Archive for the ‘Healthy food shopping’ Category

The China Study; time to change my diet?

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

We were on a trip recently and stopped for three days to visit some relatives we seldom get to see. He's a physician, past department chair at a highly regarded clinic/academic center and is working on a major research project in four countries, one of which is China. They've altered their dietary pattern in a very significant manner since we last saw them, four years ago. I asked for the background data on their new diet and purchased two books, the first of which is "The China Study," by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and his youngest son, Thomas M. Campbell II.

Dr. Campbell, an emeritus named-chair professor at Cornell, has been a long-term major figure in the area of nutrition and was involved in a large-scale research project involving scientists from China, the US and England. They did blood-work and gave out questionnaires to 6,500 adults in rural and semi-rural areas of China as well as performing urine tests, three-day dietary measurements and analysis of food samples.

The resultant book emphasizes health differences between people in China on a mostly to exclusively vegetarian diet and those of us who eat what has been termed the Western Diet, one rich in meat and dairy products, relatively low in vegetables and fruit. Dr. Campbell strongly advocates our switching to an exclusively plant-based diet and details how the "Diseases of Affluence," especially heart attacks, diabetes Type 2, some cancers, and obesity are related to nutrition.

I also looked at Dr. Campbell's impressive bio and, as well, read some of the critiques of his conclusions. I think the book is well worth reading and enjoyed Dr. Campbell's article in "The Huffington Post," published today (7-21-2010). In it he calls for an NIH Institute of Nutrition. I would agree that our Western Diet, rich in fats, sugar and salt, is a major cause of overweight and many assocated diseases. I would disagree that some of the specific conclusions in "The China Study" have been conclusively proven. I'd love to see a new NIH branch which could fund studies to prove or disprove those conclusions.

I'd recommend you read the book and judge for yourself.

The Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen redux

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

I had seen an article on foods that are more often contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals and wrote a blog post on it ("Protect your kids, buy organic") on May 21st. Now I've got a follow-up to that post. To begin with, as I briefly alluded to in the May post, there's an Environmental Working Group (EWG) that makes recommendations to the public on a number of health-related issues. It's a 501(c)3 non-profit that was originally formed in 1993 and includes people from a variety of disciplines (e.g., scientists, engineers, lawyers). It also, since 2002, advocates Congress on health-protection and subsidy-shifting policies and publishes a variety of reports through its website I just signed up for several of its newsletters and read a study that may lead to my changing which cellphone I use.

"Prevention" magazine, in its August 2010 edition just published an article reviewing the recent version of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. I usually don't read this publication, but my spouse has a subscription and said I'd be interested in this particular article. When I originally found those lists in May, I clipped them from a newspaper, researched the background of the EWG, then made multiple copies of the lists and we started buying more organic foods than we had previously. Subsequently our 26-week Grant Family Farms (local CSA) Veggie Couples Share began and, as of yesterday, our 22-week Fruit Share began. But we're still buying some produce that doesn't come from our CSA. So I read the article in my wife's copy of "Prevention" with interest.

The writer went through the lists fruit and vegetable by fruit and vegetable and gave a cogent rationale for why each was on each list. For instance, take celery, which ranked number one on the Dirty Dozen list. When I first read that I wasn't at all sure why celery would be in the "These you really should buy in the Organic foods section." But the comment in the article made sense. Three quarters of our celery crop is grown in the fall and winter when weather conditions make contamination by bacteria and fungi more likely to occur. That added to the fact that we consume all of the celery stalk (I do cut of those leafy bits and the large end of the stalk), leads to repetitive spraying of the crop with pesticides. So buying organic celery now does make logical sense to me.

Try the EWG website and see if their work interests you as much as it does me.

Marion Nestle's book, "What to Eat"

Friday, July 9th, 2010

On one of my previous posts I mentioned Marion Nestle as a professor of nutrition who had commented on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. I read two of her columns in the Atlantic Monthly and a blog post she had written and was struck by her intimate and detailed knowledge of the process by which the Dietary Guidelines, initially put together by an committee of experts, get subtly altered before they reach their final form.

Subsequently I purchased two of her books and have been reading my way through her absolutely superb book, "What to Eat." I've been stunned by her depth of knowledge and have learned many new facts. Today I looked at her bio and realized she's been directly involved with the Dietary Guidelines in the past, has both a Masters' degree in public health nutrition and a Ph.D in molecular biology.

The book itself is stellar and won the James Beard Foundation award for best food reference in 2007. Dr. Nestle examines the trillion dollar/year US food industry and walks you through the sections of a supermarket commenting as she goes. I'll mention a few of the more striking areas today, but will try to pick out more over the next few posts I do. I think you should read this book yourself.

When you enter an average supermarket in this country, you're confrounded with an enormous array of choices. She estimates you have 30,000 plus to pick from. So how do you get to the items on your shopping list? Well first you have to pass artfully, probably a better term is cunningly, arranged shelves and more shelves with food items you didn't plan to buy.

The placement of those food choices is far from random. If your goal, like mine, is to shop the periphery, mostly purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables and a few dairy items, you'll still pass through a gauntlet of deliberately placed, often highly processed, foods, many of which have lengthy ingredient lists. And you'll likely find the things you do wish to buy have less carefully been arranged.

Why is this? Well to start with the government subsidizes the production of a few items: corn, soybeans, sugar beets and sugarcane, but not that of other fruits and vegetables. And the major food companies (that includes a much smaller number of them than I had once thought), don't make as much money from the items on my shopping list, but lots more from foods that have been augmented, processed and made to appear appetizing to adults and, in some cases to children.

So the next time you're in a supermarket, go there with your own shopping list and try to stick to it. Look at ingredient lists if you do buy processed foods; check out the fat, sugars (sic) and salt contents of anything you buy. And start to look at what is placed where in the store. Decide what's been put there to catch your attention and to tempt you to buy.

Happy shopping.

More Fish, Less Chips

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

I'm four days out from back surgery and can sit up long enough to post on my blog tonight. I've been reading more about the omega-3 fatty acids and especially about DHA, otherwise known as docosahexanoic acid. DHA was discussed in great detail at a recent meeting of the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) and the article in the May 29, 2010 issue of "The Economist" led me to a book, "The Omega-3 Connection" written by a Harvard medical School professor and an online medical article on "Fish Oil: Getting to the Heart of It."

There's an amazing amount of new information coming out about the importance of the Omega 3s and maybe DHA in particular (The other Omega 3 of interest is EPA, eicosapentanoic acid). This may take three or four posts to cover, but let's start with some general statements. DHA, according to one researcher who presented at the May RSM meeting, may explain why dolphins, which weigh about the same as zebras, have brains nearly five times as large. It seems to play a role in a number of significant mental health diseases and low levels of DHA appear to be associated with a higher risk of suicide. The Department of Defense in the United States is paying attention to that last factor and plans to supplement the diets of its troops with Omega 3s.

The problem links to our current diets, high in omega 6s, low in omega 3s. It's time for a change, both in diet and in supplements. More later on the topic.

it's a start, but barely that

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I recently read an Associated Press article headlined "Food companies say they'll remove 1.5 trillion calories" and was initially impressed until I got into the reality behind this tiny start toward reducing childhood obesity. It turns out that the highly vaunted amount works out to 12.5 calories per person per day. I've blogged and written elsewhere that 50 calories a day works out to be five pounds a year (3,500 calories equates to a pound), so this initial effort from the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation equates to a pound and a quarter a year.

That may be a start, but it sure isn't much of one.

If we cut our daily intake by fifty calories (and that shouldn't be hard considering how much Americans and some others eat), we'd lose five pounds a year. One hundred calories less a day + 100 calories worth of exercise would result in a loss of twenty pounds over a year. I've done a little better than that over the past year and I'm down about twenty-five pounds.

But let's go back to the food companies, the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation has over 80 companies, including many of the big names. Sure they're responding to Michelle Obama's speech given in March to an industry meeting, and making some efforts (I'd call it a tiny one) to cut sugar and fat from their products (and hopefully salt also). But the huge number in the headline, 1.5 trillion calories, has to be put into perspective. Twelve and a half calories a day per person sure isn't much.

I think we all need to eat more fruits and vegetables, lose our mid-section excess and then keep it off by increasing our exercise or some combination of diet and exercise. I think the food companies need to cut their products calorie load a lot more than a mere 1.5 trillion calories. Until they do, and maybe even after they do, we should, as much as possible look for ways to eat healthier.

That's easier to say than do for many people. Fresh fruits and vegetables aren't cheap and families living on tight budgets may struggle to put healthier meals on the table. So my push would be for our government (and the food companies) to subsidize food, especially for kids, that's built around eating more fresh fruits and veggies and less processed foods.  We also need to get our kids outside, away from the computers, cell phones and other sedentary lifestyle items and get them interested in walking, running and biking.

It's time and past time for all of us to help bring about the diet and exercise changes we need, both for ourselves and especially for our kids and grandkids.

Then that amazing headline with its dazzling 1.5 trillion calorie figure could actually be put into perspective. Folks, it's just a drop in the bucket. We need to fill that bucket.

Protect your kids; buy organic

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I just read about a study, published in the journal Pediatrics this past Monday, that appears to link childhood exposure to pesticides to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, known to most of us as ADHD.  The lead researcher is a Harvard faculty member with a PhD and her co-investigators were from Harvard and the University of Montreal. The reported on a government health survey from 2000 to 2004 that looked at kid's urine levels of chemicals that were breakdown products of pesticides, especially of organophosphate pesticides.

The study included 1139 kids who were representative of the U.S. population and 20% of those with with higher than average urine levels of the measured compounds had ADHD. That's twice the percentage of kids with no dectectable amounts of the same chemicals in their urine.

So what's this all mean to us. Well, my wife, a mental health therapist, has repeatedly told me the country is seeing more and more cases of ADHD. And, I had just printed copies of a report by the Environmental Working Group with a "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides." It listed two groups of fruits and vegetables, lableing them the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15."  The former group was highest in pestcide content and included celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, kale, cheries, potatoes and imported grapes: in that order.

The data was based on foods tested after they'd been washed, peeled, rinsed, whatever we normally do to them before eating them. Those procedures help, but don't get rid of pesticides and, in some cases, results in the good stuff, nutrients we'd like to ingest, going down the drain or into the compost pile or garbage disposal.

When you buy those foods, buy the organic variety.

On the other hand the clean 15: onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, mangoes, sweet peas, asparagus, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefriut, sweet potatoes and honeydew melons (in that order), are the least contaminated.

We just signed up for a twenty-six-week couples share of vegetables + a twenty-three-week fruit share from a local CSA. I decided if I were going to write this post, it made sense to "put my money where my mouth was."

Think about the issue, especially if you have children or, for that matter, grandchildren.

Even The Economist

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I get lots of blog ideas from The Wall Street Journal, usually from their last section, oriented to the personal and rather eclectic in content. Four days ago I was reading my copy of The Economist and was somewhat surprised to see an article in their Business section that called out for a blog post. The title of the piece was "Pepsi gets a makeover: Taking the challenge."

The focus of the article was on Pepsi's CEO wanting the firm to make products with less sugar, salt and fat. She even plans to remove all of the company's drinks that contain sugar from schools by 2012.

Bravo, I said and read on. It seems that she's gotten the message. She wants to help keep food companies (or at least hers) from the fate of their tobacco-company distant relatives, noting the latter firms have been impugned for the deleterious  health-related outcomes caused by their products.

I was unaware that Pepsi owned Quaker, but found fascinating the plans to alter their marketing of those products also. The Pepsi boss seems quite serious in her efforts, and although they clearly must be driven, in large part, by an attempt to capture/maintain market share, I applaud the concept.

I personally drink few soft drinks (One Caffeine-free Diet Coke a day), but I hope this effort by a major food company will be followed by all the others. it's about time!

Can I still eat Dairy Products?

Friday, February 26th, 2010

My wife and I both take calcium supplements, in my case two tablets of calcium citrate with vitamin D in the morning and two sometime later in the day. (Lynnette takes two and then three).  Each has 630 milligrams of calcium and 500 IU of vitamin D.  I haven't had a bone density test; hers was slightly on the low side originally and has improved more recently. We're both small-boned and in our late sixties, so the supplements make sense.

How about dairy products? Well Lynnette has no problem with drinking milk and usually has a small glass of it daily + pours some on her cereal.  I'm lactose-intolerant, i.e, lactase deficient, so I use soy milk on my cereal and often eat a bowl of cereal at two of my three meals, especially if I'm on my diet. Today, I weighed 148.4 pounds, so I'm at or even slightly below my goal weight, and can eat a bigger lunch if I want to (we're invited out for a bison dinner, so I may not).

There was an interesting article on lactose-intolerance in The Wall Street Journal recently (Health & Wellness Thursday, February 16, 2010, page D3. Dr. Eric Sibley, a Professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, is quoted as saying while most people lose the ability to produce lactase in large quantities as they grow up, a majority still secrete some lactase.

For those who still can produce lactase, stopping diary ingestion entirely is counter- productive. Our gut bacteria can be trained, apparently, to tolerate more dairy if exposed to it on a regular basis. On the other hand, if you stop consuming all dairy products when you first diagnose yourself as lactose-intolerant, your bowel bacteria get less efficient in their lactose handling.

Some dairy products, cheese and ice cream among them, have been processed and, as a result, tend to contain less lactose. Other foods have lactose added to them (some cookies in particular).

Dr. Sibley said most of us who are lactose-intolerant can drink one or two glasses of milk a day without symptoms. We all need calcium, so it makes sense to have some cheese and milk regularly and perhaps even a little ice cream as a special treat occasionally.

A few people have a true allergy to milk that's not caused by lactose; instead of gas and bloating, they develop abdominal pain and may have bloody stools after drinking milk. Those folk can't safely follow Dr. Sibley's advice for the rest of us. As for me, I may attempt to retrain my gut bacteria to do their best with lactose-containing products; I'll go have a small glass of milk right now.

A new Michael Pollan book: Food Rules

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I've enjoyed Michael Pollan's books, especially The Omnivore's Dilemna and In Defense of Food. Both of those won James Beard Awards, often termed "the Oscars of Food." Now Pollan, who is the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley, has published a slender volume of sixty-four "Food Rules" designed to help us get off the "Western Diet."  He defines that as lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and associates it with high rates of chronic diseases.

That being said (and I fully agree with Pollan), he feels we should be eating more vegetables and fruits and less red meat. The sixty-four dictums include some that are humorous, some that are just plain sensible and many that were new to me.

Here's a few of my favorites: #2 Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food; #7 Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce; #19 If it came from a plant eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't; #25 Eat your colors (My wife Lynnette likes to prepare dinners with a variety of food colors: carrots; beets and greens, for example; Pollan note the varied colors of vegetables show us they contain different antioxidants).

I love #64 Break the rules once in a while. Having lost twenty-eight pounds over the last eight months (using some food rules I came up with myself in 1996), I'm at my goal weight. Last night I wore my fifty-year-old University of Wisconsin athletic sweater to an informal fund-raiser for the local food bank; it fit! I had six small bowls of soup, a salad, a roll and two small dishes of ice cream. When I weighed myself this morning, I had lost two tenths of a pound (I had also eaten sparingly and worked out at the gym preceding the event).

I really enjoyed Pollan's book and will refer  to his rules frequently.

An interesting article

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal had three health-related articles today 2-15-2010). Since I'm lactose-intolerant I read one on that subject first and may blog about it in the future. One had nothing to do with diets, but dealt instead with winter asthma. The third article was titled "Why Some Foods Are Riskier Today." That one really got my full attention. It talked about food-borne illnesses which affect 76 million people a year in America (and that's only the ones that get reported). Most are not severe, but nearly a third of a million lead to hospitalization and 5,000 of those affected die.

Well some of the apparent recent increase in these food-related cases may be due to better detection and reporting; lots are due to three major causes: new "bugs" that can lead to sickness;  consumers desire for raw foods which have not been treated to remove bacteria and food imported from areas of the world whose food-safety regulations aren't as stringent.

Many of us want to have the wide variety of food items year round that we can buy from local sources only in season. This may increase our menu choices, but also can lead to consumption of dangerously tainted vegetables and other foods. Over the past three years my wife and I have become more and more "locovores," people who basically eat things produced in our area. That does limit when we can have mangoes or rambutans or other fruits and vegetables, but it also supports local agriculture and, at the same time, makes our diets safer.

I've also given up on my formerly nearly rare hamburgers and purchased grass-finished (non-feedlot) bison, lamb and beef from local and regional growers. Our dairy products come from a farm about eight miles northwest of us.

I see this as a trend in our area. There are more farmer's markets, more opportunities to purchase locally grown/raised foods, more awareness of the risks of our mass-production food industry.

They may cost a bit more, but frequently the taste is better and clearly the risk is lower. it's worth the small amount more that I pay. An often added benefit is being able to buy heirloom tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables that we don't usually see in the supermarket.  To whatever extent is possible for you, I'd suggest becoming a locovore; it's a habit you'll find healthy and tasty.