Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~Hippocrates

Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

Labeling: Truth or Dare?


So many claims are on the labels of foods these days. Do you really know what they mean and if it is worth paying more? Or if the claims are true or meaningful? Marketing people are very smart when it comes to pushing our buttons. I see this evidence in the glut of gluten free foods. Many people believe it is simply healthier to go gluten free, because it is the latest “thing.” I hate to break it to you folks, but it’s a marketing ploy to sell designer food. As a matter of fact, gluten contains a lot of nutritious stuff and you WANT it in your diet – unless of course you have Celiac disease (only 1% of the population does) or a gluten sensitivity. Cutting any nutrient out of your diet to be chic is plain stupid.

So what about all the buzz words like organic, sustainable, free-range, etc.? Are these things regulated in any way or can anyone slap it on a label? Here is a little primer on these terms as it applies to meat products. I will follow in a later post with information on other products.

The term organic has the most teeth. Organic meats have to be antibiotic-free and the animal must be fed a pesticide-free vegetarian diet . They must have free access to a pasture. The feed cannot be genetically modified. The Department of Agriculture has strict guidelines that must be followed in order to label meats organic.

If an animal is truly free-range, it may be healthier. It will usually be fed better food, and because it roams freely, it develops more muscle fiber with more omega 3 fats (good for you).  The USDA does not have standards for this definition however, merely requires that the chicken has access to outdoor space. There is no language on beef or other meats at all.

Since grass-fed is also not defined or legislated, a farmer can call his animals grass-fed if it ate grass once. If the producer is honest, he might actually allow his animals to feed on grass all the time – but how do you know where your steak came from anyway? Grass-fed animals have less saturated fat and higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, making it healthier. It is not desirable to everyone (taste-wise) since it is the marbled, high fat content most Americans want. These guys are lean machines, and a little tougher.

There is no legal definition for sustainable. It means in theory, that the animal (usually used to describe fish however) was raised with concern for its welfare, the producer used natural resources wisely and was provided a fair wage.

So, if you think these are worth paying more for without getting all the facts, I have a bridge I’d like to sell  you.

 

 

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Are Your Supplements Safe?


Most people don’t realize that supplements are not regulated in the same way that drugs are. The FDA has, in recent years, began to strengthen compliance. It started inspecting manufacturers’ facilities and found appalling conditions in over half of those it inspected. As law stands now, supplement manufacturers can sell products without proof of effectiveness. The burden of proof that it is unsafe, is up to those who suffer negative consequences. Supplement manufacturers voluntarily comply only with good manufacturing practices. Without stringent standards, like one imposed on drug companies, the industry is conceivably free to produce, for human consumption, tainted and dangerous products that you can buy at the health food store.

This article, published in the Chicago Tribune, is alarming. Be informed. It’s your body. The best way to get your nutrients is to eat a balanced diet. If you must use supplements, proceed with caution.

article from Chicago Tribune

We Have a Right to Know. Thank you Connecticut.


The Department of Agriculture opposed Connecticut’s move toward requiring manufacturers to disclose when food is genetically modified. Some feel that modified foods increase the risk of allergic reactions and other health problems. On the pro side, modification can increase nutritional value and make hardier plants, requiring less pesticide. Whatever the argument for or against, the principle that most interests me is that we be allowed to make up our own minds. The government should not allow food manufacturers to dictate whether it is important for consumers to know how their food is produced. Consumers have been increasingly vocal about their desire to know where their food comes from, how it is produced and if it is safe. They have a right to decide what is acceptable to them. Only with labeling, can they have the information they need to make these decisions.

So, hooray to Connecticut’s Environment Committee for voting 23-6 to approve a measure to require labeling. While there will be logistical challenges to label in some states and not others, it is only through grass roots efforts (by consumers) and political support (our legislators) that we can force issues that are important to us. Twenty other states are also considering this legislation. With Connecticut leading the charge, it is more likely others will follow, putting pressure on the FDA to act. I am proud to live in this state and know my elected officials are working to dignify consumers by requiring the information we need to make our own choices.

Will Taxing Junk Food Stop People From Eating It?


There has been a lot of  press lately about whether or not to tax junk food. Advocates say it will discourage people from eating it and the revenue raised could subsidize healthier food, which is more expensive than junk food. Detractors say it will just be another tax on the poor, the biggest consumers of such foods. As in any debate, there is more than one argument for or against. The idea initially sounded like a good idea to me, but then thinking about it, I realized that it is not strictly an economic issue. Rolled into the equation are culture, the influence of the processed food industry, lifestyles, lack of education and the mother of all barriers to good eating – changing behavior.

Then there is the bureaucracy element. Would those taxes actually make their way to those who would need the subsidy or would they be rolled into the pot to offset budget deficits? If so, that would certainly support the theory that it would burden the poor with higher taxes. Would it go to mega food processing companies to calm their ire?

It seems to me that education is the place to start. People need to understand just what bad food is doing to them, before it makes them sick. Since the effect of poor nutrition begins in the womb, generations must be educated. If a mother to be knows that what she puts in her body as her baby is developing, directly impacts the child’s health and predisposition to adulthood disease, she might think more carefully about her choices. Investing money in nutrition programs for pregnant women, of all classes would be a good place to start. It would save us huge sums in future medical costs over the life of their unborn children, as well as their own health. For another perspective, read the article in the from the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opinion/sunday/24bittman.html?_r=http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opinion/sunday/24bittman.html?_r=1

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