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Another reason to avoid processed foods

13 Nov

I have a bad memory with names. Terrible memory. Last night, in fact, one of my daughter’s ballet friends said hi to me and I completely blanked out on her name. Only on the ride home did it dawn on me. “Ella!” I yelled out suddenly. “That’s your friend’s name! For the life of me, I couldn’t remember her name when she said hi to me!” My daughter giggled.

In a food-related book that I read (but I don’t, for the life of me, remember the book’s title—again, my problem with names), it mentioned how “real” food is on the perimeter of every supermarket: produce, meat, seafood. The center of the grocery stores have “lab food.” Not that there aren’t problems with produce, meat and seafood, but the processed food that makes up all of the center of supermarkets is certainly the worst culprits in our fight for better health.

I’ve avoided the “lab food” shelves as much as I could since reading that book (what on earth is the title???). But now I’ve read more evidence about why it’s so bad. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks briefly about food tasters. Gladwell’s book (which I happen to remember the title only because the book is right in front of me) discusses food tasters for a different reason than health, but when I read it, it forged in my mind yet another reason to avoid “lab foods.”

Here is Gladwell (my emphasis in bold):

Expert food tasters are taught a very specific vocabulary, which allows them to describe precisely their reactions to specific foods. Mayonnaise, for example, is supposed to be evaluated along six dimensions of appearance (color, color intensity, chroma, shine, lumpiness and bubbles), ten dimensions of texture (adhesiveness to lips, firmness, denseness, and so on), and 14 dimensions of flavor, split among three subgroups—aromatics (eggy, mustardy, and so forth); basic tastes (salty, sour and sweet); and chemical-feeling factors (burn, pungent, astringent). Each of those factors, in turn, is evaluated on a 15-point scale. So, for example, if we wanted to describe the oral texture of something, one of the attributes we would look at is slipperiness. And on the 15-point slipperiness scale, where 0 is not slippery at all and 15 is very slippery, Gerber’s Beef and Beef Gravy baby food is a 2, Whitney’s vanilla yogurt is a 7.5, and Miracle Whip is a 13. If you taste something that’s not quite as slippery as Miracle Whip but more slippery than Whitney’s vanilla yogurt, then, you might give it a 10. Or take crispiness. Quaker’s low-fat Chewy Chocolate Chunk Granola Bars are a 2, Keebler Club Partners Crackers are a 5, and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes are a 14. Every product in the supermarket can be analyzed along these lines, and after a taster has worked these scales for years, they become embedded in the taster’s unconscious. “We just did Oreos,” said Heylmun [a professional food taster], “and we broke them into 90 attributes of appearance, flavor and texture.” She paused, and I could tell that she was re-creating in her mind what an Oreo feels like. “It turns out there are 11 attributes that are probably critical.”

Ninety stinkin’ attributes for Oreos?! I, for one, can’t even come up with 20 different food attributes if you put a gun to my head, much less 90. But here’s the thing: “food scientists” are modifying each of those 90 attributes to get the perfect combination of “taste” before a processed food hits the store shelves! If that doesn’t spell out “lab food” to you, I don’t know what will.

My family started making our own mayonnaise from scratch. Call us simpletons but we evaluate the taste by only one attribute: does it taste good or not? We don’t worry about the six dimensions of appearance, the ten dimensions of texture or the (rolling my eyes) 14 dimensions of flavor. We don’t care about color intensity, chroma, shine, bubbles, adhesiveness to lips, burn, astringent or any other kooky attribute. We simply either like it or don’t like it. (And, yes, our mayonnaise tastes good.)

We know exactly what ingredients go in our homemade mayo (just four; Hellman’s has ten, including some chemical called “calcium disodium EDTA” and the vague word “spices”). Most lab foods are a littany of lab ingredients. Try this exercise: read aloud from the following ingredient list for Quaker’s “Strawberries & Cream” oatmeal:

Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Sugar, Flavored And Colored Fruit Pieces (Dehydrated Apples [Treated With Sodium Sulfite To Promote Color Retention], Artificial Strawberry Flavor, Citric Acid, Red 40), Creaming Agent (Maltodextrin, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil**, Whey, Sodium Caseinate), Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Guar Gum, Oat Flour, Artificial Flavor, Citric Acid, Niacinamide*, Reduced Iron, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride*, Riboflavin*, Thiamin Mononitrate*, Folic Acid*; *One Of The B Vitamins; **Adds A Dietarily Insignificant Amount Of Trans Fat

I bet you had to slow down to read some of those chemical ingredients properly. Yuck. Now imagine swallowing that every morning.

Welcome to the world of lab foods. The ingredient list is a start in helping us decide what we should or should not buy, but there is so much more going on than what is listed in the ingredients because not everything is listed in the ingredients list. These food scientists are tweaking all sorts of things to alter the different “dimensions” of appearance, texture, flavor and the like. Buyer beware.

Now, what was the name of that food book?…

4 reasons why the health care system will always fail you

20 Dec

VioxxMy mom is fine now.

Ten years earlier, she was not.

She suffered through multiple strokes. And while she somehow survived them, her doctors assigned as many as four simultaneous prescriptions for her. Despite the drugs, her health continued to struggle. Aside from the usual health indicators struggling to stay within the normal range, she also became physically bloated and exhibited several new, bizarre symptoms.

By accident, my stepdad stumbled upon a Minor Insight: when she didn’t take the drugs, she got better.

Her odd symptoms went away and her health returned to a normal range and has remained stable.

But how can that be? Aren’t the drugs supposed to make her better?

Ah. That’s what we’ve all been conditioned to believe. And just like the myth of orange juice, the belief that drugs are always the magic bullet to our health problems is also a myth that we’ve been conditioned to believe.

The health care system WILL fail you

The problem isn’t just drugs. The problem is the entire health care system, which includes drug companies, doctors and the government, is designed to make you sicker, not healthier. And ironically, the problem has little to do with insurance companies!

Think back to 2008. One of the biggest stumps in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign then was reforming the health care system.

Known perjoratively as  “Universal Health Care”, Obama’s first priority in reforming the system was requiring that every American have health care coverage. He routinely would parade uninsured citizens at his campaign rallies and narrate their “woe-is-she” stories about how they couldn’t afford to buy the drugs they need. Problem is, Obama’s plan was D.O.A.  I will explain why in a moment, and it has nothing to do with whether or not I personally like Obama. [As a matter of fact, McCain’s plan, while better than Obama’s, was also D.O.A.]

Americans may have insurance now, but they’re not healthier. Rates for Type 2 diabetes and other diseases continue to surge. That’s because, as I stated before, the problem has little to do with health insurance.

The current U.S. health care system is destined to fail you…unless you understand four critical concepts.

[Disclaimer: this discussion is not about health care issues like accidents that require surgery; it’s strictly about health care issues that involve prescription drugs.]

1. Your health is primarily determined by what you eat. And what you eat has nothing to do with what kind of health insurance you have.

Obesity map 1985

Obesity Map Over Time

Obesity Map Over Time

Poor diet is the biggest cause of our nation’s health problems. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes are raging through Americans at increasing rates, coinciding with the nation’s growing obesity rates.

On the left is a map of obesity rates in 1985 and a map in 2010. These two images don’t do the rise in obesity justice. Check out the animated map on the CDC site that dramatically shows this stunning rise of obesity. In 1985, states were primarily white and light blue rates of obesity; in 2010, there is not a single state has even a dark blue rate of obesity! By 1997, an entire new color shade had to be created (the beige). And by 2005, the latest new color shade (deep red) was created.

Many health problems stem from our poor diet. Improve your diet and you will improve your health, making the need for “universal health care” unnecessary regardless of your political affiliation.

So what’s wrong with our diet?

The problem is not in the amount of calories we eat or even the calories we burn, as Gary Taubes explains in his groundbreaking book Why We Get Fat.

Rather, it lies in our unwitting obsession with carbs, particularly refined carbs. Bread, (white) rice, potatoes, and sugar are the biggest culprits. These “Fatal Four” are practically everywhere in our supermarkets, and consequently, our kitchens. Think bagels, baked potatoes, sandwiches, french fries, PB&J, cupcakes, doughnuts, soft drinks, and much more.

Further, contrary to what we’ve been led to believe for decades, dietary fat and cholesterol has little impact on our blood cholesterol. Rather, animal meat & fat is actually beneficial to our health profile. I know it sounds impossible, considering what we’ve been taught for so long (and are still being taught) about the evils of saturated fat and cholesterol in food, but Taubes clarifies this in great detail in his book. It’s beyond the scope of this post, so I encourage you to read the book if you are skeptical.

I had my blood tests taken recently having followed a low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet for over six months, and my health profile in all categories has improved. So has Taubes’ health profile, which he posted publicly.

2. Drug companies are in the business of making money, not improving health.

If drug companies cured all our diseases, they would go out of business.

Drug companies actually want the opposite: they want more patients using their drugs, not less.

According to the book What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You And Your Doctor Doesn’t Know by Michael Murray, as more people suffer from high cholesterol, drug companies convince the government to lower the level of what is considered “high cholesterol”. In turn, this creates millions of new customers overnight. The number of people identified with “high cholesterol” has increased from 13 million to nearly 100 million today.

How are drug companies influencing the cholesterol guidelines? Eight of the nine experts who wrote the latest cholesterol guidelines for the U.S. National Institutes of Health also serve as speakers, consultants or researchers for the world’s largest drug companies.

This is not the only area where drug companies have inappropriate but significant influence within the government. More than half of the experts hired to advise the FDA on the safety and effectiveness of drugs have financial relationships with drug companies that will be helped or hurt by their decisions.

You would think that it should be illegal for the FDA to use experts with such financial conflicts of interest…and it is. But apparently, that can be waived because the FDA waived this rule 800 times in a 15-month period from January 1998 to June 2000. What’s more, in an analysis of all advisory panel meetings from 2001 to 2004, at least one member had a financial link to the drug’s maker or a competitor in 73% of the meetings.

There’s more. Drug companies fund research as a marketing tool. Randomized, controlled clinical trials are supposed to prove a drug’s effectiveness and safety. But what doctors (and us patients) don’t realize is that many studies are not done by impartial research organizations. Rather, the drug companies were the ones who hired for-profit research organizations, whose research must benefit the drug manufacturers because they’re paying for it. Want numbers? Research sponsored by drug companies was about 33% of all clinical research in 1980 but reached about 90% of all clinical research by 2007.

Lastly, drug companies control medical education. Most physicians have very little formal education in pharmacology, the study of drug actions and interactions. So most of their pharmacology understanding comes from drug company sales reps. Drug companies also sponsor educational programs for physicians. And yes, doctors are also often bribed by drug companies. And according to former editors of three major medical journals (the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the British Medical Journal), some journals are just an extension of the marketing departments of major drug companies. Not surprising since drug companies also sponsor medical journals. Even worse, 95% of medical studies in the most prestigious journals contain false or misleading statistics, and 91% of studies are ghostwritten.

Yes, drug companies are in the business of selling drugs…as much as legally (or sometimes even illegally) possible. So when doctors prescribe you a drug, ask your doctor some questions.

3. Drugs suppress symptoms of disease; they don’t cure disease.

As a Christian parent,  I know that there’s a difference between getting to the heart of a child’s bad behavior versus merely stopping the bad behavior. You can tell a misbehaving child to “stop doing that” and the child may indeed stop, but that doesn’t mean that the child won’t do it again at the next opportunity. It’s analogous to uprooting a weed rather than merely snipping it off.

We don’t think of drugs that way, but they operate as weed-snippers, not weed-uprooters. Because we are most familiar with antibiotics, which do try to uproot the bacterial weeds, we stereotype all drugs as weed-uprooters when they are not.

Most prescription drugs (and many OTC drugs) simply mask symptoms. And because the symptoms are gone, we think we’re cured. For example, cholesterol drugs artificially lower blood cholesterol levels. But the underlying cause of a person’s high cholesterol still hasn’t been addressed. So a person with high cholesterol is prescribed a drug, then gets their blood checked and sees that their cholesterol level went down. That person thinks s/he is doing well, when in fact that body’s time bomb is still ticking.

To add insult to injury, many drugs also add side effects. In many causes, the side effects are significant. And the more drugs a person takes simultaneously, the more serious and unknown the side effects can be.

God has designed the human body with an absolutely astounding capacity to heal itself. Double-blind studies involving placebos have shown that, on average, 32% of patients respond to a placebo. That is, the patients think they’re getting medicine when in fact they’re getting no medicine at all, but their bodies improve anyway.

Drugs have the powerful capacity to alter the body’s systems in unknown ways. While the media jumped on the tidbit that Apple founder Steve Jobs died after wanting to be healed naturally instead of through conventional medicine, the fact is that many times, it’s better to heal the body naturally than with drugs.

Let me be clear: I’m NOT saying that drugs should be avoided at all costs, nor that all medicines are useless. What I am saying is that Americans think prescription drugs are magic bullets when in fact they are not.

My mom can attest to that.

4. Doctors do not practice preventative medicine and have a bias against alternative medicine.

Most physicians have very little formal education in nutrition and its value as preventative medicine,  which explains why they don’t understand the myth of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Nor do many physicians understand alternative or natural medicine and therapies, including the importance of supplements for vitamin D, omega-3, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, etc.

Doctors are taught in school that alternative medicine is foolish. And if they aren’t taught the benefits of anything contrary to what they know, they will typically be skeptical of it.

Conversely, naturopathic physicians are not taken seriously. Dr. Mayer Eisenstein, for example, has been ridiculed in the press for touting the benefits of vitamin D for issues ranging from swine flu to autism, even though research continues to trickle in on the vitamin D’s major benefits.

The bottom line

The health care system today is in critical condition. The system is set up merely to manage disease, not to promote true health care. Be more aware when you visit your doctor and are prescribed drugs.

Take it from my mom.

The myth of orange juice

29 Nov
Orange juice

Orange juice

Have you ever enjoyed a tall, cool glass of orange juice?

Unless you juice your own oranges, then you haven’t.

I’m serious…you haven’t had a glass of orange juice. Not once. Ever. In your entire life.

What you had was a tall, cool glass of orange water.

Let me explain.

The heat is on

If you read my post on milk, particularly the section on pasteurized milk, you know that pasteurization kills most of the beneficial bacteria in milk. Americans have been brain-washed into thinking that all bacteria is bad, so the thought of beneficial bacteria is foreign to most of us.

Nearly all orange juice on the market (98%) is also pasteurized. Have you ever stopped to wonder why on earth orange juice would need to be pasteurized? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pasteurization is needed to kill two particular pathogens: E.coli O157:H7 and salmonella. That answer begs the next question: why would there be salmonella, or even more unfathomably, E.coli O157:H7 (which is found naturally in the intestines of cows) on produce like oranges? That one is still a mystery.

According to the book Raw Milk Revolution, past history has shown that the CDC attributes food-borne illnesses to certain foods (like raw milk) even when there is zero evidence of that food being the source of the illness. And if you’ve watched the documentary film Food Inc., you realized that big agribusiness puts their foot on the collective throats of small farmers. So the cynical side of me says the politics of food regulation and big agribusiness is similarly what’s driving the requirement to pasteurize orange juice in order to either put small farmers out of business or force small farmers to fall under the control of big agribusiness.

What happens during juice pasteurization

Whatever the reason for pasteurizing juice, the fact remains that the “orange juice” you drink is not really orange juice at all. Since it is pasteurized, the vitamins in the juice are destroyed. This is why, if you read the list of ingredients in orange juice, OJ producers add back ascorbic acid to their juice: ascorbic acid is vitamin C. The natural vitamin C in the juice no longer exists so it must be added back.

Let’s continue. The juice is then evaporated by vacuum and heat to reduce into concentrate. Have you ever wondered why orange juice is almost always from concentrate? The reason for turning the juice into concentrate is nicely explained in this St. Petersburg Times article (under the section entitled ‘Concentrating on taste’): orange juice needed to be sold in a way that would extend shelf life.

But there’s more. When the juice is reconstituted with water, citric acid and other essences and oils are also added back to the juice because pasteurization not only destroys the OJ’s vitamins but also the OJ’s flavor by destroying those essences and oils (more on that in a bit). Check the ingredient list of your favorite orange juice…you may see these add-back items listed. If these add-backs are only trace ingredients (as they sometimes are because not much is needed to “refresh” the flavor of the reconstituted juice), then they don’t even need to be labeled on the ingredient list.

You may think it’s not so bad if the producers are adding back something that was taken away. After all, it seems like no net loss, right? Not exactly. The essences and oils that the manufacturers are adding back are chemically configured (read: man-made) in ways that are nothing like their natural configurations. They are chemical replacements (like ethyl butyrate) for the natural versions.

The pasteurization process also strips the oxygen from the juice to allow the juice to be stored in million-gallon tanks for up to a year (a sub-process known as deaeration). One year! No wonder aseptically stored juice, in the words of Alissa Hamilton, author of the book Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice,  “must be doctored to taste like orange juice”.

The “Not From Concentrate” scam

Ready for even more? What do you think of when you think of OJ labeled “not from concentrate”, such as from the brand Florida’s Natural? If you think juice that is freshly-squeezed from the groves of Florida and packaged directly into cartons, you’re not alone. That’s what most people think, but that’s not what “not from concentrate” (NFC) means.

Yes, NFC juice bypasses the concentration (evaporation) process but the concentration process is not what ruins the juice’s nutrition and flavor. Re-read the paragraphs above. What ruins the nutrition and flavor is the pasteurization process, and NFC juice is still pasteurized. So NFC juice is just as doctored as orange juice from concentrate! NFC juice is a marketing gimmick designed to charge consumers more for essentially the same type of juice.

The bottom line

When you drink a glass of orange juice, the Times article mentions that there are “more than 300 chemicals in the juice so that [Tropicana] can re-create the same flavor every time.” This again reminds us there are many more things in your “orange juice” than what’s on the ingredient list. That’s why I said at the beginning of this post that when you drink a glass of OJ, what you’re drinking isn’t really orange juice but chemically-crafted orange liquid. So even orange juice is no longer a natural product but just as much a processed food as some of those items in the middle aisles of your supermarket.

About a decade ago, I made a trip to a small town in Florida (don’t remember the name of the town offhand) but we bought some orange juice at an orchard. It was the most amazing juice I’ve ever had and I’ve not ever tasted anything like it since. It was clearly different from the stuff in the Minute Maid cartons I was used to drinking.

To add injury to insult, out of convenience since my employer provides free orange juice to its employees, I drank bottled Mr. Pure orange juice on two separate occasions and each time, I got food poisoning. Coincidence? Possibly. But it reminds me that even pasteurized products can still cause sickness.

We used to buy orange juice faithfully every week, but about six months ago or so, we’ve stopped buying it. We’d rather eat the real thing.

Your turn

What do you think? Will you continue buying orange juice?

The whole truth about milk

15 Nov
Glass of milk

Glass of milk

As alluded to in a previous post about the government’s incorrect dietary guidelines, the government is not the best source of information regarding nutrition and health. Yet it is the most influential source of information because the government’s info is widely disseminated via education throughout the public school system as well as via press releases to the media. Since the source of the info is the government (and also perhaps Americans have become a “Cliff Notes” Nation that just wants the bottom line without reading the supporting evidence), the vast majority of people take it as gospel. I know because I was one of those people.

One such “fact” I assumed to be gospel was that whole milk was bad for you. After all, I had been taught in public school since I was in grade school that saturated fat is bad, and whole milk was loaded with saturated fat. Even low-fat milk had some saturated fat, so if I wanted the healthiest choice in milk, I needed to drink skim (now called fat-free) milk. So I did. As a young’un in grade school up until a few months ago (in my mid-life years now), I only drank skim milk.

But then I read Gary Taubes‘ book Why We Get Fat and learned that saturated fat isn’t what makes us fat and that saturated fat doesn’t have anything to do with heart disease. In fact, saturated fat in animal products actually is good for you. Makes sense since God designed the food chain this way. This revelation was a revolution for our diet…except for milk. Somehow, I was still on auto-pilot about drinking skim milk until one day I pondered, since we were enlightened about saturated fat, whether whole milk was better than skim milk.

I did some more reading about whole milk and discovered a few things.

Whole milk is healthier for you than skim milk

The fat part of milk contains fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Removing the fat obviously reduces the nutritional component of the milk.

What’s more, we already know that the more food is processed, the more adulterated it becomes. Whole grains are better than refined grains. Whole milk is better than refined (skim) milk.

There’s also the politics of skim milk. When dairy companies skim the fat off the milk in order to sell skim milk, they use that fat to make other, more profitable products like butter and cream. If all the skim milk drinkers instead chose whole milk, dairy companies would have less creamy fat to create those other dairy products. [You’d be surprised to know that politics plays more of a role than nutrition science in what foods the government allows and promotes to the American people…more on that in a future post.]

Non-homogenized milk is better than homogenized milk

I never considered non-homogenized milk before. Every container of milk I’ve ever drunk from proudly states it is homogenized, like it’s a feature.

Remember the phrase “The cream rises to the top”? That adage is based on raw milk, where the cream would rise to the top of the milk. Homogenization takes the cream from raw milk and forces it through tiny holes under high pressure to break up the fat so it no longer rises to the top. Instead, the fat globules are molecularly broken up so that it stays mixed with the rest of the milk.

If you’re wondering what’s the big deal about whether there’s cream in your milk, ask yourself whether you like having your products processed for you to remove beneficial content. The dairy industry decided that whole milk should have 3.25% fat when raw milk contains between 4-5.5% fat. So dairy companies are removing the fat, homogenizing it, and then injecting a partial amount of the fat back into the milk. As discussed previously, unadulterated food products are what God intended for us to eat/drink.

You can find non-homogenized milk in stores like Whole Foods and some smaller grocers, which sell milk like Kolona Supernatural (our favorite non-raw milk) or the more expensive Trader’s Point Creamery.

Raw milk is better than pasteurized milk

This might be the third rail of the milk debate. Pasteurized milk, like homogenized milk, is branded on every container of milk like it’s a feature. And to the common mind, pasteurization does appear to be a feature. After all, heating up milk to reduce harmful bacteria is a good thing, yes?

Actually, no. According to the surprisingly objective book Raw Milk Revolution by David Gumpert, pasteurization was useful in the early 1900s to reduce pathogens that were causing an outbreak due to unsanitary dairy conditions at that time when cows were being brought in to cities towards the end of the Second Industrial Revolution. But pasteurization is no longer necessary for hygenically-handled grass-fed cows in sanitary conditions. Claims that raw milk “is responsible for nearly three times more hospitalizations than any other foodborne disease outbreak, making it one of the world’s most dangerous food products” are based on unresearched cases that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has subjectively authored with a heavily negative bias. This bias has been extensively documented in Raw Milk Revolution, which provides another example of the political heavy-handedness of government agencies.

Pasteurizing milk destroys many of milk’s beneficial enzymes, as well as vitamins, although the CDC would argue it doesn’t. Which stance is correct? Clearly, if the CDC promotes pasteurization as a way of making milk safe via killing pathogens, then certainly pasteurization will kill both the good bacteria as well as the bad bacteria. How the CDC can insist that milk is no different nutritionally after pasteurization is beyond me.

Let’s extend the pasteurization concept a little further to make it even more clear. Have you heard of ultra-pasteurization? Ultra-pasteurization is an increasingly common method of pasteurization that heats milk to a minimum 280 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 2 seconds, instead of traditional pasteurization which heats milk to a 161 degrees for a minimum of 15 seconds or 145 degress for 30 minutes. Ultra-pasteurization, therefore, kills all organisms in the milk (traditional pasteurization kills most organisms but some do survive).

With that background, consider that kefir, a probiotic product filled with enzymes, typically requires milk for production. However, kefir cannot be made with ultra-pasteurized milk because there is nothing in that kind of “ultra-dead” milk which the kefir grains can ferment. Kefir can be made with regular pasteurized milk though it is markedly not as nutritious as when it is made with raw milk. This further proves that the pasteurized milk is better than ultra-pasteurized milk, and that raw milk is better than them all. Once again, unadulterated food products are best…that’s the way God intended them.

What’s more, many people who have been lactose-intolerant claim to be able to drink raw milk without any problems. Apparently, the mechanical process of pasteurizing and homogenizing milk is what’s making people lactose-intolerant. While people think the problem is their own body, a bigger part of the problem may in fact be the way commercial milk is being produced.

Your turn

That’s our journey on the path to enlightenment about milk. Neither we nor anyone else we know who drinks raw milk has been hospitalized. What do you think? Are you ready to take the plunge into real milk…raw and whole…pure and ? If not, what’s holding you back?

Plates or pyramids? Why the government still is wrong about food

28 Oct
The Food Pyramid

The Food Pyramid, circa 2005

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is still wrong.

Back on June 2, 2011, the USDA, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, replaced the infamous Food Pyramid with the Food Plate. The Plate eliminates the “oils” group, and re-arranges the other 5 groups into an admittedly more intuitive design, but the Plate is still essentially the same as the Pyramid.

The Plate’s web site, the poorly-titled choosemyplate.gov (who’s choosing my plate?…the government?), emphasizes counting calories, eating less, having veggies and carbs be the two biggest servings on your plate, reducing your sodium intake, and drinking fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.

There’s a little problem, though. All of those recommendations are flawed, have no scientific basis, and could actually be detrimental to your health instead of helpful to your health.

To most Americans, that last sentence is nutrition heresy. We’ve been taught since the 1980s (at least that’s when I remember it) that we need to watch our calories, not be gluttons with portion sizes, eat equally from the food groups, sodium is bad, saturated fat is bad, foods high in cholesterol is bad, whole milk is bad, etc. This is the current conventional wisdom, and we’ve bought into it hook, line and sinker.

The Food Plate, circa 2011

The Food Plate, circa 2011

So why have obesity and diabetes rates continued to skyrocket since the 1980s? If we’re getting better dietary guidelines, why is the nation getting sicker instead of healthier?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s because the dietary guidelines we’ve been given is wrong.

The real reason Americans are obese

In his game-changing book Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes explains why these dietary guidelines are wrong (and for those who care, how we came to believe this information was right). It turns out that what makes people fat isn’t the number of calories nor the amount of food we eat. Nor do we get fat from eating foods high in saturated fat or foods high in cholesterol. According to Taubes, there actually no science behind this conventional wisdom.

Nevertheless, America is constantly being fed these incorrect guidelines, and now Mrs. Obama is even taking the lead in nagging us about how to lose weight that, frankly, isn’t going to work.

Rather, Taubes elaborates that, genetics notwithstanding, carbs (and particularly refined carbs) make us fat b/c carbs triggers an insulin response in our body to store the carbs as fat. So it’s not just sugar. It’s also white rice (heresy to Asians), white bread (heresy to Americans) and potatoes. If you want to lose weight, you have to go cold turkey and cut all those things out of your diet. What’s more, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol neither make you fat nor put you at greater risk for heart disease. On the contrary, meat products had beneficial nutrients in them. If you want the full scoop on these shocking facts about conventional dietary wisdom, Taubes describes in greater detail in his book. And he shows how those facts are backed up by science.

When I read Taubes’ book, the proverbial light bulb went on in my head. I know two people who work out religiously but are both overweight. I know a third person who is highly (not moderately) active physically yet can easily gain weight. A fourth guy was an avid runner and was a mindful eater yet suffered a stroke at age 54. And my wife and I also were trying to diligently follow that freaky Pyramid but we just couldn’t lose any significant weight, always being at the heavy end of the ‘normal’ weight range for our heights.

Michelle Obama takes on childhood obesity

Michelle Obama takes on childhood obesity

Our own personal experiences

We decided to do our own version of a low-carb diet. Though I had mocked Atkins when I first heard about his diet, it turns out he was right after all. We ate as much meat as we royally wanted as well as eggs, seafood, butter and other government-discouraged foods to our heart’s content, but we cut out all desserts, rice, bread, bagels, pasta and potatoes in our diet. We did this for a few months… and my wife lost 20 pounds while I lost 25 pounds! And we lost all this weight while stuffing ourselves at mealtimes. As my wife once said, “It doesn’t feel like a diet b/c I’m always full after every meal. I don’t have to starve myself or count calories.” Even some Hollywood types are discovering the real way to lose weight is high-protein, low-carb.

Personally, we were excited but still skeptical. What if we were getting skinnier on the outside but inside our blood vessels, they were getting all clogged up from all the meat we were eating? I went to the lab to get my blood work done b/c we figured the data from my blood won’t lie. When I got my results, I couldn’t believe it. My triglycerides went down (a good thing), my cholesterol went down (also good), and my good cholesterol went up (a very good thing).

How about Gary Taubes himself? He posted his own blood work results online, warning that he eats three eggs with cheese, bacon and sausage for breakfast every morning, typically a couple of cheeseburgers (no bun) or a roast chicken for lunch, and usually around a pound of beef for dinner. Like me, his blood numbers are all great.

Unfortunately, the federal government continues to perpetuate dietary myths. In fact, in Feb 2010, Mrs. Obama launched a new nationwide program called “Let’s Move!” with “an ambitious national goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.” How does the program plan to accomplish this? By encouraging kids to, um, “be more active” and “eat better.” If that sounds like a regurgitation of the conventional wisdom, it is. Links for the “eat better” component of “Let’s Move!” takes you to that aforementioned, dreadfully-named choosemyplate.gov web site.

If you think doling out incorrect dietary guidelines is bad, there are more areas where the federal government hurts, rather than helps, its citizens besides guidelines on how to lose weight. Sad but true. Will post those in the future.

Your turn

What do you think? Is Gary Taubes wrong? Are the blood results misleading? Is there a different reason Americans continue to become obese and diabetic in record numbers despite more vigilant government campaigning about how to eat right?