Friday, July 31, 2009

Doesn’t It Make You Mad?

Do you try to buy 100 percent juice? Do you know 100 percent juice doesn’t mean the drink is really 100 percent juice, but only contains 100 percent juice in some amount? It can also contain water, high fructose corn syrup and other sugar, artificial flavorings and artificial color—and more.

What’s really in our food? Hard to say. The FDA currently allows more than 2,000 food additives. Many of these are there to increase shelf life of mass-produced processed foods. Many “reduced-fat” foods compensate for reduced fat with added sugar (right—sugar has no fat itself, until you ingest it and it becomes fat).

The food industry knows our triggers. It knows what we like and what we want—and provides vast amounts of it. Combinations of fats, sugar and salt. Foods on the grocery store shelves and in restaurants are “designed” to be tempting, from the images and narratives on the packaging to the description on the menu. It’s almost irresistible—and that’s the point.

Our food environment stimulates, and over-stimulates us. And, it’s not doing us any favors. On the contrary, it’s shortening our lives, making us sick, and adding significantly to our health care bills.

Isn’t it time for some food “rehab?” Doesn’t it make you mad? Doesn’t it make you want to say, “I don’t need this?” How about, “I don’t need to be manipulated into eating something that results in loss of control, weight gain and chronic illness. Take it away.”

Let’s put ourselves in control. What do you think?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Body by Chocolate

An incongruous post on a weight loss/ wellness blog—well, maybe not. Most of us love it, and for that reason, we hate it. But what if this “love/hate” relationship, in moderation of course, isn’t really all that bad. Yes, chocolate is fattening. Even “the healthy” dark chocolate contains a lot of calories because of the fat and sugar content (and calories are calories, even if all aren’t created equal). The sugar content in chocolate is worse than the fat content regarding negative effects on health. Cocoa butter, the main source of fat (besides milk) in chocolate, is composed of both saturated and unsaturated fats, yet about 75 percent is in the form of oleic and stearic acids. Diets rich in these acids have been shown to lower cholesterol levels.

Well . . . here’s the good news: Chocolate is healthy—in moderation.

Cocoa and dark chocolate have been recognized and associated with a number of health benefits: Because of its flavonoids, chocolate is a great antioxidant. Antioxidants help rid the body of free radicals, those molecules that tend to run amok in your body resulting in aging and disease. Antioxidants bond to those pesky free radicals and remove them.

Look at some of the best antioxidants: Blueberries, green tea, pomegranates, red wine. Guess what? Dark chocolate runs rings around them. According to the USDA, antioxidant foods, measured in Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Units (ORACs), for every 100 grams, dark chocolate has 13,120 ORACs, compared to only 2,400 in blueberries, and nearly eight times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries.

Antioxidant-rich diets have been linked to a lowered risk of heart attacks, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer's and more. In fact, dark chocolate has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 10 percent. Dark chocolate has far more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate (and a 65 percent or higher cocoa content). These other two chocolates cannot make any health claims.

So it stands to reason that if dark chocolate is chock full of antioxidants and “good” fats, and can reduce cholesterol, it's actually good for you. Well . . .

Sugar is still sugar and we know the pounds it packs on. But keep in mind that a strong dark chocolate bar might have ten to fifteen grams of sugar, and that is less than the 22 grams in a glass of orange juice, or the 29 grams in a cup of yogurt. High-quality dark chocolate is at least 70 percent cocoa solids, and not alkali processed. A good "dose" is 5 to 15 grams daily, which should be less than 100 calories. This is not a large piece of chocolate. And, you’ll need to balance those 100 calories by eating less of something else.

If you “love” chocolate, you’re in luck. To satisfy your sweet tooth and keep your total calories on track, cut out other sweets or snacks and replace them with a small piece of dark chocolate to keep your total calories the same. All things in moderation. With a little discipline, it is possible to “have our chocolate—and eat it too.”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Convenience Foods—But Are They Really Convenient?

What are we really talking about anyway when we talk about “convenience foods?” Are we talking about complete frozen dinners, pre-packaged “hamburger helper” type dinners, frozen bags of prepared fried chicken tenders from the freezer department at your favorite grocery, or even the drive-thru-pick-up-the-tacos-fried chicken-or-pizza dinners? What makes a “convenience food . . . well . . . convenient—and what about health / nutrition?

Is it just a time thing? Are families forced by work, social and school schedules to buy processed food because cooking “real” food is too time consuming? Remember “real” food?

I know, a lot of questions. And, a little sarcasm as well. But, here’s something to chew on.

Not all convenience foods are created equal. Most convenience foods on the market today are laden with saturated fats, sodium and sugar and provide little to no nutritional value.

Consider that many convenience foods lead to:

  • Weight gain—for adults and children
  • A chronic lack of energy because of associated nutritional deficiencies
  • Hypertension (due to high sodium content)
  • Medical conditions due to high fat, sugar and high cholesterol content

What if “convenience foods” aren’t actually all that—for lack of a better word—convenient? We’ve seen the term “kitchen illiteracy” tossed around. That may be part of the equation. You can do a lot with fresh food in a short period of time (about as long as it takes to heat up giant frozen lasagna for 45 minutes).

And as for cost, if you’re buying frozen, pre-packaged, pre-cooked—and save a dollar and 15 minutes, vs. what you and your family are losing in health and good nutritional behaviors, all things considered, there really isn’t much of a savings.

Last question—just how convenient, in terms of health, wellness and health care cost, is convenience food really?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where are we going?

You’ve seen it all—you can’t miss it—the wave of talking points, articles and arguments regarding waste, change, need and health care reform. It brings to mind, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” We all tend to view our individual realities (and the wants and needs that accompany them) through our own lenses, and this only adds to the complexity of what is already a difficult and frustrating health care reform discussion.

We’ve reached a point where we simply can’t hold on to a past that no longer works—and for all practical purposes, no longer exists. To try to do so is, as the saying goes, “like trying to nail jello to a tree.”

Today, we have almost instant access to greater resources. Information on just about anything is readily available. Now that we have it, what do we do with it? How do we use it? And where are we going with it? How in the world does this tie-in to health care reform? It ties in because we all have a responsibility to be informed—and we have a responsibility to make our voices heard.

The challenges facing institutions, health care and health care systems confront tradition—and this is part of what makes change difficult. The outcomes of this discussion are still uncertain, vague and indefinite. What does seem clear however is the need for continued dialogue that respects our voices and opinions. We’re still at the beginning, yet we already know the ending will bring change in “some” form. Will it make sense? Will it be enough? Will it be too much? I don’t know about Washington, but I wish I was smart enough to know exactly what this—and the related ramifications will ultimately mean in real terms and real results—for real people.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

It’s Independence Day

It’s Independence Day, and your country is counting on you. We've got a big problem and it's only getting bigger. America's fighting a "Battle of the Bulge" and right now, we're losing the fight. This is one battle we simply can't afford to lose. We can't afford it individually, our employers can't afford it, and our country can't afford it. And, we’re running out of time. Health care reform is on everyone’s agenda, but we don’t yet know what form it will ultimately take. In the meantime . . .

Each one of us pays an additional $175 annually through Medicare and Medicaid to cover obesity-related illnesses. The epidemic of obesity is costing us all in less obvious ways as well. According to analysis by researchers at Cornell University, the extra poundage packed on by the average American in the last decade required airplanes to use an extra 350 million gallons of fuel at a cost of more than $275 million a year (and that figure is based on prices in 2000 when jet fuel was 79 cents a gallon). On a more personal level, an overweight family may lose 10 percent of every gallon of gas they buy, and at today’s prices that adds up fast. If we want to be "green" we've got to get lean.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says obesity has roughly the same association with chronic health conditions as 20 years of aging. It contributes to 53 diseases including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and some types of cancer. Almost one-half of all Americans report having a chronic illness—and those illnesses account for 75 percent of our national spending on health care (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation). Furthermore, almost 80 percent of all chronic disease is caused by three preventable health behaviors—physical inactivity, poor nutrition and overeating, and smoking.

How about this? What if this Independence Day we declare our independence from junk and fast food? What if we look for healthy substitutions? What if we work in a little more physical activity? What if we make just one modest yet meaningful change in our nutritional behaviors? If we as a nation of individuals can each make the effort to independently create a positive change for ourselves, we will collectively do great things for our country—and our own long-term health and wellness. “We the people” can take control of our wellness behaviors—and outcomes. “We the people” can become the solution rather than part of the problem. We are all stakeholders in this effort, and together we can turn the epidemic of overweight, obesity, and inactivity around and reduce our risk factors for preventable chronic illnesses. Yes, it's a mouthful, but something well-worth chewing on.