Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Part 8: Health Claims and Drinks

Part 8: Health Claims and Drinks Based on the book “What to Eat” by Marion Nestle

The real reason for health claims are well established: health claims sell food products. Establishing distinct cutoff points for foods to get endorsements for health associations does not always make sense especially because these foods are normally highly processed. Still if you want an endorsement from the AHA they have made their own criteria and if a packaged food meets it they get the seal of approval: be low in fat (3g or less), be low in saturated fat (1g or less), be low in cholesterol (20mg or less), have a sodium value of less than 480mg, and contain at least 10% DV of one or more of these nutrients: protein, vitamin a, c, calcium, iron, or fiber. Salt is 40% sodium 60% chloride and both of these nutrients are essential, but salt is even more essential for the processed food industry. Adding salt to processed foods constitutes an eat more strategy all on its own; it makes food taste better because it heightens flavors, reduces bitterness, and enhances sweetness. Salt is perfect for processed foods. It is cheap. It keeps foods from becoming discolored and extends shelf life. Even better it binds to water and makes food weigh more so you pay more for heavier packages. Consume less than 2300 mg of sodium per day. Executives at kraft foods, campbell soup, and pepsico tell the author the same thing: their consumer research shows that unless food products are salty enough and reach what the industry calls the bliss point people do not like the way the foods taste. At what point do product tinkerings convert junk food to one that is not? Once you get beyond soft drinks, categorizing foods as junky or not brings up problems that require much splitting of nutritional hairs. Some crackers, chips, and cookies are better than others but deciding among them puts you on a nutritional slippery slope. If you love junk food, by all means eat and enjoy it just not too much at a time and not too often and without kidding yourself that it's good for you. Let’s chat about oils quickly. All salad and cooking oils are from vegetable sources but otherwise unidentified vegetable oils are from soybeans. There are lots of health claims on oils so be aware of those, most of them don't make any sense because some oils don't have things like cholesterol in them anyway, but the companies want you to see that as if it makes it better. Omega 6 fatty acids commonly occur in grains and seeds and you get plenty of them in seeds and nuts and avocados which also come with a good balance of omega 9s. The omega 3s show up in leafy green veggies in small amounts but those add up quickly. Fish is the greatest source but chicken and eggs are also. Flax seed is better than oil. Olive oils and avocado oils are better than the rest of them. Overall, look for oils in dark bottles or cans and use them up long before they lose life (go rancid) and well as taste. Jumping quickly over to a new subject…drinks. Bottled water is expensive enough (should be free) but beverage companies can sell it at a higher price by adding minerals and they can sell it at an even higher price by adding vitamins and herbal supplements  and then by promoting the health benefits of these additions. Smartwater is advertised as an electrolyte enhanced health food even though any veggie would be a better source of its few added minerals. Gatorade is one of the biggest sports drinks but if you take a look at their ingredients you'll find it's not more than flavored sugar water with a few minerals added in. you are better off eating food to get the amount of electrolytes lost at a higher amount than what any sports drink can provide. In moderation juices are good for you, but a walk through grocery store juice aisles can be confusing. Supermarkets stock juices in three places: the freezer (concentrate), in the fridge (fresh juice), and in the drink section for shelf stable juices. You can take your pick from fresh 100% juice to juice flavored sugar water with no fruit in it at all. On the basis of taste and nutritional value, the priority order for juices is: fresh squeezed, squeezed and pasteurized, and reconstituted from concentrate.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Bread, Sugar, and the Glycemic Index

Part 7: Bread, Sugar, and the Glycemic Index Based on the book “What to Eat” by Marion Nestle

The starting ingredient for wheat bread is wheat flour. If all three parts of the grain (bran, germ, endosperm) remain after grinding the flour is whole wheat. White flour is refined; it contains 70-80% of the components of the original grain and is mostly endosperm (the nutrient rich bran and germ are not there). White flour bakes into lighter and softer loaves but these are nutritionally inferior to those made from whole grains. Nearly all bread contains high fructose corn sweeteners and many feature molasses or honey. The clutter and sweetness are there for a reason: to disguise the unpleasant chemical taste of dough conditioners and preservatives that keep the breads soft and free of molds for weeks at a time. The remaining ingredients are cosmetic to make the bread look attractive. Other than the kind of wheat, commercial breads are the same. The bread industry, however, classifies soft sliced bread into distinct categories: soft white breads made from processed enriched white flour, soft italian and french breads made from processed enriched white flour, soft premium enriched white sandwich breads, soft enriched white bread made with whole grain, and soft whole grain sandwich bread. I don’t eat bread because I can’t have gluten but if grocery store breads are your only choice you have to deal with what you find. Nearly all commercial sliced breads will be loaded with cosmetic ingredients. If you care about taste look for commercial breads with the fewest ingredients and the lowest number of additives. If your first consideration is nutrition, choose breads labeled 100% whole grain; anything else is just white bread (even whole wheat is just dyed brown). The preference for white bread has nutritional consequences: the nutrient losses are significant by anyone's standards. Foods made from wheat flour account for about 20% of the calories in American diets, bread alone counts for 9%, cakes and pastries 6%, pasta 3%, and all other crackers, pretzels, etc 2%. Most of these are made from refined white flour. Now let’s dive into glycemic index and glycemic load. When it comes to the glycemic index the lower the better. To understand what this is about you need to know that carbs come in two forms: starch and sugar. Both kinds are made up from units of sugar; they differ only in the size and number of sugar molecules and function. Sugars are simple carbs that are composed of a single sugar glucose or fructose, sucrose, and lactose. Starch is a complex carb made of glucose molecules linked together in long branching chains. Starch is what you get when you eat potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, crackers, cookies, and cakes. Starch is like a gel. When you eat starch, digestive enzymes in your small intestine attack the gel by breaking up the molecules into smaller and smaller pieces until it is just one molecule of glucose that you can easily absorb. Glucose is the primary fuel for your brain and muscles and your body does everything it can to make sure you have enough at all times. Once glucose is absorbed from the intestine into the bloodstream blood glucose levels go up and you start secreting insulin to get the sugar where it needs to go. When too much glucose comes in at once, your body gets overwhelmed and creates too much insulin and then your blood sugar drops too much, your muscle glucose storage gets full, and what's leftover turns into fat. Fiber slows down the absorption of glucose which is why a diet high in fiber will keep those problems at bay. The glycemic load considers the total amount of rapidly absorbable carb in the food you eat as well as the glycemic index of that food because it takes the quantity of food into consideration the glycemic load is the factor that counts. To avoid fruits and veggies because they may have a high glycemic index makes no sense, their glycemic load is low and that's what really matters. The glycemic index alerts you to the good things that happen when you eat food with a low glycemic load—fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats and fish, and low fat dairy—exactly the foods recommended for good health. The glycemic index also alerts you to the undesirable effects of eating lots of starchy processed foods and foods high in sugar. Speaking of sugar there are many different kinds. The first is sucrose, common refined table sugar, the product extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets. When you say sugar the sugar association wants you to think sucrose, but that would be misleading. Any nutrition or biochemistry book will tell you that sugar refers to many kinds of caloric sweeteners. In sucrose, the glucose and fructose are stuck together. In high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners made from corn, the glucose and fructose are separate. Enzymes in the digestive system quickly split sucrose into its two sugars so the body can hardly tell the difference. Sucrose, fructose, and glucose are sugars. One or another of these sugars, singly or together, also show up in foods as dextrose, fruit juice concentrates, honey, molasses, and high fructose corn syrup and other corn sweeteners. All are sugar. Corn syrup starts off as corn starch. Starch is not sweet so chemists treat cornstarch with enzymes to break the gel into smaller pieces, this process ends up as corn syrup. Sucrose and corn sweeteners both end up as glucose and fructose in the body and both are rapidly absorbed forms of carbs. Also both are common constituents of junk foods and add non nutritious calories to the diet. The low wholesale cost explains why food companies love to put corn sweeteners in their products. The more corn sweeteners in the product the cheaper the product is to make. If a food product does not cost much you are more likely to buy it and to buy it in larger sizes and more often. That is why low prices, wonderful as they are for your budget, are not so wonderful because they encourage you to eat more. Some companies add a few vitamins to desserts which could lull you into thinking that it is fine to eat sweets instead of more nutritious foods that naturally contain a much wider range of vitamins and other good things. Adding vitamins to sugary foods blurs the distinctions among food categories and moves desserts into the nutritional mainstream which are everyday foods instead of those foods that should only be eaten occasionally. Adding vitamins is an eat more strategy, it is not really about your health. If you need more vitamins you are better off getting them from healthier foods or a supplement. If health authorities actually advised you to eat less sugar you might be inclined to follow their advice. The sugar industry's job is to convince you and government agencies that there is no reason for anyone to eat less sugar and it is relentless in doing so. Attributing a disease to any one food or food component is always problematic because diets contain many foods and foods contain a great many components that singly and collectively can affect health. Even so, plenty of other research, circumstantial evidence, and direct observations about sugars and health should be enough to convince anyone other than an industry defender that sugary foods cause metabolic problems and promote weight gain. Common sense tells you that eating ounces of sugars ar any one time without the modulating effects of fiber and other food components will raise blood sugar beyond where it needs to be. If you cannot help liking sweet foods, it is for a good reason. Humans are born with a predilection for sweetness to simulate sucking reflexes for breastfeeding. That innate nature doesn’t always go away. Although most of us know that cereals contain a lot of sugar we see health claims on them that tell you that you can lose weight if you consume their product (i.e. Special K). Remember you can eat nothing but candy bars and lose weight if you don't eat too many of them so take the health claims on sugary items with a grain of salt. Look for three things in ready to eat cereal: a short ingredients list, lots of fiber, and little or no added sugar. What about organic cereal? There are only two differences between organic and conventional cereal, the ingredients in an organic cereal are organic and its higher priced, nutritionally they are the same.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Part 6: The Frozen Section and Center Aisles

Part 6: The Frozen Section and Center Aisles Based on the book “What to Eat” by Marion Nestle

Researchers who work for the frozen food industry have looked into the hearts and minds of supermarket shoppers. Their profound insight: you want hot food on the table no more than 5 minutes after you begin preparing it and never more than 20. Frozen food companies dream up all kinds of prepared meals to grant this wish. Frozen fruits and veggies, however, are vastly underrated. At best they are picked at peak ripeness, flash frozen, and more or less ready to eat whenever you want them. You may have to perform some cooking tricks to compensate for the way freezing changes the texture, but in the dead of winter the frozen fruits and veggies are going to be of higher quality than your fresh ones. By law the ingredients of packaged foods must be listed in order by weight the one present in the greatest amount is listed first. For frozen fruits and veggies with single ingredients what you see is what you get. Freezing has practically no effect on the nutritional value of fresh produce. It does not change the number of calories, the amount of protein, fiber, carbs, fat, or minerals. As a general rule, the more that happens to a fruit or veggie between the time it is harvested and the time you eat it the more nutrients it is likely to lose. Whole fruits are a better nutritional bet than juices and fresh juices are better than frozen. When you see a juice labeled pulp free look for another option. The remaining aisles are devoted to foods in boxes, cans, bags, and bottles. Along with smaller sections containing such things like condiments, juices, cooking oils, baking supplies, health foods, canned fish, fruit, and veggies, entire aisles devoted to soda, to snack foods, to cookies and candies, and to cereal. Foods in the center aisles are highly profitable. And why not? They are made with the cheapest ingredients, advertised with the biggest budgets, and manufactured by some of the largest food corporations in the world. These companies pay slotting fees for that center aisle space, but make up for that expense in sales. You contribute to their income and that of the store everytime you move a product from shelf to shopping cart and pay for it at the register. Let’s talk about unprocessed, lightly processed, and ultra processed foods. Lightly processed foods use methods like aging, drying, freezing, canning, and cooking which do change foods, but they cause little loss of nutritional value, if any, and often make the nutrients more bioavailable to the body. More extreme processing methods add or subtract components of the food and cause significant changes in nutrient content. Frozen foods can be lightly or significantly processed. Frozen fruits and veggies look much like their fresh counterparts and are more or less nutritionally intact, but others like frozen meals and pastries are highly processed and much changed nutritionally. Ultra processing does three things to foods: 1. diminishes the nutritional value of basic ingredients, 2. adds calories from fats and sugars, and 3. disguises the loss of taste and texture with salt, artificial colors and flavors and other additives. Canned foods also can be lightly or heavily processed, their principal additives are salt and sugars. The nutrient composition of a food depends on several factors: how much water it contains, the more water in a food the more dilute its nutrients; the solubility of nutrients in water, some of our vitamins and minerals are water soluble so if you throw out the water you throw out those nutrients; the extent of processing, the more that is done to a food between harvest and eating the lower its nutritional content including heat, light, air, and storage; what gets added, your salts and sugars. Remember that raw carrots may have more nutrients than canned carrots but canned carrots are still worth eating if you cannot get anything better.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Part 5: Fish and Seafood

Part 5: Fish and Seafood Based on the book “What to Eat” by Marion Nestle

To make an intelligent choice of fish at the supermarket, you have to know more than you could possibly imagine about nutrition, fish toxicology, and the life cycle and ecology of fish–what kind of fish is it, what it eats, where it was caught, and whether it was farmed or wild. If you are at all concerned about environmental issues, you will also want to know how it was caught and raised and whether its stocks are sustainable. As a group, fish are excellent sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Their fats are largely unsaturated and are especially rich in omega 3s, particularly EPA and DHA. These omega 3s show up in the brain and are believed critical to the normal development of the nervous system. Fish are the best source of omega 3s and practically all health authorities advise pregnant women to eat fish 1-2x per week. More than that, some research suggests that EPA and DHA might prevent the blood clots and irregular heartbeats that often lead to heart attacks or strokes. The fish committee does not say how you are supposed to know which fish are rich in EPA and DHA nor does it offer much help with figuring out which fish are high or moderate in mercury. Another question is whether fish oil supplements are as effective as fish. Supplements are often problematic because they are basically unregulated, but tests of omega 3 supplements indicate most are fine and contain what they say they do. Fish are good to eat for their nutritional value and especially for their content of omega 3s. However, all seafood is contaminated with methylmercury, a toxic substance that is dangerous for developing fetuses especially during the early months of pregnancy. The amounts of methylmercury in fish vary widely and it is a good idea to avoid eating the most contaminated kinds. Unfortunately, figuring out how to follow advice about methylmercury is your problem to solve. You have to remember which fish are high in methylmercury so you can avoid them. Methylmercury, unlike lead, does not stay in the body for long. Its half-life is just 2-3 months meaning that if you start now to reduce the amount of methylmercury you eat half will be gone in a few months and then half of what's left in another few months and most will be gone in a year or so along with any risks it might pose. You have to keep track of the amount of fish you eat in a week or a month, and you have to decide whose information is more believable, the FDA, EPA, the Tuna Foundation, or the EWG. How important is it to eat omega 3s from fish? Fish are the best sources of omega 3s, but the amounts of EPA and DHA in 3 oz of fish vary from .1g in cod to a gram or more in fish like anchovies, herring, mackerel, tuna, and salmon. The richest source being caviar. Most american fish are relatively low in omega 3s, but fortunately it only takes a small amount of EPA and DHA to produce benefits. Fish are not the only sources of omega 3s. Chicken and eggs naturally have small amounts of EPA and DHA. Plants contain omega 3s in the form of ALA which converts to EPA and DHA. The better plant sources are flax and flax oil. You can also get omega 3s by taking fish oil supplements or DHA from algae. It helps to keep omega 3s and fish in perspective. Omega 3s may be good for the heart, but so are other nutrients, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber in veggies, nuts and seeds. Fish are excellent sources of many nutrients, but you can also get these from other foods. Fish are not essential requirements of a healthful diet and there is no compelling reason to eat it if you don't want to. If you are going to follow heart healthy advice to eat two servings of fish per week, you will need to know more than you ever wanted to know about the diets of fish as well as your own. Did the fish eat the other fish? If so, they might have methylmercury, but also more than their share of other dilemma inducing pollutants, PCBs, and other related toxic chemicals. The PCBs in fish cause the same type of dilemma as the one involving omega 3s and methylmercury, but with one unpleasant addition: all fish have PCBs, but farmed fish, those fed fish feed and fish oil, have more. This is because farmed fish need proteins and fats to grow and they grow better when those nutrients come from fish feed and fish oils, but these feeds contain high concentrations of PCBs. All fish are contaminated with PCBs and similar chemicals that are best avoided. These chemicals are organic hydrocarbons usually with chlorine or bromine attached. They include especially nasty agricultural pesticides and dioxins from industrial wastes and emissions. Although most of these chemicals have been discontinued or banned for years they persist in the environment and thoroughly pollute streams, lakes, and oceans. At high levels of exposure, such as those experienced by victims of industrial accidents, they cause severe problems with skin, reproduction, development, and behavior. A safe level of intake is not really known. The amount of PCBs in fish seem harmless but the word most often used to describe their effects is uncertain. When you eat fatty fish like albacore tuna, herring, or mackerel, precisely the ones highest in omega 3s, you also get a relatively high dose of PCBs. Fish oil supplements would have even higher amounts but luckily these are cleaned up (refined) to eliminate most of these toxins. According to the Coastal alliance for Aquaculture Reform: farmed salmon are raised like cattle in feedlots. They are confined in pools of antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals, and wastes which then spill the equivalent of raw sewage into local waters. If the fish escape, which they do on occasion, they can end up in the wrong ocean, compete for resources, and spread diseases like sea lice to wild fish and when they mate with wild fish change the genetic basis of the population and reduce biodiversity. This group insists that you are much better off eating wild salmon for reasons of safety, health, and environmental protection. Farmed fish are less active fish, they have 2x the fat and more than 2x the amount of saturated fat of their wild counterparts. Their omega 3 content depends entirely on what they are fed and varies by species and by farm. In captivity on fish farms salmon eat the equivalent of dog food: first small and then larger pellets of fish meal and fish oil, soy protein, wheat, and vitamins and minerals. The pellets also contain meat and bone meal made from the rendered leftover meat, blood, and bones of cows, pigs, and other animals. Wild salmon are a gorgeous pink because the fish eat marine krill. Farmed salmon are not, they are fed pellets and in turn are a grayish brown color. Research in the industry tells us two things about salmon: the darker the color of pink the more likely you are to buy it and if the salmon is gray you won't buy it at all. So salmon farmers resort to cosmetics. They add dyes to the feed pellets knowing that the farmed salmon can easily absorb the color and their flesh will turn just as pink as wild salmon. Farmed fish are not the only fish that get cosmetic treatment. Wild tuna steaks which are naturally red tend to turn brown when exposed to air or when frozen, so seafood companies spray them with carbon monoxide to keep this from happening. These observations caused the researchers to draw three conclusions: 1. consumption of farmed atlantic salmon may pose risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption, 2. The importance of labeling salmon as farmed is important, as is 3. identifying the country of origin. The vast majority of farm raised atlantic salmon should be consumed at one meal or less per month. Knowing what fish to eat then means knowing: where the fish comes from, whether it's farmed or wild, where it is on the food chain, whether it is listed in a state advisory, and how much fat it contains. Once you have this information you can avoid the fish likely to be most heavily contaminated with PCBs. On this basis you will want to avoid farm raised fish from Europe, farmed fish fed lots of fish meal and fish oils, the ones listed on state advisories, and the larger and fattier species such as those highest in methylmercury. Organic on seafood means the same as natural on meat, however the seller chooses to define it. The three fish guide producers belong to the alliance and so do a long list of other environmental and food advocacy and professional associations. These are listed at www.seafoodchoices.com. Under the auspices of the alliance the three groups got together and now produce a single guide that addresses health as well as environmental concerns. They call the unified guide the fish list. This guide simplifies seafood choices into green (enjoy) and red (avoid).

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Part 4: Fats, Meats, and Eggs

Part 4: Fats, Meats, and Eggs Based on the book “What to Eat” by Marion Nestle

Food fats that are largely saturated tend to be solid at room temp, beef fat for example. In contrast, soy fat which is largely polyunsaturated is a liquid oil and rather unstable. If left around long enough polyunsaturated oils become rancid and smell and taste bad. Hydrogenation fixes those problems; it makes the fat more solid and resistant to chemical damage. With partial hydrogenation, nearly half the polyunsaturated fatty acids remain; the rest are converted to monounsaturated or saturated fatty acids. It is not good to have more saturated fatty acids because these raise blood cholesterol levels, but partial hydrogenation creates another additional problem which are trans fats. Trans fats are not normal. They behave a lot like saturated fatty acids in the body where they can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. These are what we need to watch out for in our plant-based fats/butters. Health claims on foods are allowed by the FDA with context and plant-based butters have them plastered all over. If you actually read those claims, you may just figure out that the other things you eat are more important for reducing your cholesterol level than plant-based butters and that these will only help lower cholesterol if everything else you eat is low in saturated fats and trans fats and you get plenty of exercise. Let’s chat about meat. The meat you see in the grocery store is usually more or less ready to cook refrigerated cases of prepackaged steaks, chops, hamburger, chickens, whole and separated, pork chops, bacon, lunch meats, and miscellaneous ready to cook breaded and sauced animal parts. Custom, convenience, taste, and price, not nutrition, are the main selling points. What about organic vs natural meats? We see meats labeled with no antibiotics, no added hormones, no animal by products in feed, and grassfed. These are practices designed to improve the health and safety of the animals you eat, and they are required for meats labeled organic. Some companies have these claims but are not certified organic with the USDA seal of approval. Instead, they are what the companies call natural. They are not organic. The statements tell you that the meat comes from animals that may have been treated better than conventionally raised animals, but the missing organic seal is a sign that the animals were not necessarily raised to organic standards. No rules require natural animals to be fed organically grown grain, to be allowed freedom of movement and access to the outdoors, to be raised without using antibiotics, hormones, or other animal drugs, or to be inspected for adherence to such practices. If the producers of natural meats follow such practices, they do so voluntarily. The appropriate use of “natural” applied to all fresh meat with only 3 restrictions: 1. The meat must have no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, 2. The meat must be processed only minimally (ground but not cooked), and 3. The companies had to define what they meant by natural on the package labels. Even the best natural meat is not the same as organic meat. Producers who want their meats certified as organic have to adhere to a stringent criterion that producers of natural meats do not. Natural meat producers can pick and choose among desirable raising practices, but organic has to adhere to all of them. Organic meat producers must be verified by inspection through accredited agencies, something natural does not need. This is why organic meats are much higher in price. Natural is on the honor system. With so many issues to be evaluated and balanced against one another the choice of meat and poultry seems especially complicated. When price is no object, this is the hierarchy: 1. Certified organic because the rules make sense and production is monitored by regular inspections that hold growers accountable for their practices, 2. Natural when it is very near organic claims, 3. Everything else. So, what about eggs? There are three separate certifying systems to convince you that hens are well treated: USDA certified organic, certified humane raised and handled, and united egg producers certified. Certified organic is the most familiar and the best regulated. If you see the certified organic seal on an egg carton it means the eggs come from hens that eat organic feed, are allowed access to the outdoors and sunlight, and are inspected to make sure the rules are followed. Humane certification requires some of the same things as organic certification but less restrictive about what the animals are fed. Hens have to be fed a nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones and be raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space, and the ability to engage in natural behaviors. It attests to how the hens are treated but is less concerned with what they are fed. Color is easy, there are only 2 choices: white and brown. The color of an eggshell is determined by genetics. Some kinds of chickens lay white eggs, others brown. Color is the only difference; the nutritional contents are the same. The grades AA, A, or B refer to cosmetic differences; the nutritional value is the same. From a nutritional standpoint, eggs are eggs. Turning eggs into a designer food (adding in things) is a great way to get you to pay more for them, but there are less expensive and easier ways to get the vitamins and minerals added into them from other foods. If you don't care about how the eggs are produced, buy the cheapest ones you can find. The shell color makes no nutritional difference. If you do care about how the hens are treated, buy certified humane, and if you care about what they are fed buy organic.