Saturday, April 20, 2013

2025 A Food Odyssey: The Future of Food

When you think about innovation and creativity you likely immediately think about electronic gadgets, automobiles, architecture and infrastructure maybe even advances in medicine.  But think about food for a minute. Many of the foods in our pantries and refrigerators would have been scoffed at had they been available just ten years ago. What would you have thought about milk with algae in it?  Yes, you can buy milk that has been fortified with algae to boost its omega-3 fatty acid content.  What about gluten free pasta made out of banana chips? Do you remember those weird Chia Pet things? Now chia seeds are widely available and are considered a super healthy food. Have you ever seen a sprouted Chia Pet?  Chances are you weren’t all that tempted to take a bite out if it. Over time new forms of food are thrown into the product cycle and eventually they are adopted and we don’t even give it a second thought.

Where do we get our food? For the sake of brevity, we get food from animals and plants. Biotech companies are constantly engineering different forms of crops such as corn to make them more resistant to drought. North American cattle are also being breed with their African cousins to combat heat and drought in order to provide a more reliable source of meat.  In America, 88% of corn, 94% of soybeans, 93% of canola, and 95% of sugar beets (50% of the sugar consumed in the U.S. comes from GM sugar beets) are genetically modified (GM).

So needless to say innovation plays a huge role in the food that we eat on a daily basis. So what does the food science industry have in the pipeline?

The following foods are being tested as we speak and are no longer mere thoughts in the minds of scientists/marketers.

Everyone by now has heard that omega-3’s are extremely beneficial for our health.  And the food industry wants to capitalize on this “opportunity.”  How do hot dogs and ice cream fortified with fish oil sound? A type of fish gelatin is being tested that will be immersed into ice cream and hot dogs. They are just working to perfect the taste, texture and mouth feel once that is accomplished expect this stuff to be available next year.

GM pigs are also ready to roll just waiting for a brave soul to take a leap of faith. It seems investing in GM pigs is a little taboo.

What about stem cell beef grown in a test tube? Said to be 2 years away.

What about milk with the flu vaccine? If you won’t get your flu shot they’ll just stick it in your milk.

Mini livestock… I am not talking small cows here but insects!  They were good enough for Indiana Jones. Did you know that bugs have more protein, calcium and iron than beef?

Algae in the omega-3 fortified milk may soon come from giant algae farms. Originally researched by NASA, algae can be grown in the ocean and is rich in omega-3, plant protein, and even vitamin B-12.

In 2003 Chinese scientists created a GM cow that can make human breast milk. They took human genes and inserted them into a cow embryo and artificially inseminated a cow with them.  Just like that they had milk that was 80% the equivalent of human breast milk. Why? The population in China is exploding and women can’t always breast feed and they have a huge population of orphans in China. Breast milk is better for children than formula so science intervened to solve a cultural “problem.”

And that gets to the source of much of this innovation it is fueled by the needs of society with rapidly growing populations in concert with ever dwindling resources.

Climate change and drought are the #1 limiting factor in food production. It has been estimated that 30% of the arable land in the world is consumed by livestock when you take into account the whole operation including crops for feed and pasture for roaming. Consider that just one 4 ounce burger requires as much water as running your bathroom sink for 24 hours a day for an entire week.

We need to find alternatives to the current food production system.  And as much as I advocate for eating local, organically raised/grown foods it’s likely insufficient to feed the world.

What about GM foods, are they ok for human consumption? Unfortunately no one really knows. There has been no published data to date on the safety of GM foods! Many independent scientists refute claims that GM foods are safe largely because the evidence is not there, it’s never been published. That seems to be the biggest issue with GM foods is the lack of transparency. The companies that make them don’t want them labeled and are unwilling to publish data about them.  It seems like they have something to hide. All we can do is continue to push for more transparency so we can make informed decisions in relation to GM foods.

GM foods may be a lifesaver for some nations. The biotech industry has engineered “golden rice” that is fortified with vitamin A to combat death and blindness for people in Africa. But it has been blocked for 12 years by global anti-GMO activists who have lobbied against it largely out of belief that Africa is nothing but a testing ground for Big Pharma and that it could also open “Pandora’s Box” to unregulated GM crops.

When it comes to food nothing it seems is black and white. In my mind we shouldn’t label foods as good or bad for us, it really depends on the circumstances involved.  Do we need GM “golden rice” in the U.S.? We likely do not but it makes sense in a region of the globe with little water, extreme heat and poverty.

Also consider that genetic modifications to food and plants have been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years. Have you ever tried a honey crisp apple? Delicious right, it seems to have all the best qualities of the other apples. It didn’t exist twenty years ago! I don’t see anyone boycotting the apple orchard over these apples.

So the question you have to ask yourself is this do we need these things?

The banana chip pasta is fine, that surely isn’t going to harm our health. Honey crisp apples are awesome we have to keep those! The flu-fighting milk, human breast milk from cows, and stem cell beef is another story, that all sounds a little scary to me. The omega-3 fortified ice cream and hot dogs just sounds gross; I don’t think we need that.  You’re better off having sockeye salmon for dinner and ice cream for dessert and saving your hot dog for the annual pilgrimage to a Tiger game.

The best strategy is to keep it simple. Avoid adversarial relationships with food. A bowl of ice cream or a few slices of pizza here and there are not going to be the limiting factor in your goal to improve your health and fitness. It’s what you do consistently that matters the most. Make it a habit to be consistent with whole foods, locally grown and raised when possible (we are fortunate in this regard) and inconsistent with the treats, but enjoy them when you do have them.

Interesting new book that examines the future of food:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Youth Sports Safety Month...

April is National Youth Sports Safety Month… Why is that even necessary?  We can all imagine and likely have been touched by generational issues such as breast cancer and autism and these topics definitely warrant our attention but youth sports safety? Did you even realize that a potential problem is percolating in this segment of our society? Consider the following:

According to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Over a ten-year period, researchers found a 400 percent increase in school-age knee injuries, including tears in the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, which helps hold the knee together) and the meniscus (the cartilage in the knee). “Today's kids are playing sports earlier and also concentrating on a single sport in some cases,” says Joel Brenner, M.D., chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. This puts added stress on immature bones, joints, and muscles. Plus, the need to surgically repair some of these injuries may lead to arthritis in the future and could disturb a child's growth. “Tendinitis and stress fractures are also rising,” notes Dr. Brenner. [1]

An estimated thirty million American children participate in youth sports. Rising participation has lead to a dramatic increase in youth sports injuries. But according to the Centers for Disease Control more than half of all sports injuries in kids are preventable.

"Nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students are linked to overuse," says James P. Sostak - a sports medicine surgeon. “If nearly half of all injuries are the result of overuse, and more than half are avoidable, doesn't it make sense to do everything we can to protect our children from unnecessary injury?" [2]

Dr. James Andrews the preeminent sports medicine surgeon in the country felt compelled to write a book, and then talk about it, out of fear for the younger generation. "Any Given Monday: Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them, for Athletes, Parents and Coaches -- Based on My Life in Sports Medicine."  [3]

How about this statistic from the book:
Every year more than 3.5 million children under the age of 14 will require medical treatment for sports-related injuries, the majority of which are avoidable through proper training and awareness.

"I started seeing a sharp increase in youth sports injuries, particularly baseball, beginning around 2000," said Andrews. "I started tracking and researching, and what we've seen is a five- to sevenfold increase in injury rates in youth sports across the board. I'm trying to help these kids, given the epidemic of injuries that we're seeing.  I hate to see the kids that we used to not see get hurt. ... Now they're coming in with adult, mature-type sports injuries. It's a real mess. Maybe this book will help make a dent."

According to Andrews two key reasons stand out: specialization and what he calls professionalism.

Specialization leads to playing the sport year-round. That means not only an increase in risk factors for traumatic injuries but also a sky-high increase in overuse injuries.

Professionalism is taking these kids at a young age and trying to work them as if they are pro athletes, in terms of training and year-round activity. Some can do it, like Tiger Woods. He was treated like a professional golfer when he was 4, 5, and 6 years old. But you've got to realize that Tiger Woods is a special case. A lot of these kids don't have the ability to withstand that type of training and that type of parental/coach pressure.

Now parents are hiring ex-pro baseball players as hitting and pitching instructors when their kid is 12. They're thinking, 'What's more is better,' and they're ending up getting the kids hurt.

Andrews offers up these guidelines for parents and coaches:

The first thing I would tell them is, their kid needs at least two months off each year to recover from a specific sport, preferably, three to four months. Example: youth baseball. For at least two months, preferably three to four months, they don't need to do any kind of overhead throwing, any kind of overhead sport, and let the body recover in order to avoid overuse situations. That's why we're seeing so many Tommy John procedures, which is an adult operation designed for professionals. In my practice now, 30 to 40 percent of the ones I'm doing are on high school athletes, even down to ages 12 or 13. They're already coming in with torn ligaments.

Give them time off to recover. Please. Give them time to recover.

I said in the book, I want parents and coaches to realize the implications of putting a 12- or 13-year-old through the type of athletic work done by a 25-year-old. Parents and coaches, though they mean well, need to understand what the long-term effects of overuse can be.

The youth sport culture, particularly travel and club teams, have become an important financial resource for the people who run them. Parents spend a fortune keeping their kids in a year-round sport, with travel and everything else. The tail is wagging the dog. The sport organizations are calling the shots: If your son or daughter doesn't play my sport year-round, he or she can't play for me. Never mind that your kid is 12 -- I need year-round dedication. [4]

Parents need to understand that we've got to correct the system. Unfortunately, it's easier said than done. It's a big problem. And it becomes a socioeconomic problem if they keep getting hurt in high school. These surgeries are often very expensive. A typical ACL knee surgery costs $25,000 in treatment and side lines athletes for anywhere from six to 12 months. Having an ACL injury also comes with a far steeper price because nearly 70 percent of all ACL injuries will lead to early onset of osteoarthritis-a form of degenerative arthritis that can worsen over time.  [5]

Tips for keeping your young athlete safe:

1A. Assessment or sport physical– A pre-participation physical evaluation ensures that kids are ready for play.

2. Use smarter warm-ups and cool downs as part of your child's routine before and after sports participation. 

3.  Be an athlete first. Avoid practices that focus exclusively on sport specific drills and techniques! General athletic development should be a part of team sports practices. And the younger the child the bigger role it should play.

4. Make sure your child stays properly hydrated. Cold water is the best option only use a sports drink like Gatorade in extremely hot, humid conditions and for vigorous activity lasting more than one hour.

5. Learn and follow safety rules and specifications for each sport. In baseball they make batting helmets for a reason, use one. Also consider a mouth guard and protective eyewear in all sport where possibility of collision exists (which is most team sports).

6. Avoid Overplay – Overuse injuries can result in lost participation time, physician visits, and lengthy rehabilitation.

7. Take a Break – Limit sports to twenty hours each week with one or two days off from competitions, practices, and training. And if it hurts, stop.

You may have noticed I started this list with 1A. That’s because in my professional opinion I consider the next tip to be just as important as any other in the prevention of youth sports injuries.

1B.  Play a variety of sports and activities!  Month after month of the same kind of physical activity is too much for a young body.  Play basketball one season, soccer or tennis another. EACH SPORT TEACHES DIFFERENT SKILLS, so your child will become a better athlete overall.

The best defense you can provide your child against injuries is to encourage them to become a well-rounded athlete and with that foundation in place they will be more durable and resilient to injury.

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness/Nutrition Specialist


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wanted: True Athletes!

In the current youth sport culture children and their parents feel pressured to commit to one sport, and it's seemingly starting before kids have even reached puberty. I truly empathize with the dilemma faced by many parents. You only want to do what's best for your child and at least for now your child wants nothing more than to play their sport. They and you may be lead to believe that's what must be done to keep up with the competition and their friends.  It seems logical that if you and your child want to excel in a given sport/endeavor they should commit as many hours of training to it as possible.  However, this ignores the natural laws of growth and development.  As more children move away from playing sports for their school they are missing out on the influence of coaches and educators that are schooled in the art and science of youth development.

Unfortunately, many travel leagues are created and coached by former athletes with little background in youth development. They implement strategies and game plans that may have worked for them when they played but the problem is the kids they are coaching are not mini professionals they are children that are still developing physically, socially, and psychologically.  They are not prepared for the rigors of advanced sport competition. The cold hard truth is early specialization stunts overall athletic potential in our kids. Talent evaluators are starting to note the current generation is coming up short when it comes to athleticism!

I recently heard an interview with a Major League Baseball amateur scout and he said, "There are no shortstops left in America!" Just a quick note to those who may not be familiar with baseball, shortstop is a position that demands a overall athleticism to be played at a high level and the American amateur landscape is barren of multi-faceted athletes. Many scouts don't even waste their precious time evaluating shortstop talent in this country; they go straight to Latin America to scout for prospects.

The following story is from a man whom played and coached in the National Hockey League and now directs a league that scouts for amateur talent. I would encourage you to read the story as this man lends his valuable perspective on the fallout from early specialization: