Friday, February 24, 2012

The Influence of Food Inc.

A recent report revealed that the American Dietetic Association (ADA)—the professional organization for Registered Dieticians (RDs)— is food industry friendly and this relationship dominates USDA dietary guidelines. 

“An ongoing investigation by Congress recently revealed that the ADA receives over $1 million a year in payments from pharmaceutical companies and an undisclosed amount from companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Hershey,” stated Darrell Rogers from Alliance for Natural Health-USA. ADA members have indicated that the ADA’s relationship with corporate sponsors has a negative impact on the public image of RDs and undermines their credibility.
According to Adele Hite, Director of Healthy Nation Coalition, “The ADA is an industry-friendly organization. The USDA appears to rely on ADA-trained Registered Dietitians to confirm their own industry-friendly guidelines. The self-supporting relationship between the ADA and the USDA does not benefit either the credibility of RDs or the health of Americans.”*

So should we feel comfortable taking nutrition advice from the government in light of this recent report?  For the sake of argument let’s go forward under the assumption that the USDA and ADA are not influenced by the food industry. 

First a brief history lesson on when the government first became involved in giving dietary advice.

In 1979, when the McGovern Committee made the first “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” they encouraged Americans to eat less animal fat, less cholesterol, and more grains. And, we were pretty successful at it; Americans adopted the new food guidelines and embraced a low-fat way of eating for the last 30 years. Here’s a chart of how are diets have changed over the last 100 years:

Source: Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):950-62.

We’ve eaten less fat, less beef, less pork, and less dairy (fear the butter and whole eggs!) At the same time, we’ve eaten more chicken, more shortening, and drastically more soy oil (healthy fat right?).

Let’s check out this next graph to see what incredible health benefits we’ve gained as a result of this magnificent advice and our stellar compliance:

Source: 2010 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee

Who can tell me when it the obesity rate really starts to rise? Oh wow, 1980…but that’s when we got all the good advice to eat less animal fat, more grains, and more vegetable oil.

So what can we take away from this? A couple of things:

1. Eating more processed vegetable oil was a bad idea.

2. Consumption of heavily subsidized grains like wheat and corn may not be so healthy after all.

3. Maybe the animal fat and red meat wasn’t actually the problem after all.

So the track record for these government guidelines is questionable at best.  Again assuming no influence at all the better reason to avoid these recommendations is that they aren’t very effective despite the high level of citizen compliance.

For a practical example of how USDA nutritional guidelines fall short I will analyze the most recent recommendations, known as MyPlate:

Even a cursory glance at the new USDA food plate icon reveals it is leaps and bounds ahead of both the 1992 and 2005 Food Pyramids. For starters, it is not a pyramid; it is a plate, which makes it far easier to apply when you're actually at the dinner table.

There are other prominent improvements as well, such as finally cutting down on grains and increasing the amount of veggies recommended. And while I believe that if the majority of our population followed these guidelines the health of our nation would improve, for those seeking optimal health they fall short.

Here are a few to consider:

You may notice that fats are practically invisible on the new plate icon. There is no mention of the importance of dietary fats, even the "politically correct" ones like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil and nuts, such as pecans (canola oil is also in this category, but I advise avoiding it and using olive oil instead). Of course, one of the most important of the healthy fats is animal-based omega-3, which is also absent from the plate.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. government still has not acknowledged all of the data showing that saturated fat is actually an incredibly healthy, nourishing and all natural fat that humans have been thriving on for generations.

Saturated fats provide the building blocks for your cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone like substances that are essential to your health, and saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources (such as meat, dairy, certain oils, and tropical plants like coconut) provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet.

When you eat fats as part of your meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry.
There is also no mention to avoid the true killer fat, trans fat, which is found in processed and fried foods, such as French fries and fried chicken, doughnuts, cookies, pastries and crackers. This is the most consumed type of fat in the United States, despite the fact that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine.

Another faulty recommendation made by the new Food Plate is to eat fat-free or low-fat dairy. Again, the saturated fats in full-fat organic grass-fed dairy are actually good for you, and this has been proven by numerous studies.  The type of dairy recommended by the U.S. government may as well not even be on your plate, as not only is it lacking in healthy fat, but also the milk comes from factory farms that heavily process it as well as the appearance of potentially harmful hormones and antibiotics in dairy foods.

Finally, the recommendation for grains and fruit with every meal suggests that a higher carbohydrate diet is ideal for everyone. Diabetes statistics suggest otherwise. So do body type and activity differences between people.

Higher carb diets are fine for those active folks with good glucose tolerance. But for folks who don’t exercise much, or who are experiencing early signs of impending type 2 diabetes – like a huge percent of the American population – a higher carb diet is the absolute worst eating plan to follow. Yet I suspect the grain lobby wouldn’t stand for any mention of eating fewer carbohydrates.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, so I don’t want to overplay the sometimes-unhealthy relationship between the food industry and our government. In addition, I’m not such a know-it-all to suggest that I have access to all the considerations important to the USDA or ADA.

That said, when it comes to your health, you've got to dig below the surface and use all the resources available to you, including your own commonsense and reason, true independent experts' advice and other's experiences, to determine what advice will be best for you in any given situation.

Finally, the inherent problem with any one-size-fits-all food plan (like MyPlate) is that no one diet is right for everyone. Your body has a unique biochemistry that predisposes you to thrive on a specific ratio of fats, proteins and carbohydrates derived from fresh whole foods.

Next week I will lend some of my experiences that just may help you uncover some clues to find the nutrition plan that is right for you. I will also show you a modified version of MyPlate from one of the best in the business.

Two charts that prove the government is making you sick:


Monday, February 20, 2012

School lunch solutions

The last couple of weeks we have examined the food provided to your child by the school lunch program.  I think it’s fair to say that the options provided to your child in the school lunch program are far from ideal even with new rules set to increase the amount of fruit, vegetable and whole grains that are served.
Rather than beating this issue to death and pointing out what a disaster the school food is I want to take a more constructive approach.  One of my most effective strategies when teaching nutrition is a concept called dietary displacement.  Basically this means that when you add better food choices into your diet it leaves little time/space for less than ideal choices.  The better food options kick out the lesser food options.
So rather than advising you to avoid the school provided lunch I want to provide you with some solutions that you can incorporate into your child’s daily nutrition.  First and best is to pack your own lunches.  This will of course require some prep time but I will provide a sample menu to spark some ideas.   A cooler bag and thermos would be great additions to your arsenal and would expand your options considerably.
Quick grass fed chili
Ranch dip/guacamole and carrots and/or celery sticks
Chicken wrap (whole grain) with lettuce, mayo, red peppers, and onions, crisp romaine lettuce shredded
½ cup of red grapes or pineapple slices
Grass fed cheese
Hummus with chopped vegetables (celery, carrots, zucchini, red peppers, cucumbers)
Apple slices
Grass fed Cottage Cheese or Yogurt with fruit like blueberries, strawberries or peaches
Nut/seed mix: (walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dark chocolate chips, goji berries, raisins, dried cherries and apricots).  Mix and match with your child’s favorites.
For a quick and easy chili just brown 1 lb. grass fed beef or ground turkey and mix it with a jar of your favorite salsa and then add two cans of black, kidney, or pinto beans.   Makes about 4 servings.  Just heat up in the morning and put it in the thermos.
For quick guacamole mash a ripe avocado add 2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa and a pinch or two of sea salt.
Ideally you would make your own mayonnaise and ranch dip but if you can’t look for all natural varieties with no added junk like corn syrup.  While these options may not be ideal they work in small quantities particularly if they get your kids to eat more vegetables.
Notice I have water listed with each option.  Hydration is a key component to optimize physical and mental performance.  They don’t need Gatorade if they aren’t sweating!   Grass fed milk is a good option but it’s even better as a snack or a post practice recovery drink, especially if it’s chocolate.*
Sometimes even with the best of intentions situations arise where your just don’t have the time to prepare lunch ahead of time.  In those instances I have a solution as well.  My wife and I travel a lot and sometimes preparing nutritious meals during the week can be quite challenging.  In these instances we turn to a local chef who runs a catering business and one of her projects is Pure Food 2 U.
Pure Food 2 U is a great option for families on the run that want to eat nutritious meals but are challenged to do so because of competing demands.  Everything they make is from scratch with whole, organic, locally grown (when possible) ingredients.  PF2U will deliver to your home or office and you can pick up from their kitchen in Royal Oak as well.  They have a diverse menu with options for all preferences whether that is vegetarian, vegan or hearty meat eaters and everything in between.
Your confidence and trust is of utmost concern to me so this is in no way a marketing pitch and I am not getting any monetary benefits out of this.  My only reason for doing this is to provide solutions that work for families that want to do all they can to live a healthy lifestyle.  This works for my family and I wanted to share our experience with you.  The food is made with high quality nutritious ingredients but most importantly the food tastes great.
I spoke to the chef and she agreed to provide me with a $10 trial coupon.  If you are interested in giving it a try let me know and I will provide you with one.  Part of my motivation for doing this is to reward a local business that is investing in the community and supporting local farmers and artisans in the process.
Ideally we would all plan ahead and prepare foods that would allow us to throw together quick and nutritious meals and lunches but it doesn’t always work out that way when both parents work and your daughter has soccer practice at 5:30PM while your son has a hockey game in Rochester at 7:30PM.  At times like this the family meal likely isn’t going to happen and stopping at Subway just doesn’t feel right.  This is an option for those times when you can’t do it yourself but still want good nutritious food for you and your children.
Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist

School lunch and the military...

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed a new set of regulations for school meals last week, marking the first overhaul of these standards in more than 15 years.
And for the first time in 30 years, the government is expanding funding for schools, which meet its nutrition requirements.
Under these rules, cafeterias will now offer double the amount of fruits and vegetables, increase whole grain options, and reduce the amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. Gone is whole milk, to be replaced by skim and 1 percent. Portion sizes will be based on children's age groups, so that they are not consuming too many or too few calories.
The only part of the rule that will go into effect immediately is the switch to low fat milk. The other components will be put in place gradually over the next 3 years.
The aim is to tackle two growing problems in the United States and around the world.
On the one hand, rates of childhood obesity have nearly tripled in the U.S. since 1980. On the other, two-thirds of the 32 million children in the lunch line rely on government-subsidized or free school meals - more than ever before. *
The reality is that many families are struggling in this economy and the school lunch is likely a key component of these children’s daily nutrition.  So while I can pick apart at the individual components of the new guidelines the bottom line is they provide a much better alternative to the current school lunch offerings.  And the truth is that for most of students these new guidelines will provide their most nutritious food choices of the day.
However, these new guidelines are not mandatory but because they come with additional Federal support they are more likely to be adopted in some form.  Further just because more nutritious options are available kids still make the final decision.
With kids making the ultimate decision on what they choose to eat the best thing we can do is educate them on making good food choices and by serving as role models with the food choices we make.
As an interesting aside, the military community also praised the move because it could lead to more young adults eligible for service.
"Obesity is the leading medical reason why young adults are unable to join the military, with one in four too overweight to enlist," said Jamie Barnett a retired Rear Admiral for the Navy and member of MISSION: READINESS, an organization that aims to increase the percent of high school students fit for military service.
"The retired generals and admirals of Mission: Readiness strongly supported passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and today's announcement is an important step in helping reduce calories, fat and sodium in school meals so our obesity crisis does not become a national security crisis."
In the past half-century, the number of women of military age who exceed the U.S. Army's enlistment standards for weight-for-height and body fat percentage has more than tripled. For military-age men, the figure has more than doubled. As of 2007-08, 5.7 million men, or nearly 12 percent, and 16.5 million women, about 35 percent, of military age are ineligible for duty because they are overweight or obese; estimate John Cawley, associate professor of policy analysis and management, and economics doctoral student Catherine Maclean. *
Ultimately, Cawley said, the steep decline in military-eligible men and women illustrates the hidden costs of obesity.
"It's another example of the underappreciated public consequences of obesity," Cawley said. "We tend to think of obesity as a personal, individual health problem. But the fact that U.S. military leaders view it as a threat to national security and military readiness shows its far-reaching impact."
This fallout from the lifestyle choices we make as a nation have left us vulnerable to more than foreign conflicts but poor health and deteriorating standards of fitness and behavior as well.  Regardless of your views on the size and scope of America’s military we can all agree these facts are hard to ignore.  Numerous studies have acknowledged that physical activity and good nutrition practices improve academic and physical performance.  And it’s my strong belief along with a growing segment of health professionals that behavioral disorders such as ADHD are positively linked to poor lifestyle choices.  To compete in a globally competitive world our children need to be at top of their game.
And while these new school lunch guidelines are a positive step they amount to only 10-20% of a child’s weekly food intake.  The real gains in improving the health and prosperity of our children starts with the foundation and principles parents, coaches and teachers are uniquely positioned to provide.  Many topics of discussion may divide us but one thing we can all agree on is the health of our children.   It may be getting you no where to preach to your children to eat more fruit and vegetables and to get outside and play more but examine if you are practicing what your preach.  That is the first and most important step we can take.  We are the leaders of this generation and we must live the change we need in this nation.  Children are always watching us and they see and pick up on everything we do.
Fortunately many of you are already taking charge and I applaud you for doing so, lead on!

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist
Nutrition, Health and Education Advocates Applaud Historic Improvements to Meals Served in America's Schools:
*Cornell University (2010, October 18). Climbing obesity rates threaten U.S. national security by hampering military recruitment. ScienceDaily.