than 160 calories of soda.

Beginning in the 1980s, America became obsessed with eliminating fat from our diets, and “low fat” became synonymous with health. But when an essential part of the processed foods trifecta (sugar, salt and fat) is removed, the others have to go up to make the food palatable. So those low fat products that we all were convinced by the food industry were healthy? FULL of added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends that adults only consume 6-9 grams of added sugar per day. Every teaspoon is 4 grams, so you really should be consuming only about 2 teaspoons per day of added sugar. The average American daily intake? 41 grams. And that’s AVERAGE.

Sugar comes in many forms on nutrition labels – and it’s not just high fructose corn syrup that is the problem. The backlash against HFCS has actually become a good thing for the food industry – they take it out of their food, add back in a ton of sugar, and then sell it as a health food because it doesn’t contain HFCS. Now I’m no fan of HFCS, but your body reacts the same way to that as a million other sugars, even natural sugars. But the difference between naturally occurring sugar in fruit and sugar in a soda is that the fruit has the digestive benefit of natural fiber. Most people don’t get a sugar rush from eating apples, and they get full on apples before they could eat enough to produce that effect. Getting a sugar rush from something like soda also means that your pancreas produces insulin to deal with it, which blocks the receptors that tell your brain you are full. Which is why you can often mindlessly eat junk food way past the point of excess without ever thinking you are full.

All of the metabolic diseases that Americans are sick with – diabetes, heart disease, cancer, strokes – have links to excess sugar consumption. And the average American has no idea how much they are consuming, because sugar doesn’t just appear in things like cookies and soda that we know are “sweet.” Virtually every processed food has added sugars – even ones that we would traditionally associate with health, like yogurt.

The film also touches a lot on the impact of this sugar intake on children, and how it’s particularly harmful to them because it sets them up for a lifetime of trouble. And we don’t do them any favors by marketing the food specifically to them (which the industry actually claims they don’t do). Yet somehow, 50% of schools in the U.S. serve fast food directly from restaurants. There are actually Pizza Huts in schools.

Speaking of industry, when the World Health Organization released a report that sugar was the primary culprit for the “obesity epidemic” and recommended that no more than 10% of daily calories come from sugar, the U.S. Health and Human Services lobbied the WHO to take that information out of the report, and threatened to withhold the U.S. contribution to the WHO. The WHO caved, took it out of the report, and the U.S. extorted the WHO out of making a recommendation in the interest of public health. Government for the people, indeed.

Fed Up has much more information on all of these areas I’ve touched on, and the cinematography is really engaging and well done. Many different types of experts are interviewed, and virtually every possible industry company was asked to participate and declined. I’d definitely recommend that people give it 90 minutes of their time – particularly if you struggle with sugar (or if you have kids that eat a lot of processed foods).

But.

I had one significant issue with this documentary, and that’s the constant focus on weight as an indicator of health. The documentary frames itself around the “obesity epidemic,” but I keep referring to it in quotes because I think it’s a misnomer. We don’t have an epidemic of obesity – we have an epidemic of metabolic disease. The film itself points out the staggering statistic that 40% of people who are in the normal BMI category actually have the exact same underlying metabolic conditions as people who are overweight or obese. It isn’t what you weigh. It’s what you EAT. You can be fat and healthy. (I know this because my scale and bloodwork say I am both overweight and super-humanely healthy.)

So then why are all the kids interviewed in the film severely overweight? Why not interview a “skinny fat” person – a kid who lives on nothing but sugar and is on their way to diabetes, but they’re skinny? Because it’s a lot easier to stigmatize and shame fat people than it is to convince the public that skinny people are just as unhealthy. One poor 12 year old girl who was interviewed just kept crying. They used her shame to make a point. Why not interview a 12 year old girl who has significant behavioral issues that result from being hyped on sugar constantly? Because we don’t really care how healthy our kids are as long as they are not fat. No individual parent would say that, but collectively, it’s true. So while the film seeks to tell people that fat people aren’t responsible for their own “condition” because they have no idea what their diet products are doing to their bodies, I feel like it’s a hollow message, since it’s directed at only a portion of the people who need to hear it – the ones we don’t like to see because their bodies bother our sensibilities.

As a nation, we want the government to protect our public health. Look at the outcry over Ebola and the CDC handling of it. But diabetes is going to kill many more people, including children, than Ebola ever will in the United States. But we don’t mind that our government panders to industry and its wealth instead of keeping us safe. If kids went to school and drank water that was contaminated, there would be a public outcry. But they go and eat Pizza Hut – being told by industry that it’s a vegetable – and we do nothing.

So am I fed up? Yes. Have been for a long time. And I’m inclined to write another letter to legislators the next time health standards are up for debate.

See the documentary no matter what you weigh and you will learn something. But especially consider it if you are a “normal” weight and think you’re immune to health problems from your diet. Because you aren’t. None of us are.

 

the real threat of antibiotic resistance

It’s been awhile since I wrote about the kinds of food issues that get me hot under the collar, for lack of a better phrase. My time for reading up on current issues is severely limited in the summer, for a lot of reasons, but primarily the amount of time spent dealing with vegetables and also running like it’s a part time job in marathon training.

But at the end of July, the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals
overturned two rulings in cases which had directed the FDA to stop the routine use of certain antibiotics in healthy animals unless drug manufacturers proved the safety of such use. (Source, Majority Opinion, Dissenting Opinion)  


This means that even though the FDA admits that the use of antibiotics in healthy animals to promote growth and weight gain contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans, they can’t do anything to stop producers and commercial livestock companies from using subtherapeutic drugs for healthy animals. They issue voluntary guidelines, which are about as effective as me calling Cargill’s customer service department and asking them to stop using antibiotics in healthy animals.

Here’s the facts.  

  • 2 million people in the U.S. alone are infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria each year
  • 23,000 people in the U.S. DIE from these infections each year, in addition to the many who die from illnesses complicated by antibiotic resistant infections
  • Leading health organizations from across the nation and the worldleading organizations and not just wacky health food hippies – have spoken out against the use of antibiotics in livestock. To name a few – the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, American Academy of Pediatrics. 
    • The Director General of the WHO: “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill. A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. The problem arises when drugs used for food production are medically important for human health, as evidence shows that pathogens that have developed resistance to drugs in animals can be transmitted to humans.”

This isn’t fringe science. There’s no real debate in the scientific community that this is a major public health problem. We are running out of antibiotics that are effective in treating many serious infections, and it will change the face of modern medicine if we can no longer stop common infections.   

But our own government organizations – the ones that are tasked with protecting the health of Americans – won’t stand up to industry and force them to reduce and eventually eliminate their reliance on subtherapeutic antibiotics. None of us want to revisit the world of our ancestors, where a scratch could easily kill you.

So what do you do? Beyond making public comments when they are open and supporting legislation that would push for stricter regulations?

Stop eating meat that comes from animals raised with antibiotics. 

I realize that I’m blessed to be able to buy meat from local farmers who do not use subtherapeutic antibiotics in their feed. But I can tell you right now that if tomorrow, my sources were no longer there, I’d give up meat altogether.

More and more suppliers are producing meat that’s antibiotic free, and prices are coming down as demand begins to grow. If you do one thing to change your diet to support health as well as a better food supply – do this. Save antibiotics for when you have a real infection – and not just when you’re having dinner.    


 

4 reasons why I am not a food alarmist

This is a bit of a soap box post. Fair warning.

I’ve talked before about online petitions and their effectiveness, as well as the hype over the “yoga mat bread” debacle. These things are all tied to what I call food alarmism. And it drives me nuts.

To me, food alarmism is taking a concept related to food (particularly health food) and then blowing it way out of proportion and abandoning all reason, just to advance your agenda or philosophical position (and in some cases, a business interest). It’s often done in the name of advocacy – framed as public health crusaders trying to save the American people from themselves. 

But there are a few reasons why I will never subscribe to this type of advocacy and actually feel it’s detrimental to the broader food movement. (Put another way, it makes people who care about what we eat look like psychos.)

#1 – “Chemicals” are not always the enemy. You could make water sound like a scary additive if you called it dihydrogen monoxide. Just because a substance has a chemical-sounding name doesn’t make it dangerous. Everything we eat is made up of chemicals – even our bodies are made up of chemicals. (Trust me, having a thyroid disorder mine are often out of whack.) 

I used to be on the anti-chemical bandwagon pretty hard for awhile, but the more I read, the more I realize there are a lot of harmless chemicals out there and a few that actually ARE health hazards. So you’ve got to find out what a ‘chemical’ actually is, how it’s used, what research is out there about its safety, etc. before you decide it’s poison. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t reduce our exposure to chemicals that have been linked with health hazards. But be smart about it.

#2 – Junk food is junk food. The idea of trying to get a company that makes fatty, salty junk food to take an ingredient out of its fatty, salty junk food to make that fatty, salty junk food “healthier”? That’s crazy. Here’s a simple solution. EAT LESS JUNK. And don’t expect companies that sell junk food to make that junk food healthier. When you do, all you get is health-washed food that looks healthy but actually isn’t. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten Sun Chips in your life because you thought they were “healthier” than Doritos? Yeah. My hand is up too.)

#3 – Hype is hype – whether it comes from Monsanto or a food blogger. Many people are in the business of getting people whooped up about very small issues. This is a good thing for companies and individuals who want people to be distracted from the larger picture (public health, access to healthy, whole foods for all people, the fight against hunger for starters) by starting crusades on the small stuff. What if all the energy spent on getting Budweiser to tell us what’s in their beer was spent trying to get access to fresh produce for hungry people? Which brings me to my next point.

#4 – There are bigger fish to fry. The way I see it, there are really huge issues that we need to address as a nation that relate to our food supply. Namely, making sure everyone gets enough. And that they get enough actual, healthy food. Those of us who consider ourselves foodies (with all the good and bad that term carries) need to understand that the fact that we can even make the food choices we do is a privilege that not all of our fellow citizens have. 

Besides the availability of food in general, we have a really big and rapidly growing problem with antibiotic resistance. And it’s not just food bloggers or animal rights activists who think that. The Centers for Disease Control has made it clear that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in livestock has contributed greatly to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Even the FDA acknowledges that it’s a problem (and they basically don’t acknowledge anything as a problem). So if we want to get behind something that can really make a difference in public health (not to mention animal welfare, but that’s another story), we should rally behind removing non-therapeutic antibiotics from our livestock. Rally behind the piles of scientific evidence that we are one major antibiotic resistant epidemic away from a true public health nightmare. 

So while Vani Hari (a.k.a. Food Babe, She of Many Petitions) rallies her army of disciples to expose the chemicals in a Budweiser, I’ll choose to lend my voice to issues that might actually end up helping people – and are backed up by science, reason and common sense.         

2014 resolution update – July

This is the first year that I’ve made a concerted effort to work on actually completing my resolutions for the year. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t aim too high and made them realistic. Here’s an update on how I’m doing at the halfway point in the year.

Mind
Read 75 books.
Today I will finish book #46, so I’m well on my way to that goal. I do have to get the sub-goals in of finishing Margaret Atwood’s canon (6 more books) and one Russian door-stop novel. I’ve been reading a lot of books that are part of a series, so I end up going through the series and it delays my next choices. Even if I don’t hit the sub-goals, I will still read more this year than in any year since graduate school. I’m also reading in genres outside of my comfort zone, which is pretty cool. (I am a total graphic novel and comic convert.)

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I haven’t done another one since this post on the DARK Act. I need to get on that. I might write next about funding to reduce hunger.

Body
Run a marathon.
I’m in my 8th week of a 23 week training schedule. (Most plans are 18 weeks, but I am drawing mine out due to previous injuries and lingering issues with my IT bands.) Last week’s long run was 13 miles, and it was the first time I ran that far when it wasn’t a race, and only my fourth time at that distance at all. It was quite honestly one of the most difficult runs I’ve ever had – humid and disgusting outside, dehydrated big time. Everything was screaming at me to stop, and even though I had to walk more than I had hoped, I finished. (Which was really only because of the two awesome ladies I run with.) 


It’s been good to be on a training schedule and to be following it. I’ve put in 246 miles so far this year and that number is about to go way up because it’s going to get hard soon – after the holiday weekend we bump up to 15 miles for a long run and I go into distance territory that my body has never traveled. It’s an adventure, this marathon training. Don’t forget, I’m posting photos on Instagram under the hashtag #yearofthemarathon in case you want to follow along on the adventure.


Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
I really need to kick this into high gear during this marathon training, because even though I do drink water constantly, I am always fighting being dehydrated in this weather. And I was doing some research this week that dehydration while running can also increase your heart rate, which is something I’m hyper sensitive to as an asthmatic.

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Done and done. Completely knocked this one out of the park, and it might be the coolest thing I accomplished this year (unless I do complete the marathon, that is). Read about it here

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Making slow progress on this one. I finished cutting all of the squares for my quilt this weekend. (I’m technically getting materials together for two, planning to start with my own quilt to get the hang of it before I do Mark’s.) Now it’s time to fire up my grandma’s sewing machine, which will hopefully happen in July.

Can one new thing.
Technically I’ve met this goal with our strawberry vanilla jam, a variant I hadn’t made before. But since I think the spirit of this was for me to do something entirely new, I won’t count this done yet. But it will be full on canning season in the next couple months.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
Didn’t really get around to planting specifically bee-friendly plants, but we definitely have more flowers this year compared to last, which is at least a step in the right direction.

Make the chickens some treats.
I actually completely forgot about this one, so this is a good reminder. Perhaps because of the heat and humidity, I’ll make something that’s refreshing for them.

Organize the basement.
The basement has stayed relatively organized since we transitioned one side of it to a work area for Mark. I still have a few things I’d like to do down there, especially to get a root cellar ready for later this year. But it’s better than it used to be (at least when Stormy and Vader don’t knock food bowls all over the place).



How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments!



book review: silent spring by rachel carson

In my nearly 9 years of living in Pittsburgh, I have crossed the Rachel Carson Bridge many times – on foot and in my car. I’ll cross it this weekend during the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. I’ve always vaguely associated Rachel Carson’s name with Pittsburgh and with environmental stuff. There are outdoor programs and nature trails named after her, so it’s hard to live here and not know her name.

But it struck me recently in doing some reading about pesticides, that I had never read the book that really started it all when it comes to raising public awareness of the risks of pesticides. So I picked up Silent Spring in audio format and got acquainted with Rachel Carson.

(I should note that I would not recommend the audio version that I used. The narrator had a highly obnoxious voice that made it hard to concentrate. I think I would have enjoyed this book even more had I read it in hard copy.)

The book is credited with starting the environmental movement, which still continues to this day, more than 50 years after the publication of the book. Carson’s arguments are centered around the idea that the use of pesticides and insecticides is detrimental to the environment and all things that are a part of it. Actually, Carson calls the pesticides and insecticides that she details “biocides,” since they affect more than just their intended targets. 

Nature doesn’t operate in separate compartments – everything is interrelated. When one piece of the ecosystem is threatened, it threatens the balance and health of everything. This also holds true for water, which while in itself not a living thing is a vital part of all life on earth. As Carson points out, pollution of water somewhere is pollution of water everywhere, since we have a limited supply of fresh water on earth. Along those lines, poison at any part of the food chain travels up and down, affecting predator and prey. This simple summary doesn’t do justice to Carson’s extensive research or her talent with prose (which can be hard to come by in books about science).

Silent Spring is heavy on details, which while that makes it dry at times, is a good thing when it comes to the validity of her arguments. I’d imagine if I had a hard copy there would be footnotes a plenty. It’s also important to keep in mind that it was written in 1962, so some of the particular details of what she talks about aren’t accurate anymore – things like particular chemicals that are no longer in use in agriculture (most notably DDT). But sadly, even the parts that aren’t factually accurate anymore are still relevant, since chemicals that have since been banned have been replaced by others. 

While this book won’t be up your alley unless you’re really interested in pesticides and their impact on ecosystems, it’s worth knowing about this book in the broad sense and what it has done to impact where we are currently with these issues. For more on how Silent Spring jumpstarted the environmental movement, check out this piece in the New York Times from the 50th anniversary of the book’s release. 

Pittsburgh can be really proud that one of its natives was an environmental pioneer and a fascinating person in general. (I’d actually love to read more about her life and the years before Silent Spring, since she died just two years after its publication.)






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2014 resolution update

Usually by this time of year, the resolutions I made in January are like a distant, vague memory. But this year in a stunning turn of events, I’ve been staying on track. So seeing that we’re about one third of the way through the year, I thought I’d check in.

Mind
Read 75 books.
I just finished #23 this week, so I’m on track to meet my goal. I need to still pick up a Russian doorstop novel along the way, as well as several more Margaret Atwoods to finish her canon. But so far, so good. Man do I love to read! 

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I have one down, two more to go on this front. For my most recent letter, see this post on the DARK Act recently introduced in the House. Bad news.

Body
Run a marathon.
Well, I’m in training. 
This Saturday marks my first race of the season – the Boston Trail half marathon (not in Boston). That’s followed up by my town’s 5K the following weekend, and then the Pittsburgh Marathon Half on May 4. Don’t forget there’s still time to donate to my fund for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank! Shameless plug! I’m only $5 away from $600!


Also, I’m posting photos on Instagram under the hashtag #yearofthemarathon in case you want to follow along on the adventure.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
Doing pretty well with this one, especially through the day at work. I also carry my water bottle around with me at home, and really it’s only after runs that I don’t do so well rehydrating. Going to keep working on that.

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Fail. Still nervous. Will make it happen this summer though.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Making good progress on this one, especially since it’s something I have zero experience in. I have Mark’s shirts all prepped and ready with interfacing, and mine are almost complete. Then it’s time to get the sewing machine cranking! I’ve even had an apprentice. Isn’t he helpful?

  

Can one new thing.
Not quite into canning season yet, so this one will be a summer thing.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I recently did some research on bee-friendly plants that do well in our area, with info from the Penn State Extension. Look for a post about that in the near future!

Make the chickens some treats.
Winter has made me not want to go outside with them more than necessary, so probably once I’m in the backyard with them more often, I’ll be more inclined to start making some treats.

Organize the basement.
The basement has come light years from what it was. This is a pretty significant accomplishment, as it’s now a more usable space for both Mark and me. And we’ve kept it relatively in order!


How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments!

fat freak out: why fat isn’t always bad and fat free usually is

One of the interesting parts of the rationale for the proposed nutrition labels is that “calories from fat” will be eliminated as a category, since the type of fat is more important than the amount. This is actually a huge departure from the mentality that our country has had for years – that fat is bad. We’ve been fat-phobic for generations, with a myriad of “fat free” and “low-fat” labels slapped on every food product for miles.

So why have we not been any healthier as a population as a result? That’s obviously a larger question than I can answer here, but there are several reasons why “fat free” and “low-fat” options are not always the way to go.

First, taste. I mean, have you ever tried to eat fat free “cheese”? I can’t even write cheese without the quotes there because it’s obviously some laboratory science experiment when cheese doesn’t melt and tastes like silly putty. Blech.

More important, though, is nutrition and health. When items need a label to tell you their healthy qualities, they usually aren’t that healthy. This is why they don’t put a “fat free” label on apples. You typically see the label on dairy products and packaged foods of one kind or another. Products that need to be “health washed,” like fat free cookies or chips are ones you should stay away from in general, so there’s no point in eating the fat free variety. A fat free Cheez-It is still a Cheez-It. There is also research that shows that a hormone produced by fat cells can help send satiety signals to your brain. So when you binge on a whole bag of fat free cookies and justify it by saying “they were fat free!” that could be part of the problem.

Your body needs fat to function. It helps to absorb vitamins – fat soluble A,D,E and K, specifically. It contains things like omega-3s and omega-6s, essential fatty acids that help with brain function and mood (and which you can only get from food). Low-fat or fat free diets also lower your HDL (referred to as “good cholesterol”), which your body needs to be high to help fight heart disease. 

There’s a gentle balance to a healthy diet between carbs, fat and protein. Usually if you drastically reduce one, you jack up another. (Hence the crazy popular diets like Atkins or South Beach.) Most fat-free snacks are insanely high in carbs, which have their share of issues as well. Sometimes when you cut out fat in dairy and meat, you are also reducing your protein, especially if you don’t make up for it in other sources.


As a side note, I find it interesting that people freak out when I say I drink whole milk. But that’s so fattening!, they say. They then go on to tell me they drink 2% milk. Well, whole milk is 3% fat. Not 100% fat. And more studies are showing a correlation between whole dairy products and reduction of body fat. Not that you should go nuts with the whole fat dairy. Or some red meats, which can be high in saturated fat.

Choosing good fats, like poly and mono unsaturated fats and limiting saturated fats (and not eating any trans fats, which you usually find in processed foods) is the key. I use real butter, not margarine. (Really the only thing margarine is good for is a lubricant to help you remove a tight ring from your finger or grease up the bottom of a sled.) I just don’t use it all the time. You don’t get high cholesterol by eating a tablespoon of butter or having a serving of whole milk or three ounces of steak. The key, like many things in life, is balance and moderation.


current-label

nutrition labels get a makeover

Recently, the FDA announced proposed changes to the nutrition labels that appear on food packaging. It was announced as part of the Let’s Move campaign and billed as a public health initiative. These changes are the first since the labels were introduced in the 1990s.


I’ve always thought the most ineffective/deceptive part of the nutrition facts label was the number of servings, and by the same token, the calorie count. Did you know in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s there are 4 servings? I mean, who measures out a half cup of ice cream? Not many people. And in a 20-ounce bottle of soda, 2 servings? Often the bags of chips you get at sandwich shops to accompany your meals are two servings. 

So the new labels aim to address this issue, among others – the primary goal being to allow consumers to more quickly choose what’s healthy. (Ironically, the nutrition facts label is a separate thing from ingredient lists, which the FDA also regulates. For someone to truly quickly choose what’s healthy, they need to know a little something about the ingredients too, but that’s a separate issue.)

The proposed new labels will do a few things, but the first big change is the layout. Calories are much more prominent, as are the servings per container. Companies will be required to make serving sizes more realistic instead of artificially making them smaller so that calories per serving appear smaller. Ice cream servings will be one cup, and 20-ounce sodas will be one serving. If a package is truly two servings but is assumed that it could be eaten in one serving (possibly like snack bags), it will require a dual label. Basically the labels will reflect what someone does eat instead of what he/she should eat.

The proposed labels will also require a new line under the carb category that says “Added Sugars.” This is really important, since we know for sure that Americans, and children in particular, consume way too much added sugar. (Watch Jamie Oliver’s TEDTalk where he shows you with an actual mound of sugar what kids consume in a year. Crazy.)

Potassium and Vitamin D will also be added, as public health officials find both to be deficient in the typical American diet. Potassium contributes to lowered blood pressure and Vitamin D contributes to bone health. Vitamins A and C will be voluntary listings.

Calories from fat will be removed, since science has shown that the type of fat is more important than the amount

A 90-day comment period will be held, and if no changes are made, it will take a few years to implement the changes. Industry will push back and want to make revisions – that’s almost inevitable.

But regardless of what happens, the general consumer needs to be more educated about what these items even mean, and how to combine that knowledge with facts about the ingredient list to determine what is a “healthy” product. Honestly, the more you have to do math and detective work to figure out if something is healthy, the less likely that it is. The proposed new label will not fix all of America’s dietary problems, but it’s a great start!

online petitions – effective tool or just armchair activism?

In the age of social media, online petitions were almost inevitable. What better way to marshal support for a cause than to use social media to push the agenda, in hopes that it go viral?

I’ve signed a few online petitions before, mostly related to food issues. But does that really accomplish anything, or is it just armchair activism – an easy way to assuage our uncomfortable feelings about whatever the injustice is that the petition aims to combat?

Petitions that are sponsored and/or backed by advocacy groups are more likely to have legs. That is, they are using a collection of signatures to advance their already existing lobbying efforts. These groups exist outside of social media and have at least some power to get issues in front of legislators. 

But what about the petitions that are just started by a random person with an issue? I’ve been emailed petitions to sign to save just about every animal species under the planet, to take every ingredient out of every processed food, to make dolls and toys for kids of all shapes and sizes. (Recently, a White House petition to deport Justin Bieber received enough responses that the White House will have to issue a response.) 

A lot of these issues are good causes that I support in theory. But a lot of them are slightly misguided. For instance, the petition to take artificial colors out of M&Ms so as to not expose children to those chemicals doesn’t make any sense to me, since children really shouldn’t be eating any M&Ms at all, or at least not enough to make a difference. It’s worse to be exposed to those chemicals through the processed foods kids eat at every meal. So why try to get companies to change already unhealthy products to still unhealthy products? 

Shouldn’t we be petitioning the FDA and USDA to help us get chemicals out of our food supply, as opposed to individual companies? Consumers can also choose to not purchase M&Ms if they aren’t happy about the ingredients. If you don’t like the ingredients in Subway’s bread, don’t eat at Subway and if you choose, let people know why you don’t. But most Americans can’t go completely off-grid and stop buying their basic food supplies at grocery stores. So shouldn’t we be petitioning the government to make our general food supply safe and not just asking for one specific product to remove a specific ingredient?

I think it makes people feel like they are involved in activism when they share petitions and stories on social media. And really, they are. It’s a good thing to spread information and raise awareness, and I take part in that myself on a regular basis. But before you sign online petitions and expect them to make a difference, really think about whether or not that petition has a likelihood of affecting change, or if there’s a better way to go about it. 

Asking Subway to change its bread isn’t going to do anything to reform our food system. Take the time you would spend on online petitions and contact your legislators or write a response when legislation or FDA/USDA rules are up for public comment. Spread those messages on social media. It’s awareness of the scope of the real issues in our food supply that will ultimately make a difference.