FOOD 101 - Genetics, Addiction, and Politics

Your genes, for the most part, do not dictate how your medical history will unfold. The environment - the way you eat, how much you exercise, how you deal with stress, your body’s interaction with environmental toxins (chemicals and EMF) - is usually much more influential. The environment and the choices we make will cause some gene mutations to express themselves. Or not.

• Between 1970 and 2001, per capita consumption of soda more than doubled
• Average American consumes 60 pounds of high fructose corn syrup annually, as of 2009
• Two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and one-third is outright obese
• One-third of American youth are overweight, and nearly one in five is obese
• CDC projects that 1 in 3 children born in 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes
• More than 50% of children will suffer from chronic health diseases in their childhood ranging from ADHD and asthma to obesity and diabetes - JAMA February 17, 2010

Food is information to your genes. Each mouthful gives your genes, and the 60 trillion or so cells in your body, good information or junk information, depending upon what you choose to eat.

The “EPIC” study[1] published in 2009, for example, studied 23,000 people’s adherence to four simple behaviors:
• not smoking
• exercising 3.5 hours a week
• eating a diet of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and limited meat
• maintaining a healthy weight, meaning a Body Mass Index of less than 30

In those adhering to these behaviors, 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes, and 36% of all cancers were prevented.

A number of studies report similar findings that preventive lifestyle is the best medicine.[2] Food matters - a lot. Our eating habits and environment influence the fundamental causes of and biological mechanisms leading to disease:

• Changes in gene expression, which modulate inflammation (chronic inflammation drives most diseases)
• Oxidative stress (free radicals kill micro-organisms, but in excess do damage to our own DNA)
• Metabolic dysfunction (can’t excrete waste from cells because of hydrogenated oils, can’t absorb nutrients because of leaky gut, can’t utilize thyroid, can’t, can’t, can’t…).

That, in a nutshell, is how we stop being well and start being sick.

Until relatively recently, food was not widely manufactured. People consumed meat that was grass fed, not processed hot dogs and deli meats made with chemical preservatives that are associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Eggs came from chickens that scratched for bugs outside, not from factories where thousands of caged birds are fed soy and arsenic.[3,4] There was no such thing as high fructose corn syrup, MSG, aspartame, BHT, propylene glycol, synthetic food colorings, genetically modified organisms, or chemicals made to trick the taste buds into thinking they were tasting real food. People ate animal fats (lard, butter) and unprocessed coconut oil, not oily vegetable fats high in inflammatory omega 6s, and not partially hydrogenated trans fats or the more recently manufactured and equally harmful interesterified fats. Parents gave their children a daily spoonful of cod liver oil (high in vitamins A and D). People drank their milk fresh and raw, and they made bread without bromide. But all that changed, and very quickly, within one generation.

During WWII when it got hard to import coconut oil from the South Pacific, for example, the vegetable oil industry began to seize market share and contribute heavily to groups like the American Heart Association. We were taught to use “heart healthy” vegetable oils (corn, soybean, safflower, cottonseed, and sunflower) that helped fuel the rise in heart disease. Advertisements told us that aluminum-laced soy milk made from genetically modified beans was a smart purchase. We were told that toxic synthetic sugars were better than the real thing. We were scolded that eggs were bad, so we turned to starchy bagels and sugary breakfast cereals. We came to crave fast foods for their taste and convenience… We were marketed to death.

As globalization takes people further and further away from nutrient-dense, organic, locally grown food, we see the life expectancies of residents of industrialized countries drop.

Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes - the top three diseases we die of - are largely environmental. That means they are pretty much avoidable because they are a result of what we eat and the toxins in the environment around us. Man-made trans fats, for example, were estimated to kill 30,000 people a year.[5] That is 10 times more than the death total from 9/11.

Our food began to change drastically in the 1950s because American productivity was humming after the war. Convenience was the new fashion - why bother to make soups from scratch when you could just open a can? White breads, white sugar - white anything - was thought to be much more stylish than your mother’s old familiar brown version. Aluminum trays of frozen TV dinners were all the rage. Fresh food from the local farm was becoming a relic of the past.

The 1970s saw a period of high inflation when retail food prices rose an average of nearly 9 percent a year. The public screamed. President Richard Nixon told his Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, to do whatever it took to lower the price of food. New government policies sprang up to subsidize crops and create the system of monocultures - raising just one crop on a huge amount of acreage. As Michael Pollen, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, describes it:

“Americans only spend 9.5 percent of our income on food today. That’s less than anybody in the history of civilization, and we have Earl Butz to thank. In the last thirty years, we have had this kind of agriculture industrial complex, which by some measures has worked quite well. It’s kept the price of food low; it’s kept the food industry healthy; it’s given us a lot of power overseas–we’re big food exporters–but what we’re getting in touch with, I think, is that the by-products of that system, or the unintended consequences and costs, are catching up–every thing from obesity to diabetes.

“Because that was a system that specifically encouraged the consumption of cheap corn sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils from soy, processed foods of all kinds, a lot of cheap meat. So, there’s been a public health impact that’s dramatic. That is what’s bankrupting the health care system: the fact that half of us suffer from chronic diseases linked to the diet. …Nutrition science is approximately where surgery was in the year 1650.”[6]

Nutrition decisions based largely on studies funded by the processed food industries gave birth to the first USDA-sponsored Food Pyramid in 1992. The foods we were advised to eat the most of were the processed carbohydrates - six to eleven daily servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta.

Nutrition “experts” went with the flow and spread the message. The high-carb fad sold a lot of pasta and bread making machines and a lot of cookbooks extolling the starchy and glutinous carbs. It was a disaster for blood sugar levels.

Today, everyone has gotten the message that those starchy carbs are the “bad” carbs that spike insulin levels, and vegetables are the “good” carbs. The industry moved on to the next disastrous fad - low fat. With so much political pressure from the food processing industry, sound nutritional advice squeaks out only in drips and dabs.

America is a Hay Belly Nation

Ever wonder why hay bales are kept in barns instead of outside exposed to the elements? Because when it rains, the nutrients wash out of the hay. When the cattle eat this hay, their bodies signal them to eat more of it than usual in effort to get a full quota of nutrients. Their bellies get really big - what farmers call hay bellies. It is a sign of poor quality food.

Same thing happens with people. When we eat food, our body is looking for nutrients. When the food is nutrient-poor, the body signals us to keep eating because it is still looking for its quota of nutrients.

What I am about to tell you goes against the Great American Marketing Machine. The food producing industry goes to great lengths to ensure that you don’t hear this. The cancer industry would have fewer clients. The pharmaceutical industry would sell fewer drugs. The vegetable oil makers would lose sales. The soy sellers and the food additive companies would struggle to survive.

Truth be told, how to eat right is not a major mystery. In one sentence it is this: eat food as nature made it, not as man has processed it.

Eating good fats (butter, grass fed meats, fish oil, nuts, unrefined coconut and olive oil) is the prescription for providing energy, making strong cell membranes, making hormones, and eating in moderation. Without fat at the table, your body has trouble absorbing the vitamins and minerals from the veggies on your plate. Without fat, you don’t feel full and stop eating. Eating hamburger from cows or buffaloes raised organically on grass is a good quality fat; a fast food hamburger from a cow fed hormones, steroids, genetically modified corn and then positioned between two refined pieces of bread, slathered in hydrogenated vegetable oils masquerading as mayonnaise and high fructose corn syrup masquerading as a catsup, is not. Eating truly unprocessed coconut oil may even help you lose weight. Eating a salad with the typical manufactured salad dressing made of vegetable oils will likely pack on the pounds. Green leafy salads were not even part of the American diet prior to the 1930s; lettuce doesn’t pack that much nutritional punch. The idea of salads was largely the creation of the vegetable oil industry to sell more product in the form of salad dressing. Real food is a whole egg of the farmer’s market variety, not a pasteurized egg-white only liquid in a carton.

Glucose (sugar) is essential to life because the body uses it to perform all its functions. But we do not have to eat sugar for our bodies to make glucose. Our ancestors ate fruits and grains that were not refined or processed. In other words, their sugars and carbs came with the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and minerals needed for metabolism. When B vitamins are absent for example, the breakdown of carbohydrates cannot take place. Yet modern refining usually removes most of the B vitamins.

With obesity and other food-related diseases rampant in America, why is it so hard to get back to basics? Because food - how we think about it, how much money we spend on it - is a daily dance of politics, economics, habit, and addiction.

Politics Invaded Your Kitchen

Thanks to lobbying in Washington, Congress subsidizes the very foods that we’re supposed to eat less of. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine put together a nifty chart that makes it simple to see the effects of huge government subsidies to agribusiness which produce crops such as corn and soy:

Fruit and vegetable farmers receive less than 1 percent of these government subsidies. You might remember the scene in the Oscar-nominated film Food Inc. that revealed some dark sides of the industrial food system. In the documentary, a lower-income family wants to eat healthy and buy vegetables, but cannot afford them so they spend what little money they have on the cheaper fast food burgers.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times, December 2008:

“It is time to rethink the very notion of a Department of Agriculture [USDA] … The problem isn’t farmers. It’s the farm lobby - hijacked by industrial operators - and a bipartisan tradition of kowtowing to it. The farm lobby uses that perch to inflict unhealthy food on American children in school-lunch programs, exacerbating our national crisis with diabetes and obesity.”[7]

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt dug through data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that over the last 30 years, fresh fruits and veggies became 40 percent more expensive, while soda got 30 percent cheaper.

Leonhardt writes:

“The average 18-year-old today is 15 pounds heavier than the average 18 year-old in the late 1970s. Adults have put on even more weight during that period.[8] The average woman in her 60s is 20 pounds heavier than the average 60-something woman in the late 1970s. The average man in his 60s is 25 pounds heavier. When you look at the chart, you start to understand why.”[9]

Who Controls Our Food?

Most economic sectors have concentration ratios hovering around 40%, meaning that the top four firms in the industry control 40% of the market. Agriculture far exceeds those ratios.

Never before has the safety and sustainability of our food supply depended upon the decisions of so few people. The USDA and the Department of Justice held public workshops throughout 2010 to address issues of concentration and antitrust violations in agriculture.

The Sherman Antitrust and Clayton Acts exist to prevent excess power in the marketplace. However, particularly in the agricultural sector, enforcement of these laws has been virtually nonexistent since about 2000.

According to the Organic consumers Association:
• 80 percent of non-organic beef in the U.S. is slaughtered by four companies.
• 75 percent of non-organic pre-cut salad mixes are processed by two companies.
• 30 percent of non-organic milk is processed by one company.

Concentration narrows consumer choice and presents barriers to accessing locally-grown, organic, sustainable, and family farm-identified food. This puts the food supply at risk. Remember the E. coli outbreak of 2006 that took bagged spinach off the shelves? And the 2010 salmonella outbreak, caused by contaminated eggs? Concentration breeds food-borne diseases that spread quickly over a large area - confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 from bagged spinach in 26 states. The E. coli O157:H7 bacterium is a newly emerged pathogen, thanks to the rise of huge feedlots. When commercial feedlot cattle poop, pathogens can travel via groundwater to nearby organic vegetable fields, allowing even the organic vegetables to share the contamination.

Feedlot concentration breeds something else: stressed animals. The cells of all living things communicate by means of what is called “cellular signaling.” A cell under stress reads somewhat different signals than a healthy cell, and therefore sends out different signals. One school of thought says that meat from animals raised under stressful conditions with hormones and steroids inevitably imparts those stress signals to those of us who eat the meat.[10,11]

Feeding Your Stomach by Doping Your Brain


Avocado or Oil?

A consumer sued Kraft Foods in 2006 alleging fraud because "Kraft Dips Guacamole" contained less than 2% avocado. The product was mostly a whipped paste of partially hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, corn syrup, whey, food starch and dyes for color.


Cream or Oil?

Cool Whip Original is made of air, water, corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, and less than 2% sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, and beta carotene. And it costs more than real cream.

What has been driving us to overeat?

Harvard-trained doctor and former FDA Commissioner David Kessler went dumpster-diving behind popular chain restaurants to see what Americans are really eating. He found a trio of ingredients guaranteed to keep us coming back for more - salt, fats, and sugar.

Initially, he says, the food industry discovered that adding these ingredients increased product shelf life. But the salt/oily fat/sugar trio also makes food addictively compelling. It stimulates neurons that trigger the brain’s reward system and release dopamine, a feel-good chemical that motivates our behavior to have more of what makes us feel good. Combined in the right way, Kessler said, those three elements act upon our brains like an addictive drug.

“Much of the scientific research around overeating has been physiology - what’s going on in our body,” he wrote in his book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. “The real question is what’s going on in our brain.”

Kessler found that:

  • The human brain is wired to focus attention on the most salient stimuli. Salient foods focus our attention, and dopamine pushes us to pursue the object or our desire. Some portion of the population has heightened incentive salience and is more prone to overeating.
  • Processed food is chopped up and made hyperpalatable - think adult baby food. If you don’t have to chew much, you can wolf it down fast and eat a lot more. Portion size matters.
  • Chronic exposure to hyperpalatable food changes our brains, conditioning us to seek continued stimulation. Over time, a powerful drive for sugar, fat, and salt competes with our conscious willingness to say “no.” Just as a compulsive gambler can’t place a single bet and feel satisfied, many people can’t stop after a few bites of hyperpalatable food.
  • Normally, a pleasing aroma become less pleasant over time as we habituate to it. Not so with conditioned hypereaters. They have a heightened amygdala response that drives the whole circuit out of whack. Eating rewarding food can enhance the drive for more rewarding food. The brain pathways that allow us to focus on the environment’s most salient stimuli - avoid the wild animal, escape a burning home, or tend to a sick child - have been captured by highly stimulating foods and we are bombarded daily with cues driving our desire for them.
  • Stressed people are looking for indulgence and multisensory effects - we like ice cream with added chocolate chips and we like creamy blue cheese dressing added to fried chicken. Chemical flavorings are used to drive consumer desire. The American concept of complexity is built upon layering, not the subtle and intricate use of quality ingredients. Whereas a European expects a meal to satisfy, American industrial food is meant to stimulate.

And Kessler asks a most interesting question: will conditioned hypereating turn out to be something passed down from one generation to the next?

He sees parallels between the tobacco and food industries in that both are manipulating consumer behavior to sell products that can harm health:

“The food the industry is selling is much more powerful than we realized. The challenge is how do we explain to America what’s going on - how do we break through and help people understand how their brains have been captured?”[12]

Other researchers have foudn that after just one meal of junk food, tissue becomes inflamed, just as it does when infected. Inflammation is evidenced by immediate increases in C-reactive protein, cytokines, and endothelin-1. Blood vessels constrict. Free radicals that cause cell damage are generated. The body’s stress response raises blood pressure. The sudden surge and subsequent drop in insulin leaves people feeling hungry again soon after eating, despite having had plenty of calories. Junk food sets up a vicious cycle - the more you eat it, the more your body craves it because junk food distorts your hormonal profile, stimulating your appetite and causing you to crave unhealthy foods, while making you feel unsatisfied when you eat only healthy ones.[13]

For countless millions of Americans living now, the generic fast-food flavor is one of the indelible smells and tastes of childhood, a comfort food that bathes the brain in feel-good chemicals. Today’s generation of kids may come to think of processed food the way ex-smokers and ex-drinkers think of their former addictions - forever a temptation that needs to be kept at arm’s length.

Your Blood On Pizza and Fries

The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) extensively studies what traditional societies ate - before outsiders brought sacks of sugar and flour - and promotes that dietary wisdom. WAPF conducted a novel study comparing the blood of people who eat a WAPF diet to that of people who eat today’s standard American diet. The most easily monitored tissue that shows changes in response to nutritional status is the blood. Fascinating results.

The picture below on the left is the blood of a 30-year-old woman who has been eating according to WAPF guidelines for eight years. Note the mostly round red blood cells of relatively uniform size, without any debris in the plasma, which is characteristic of normal healthy blood, with the blood initially showing no activation of clotting or plasma debris.



See the complete study at the Weston A. Price Foundation

The picture on the right is the blood of a different 30-year-old woman who eats the standard American diet. Note how the red blood cells stick together and are aggregated into loose “rouleaux” (rolls or stacks of coins) and the presence of the clotting protein, fibrin, in a network. Fibrin is seen here as white fibers that look much like a disorganized spider web. This photo shows viscous (thick, sticky) blood with activated clotting factors.

The woman who eats the WAPF diet eats like this: 90 percent of meat eaten is from pastured animals; one quart of raw milk per week; twelve eggs per week; cod liver oil daily (source of vitamins A and D); six tablespoons of saturated fat daily; fermented foods three times per week; preparation of 100 percent of grains and nuts by soaking or sourdough; and no alcohol consumption. The WAPF diet does not contain any processed foods including soy milk or pasteurized milk with denatured components that may act to promote inflammation in the body. There are no trans fats and no genetically modified organisms in natural unprocessed organic foods.

We showed just one comparison here; the study compared people of various ages. The older the person was on the standard diet, the worse the comparison looked.

Note that the WAPF diet is not vegetarian. In the words of Dr. Thomas Cowen, a member of the WAPF board:

“Let me tell you, the first cancer patient who comes in with a rumen [first of 4 digestive compartments in a cow], I’m putting them on a vegetarian diet, I don’t care what blood type they are. If they have very long intestines and a rumen with bacteria to ferment cellulose, I’d put them on a vegetarian diet.”

Industry Muscle

Industrialized food manufacturing is big business. When threatened, it acts to protect sales as any business would.

As the nation gets sicker, more people are beginning to argue there are moral as well as financial considerations to cheap food with unhealthy additives. The current soda wars are a classic case.

Sweetened beverage consumption accounts for 50 percent of the sugar intake in the U.S. diet. PepsiCo is the second largest food company in the world. Here’s an excerpt of a 2010 interview PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi gave to Fortune magazine:

Q - “You’ve said that Pepsi should be part of the solution, not the cause, of obesity. How are you and PepsiCo planning to go about that?”

A - “If all consumers exercised, did what they had to do, the problem of obesity wouldn’t exist. … If I look at our portfolio, I think you can classify them into three groups: ‘fun-for-you foods’ like Pepsi, Doritos, Lays, and Mountain Dew, ‘better-for-you’ products like Diet Pepsi, PepsiMax, Baked Lays, Sobi Life Water, Propel, all of these products, and ‘good-for-you’ products like Quaker, Tropicana, Naked Juice, Gatorade.”[14]

People strenuously disagree. Many see that “Fun-for-you” is just PR spin “Bad-for-you.” The majority of the states have a sales tax on soda now; it used to be that soda was exempt like most groceries. Efforts are building to impose a “sin tax” on soda akin to the high taxes on cigarettes. Professor Kelly Brownell at the Rudd Center on Food Policy and Obesity believes consumers need a financial dis-incentive to buy sweetened drinks:


The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) put McDonald’s on notice in 2010: Stop the predatory practice of using toys to sell unhealthy foods to kids or we’ll sue you.

“You can educate people all day long, but that you can never compete with the amount of marketing money that the industry spends to educate people to consume these beverages.”[15]

In the first quarter of 2010, the American Beverage Association (ABA) exponentially upped its lobbying expenditures 3,785 percent over the last quarter of 2009. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the ABA went from spending just $140,000 to spending $5.4 million.[16]

Gail Woodward-Lopez with the Center for Weight and Health at U.C. Berkeley says that sweetened beverages should be consumed a maximum of once per week, but definitely it should not be a part of your daily intake.”[17]

That’s the last thing companies like PepsiCo want consumers and lawmakers to hear. And they built a war chest to get out their message.

Veiled Third Party Endorsements

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has been working on a long-range plan to determine who can dispense information about nutrition. Typically, dietitians plan menus for hospitals, schools, and prisons with the goal of holding food costs to a minimum. The organization has attempted to pass laws in just about every state designating ADA certified dieticians as the only legal entity allowed to set nutritional standards. (The effort came to Arizona in the form of House Bill 2406; it was killed in April 1990.)

This organization lists among its corporate sponsors soft drink giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, cereal manufacturers General Mills and Kellogg’s, candy maker Mars, and Unilever, the multinational corporation that owns many of the world’s consumer products brands in foods and beverages.[18]

Would it be a conflict of interest to have an organization with that parade of corporate sponsors be the same organization that endorses nutrition standards? You betcha. But it would be a great way for big food manufacturers to get what in the public relations business is called a third party endorsement that sodas and candy and processed junk foods are part of a “balanced” diet.

And it’s not just the American Dietetic Association. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry accepted $1 million from Coca-Cola to “promote improved dental health for children.”[19] The American Academy of Family Physicians made headlines in 2009 when it accepted $500,000 from Coca-Cola “to develop consumer education content related to beverages and sweeteners.”[20] In November 2006, the New York Times front page questioned the American Diabetes Association’s ethics. The organization took $23 million in 2005 from drug and food companies, especially food companies whose primary business is selling products high in calories and synthetic sugars.

Medical-professional organizations and health charities are among the biggest recipients of industry funding, according to Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In a review of corporate sponsorship, CSPI wrote:

“Nonprofit organizations… are usually considered to be objective and serving the public interest. In recent decades, though, a new factor has crept, often secretly, onto the scene. Corporations, with their own motivations, have learned that they can influence public opinion and public policy more effectively by working through seemingly independent organizations… Their power to persuade is significantly enhanced when they can get an apparently independent nonprofit organization to advocate on their behalf.”[21]

And then there’s the problem with industry money tainting medical journals, studies, and guidelines. For example, 8 of the 9 doctors who formed a committee in 2001 to advise the government on cholesterol guidelines for the public were making money from the companies that make cholesterol lowering drugs.[22] No wonder the public thinks dietary cholesterol is bad, causes heart disease, and must be drugged out of existence.

Marketing masquerades as information. Advocacy groups like CSPI, WAPF, Farm Aid, Organic Consumers Association, and Cornucopia Institute try to counter the marketing with knowledge and non-industry sponsored studies. They are grossly outspent by the industrial food companies like Monsanto, Kraft Foods, Proctor & Gambol, etc. It’s a war with consumers as the target - buyer beware.

Consumers Have Real Power with Education

After a chocolate flavored toddler drink hit the market in February 2010, the mommy blogosphere began to rail about it. Four months later, CBS News was reporting that:

“With childhood obesity rates soaring, a new chocolate-flavored toddler formula has sparked outrage from parents and nutritionists and has forced the manufacturer to pull it from the market.”[23]

That clearly demonstrates the power of consumers to shape the marketplace.

Let’s look at a can of Enfagrow’s “Gentlease Next Step” toddler drink and see what the label tells us is in it: “Corn syrup solids, partially hydrolyzed nonfat milk and whey protein concentrate solids (soy), vegetable oil (palm olein, soy, coconut, and high oleic sunflower oils), and less than 2%: Mortierella alpina oil …” according the label we saw in May, 2010. The biggest ingredient is listed first, so corn syrup solids are the largest part of the formula. Why isn’t the mommy blogosphere up in arms about feeding toddlers corn syrup solids, chocolate flavored or not? Corn syrup, soy, and vegetable oils are cheap, but they are not good food for human beings, especially little ones with developing bodies and brains. If you want to raise a generation of children with a taste for a sugary, oily diet that opens the door to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease - this kind of recipe is just the thing.

In November, 2010, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban restaurants from offering a free toy or prize with meals that exceed 600 calories, 650 mgs of sodium, and fat levels exceeding 35% of total calories. All meals (except breakfast) must also contain a half-cup of vegetables and fruit.

A spokeswoman for McDonalds said, “Parents tell us it’s their right and responsibility - not the government’s - to make their own decisions and to choose what’s right for their children.”

On one side of the debate are people who feel that this was an over-reach by the “nanny state.” Government should stay out of it. But on the other side is a growing army of people who believe a kind of moral line has been crossed in the pursuit of business and profits.

“Our children are sick,” said San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar who sponsored the measure. “Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of color. This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children’s health first.”[24]

A fascinating essay in pictures about what people eat around the world was done by photographer Peter Menzel and author-journalist Faith D’Alusio. They chronicled visits to families in 24 countries. Each family was asked to purchase a typical week’s groceries, which were artfully arrayed, whether sacks of grain and potatoes and overripe bananas, or rows of packaged cereals, sodas and take-out pizzas.



From the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats
by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, 2007See more at Time.com

This photographic tour through many different kitchens worldwide makes it crystal clear that what families eat is a combination of what they have available, and what they make available. In America, parents likely have more choices of what to feed children than any other nation on earth. If Johnny will only eat pizza and fries, it’s because he learned that from the adults around him who were swayed by mass media telling them that kind of junk food is kid food. Children will eat healthy food - if that is what they are given.

A REAL EXPERIENCE:

One of my patients told me she was babysitting her grandsons one day and they all went to the mall. My patient stopped at the juice bar and got some freshly squeezed vegetable juice. “I didn’t even think to ask the kids if they wanted any because at ages 4 and 6, they were already into soda,” she said. “As soon as I got my drink, the boys put their hands up toward me and asked for some of what I had. I gave them my drink and to my surprise, they drank it all down. Of course! Children learn by example. I ordered seconds. Yet their mother was adamant that they didn’t like vegetables; I shouldn’t even try. I wasn’t trying it and it was so easy. If these children lived with me, I would use the juicer I have at home and use the organic veggies I get at the farmers markets.”

Public Leadership

It is curious to note that campaigns against trans fats, sodas and salt were not launched by any federal governmental agency charged with overseeing public health. One would expect the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to become involved in the healthy nutrition of our population. Rather, these campaigns were launched by several cities, and by the Mayor of New York City. The FDA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dietetic Association and others have not wanted to cross swords with the powers that be who make the foods concocted from cheap corn-based sugars, refined salt, and heavily subsidized vegetable oil fats. Indeed, the federal government announced in 2010 its intention to step up its promotion of genetically modified food despite the fact the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for a moratorium on GM food the year before. So who is the face of change? Who is working to correct the legacy of former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz? One of the most prominent faces isn’t even American:

“My name’s Jamie Oliver. I’m 34 years old. I’m from Essex in England … I’m a chef. I don’t have expensive equipment or medicine. I use information, education… America is one of the most unhealthy countries in the world… Diet-related disease is the biggest killer in the United States… Your child will live a life 10 years [shorter] than you because of the landscape of food that we fill around them.”[25]

When Jamie Oliver reformed the meals in the UK, the result was reduced absenteeism and improved test scores. Oliver told the Guardian:

“We could see that asthmatic kids weren’t having to use the school inhalers so often, for example. We could see that [the healthy lunches] made them calmer and therefore able to learn.”

The Guardian reporter also observed that:

[In the U.S., Oliver] appeared on the Late Show, and was forced to listen to host David Letterman predict he would fail in his crusade to transform people’s health. Letterman insisted diet pills were the only way to lose weight in the US.[26]

Diet pills have proved to be ineffective and sometimes dangerous. Fen-phen was withdrawn years ago for killing at least 120 people. Meridia, one of the few diet drugs on the market, was given heart attack and stroke warnings from the FDA. Who can forget Alli and Xenical which, by blocking the body’s absorption of fat, caused “oily bowels” and “anal leakage” yet produced no more weight loss than a placebo - and the FDA just added a “severe liver injury” warning. The only weight loss product that works fairly consistently and safely is homeopathic hCG, but because it is a natural product, the drug companies do not promote it and the FDA has declared it to be illegal to use for weight loss.

People who read Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma knew they wanted to opt out of the industrialized food system in favor of something more sustainable, ethical, and nutritious.Enter Nina Planck:

Obesity has become a national security issue in the U. S. because one in four of our 17 to 24 year-olds is too overweight to serve in the military. Ironically, the school lunch program was started in the 1940s to prevent the widespread malnutrition common in the Great Depression that kept many young men from serving during World War II.

How is it possible to change the mind-set of a nation? The idea that food brings us information has to be brought into our consciousness. Then, and only then, do we have the opportunity and the capability to make an informed decision about what information we allow our bodies to process.

It is not always easy to look beyond the PR spin, the marketing disguised as official pronouncements, the TV commercials, and the addictive effect of processed salt/oily fat/sugar. But which alternative might you pick: How about giving up your limbs or eyes for diabetes? How about sidelining your career because you came down with a debilitating autoimmune disease? How about getting around in a wheelchair after a stroke? How about a prognosis of less than ten years [or six weeks] to live after a series of brutal chemo treatments for cancer? How about never having post-retirement years because you dropped dead of a heart attack?

For the first time in two centuries, American life expectancy may be dropping:

“Obesity is such that this generation of children could be the first basically in the history of the United States to live less healthful and shorter lives than their parents. We’re in the quiet before the storm. It’s like what happens if suddenly a massive number of young children started chain smoking. At first you wouldn’t see much public health impact. But years later it would translate into emphysema, heart disease and cancer. There is an unprecedented increase in prevalence of obesity at younger and younger ages without much obvious public health impact.”

– Dr. David S. Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital Boston, and one of the authors of a landmark report in the New England Journal of Medicine.[27,28]

With education, parents are learning that they can leave their children with an awful legacy of addiction to processed food. Doctors can help parents realize they have a choice to turn back the clock to a time when food did not push kids down the slippery slope toward chronic diseases. Meal preparation took a little more time, food was more local, there were fewer chemicals and additives, and each generation had a reasonable expectation that they could create a better life for their children.


[1] Ford ES, Bergmann MM, Kroger J, Schienkiewitz A, Weikert C, Boeing H. Healthy living is the best revenge: findings from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam study. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Aug 10;169(15):1355-1362. [2] American College of Preventive Medicine. Lifestyle Medicine–Evidence Review. June 30, 2009. Available at: http://www.acpm.org/LifestyleMedicine.htm. [3] Arsenic In Chicken Feed May Pose Health Risks To Humans, Science Daily, April 10, 2007 [4] Douglas Gansler. A Deadly Ingredient in a Chicken Dinner. Washington Post, June 26, 2009 [5] Nicholas Kristof, Killer Girl Scouts, New York Times, May 21, 2006 [6] Michael Pollan: Forget Nutrition Charts, Eat What Grandma Said Is Good for You. Excerpted from Harry Kreisler’s Political Awakenings: Conversations with History, published by The New Press, 2010. Reprinted February 16, 2010, in AlterNet. [7] Nicholas Kristof, Obama’s 'Secretary of Food’? New York Times, December 10, 2008 [8] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad347.pdf [9] David Leonhardt, What’s Wrong with this Chart? New York Times, May 20, 2009 [10] Yun AJ, Doux JD. Unhappy meal: How our need to detect stress may have shaped our preferences for taste. Med Hypotheses. 2007 Mar 19. [11] Rostango MH. Can Stress in Farm Animals Increase Food Safety Risk? Foodborn Pathogens and Disease 6;7(2009). DOI: 10.1089=fpd.2009.0315. [12] Lyndsay Layton, Crave Man: David Kessler Knew That Some Foods Are Hard to Resist; Now He Knows Why. Washington Post, April 27, 2009 [13] James H. O'Keefe, MD., Neil M. Gheewala, MS and Joan O. O'Keefe, RD. Dietary Strategies for Improving Post-Prandial Glucose, Lipids, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Health. J Am Coll Cardiol, 2008; 51:249-255, doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2007.10.016 [14] JP Mangalindan, PepsiCo CEO: If All Consumers Exercised .. Obesity Would Not Exist. Fortune, April 27, 2010 [15] National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Soda In America: Taxes and a Debate Over Health. May 4, 2010 [16] http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2010/04/special-interests-continue-federal-lobbying-blitz.html [17] National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Soda In America: Taxes and a Debate Over Health. May 4, 2010 [18] ADA 2009 Annual Report, Page 4 [19] Press release of March 3, 2003: Partnership to Promote Pediatric Dental Health [20] AAFP press release of October 6, 2009: Coca-Cola Grant Launches AAFP Consumer Alliance Program [21] Center for Science in the Public Interest. Lifting the Veil of Secrecy: Corporate Support for Health and Environmental Professional Associations, Charities, and Industry Front Groups. 2003. Introduction. [22] Cholesterol Guidelines Become a Morality Play, USA Today, October 16, 2004 [23] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/06/11/health/main6572476.shtml [24] Baertlein, L. Law curbs McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. Reuters. November 3, 2010 [25] http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jamie_oliver.html [26] Rachel Williams, Jamie Oliver’s school dinners shown to have improved academic results. The Guardian. March 29, 2010 [27] S. Jay Olshansky, PhD, Douglas J. Passaro, MD, et al; A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century. New England Journal of Medicine, March 17, 2005 [28] Ludwig DS. Childhood Obesity - the Shape of Things to Come. NEJM 357;23 (Dec 6, 2007).
FOOD 101 - Genetics, Addiction, and Politics
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