Sunday, March 24, 2013

Wealthy but not so healthy...

Despite being one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, the US according to a recent report is far from being one of the healthiest. [1] Why is that?  Is it possible even likely it is due to our cultures dependence on mass-produced and heavily processed food?
The US government subsidizes the very crops identified as being the most harmful to human health and the environment, the top three being corn, wheat, and soybeans. And nearly all of the corn and soybeans grown are genetically engineered varieties.
By subsidizing these, the US government is actively supporting a diet that consists of these grains in their processed form, namely high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), hydrogenated soybean oil, and meats loaded with antibiotics – all of which are now well-known contributors to obesity and chronic disease. These junk-food subsidies make it much cheaper to buy a burger, fries and soda from a fast-food restaurant than it is to buy grass-fed beef and veggies. It's not that these foods necessarily cost more to grow or produce; rather the government is artificially reducing the prices for the junk foods. [2]
Who can you trust?
Many are unaware the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) formerly known as American Dietetic Association (ADA), is partnered with and sponsored by junk-food giants, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mars and Kellogg. Consequently, dietary advice from many Registered Dieticians is likely to be heavily biased by information from food-industry bigwigs.
Case in point: the AND's annual conference is often called "the world's largest meeting of food and nutrition experts." Interestingly, these conferences are absent of any true nutritional experts whose knowledge could make a positive impact on Americans' health. But they do showcase numerous representatives from Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg, PepsiCo and other processed food and junk-food giants. Aren't these the companies that make precisely the foods we need to eat LESS of in order to stay healthy and fight obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and countless other chronic diseases?
According to Really Eat Right, a campaign dedicated to ending the AND's collusion with junk food and pharmaceutical industries:
AND claims sugar and artificial colors are safe for children
AND is under investigation by congress
AND receives about $1 million a year in payments from the pharmaceutical industry
AND allows pharmaceutical companies to market their controversial products at AND events
The credentialing arm of the AND (the Commission on Dietetic Registration) offers continuing professional courses sponsored by Coca-Cola
It's obvious that relationship between AND, the processed food and pharmaceutical industries is a little to close.  This evidence makes requires a massive leap of faith to expect the AND has public health as its top priority. Unfortunately, many people will adopt their nutritional advice, and their health will suffer, as a result. [3]
Small Farmers versus Biotech
Biotech's influence on our agricultural system has transformed our food into something that can only be described as a massive science experiment!
This is why we need foods to be labeled. You have the right to know. We all have the right to know what we're buying and eating. Then, at the very least you can make a personal decision about whether or not you wish to participate... Proving yet again that our federal agencies will not stand in the way of Big Biotech monopolizing and destroying our food supply, reports:
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture... released a final report absolving the biotech industry of contamination of non-GM seeds with their products from other fields. The USDA report concludes that organic and other non-GM farmers should simply buy insurance to protect against GMO contamination.” [4]
On February 19, the US Supreme Court began hearing the appeal of 75-year old Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Bowman, in which he disputes Monsanto's claim that his farm used the patented seeds without authorization.
“Farmer Bowman legally purchased seeds at a grain elevator, which bought them from farmers who had, with Monsanto's authorization, used the genetically modified Monsanto seeds to grow their soybean crops. Monsanto claims that Mr. Bowman infringed its patents on herbicide-resistant plants and seeds by using the grain elevator seeds to grow his soybean crops.” [5]
Essentially, Monsanto can sue these farmers all they want for patent infringement, but they are immune to challenges from organic farmers whose products are contaminated by GMOs.
What’s in a label?
More than 3,000 food additives -- preservatives, flavorings, colors and other ingredients -- are added to foods in the United States. Many of these additives are banned in other countries and most are not even labeled. [6]
The biotech company Senomyx creates novel flavor enhancing compounds for the processed food industry in order to make foods and beverages that taste good while reducing sugar and salt content.  The genetically engineered flavor enhancers work by triggering taste receptors on your tongue, effectively tricking your taste buds into sensing sweetness, saltiness, or “coolness.” Senomyx has created a taste testing system that provides scientists with biochemical responses and electronic readouts when a flavor ingredient interacts with their patented receptor, letting them know whether or not they’ve “hit the mark” in terms of flavor.  Flavor enhancers do not need to be listed on food labels, falling instead under the generic category of artificial and/or natural flavors. [7]
Do the consumers have a voice?
Whole Foods recently announced the health food giant would make labeling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients mandatory in its American and Canadian stores by 2018.
Prop 37 raised an enormous amount of awareness about genetically engineered (GE) foods (a.k.a. genetically engineered organisms or GMO’s). Many Americans didn’t even know they existed prior to the California campaign to require GE foods to be labeled.
The Prop 37 campaign also ushered conversations about food to the front pages of mainstream media. Over the past year, we’ve not only seen an increase in the number of stories on genetically engineered foods, more people are now also talking about other truth-in-labeling issues, and food safety in general.
Whole Foods Co-Chief Executive Walter Robb recently told the Los Angeles Times:
"This is an issue whose time has come. With cases like horse meat discovered in the U.K., plastic in milk in China, the recalls of almond and peanut butter in the U.S., customers have a fundamental right to know what's in their food.... 'The government has not been willing to take on this issue, so it's going to have to happen differently.'"
According to a February 2012 poll of potential voters in the 2012 US elections, 90 percent of responders were in favor of labeling GE foods. There’s really NO reason not to, aside from protecting the biotech industry’s profits. Americans are already responding favorably to those few products that are labeled. A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, told the New York Times:
“We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled. 'Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled [non-GMO].'”
Seeing the writing on the wall, the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NGCA) recently wrote a letter to their members that now also urges food manufacturers to stop funding or opposing GMO labeling. This is a powerful example of the power we have as consumers when we make our voices heard on matters such as this. [8]
Mom Takes on Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and Gatorade
Two moms have taken on Kraft. They started an online petition, calling for the food giant to remove two artificial food ingredients, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, from its Macaroni and Cheese. These artificial dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in children, and are banned for use in the UK. More than 220,000 signatures have been collected so far. Kraft’s response:
“In the US, we only use colors that are approved and deemed safe for food use by the Food and Drug Administration.”[9]
In a related story responding to consumer concerns, PepsiCo announced that it will remove brominated vegetable oil (BVO), an emulsifier, from citrus-flavored Gatorade sold in the U.S.
BVO is a poorly tested and possibly dangerous food additive, and there’s no reason to use it in Gatorade or other drinks.
After all, safe substitutes are used in Europe and elsewhere.
The Food and Drug Administration has let BVO linger in the food supply on an “interim” basis for 42 years.
"While our products are safe, we are making this change because we know that some consumers have a negative perception of BVO in Gatorade, despite (it) being permitted for use in North American and Latin American countries," Gatorade spokeswoman Molly Carter said in a statement. "As part of this process, we began working on an alternative ingredient to BVO for the few Gatorade flavors that contain BVO, more than a year ago."
Carter also said the company spent the year making sure the new Gatorade formulation "would not affect taste or functionality. So we did a lot of sensory testing to make sure we had the right batch, and we feel strongly we do."  Remember the “flavor enhancing” company Senomyx?  They count among their clients, Pepsi, the maker of Gatorade.  So no doubt they played an important role in the Gatorade alternative. [10]
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
According to the nonprofit ocean protection group Oceana, nearly 60 percent of fish labeled "tuna" in the US is not actually tuna. A shocking 84 percent of “white tuna” sold in sushi venues was actually escolar, a fish associated with acute and serious digestive effects if you eat just a couple of ounces.
One-third of all fish samples tested across the US were found to be mislabeled; substituted for cheaper, less desirable and/or more readily available fish varieties. [11]
Final Thought
When the dangers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) finally began to seep into the American consciousness, consumer demand forced many companies to reformulate their processed foods using other types of sweeteners, or ditching sweetening agents altogether. Today, you can find a number of food products marked “No HFCS” and government intervention had nothing to do with this beneficial change.  You are now starting to see a similar trend start with awareness being raised on the GMO issue.  Knowledge is power and the more awareness we have on how and where our food is being grown and produced we can make far better choices for our families.
Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist

Saturday, March 16, 2013

When These 2 Giants Join Forces Do We Stand a Chance?

For years we have been lead to believe that low fat, sugar free and diet foods are healthier alternatives for you and your family. When you see these food industry phrases attached to food it should sound off an alarm!  These industry phrases are a clear indication that these products are heavily processed.  While these products may have initially resembled real food they have been stripped down and re-engineered into something that can best be described as food-like.

Consider the sugar free or reduced calorie label, this usually means the product contains an artificial sweetener such as aspartame.  It is added to replace table sugar in order to reduce calories (because it’s calorie free) while also preserving sweetness. Less sugar and calories is a good thing right?  Not in this case.  Artificial sweeteners like aspartame have been clearly associated with several diseases. And they also don’t help with weight loss in fact they may contribute to weight gain.  This is due mainly to altering your bodies natural satiety signaling.  In other words when you eat or drink something sweet your body expects calories to be attached to it and when that doesn’t happen it doesn’t cue your body when you’ve had enough leading to over-indulgence. [1]

So you might be asking how did these essentially toxic sweeteners ever hit the market?  Well it’s all based on “junk science” and industry half-truths.  Consider that most studies that cleared these products were conducted on animals and not humans.  All animals EXCEPT HUMANS have a protective mechanism that allows methanol (the by-product of aspartame) to be broken down into harmless formic acid. [1] Another “trick” is to conduct short-term human studies.  The human body is very resilient and tends to hold up without any noticeable changes (except for gas and diarrhea, but apparently these symptoms aren’t a big deal to the FDA) even when exposed to toxic substances over an acute period of time.  However one recent long-term human study revealed a clear association between aspartame consumption and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in men and leukemia in both sexes.

It is best to avoid these substances for optimal health, as they are pervasive in many of the foods that we eat, the obvious being chewing gum and soda and less obvious yogurt. And if your job as a parent wasn’t hard enough the dairy industry is pushing for approval to use these chemicals in milk and 17 other dairy products, without having to label it.  [2]

The dairy industry states that labeling would put them at a competitive disadvantage because claims such as “reduced calorie” are not attractive to children and have led to an overall decline in milk consumption in schools. Essentially, as with the GMO labeling issue, they don’t want you or your child to be “confused” or perhaps “scared away” by truthful labeling...

They also state that consumers generally don’t recognize milk — including flavored milk — as necessarily containing sugar. Therefore, since you don’t realize that flavored milk might contain added sugar, sweetening the product with non-nutritive artificial sweeteners, while listing it as simply “milk” on the label, will make it easier for you to identify its overall nutritional value.

We should trust our children’s instincts on this matter!  While milk does indeed contain sugars (lactose) they are natural occurring and when consumed in their total package supply beneficial nutrients like protein.  Flavored milk should be avoided, as it is full of corn syrup and stabilizers.  You are better off making your own flavored milk using cocoa powder, frozen bananas and/or strawberries and sweeten with a touch of pure stevia (without additives like maltodextrin or lactose).

Your best source of milk and dairy would come ideally from a small local farmer that pasture raises their cows.  The dairy industries products are heavily processed, likely laden with hormones and antibiotics and fed with genetically engineered corn and soy.  Pure wholesome milk may do a body good but most milk in the store is nothing more than an industrial cocktail.

Speaking of industry cocktails…

The Coca-Cola Company is joining forces with the dairy industry to bring us the much anticipated (giant sarcasm alert!) “Energy Milk” called Core Power.  The Coca-Cola Company and Select Milk Producers, Inc. (Select) are announcing the acquisition of equity stakes in the newly-created Fair Oaks Farms Brands, LLC to drive growth and expansion of Core Power® and to create an innovative portfolio of brands and products that feature the value-added nutrition of dairy. [3]

When I checked into this the web site for Fair Oaks Farms touts their code of sustainability, transparency and animal care.  However, there is no mention of their relationship with Coca Cola.  Maybe it’s a just a simple oversight or possibly they aren’t to keen on promoting their end of the relationship.  Good business deals no doubt for both sides but for you and your family definitely another highly processed drink you should think twice before consuming.  One serving is loaded with 7 teaspoons of sugar, has Green Tea Extract (caffeine), and highly processed low-fat milk that is stabilized and preserved with 13 letter word ingredients.  This is what drives me crazy about the processed food industry they take advantage of the consumers long held belief that dairy is a wholesome food then process it to death and add back in inferior nutrients and slap an attractive label on it with wild claims.  Consider this claim on the web site referring to its chocolate flavored beverage:
Rich in antioxidants, cocoa derived from dark chocolate promotes alertness, lessens pain and promotes well-being. [4]

Unprocessed dark chocolate may provide many benefits including those touted by this product.  The only problem is this product contains highly processed chocolate with little if any nutritional benefit.  No doubt the company knows this but chooses to deceive the customer anyway.  Bottom line is this is not a milk product it is nothing more than a highly processed sugary drink.

The food industry understands that when you know what is in a product you will likely avoid it and this is why they are lobbying the government to hide what is really in their junk.  We simply cannot leave the health of our families in the hands of the government and the food industry.  Your best strategy to provide your family with nutritious food is to purchase whole foods and cook and prepare them from scratch.  This is clearly the only way to truly know what you are eating.

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist



The FDA is currently accepting public comments on the petition by the dairy industry to add artificial sweeteners to dairy products without labeling. You have until May 21st, 2013 to submit your comments if you feel compelled to do so.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Are your children grieving the loss of this vital activity?

Do you recall the days of your childhood when you would meet your friends outside in the morning and play all day long?  You made up teams and played tag, baseball, and dodge ball, capture the flag whatever you felt like that day.  It was unstructured and while there may have been rules you and your friends made them up to suit your particular situation.  Many “experts” are lamenting the lack of free play in current society.

“Remarkably, over the last 50 years, opportunities for children to play freely have declined continuously and dramatically in the United States and other developed nations; and that decline continues, with serious negative consequences for children’s physical, mental, and social development,” Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College.

Gray has presented research showing a correlation between the decline of free play in developed nations and the rise of depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism in children, teens, and young adults.

Gray also notes that the modern segregation of kids into same-age groups, common in today’s classrooms and schoolyards, may not be optimal for child development. He says that during age-mixed play, older, more skilled participants “provide scaffolds that raise the level of the younger participants’ play” and stretch their abilities to higher levels. He cites other studies in which older children were observed exposing younger children to more complex concepts of literacy, math, and sociability. By interacting with younger children, older students develop increased capacities to nurture, lead, and learn by teaching. [1]

On Professor Gray’s last point I agree wholeheartedly!  When I was a kid I always had to bring my brother along whenever I would play with my friends, he was 5 years younger than me.  We didn’t take it easy on him and he learned how to compete and “survive” against more mature stronger kids.  But he was better for the experience; he endeared himself to my friends because he always dusted himself off and got back in the ring.  He also developed an enthusiastic group of supporters.  It was fairly common to attract half dozen or more teenagers to his little league games.  Not only did he earn respect and how to interact with older kids he also developed into quite an athlete.  By the time he was in 7th grade I would always pick him first to be on my team and he would run circles around the stunned older kids.

In my 10-14 youth classes I occasionally make allowances for younger siblings (age 9) to make the scheduling easier for the parents.  And inevitably the older sibling will “look out” for the younger by giving them a few coaching tips.  It’s also very common that non-related older children will take the younger kids “under their wing” by providing a pat on the back or other subtle but powerful boosts to their confidence.  This all occurs without any prodding from me I just watch it happen and make a mental note of it, and it’s a beautiful thing for a coach to see!

And therein lies the power of free play the kids take ownership and learn how to create their own culture.  As coaches we need to provide a general outline for kids while still allowing and encouraging them to create and find their own unique way of doing things.  What I mean by that is there is no one-way or even right way to throw a football, kick a soccer ball, or evade a defender.  Kids if given the opportunity will find the way that works best for them and that type of instinctive and reflexive execution of skill is a key element of advanced athletic talent.

Think about the great athletes of all time do you think they honed those skills by playing nearly year round in adult organized leagues?  I believe the skill and drive to excel was born at an early age on the playgrounds with friends and neighborhood kids.  Once that passion and raw talent is in place then it can be harnessed by coaches and directed by parents.  The current youth sport culture compels parents to get their kids involved in leagues and travel teams at a very early age.  The idea, though flawed, is that if they don’t start their sport “clock” early their more advanced peers will leave them behind with no hope of catching up.  That line of thinking is actually backward but that is a story for another day.

All kids are grieving the loss of free play!  Back to my 10-14 class, I was wrapping up a session with the group and while we do all of the necessary speed, agility, core, mobility, and strength training (by the way you can still make this type of training fun) I still like to reward them with free play at the end of the class and they always look forward to it.  One of the girls as she was leaving saw two brothers in the next class pulling all kinds of equipment to the middle of the floor.  She curiously asked me what they were doing?  I said they are building a fort for an active game that we play.  She responded with an incredulous look on her face, as if to say, “hey, you’ve been holding out on us!”  Yes, even the athletic kids like and crave unstructured creative play. 

There is a time for more dedicated focus for young athletes in a single sport/endeavor but only when the time is right (late to-mid teens…), and even then there should be a plan in place to counteract those demands (off-field training and more free play).  Until that time free play with as little structure as is necessary should dominate their physical culture.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why You Should Think Twice Before Eating "Fresh" Fish

A recent study published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine links prenatal mercury exposure with a greater risk of ADHD-related behaviors. The study also finds that maternal fish consumption during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of ADHD-related behaviors in children. This duality is possible because many types of fish have low levels of mercury, so it is possible for a pregnant woman to eat nutritionally beneficial fish without being exposed too much mercury.  [1]

Fish has always been the best source for the animal-based omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, but as levels of pollution have increased, this nutritional powerhouse has become less and less viable as a primary source of healthful fats.

That said, by choosing wisely, the benefits of a diet high in fish can still outweigh the risks.  Let’s examine a few topics that will help you make better choices.

Choose Wild not Farmed

In this case farm-to-table is not a good thing. Naturally, fish swimming in the wild get more exercise, and this alone make wild fish healthier than their incarcerated counterparts. As explained by Tony Farrell with the University of British Columbia Zoology department, fish kept in constrained environments become the aquatic version of "couch potatoes," with similar health consequences as humans face when we don't exercise enough. [2]

Wild salmon swim around in the wild, eating what nature programmed them to eat. Therefore, their nutritional profile is more complete, with micronutrients, fats, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, are fed an artificial diet consisting of grain products like corn and soy (most of which is genetically modified), along with chicken- and feather meal, artificial coloring.

Mother Nature never intended fish to eat these things, and as a consequence of this radically unnatural diet, the nutritional content of their flesh is also altered, and not for the better. Farmed salmon tastes different than wild-caught, and much of it has to do with the altered fat ratio, which is dramatically different. Farmed salmon contains far more omega-6, courtesy of their grain-based diet.

The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fat of wild salmon is far superior to farmed. Wild salmon typically has 600 to 1,000 percent more omega-3s compared to omega-6s. So whereas farmed salmon has a 1 to 1 ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s — again due to its "junk food" diet — the ratio for wild sockeye salmon is between 6 and 9 to 1. This is important, because if you're trying to improve your omega-3 to omega-6 balance, you simply will not accomplish it with farmed salmon...

 According to Randy Hartnell, founder-president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics, studies have discovered that as much as 70 to 80 percent of the fish marked "wild" were actually farmed. This includes restaurants, where 90-95 percent of salmon is farmed, yet may be mis-listed on the menu as "wild." The following tips that can help you determine whether the salmon is authentically harvested Alaskan fish are:

1.     Canned salmon labeled "Alaskan Salmon" is a good bet because Alaskan Salmon is not allowed to be farmed. 

2.     In restaurants, mislabeled salmon will typically be described as "wild" but not "wild Alaskan." This is because authentic "wild Alaskan" is easier to trace. The term "wild" is more nebulous and therefore more often misused. In many ways it is very similar to the highly abused "natural" designation.

3.     Whether you're in a grocery store or a restaurant, ask the seafood clerk or waiter where the fish is from. If it's wild, they will have paid more for it, so they're likely to understand the value proposition. Since it's a selling point, they will know where it came from. If they don't have an answer for you, it's a red flag that it's farmed, or worse... The US Food and Drug Administration is moving forward with approving genetically engineered salmon to be sold, and GE foods still do not need to be labeled in the US.

4.     Avoid Atlantic salmon, as all salmon labeled "Atlantic Salmon" currently comes from fish farms.

5.     Sockeye salmon cannot be farmed, so if you find sockeye salmon, it's bound to be wild. You can tell sockeye salmon from other salmon by its color. It's bright red as opposed to pink. The reason for this bright red color is its high concentration of a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin. [3]

So besides sockeye salmon (best) what are the best and worst fish choices based on potential mercury exposure?

The fish lowest in toxicity, and highest in healthful fats and other nutrients include wild caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, and smaller fish like sardines, anchovies and herring.

Avoid larger fish that are higher up in the food chain, as these tend to be far more contaminated with methyl mercury and other environmental toxins; tuna, halibut, walleye, sea bass and sword fish.

If you’re not certain about a particular type of fish check out this outstanding tool that can be very helpful in making better choices:

Out of necessity I have become the king of quick and nutritious meals try this one to get your animal based omega-3:
1 can sockeye salmon (drained)
Fresh guacamole (about ½ cup)
½ finely diced sweet pepper
Mix together (sea salt to taste) and serve on bed of lettuce.  A side of freshly sliced pineapple of mango rounds out a great tasting and nutritious meal.  Serves 2.

Additional Reading

Fish consumption may not be the only way you and your child are being exposed to Mercury.  Is it time for your 6-month check-up?

As if farmed raised salmon isn’t bad enough soon you may be eating genetically engineered salmon and you’ll never even know it!