There are many nutrition myths that circulate around the Internet, and myths about meat are included in them. Some people have concerns that may be health-related, or that relate to animal welfare and the environment. Can meat be part of a healthy diet? Are there unintended nutrition consequences to not eating meat? How are livestock animals actually treated? And what about the impact agriculture has on the environment.
Everyone is entitled to make their own choice, but I wanted to share some quick facts and figures that may help you with your choice.
There are health benefits to consuming meat:
- Meat (beef, pork, poultry) is a good source of protein and B vitamins (B12 and B6 and niacin), riboflavin, iron and zinc.
- 60% of beef cuts today are considered “Lean” by definition due to improved agricultural practices.
- According to the American Heart Association, as long as sodium, saturated fat, and calories are controlled, meat can be part of a healthy diet. The DASH Diet allows small portions of meat to be incorporated into your eating plan.
- In some cases, there may be risks for eliminating meat. B12 deficiency are common in vegetarian diets, so vegetarian diets, especially vegan diets, need to be planned accordingly.
Animal Welfare Myths
There are many myths about the treatment of livestock. You may hear people talk about animal mistreatment, or the idea that pigs shouldn’t be in stalls or barns, chickens should all be ‘cage-free’ , or that cows are only meant to eat grass. Unfortunately it’s true that some operations may not be perfect, but animal cruelty seems to be the rare exception, not the rule. And there are guidelines in place to ensure animals are treated humanely, as well as consequences if they aren’t followed.
- Under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (enacted in 1958 and revised in 1978), all livestock must be treated humanely. All animals must have water at all times, be fed properly (most farms employ a Veterinarian who prescribes feed which delivers precise nutrition), and animals must be handled humanely in a way that does not cause stress.
- The US Meat packing industry is highly monitored. No other sector of animal agriculture has the level of oversight that the packing industry has. USDA inspectors are required by law to be in a meat packing facility any time it’s running. If a plant fails an audit, suspensions and fees apply, and contracts may be lost.
To address how the environment may impact stress levels in pigs, the American Veterinary Medical Association found that all pig production systems had no significant difference in the stress levels of sows (pregnant pigs), no matter their environment (barns, stalls, indoors or outdoors). While no one system is perfect, and all may have some disadvantages, stalls seem to work well for sows.
Used properly, sow stalls can “minimize aggression and injury, reduce competition, allow individual feeding and assist in control of body condition.”
While no one system is perfect, and all may have some disadvantages, stalls seem to work well for sows. The most critical part of animal care is the farmer. It’s the farmer’s day to day care for the animals, and not the pigs physical environment seem to matter most. Farmers understand their animals, and their behavior, even though their are advantages and disadvantages to all systems. Also, not only is it humane to treat animals properly, but optimal animal handling results in higher quality meat.
Temple Grandin, PhD is an animal welfare expert and a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. In addition to creating physical structures to manage cows that reduces their stress levels and improves animal and farmer safety (both for medical check ups and to slaughter), she also has written standards for the industry.
“There a certain percentage of people who shouldn’t be handling animals,” she says. “…They shouldn’t be there. But there’s an even bigger percentage that know what the right thing to do is, when they see it. They just need to be taught.” ~Temple Grandin
She has done research about humane handling of animals and has written extensively on the topic, and she even created a video to show the public what happens at a meat processing plant (note – very informational, with some graphic images). I happen to side with Grandin – some people choose not to eat meat, and I support that, but I choose to include meat in my diet.
Environmental Impact of Ag
There are lots of myths about how much water it takes to produce meat. If you do an Internet search, you’ll find numbers from 4 gallons per pound, to 400 to 1600 gallons per pound. There seem to be a lot of variables in the way this is measured. There are also a lot of sensationalized facts about methane emissions that can be put into context.
- According to the North American Meat Institute, it takes 441 gallons of water to make a pound of beef. All food production requires water.
- Beef producers have improved significantly, and one way farmers conserve water is by feeding cows grain. Interestingly, many people believe that cows should only eat grass, but all cows do eat grass, however some are finished with grain (cows are ruminants and can handle a change in diet as long as the pH of their rumen stays in check). Animals fed grain grow to market size over 200 days faster than grass fed ones, which conserves water.
- Greenhouse gas from livestock is only part of the environmental impact of emissions. US Environmental Protection Agency data show that all of agriculture contributes 8.6% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture contributing 3.8%. To put this into more perspective, transportation accounts for 27 percent.
- Lean meat, in controlled portions, and consumed within the recommended limits for sodium, saturate fat, and calories, can be part of a healthy diet
- Eliminating meat may have unintended nutrition consequences. Simply declaring “I’m not eating meat” is not a healthy vegetarian diet plan.
- US Animal Agriculture has come a long way over the years and today is able to produce leaner cuts of beef and pork while raising animals in a humane way. US Farmers have a vested interest in protecting the environment in which they live, and as a whole, continue to produce food using less resources than ever before. Like any industry, they are continually looking for ways to improve and do the right thing.
Is your food authentic?
No High Fructose Corn Syrup.
GMO-free. Non GMO.
No artificial colors or preservatives.
Are you using “free-from” claims as the ultimate guide to what you put into your grocery cart? Are you more concerned about what’s not in your food rather than what is in it?
What really get me is that food labels sometimes market “free from” ingredients that were never in that product in the first place.
I had the honor to speak on a panel (sponsored by the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance) this month at the SXSW festival and conference in Austin, TX. The panel focused on how food is delivered from farm to fork, and how food manufacturers are the middle men who add claims to food labels that may or may not be helpful, and may not even have anything to do with that food.
I’ve written about food labels and health before, and I continue to believe that many front of package claims can be confusing, or are used solely as a marketing technique. Food companies think this is what you, the consumer, wants (and in this case, they are highlighting ingredients that they think you don’t want). But what are these claims actually doing for you, and are they helping you actually improve your diet and health? Are the helping improve the nutrition status of the population as a whole? Let’s think about it.
A food with this label means it contains no gluten. This can be really useful for those with Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity, or those following a Low FODMAP diet. It makes great sense when a loaf of bread or a box of pasta is labeled “gluten free”, but it makes less sense when almonds, bottled water, meat, or vegetables include this label.
If you do not have Celiac disease or any sensitivity to gluten, avoiding gluten isn’t improving your diet or health. Rather than look for gluten-free labels, try cutting back on your portions of bread, and add more vegetables to your diet.
Adopting a vegan lifestyle requires that you remove all animal products from your life. This includes food products derived from (or processed with) animal products, as well as clothing, personal items, or household products derived from animals.
It takes some effort, planning, and focus to be Vegan, and most vegans do their due diligence in making the decision. This label may help support vegan choices since it ensures that no part of the animal was used in processing. For the average non-Vegan consumer, the Vegan label is not a simple ticket to health (there are Vegan cookies, chips, and snacks on the market too, that aren’t healthy to overeat).
I still find the Vegan label on foods like peanuts humorous.
No High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a caloric sweetener made from corn. It is a sugar, joining table sugar (sucrose), honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, or cane sugar. Teaspoon for teaspoon they all contribute about the same amount of calories.
Since one of the goals of healthier eating includes reducing your total sugar intake, it doesn’t matter whether you cut out HFCS or cane sugar – your goal is to reduce all sugars. Therefore, I’m not impressed for instance, by a protein bar that provides 15 grams of protein along with 18 grams of sugar, even if it “Contains No High Fructose Corn Syrup”.
Nor am I impressed with an expensive bottle of soda that uses “Pure Cane Sugar” as opposed to HFCS or GMO sugar beets (To note – there is no genetic material from the GMO beets or corn left in the final sugar products). Which brings me to the next absence claim.
We are talking about food and health here. Not the environment, not pesticides, not types of farming. Some people who are “anti GMO” tend to focus on the herbicide glyphosate or the use of pesticides in farming. Both of these topics deserve a quite separate conversation.
We absolutely know that vegetables are good for you. We also know that hardly anyone actually consumes enough vegetables – it’s something you have to work on every single day. When you think about GMOs, it’s important to understand two things: 1) There currently are only nine GMO food products on the US market, 2) Genetic modification of plants is generally used to solve a problem (bacterial disease of the plant, pest issues, or other issue that was interfering with growth or making it impossible for the plant to survive or produce).
Packaged food that includes either a “GMO Free” or “Non GMO Project Verified” label, are not guaranteeing you anything other than there is no genetically modified crop (or ingredient made from that crop, such as soybean oil) in that food.
Is a bag of potato chips with the Non GMO Project label better than another brand of potato chips without the seal? Nope. Is a wheat cracker better for you now that the brand added “Non GMO” to it’s label? Nope. This label is especially confusing when it’s used on products that never had any genetically modified ingredients in them in the first place.
No Artificial Colors. No Preservatives
The FDA regulates colors, additives, and preservatives. Removing these from foods make those foods no better, no more nutritious, but in some cases may make them less appealing. Additives and preservatives can serve an important role in food processing and food safety. These ingredients help ensure the availability of flavorful, nutritious, safe, convenient, appealing, and affordable foods year-round.
Lots of people experience lactose intolerance at one time or another. Some are more prone to this, and even those who aren’t will experience some lactose intolerance at one time or another. Lactase is the enzyme that helps metabolizes lactose (the sugar in milk). Lactase is predominantly found in our small intestine, and it is susceptible to being disrupted, especially during any period of diarrhea. But in healthy people, the intestine will regenerate the enzyme once the diarrhea resolves.
Choosing foods labeled dairy free only benefit vegans or people who are intolerant to dairy. Otherwise, dairy adds a lot of nutritional quality to your diet. In addition, the DASH Diet plan includes three servings a day because the clinical research showed that those who added dairy (in addition to lots of fruits and vegetables) lowered blood pressure more.
On another note, I sometimes hear people worry about “GMO milk” (perhaps because some dairy brands are choosing to label their milk and milk products as “non GMO”, inferring that other brands are GMO). There is no GMO cow’s milk. Even if an animal eats a genetically modified plant, the milk or meat from that animal will not have that genetic material from the plants or grains it ate in it. GMO corn is digested and metabolized the same way as non GMO corn. No content from the feed ends up in the consumable.
My final word: Choose a variety of food from each food group. Cook more vegetable dishes. Limit packaged snacks. Use common sense, and don’t judge food based on absence claims.
Salmon is loaded with protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s so easy to prepare. It’s recommended you eat seafood twice a week to get the omega-3 fatty acids you need for heart, brain and eye health.
This recipe comes together in less than 30 minutes start to finish. I used a cedar plank (thanks to a free gift from the Seafood Nutrition Partnership) but you can simply use a glass baking dish. I baked mine in the oven, but you can also grill it.
There are all sorts of people in the media offering you diet advice. Doctors, celebrities, naturopaths, chiropractors, holistic wellness coaches and other self-proclaimed nutritionists. Most of them focus on foods that you absolutely must eliminate (with an unsubstantiated focus on “organic”, “natural” and their perceived ideas about conventional foods). In some cases, supplements are sold (for high profits) with the pitch. How do you know how qualified they are?
When you see a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) you know that a minimum, standardized qualification has been met in the science of food and nutrition. If you are perfectly healthy, and only need to lose weight, a nutritionist or personal trainer can probably help you. But if you have any existing disease (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal disease), it’s important to have an RDN overseeing your diet. If you have a strong family history of diabetes or heart disease, or are over the age of 40, it’s also a good idea to skip the fad diets and speak with a trained professional.
When a registered dietitian evaluates a patient, he or she considers multiple factors: their medical and social history, lab work, medications, what/where they eat, as well as their weight-change and fitness history. RDNs help you figure out what diet plan is best for your life. They can do the planning work for you, and help you set goals.
Don’t Take Diet Advice from Just Anyone
When your friend says “I heard [insert food or ingredient] was bad for you”, don’t take it for fact. If you are using “doctor Google”, be sure to look for quotes and articles written by registered dietitians (RD or RDN will follow their name). When you scan a nutrition topic in the news, check more than one source. RDNs are trained to read the research, interpret the results, and create sensible advice based on the whole body of research, not just one study. Most dietitians take a “non diet” lifestyle approach. We combine a background in medicine, food, nutrition analysis, and eating behavior and patterns, and combine this into personalized advice.
While I recommend the DASH Diet and a Mediterranean style of eating, keep in mind the term “diet” here doesn’t infer weight loss, but instead simply describes a diet plan and a way of eating – a lifestyle. Long term weight maintenance and health depend on day to day behaviors. You can’t just eat well for a few weeks, and call it a year. Nor can you exercise for three months, and sit on the sofa for the other nine.
Ask Your Doctor to Refer You. Find A Good Fit.
Just like you choose a doctor based on qualifications and bedside manner, you want to find a dietitian that you are comfortable with. If your visit doesn’t go well, or you’re not comfortable, ask to see someone else.
A healthy diet isn’t just about food choices, but it’s also about the “how” and “why” you eat. In addition, there isn’t one meal plan that would fit everyone. What you need to eat depends on what you like (nobody is going to sustain a diet of food they don’t like) and what you need. While basic nutrition can be generalized as far as nutrient needs go, there are many ways to get adequate amounts of the nutrients you need into your diet.
Some doctors forget they can refer their patients to a dietitian, so ask for a referral. Most insurances cover a minimum amount of visits with a dietitian.
Here are 5 reasons to see an RDN over other nutritionists:
- If you schedule an appointment with a dietitian he or she is going to help you with your habits, and provide you with science-based dietary advice
- Diet therapy offered by registered dietitians is based in science. Dietitians have a broad understand about diet and disease, and how to evaluate your nutrition status based on your medical history, lab results, and diet and weight history
- If you have diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, or heart disease, you should definitely check in with a dietitian regularly to help you manage your disease and feel your best
- Registered dietitians are trained to evaluate your health status, your diet, and help you create a lifelong plan. Sorry, no quick fixes or fad diet plans work, and are especially harmful if you are treating life-long diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.
- Once you have a relationship with an RDN, it’s a good idea to check in with your dietitian once every couple of years too, or when you are experiencing a transition or shift in your life. Plus, you can rely on that dietitian to answer any questions about “that advice your friend gave you about…”
Happy National Nutrition Month!
March is National Nutrition Month® and March 14 is Registered Dietitian Day. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The number of registered dietitians has grown five fold since 1969, and there are now 100,000 registered dietitian nutritionists! About half of those hold advanced degrees, and many specialize.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are the food and nutrition experts who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living.
Confusion in the Nutrition Space
As an RDN it can be frustrating to hear non-nutrition professionals spout nonsense about diet, food and and nutrition. Unlike popular pseudoscience-pushing personalities such as the Food Babe or Dr. Mercola, RDNs have to adhere to ethics standards. We can’t just “say anything” or make empty promises.
RDNs complete a standardized education and training, that include formal education in the science of food, nutrition, and human physiology (RDNs minimally have a Bachelor’s Degree, undertake a supervised practice internship, and have to pass a rigorous nutrition certification exam). These experiences makes them a dependable resource for nutrition information.
So I beg you, stop sharing random diet or nutrition posts on Facebook by uneducated personalities. You are just funding their vacations.
Let’s Get Real
I love what I do, but there are times when I get annoyed with both the lack of understanding for what a dietitian is trained to do, and also how easily consumers believe everything they hear about food from non-credentialed nutritionists, or really, just about anyone.
Often the public views all dietitians as someone who wants to “put you on a diet”. In addition, those seeking lifestyles that focus on looks, and a sexy body (not health) bash dietitians as being clueless or claiming their advice doesn’t work. People who only seek advice from their gym, their pal, or someone on the Internet telling them what they want to hear (or that it’s going to be easy) most likely will relapse with weight loss. Worse, they are missing out on science-based information about medical conditions that can benefit from a particular diet therapy.
RDN’s come at it with a “big picture” philosophy. Our advice works for the long haul, it’s not a quick fix. We help people personalize their diet and make positive lifestyle changes. We are honest, because frankly, it’s going to be difficult to maintain healthy habits for a lifetime. We don’t offer empty promises such as, “this is easy, lose 10 pounds this week, have great abs by Sunday”.
We are for real. And real takes effort on your part. Long-term effort. But it works, can improve your health, doesn’t backfire, and it’s safe.
You May Be a Dietitian If…
In celebrating Dietitian Day, I thought I’d add some of my pet peeves about common misconceptions about dietitians.
Just because I’m a dietitian doesn’t mean…
- I am constantly screening your meals, what you have in your grocery cart, or what you choose at a party buffet.
- I am judging you when you eat French fries or a candy bar.
- I eat kale every day (and BTW, I really don’t like smoothies much).
- I wear a white lab coat.
- I work in a hospital. This is a common misnomer. I did work in a hospital setting early on in my 30 year career, and some dietitians are employed by hospitals. But, I’ve been a consultant now (work-for-hire, freelance writing, adjunct teaching, nutrition communications, advisor) for over 20 years, yet people in my town still come up to me and swear I must have worked at the hospital here. Nope.
- I don’t get food cravings, struggle to maintain a reasonable weight, or am challenged to keep up my exercise routine.
- I can’t enjoy a cocktail or a sweet whenever I want (but yeah, moderation).
- I need you to proclaim to me that you eat “real food”. (Potato chips are made from real potatoes, real oil and real salt). Please stop with the food fad words.
And, yeah, if you’re still wondering, we “went to school for that”.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionists have degrees in nutrition, dietetics, public health or a related field from well-respected, accredited colleges and universities, completed an internship and passed an examination.
Happy RDN Day!
I’d love to hear from other RDNs. Leave your pet peeve in the comments.
You probably read something in the news everyday about diet or what you should or shouldn’t eat. I can understand how frustrating it is to read these headlines every week. One day they proclaim coffee is good for you, the next it isn’t.
Sorry – There’s No Quick Fix, Only Empty Promises
I know it’s not a popular message, but I’m sticking to it – you have to change your behaviors in order to lose weight and maintain it. This is true, no matter the age.
In the case of feeding children, it’s really essential to start them off right. Obesity in a child is not the same physiological picture as obesity in a 40 or 60 year old. Children that have weight issues at a young age are set up for a lifelong struggle to obtain a healthy weight. Set limits, and create a regular meal schedule for your child.
Losing weight is always difficult to do, which is why preventing, or controlling, weight gain is the best strategy. It’s known that many people experience weight gain as they age. This is normal physiology, but being overweight as a child makes lifelong weight maintenance an even bigger challenge. Even for those who hadn’t been overweight, a few pounds may creep on every year and add up. Metabolism slows down for most people in mid-life, so this is a time that eating well and exercising regularly is really important. Just avoiding weight gain is a win, even if you are struggling with losing those ten or fifteen pounds.
Correlation Does Not Mean Causation
Most headlines you read are reporting on a “correlation”. That is, a study that suggested that “X might be related to Y”. Nutrition is an evolving science. Ethical practitioners only make recommendations based on the data we have. There is a lot of good published nutrition research, but research studies about diet and disease is difficult to do. Unlike research on specific substances, such as a drug or one particular isolated nutrient, proving that a dietary plan directly impacts disease or health is a challenge (which is why so may studies use rats, and rat ≠ human). The supplement industry, for instance, banks on the preliminary correlations found in research to sell an unproven outcome. This doesn’t mean we should disregard every nutrition study that’s published, however, it’s important to understand how to interpret them.
Eating Less and Moving More
Some argue that you don’t have to actually eat less, you have to eat more of the right foods (while this is true, calories still count). Foods higher in fiber are important because they literally fill you up faster (plus have lots of gut-healthy properties). Including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into your side dishes and meals, will add more bulk (volume) but not at a high calorie cost.
This is just one more reason the DASH Diet is beneficial – it encourages you to eat more fiber (fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grain side dishes). It also include healthy fats (olive oil, avocado), 2-3 servings of dairy daily (for potassium, calcium, vitamin D), and smaller portions of meat and refined carbohydrates. This high fiber diet helps with weight control by providing important nutrients and controlling hunger and satiety.
As you work on adding nutrition through food to your diet, you also must find ways to move your bodies more – every day. You may enjoy sedentary activities such as reading, sewing, or watching Netflix, and that’s fine. You just have to be aware of how much time is being spent sitting. Using a sport watch or smart watch may help you with this. You can set cues that remind you it’s time to stand up, or that you haven’t moved enough today. Often people overlook daily activity, but it’s as important as exercise. The movement in your routine day counts.
A regular exercise routine is important to both weight management and health. Find an activity you will enjoy doing every week – walking, a yoga class, an aerobics class, bicycling, kayaking, zumba, an exercise video – anything you can stick with. Find a friend to pair up with so you can keep accountable. Very few people who are managing their weight are doing it without regular physical activity.
Get moving – set new goals for eating well and moving more every day. Some days, you won’t meet goals, that’s normal! Just keep setting them every single day. Add more veggies to meals. Make snacks nutritious and “unpackaged”. Snack on fruit, raw veggies, yogurt or small amounts of nuts or cheese. Move more daily – do extra housework, take the stairs, walk instead of ride. And find a weekly exercise routine you can schedule 3-4 times a week, and sustain.
March is National Nutrition Month®, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals).
Every National Nutrition Month® I try to highlight the Registered Dietitian. Everyone eats. For that reason you may commonly hear nutrition advice from just about everyone you meet. While you can definitely learn something from someone who, for example, has been successful losing weight and keeping off, or from a person with diabetes who does a great job controlling blood sugar, that person shouldn’t be giving people medical advice. What worked for him may not work for you. My advice: Don’t relay on non-trained, non-educated diet advocates to assess your diet and health – ask for a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist.
It’s always a good idea to check in with yourself about your personal health. We all get busy or get off track with our diet or exercise, and we always have room for improvement.
How Can You Go Further with Food?
The theme for National Nutrition Month® this year – Go Further with Food – aims to increase awareness about food waste. Eating well isn’t just about what you eat – it’s also about knowing how to grocery shop, keeping your kitchen organized, storing food properly, using leftovers or what’s left in your pantry, or knowing that it’s okay to eat something with an expired “best by” date.
Waste Not Want Not
My mother used to say “Waste not want not”. By this, she meant that if you limit waste (whether is was food or other resources) you will need less. We have a food waste problem going on in our country. Think about your own kitchen. How much food do you throw away every week? How can you do better? Here are some ideas.
- Don’t throw away food because the “best by” or “use by” dates are passed. Foods such as bread, rolls, rice, pasta, and canned goods are still safe to eat even if the “best by” dates are passed. The quality in some cases, may be less than perfect, but safety isn’t an issue.
- Consider what’s in your pantry or freezer before you stock up on more items from the grocery store.
- Get creative. Restaurants are famous for reusing ingredients. If there’s ham or grilled chicken leftover from a large party, it’ll get repurposed into soup or tacos the following day. You can do the same. If you have a half a loaf of bread at home in your breadbox that’s past date, make a French Toast casserole or bread stuffing with it.
- Sour cream is two days expired? Bake it into a cake.
- Store foods correctly. We all get busy and forget about the yogurt cups that get pushed to the back of the fridge. Check your fridge every week, and do your best to keep it organized.
- Learn more about use by and sell by dates. Sell By and Best By only indicate that the food is at highest quality by that date. It does not mean you should throw away the food, or that the food will no longer be safe to eat after that date. So if you have a package of buns, a box of rice, or a condiment, in which the “Sell By” or “Best By” date is passed, you can still consume it.
- The “Use By” date may be indicative of food safety (in products such as milk for instance), so it’s a good idea to pitch any food that’s passed the “Use by” date.
Consider how much food you waste. Do your best to avoid over-buying, use what you have on hand wisely, only pitch food that has passed the “Use By” date, and waste less.
I attended a food and nutrition conference in which Julie Miller Jones spoke about popular weight loss diets in a session sponsored by the Grain Foods Foundation, but the following thoughts and opinions are my own.
With the popularity of the “keto diet” fad and other low carbohydrate diets, grains are getting lost in the shuffle. Many people are avoiding grains for no good reason. Over the past several years, several books have shunned bread and other grain foods as the cause of obesity or diabetes. The truth is, while these books have some grains of truth in them, they are very misleading and base claims on poor scientific studies.
If you are a regular reader, you know I promote balance and realistic dietary goals. And, I’m a carb fan. Not only do carbohydrate foods provides lots of nutrients and energy, they make a diet delicious to eat. The recent news this week about low carb diets not being any more effective for weight loss than low fat diets, has people thinking. Maybe bread isn’t so bad after all?
Julie Miller Jones is a board certified and Licensed Nutritionist and holds a bachelor of science degree from Iowa State University and a PhD in Home Economics/Food Science and Nutrition. She is Professor Emerita, Foods and Nutrition, St. Catherine University, and a Scientific Advisor to the Grains Foods Foundation. I recently had the chance to chat with Julie, and asked her these questions:
Q: How are diet books such as Whole 30, Wheat Belly, and Grain Brain misleading the public about carbohydrate foods?
My concern about these types of books, is the net result is stating “carbohydrates are bad” and cause all the health problems. As long as we do this we won’t address the whole problem. The issue isn’t about one particular food, it’s that we eat too much of one thing and not enough of another.
These books misleads the public. They do have some truth in them (correlating increased consumption with increases in weight) but they’re riddled with pseudoscience. This idea people are “addicted to wheat” is based on an in vitro experiment in 1979 using test tubes with foods treated with enzymes then placed on the opioid receptor of a frog. These books try to give their theses some academic rigor with these correlational studies that don’t actually prove anything.
Q: What are the hard data about grain foods and weight loss?
Q: Many consumers are eliminating (or restricting) bread from the diet. Is this justified?
We seem to want a scapegoat instead of identifying the real eating problems. When you eliminate this food group, you are missing out on important nutrients, and not getting adequate fiber into the diet. If you can lose 2 pounds a month you can lose 20 pounds in a year, which in the long run is going to be more sustainable.
Q: What does the evidence show about low carbohydrate diets and fiber intake?
Q: What are your thoughts on the DASH Diet, Mediterranean, and Flexitarian diets?
I love these diets because they promote BALANCE, eating all foods in the right amounts. Mediterranean and Flexitarian diets are both reasonable. I love the DASH Diet, and we should be dashing to use it because it has so much data behind it. It’s perfect for the American lifestyle. It’s easy to maintain for the long haul.
Somehow though, we’ve not been able to make DASH readily transmittable to the general population.
Q: What about gluten? Is “today’s wheat” really different than the wheat flours used 30 or 40 years ago?
Norman Borlaug experimented with this short straw to avoid lodge, because the head is larger and straw is short. The head of wheat that “lodges” is heavy so it falls to the ground, and it’s more ideal to have more energy and soil nutrients to go to the wheat kernel rather than into the straw, so breeding a tall straw wheat is less efficient. Borlaug developed this wheat for countries such as India and Mexico. This advance shifted them from being importers of wheat to exporters of wheat.
Q: What are your thoughts on ketogenic diets (Keto)?
They can be used safely for short term weight loss needs (getting to a certain weight for a surgery, or other immediate needs). A few studies show that short term weight loss with ketogenic diet can improve diabetic control. These are also “therapeutic uses” not intended to be used without medical supervision. But this isn’t a safe and sustainable diet for the general population.
Our portions are often too big. It’s not the bagel, it’s the fact that a bagel in 2018 weighs two to three times what it did in 1980. Consumers need to understand that a balanced diet includes foods from a variety of food groups, but in the right amount. Eating the proper amount for health and weight control (or weight loss) is about the recognizing that your diet may not be balanced for carbohydrate, protein and fat.
So instead of having a giant submarine sandwich, have a sandwich on a small roll or two slices of whole grain bread, and have a piece of fruit or a cup of vegetables with it. Or instead of having a giant 450 calorie 3-cup plate of pasta, have a 450 calorie plate with 1 cup of pasta along with 3 ounces of chicken, lean beef, or fish, and a cup of vegetable or salad.
It’s not the foods themselves, but the portion and balance of those foods across food groups, and how you balance your plate.
When my children were young, I read books to them daily. This was a time to relax and have fun, and sometimes have a teaching moment. The Peter Rabbit series, by Beatrix Potter, was a set that I read over and over. We had a book set that included a little plush Peter, and a ceramic watering can that I still use for spring decorating.
The Peter Rabbit movie just hit theaters this week. I loved the previews I saw, and am looking for seeing the film at some point (even though the film is not on my children’s list anymore). I was shocked to hear that there’s a scene in the film creating a huge fuss, where naughty Peter and his friends shoot blackberries at Mr. McGregor (a new neighbor with a big garden). Mr. McGregor in the film is apparently allergic to blackberries (not a common allergen) so the bunnies invent a scheme to do him in (so they can have free reign to his abundant, but overprotected, garden). Mr. McGregor has a severe anaphylactic reaction, which causes him to use his epi-pen in the film.
There’s no question that severe food allergy is no laughing matter, and that in some cases (even with an epi-pen nearby) can cause death.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation has issued a warning about this movie, perhaps at the request of parental complaints. They caution parents raising children with food allergy that some scenes in the film may be disturbing for young viewers with food allergies. I reviewed some of comments on the AAFP’s Facebook page, and saw that some parents claim that the movie is not just poking fun at those with food allergies, but worse, downplaying the seriousness of some food allergies. Some parents feel that a student could “reenact” the actions of Peter Rabbit at school, and target an “allergy kid” by somehow giving him or her the allergen.
Cartoons VS The Real World
Movies are meant to entertain. I can see that this scene might be disturbing to a child with a severe allergy, who wasn’t prepared to see this in the movie. But, there are all kinds of movies that we choose see (or not) that have potentially sensitive content in them. There are many scenes or plots in animated films that could be viewed as disturbing. In the Lion King, Simba’s father dies at his own evil brother’s hand. Snow White “goes to sleep”after biting a poisoned apple, and is on her death bed. I had a Snow White book as a child, and I remember literally being afraid to turn the page where the evil witch showed up. But my parents helped me understand the difference between real and not real, while at the same time teaching me that there are evil witches (or villains) of sorts in the world.
While bunnies are real, and food allergies are real (in humans), the outcomes in real life, are not always as cartoons depict them.
As with any situation, it’s great to find the teaching moment. In this case, you might tell your child that bullying or playing pranks isn’t very nice. But it does happen in life. And some pranks can be funny, if they are not ill-intended and cause no real harm. You could also be sure your child understands that some people do have food allergies, but not all food allergies include anaphylactic (inability to breathe due to swollen airway) symptoms. Those who do, require special monitoring of their diet and surroundings.
The Facts and the Stats
I am not undermining the seriousness of food allergies here. I had childhood allergies myself (it’s one of the reasons I decided to study food and nutrition). I just want to put things into context. Food allergy affects about 4 to 6 percent of U.S. children.
The most common food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, and fish/shellfish. Food allergies are common in young children, and, allergies to eggs, wheat, milk and soy are often outgrown. Allergies to nuts and fish typically last a lifetime however. In addition, children with food allergies are more likely to have asthma, or other allergies.
Allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a substance as harmful and overreacts to it. Symptoms can vary, and range from hives (or other skin irritation), itchiness, watery eyes, runny nose. There may also be GI issues (stomach pain, diarrhea). A more severe reaction involves trouble breathing, or swelling of the mouth and throat, which can lead to a life-threatening situation. People may be allergic to drugs, foods, bugs, mold, plants, pets or pollen.
It’s also important to note that not all people who react to a certain food, have a food allergy. It may be a food intolerance or sensitivity.
A Rabbit with a Blue Jacket and No Pants
This animated film is a modern take on the classic storybooks. Peter was always getting into mischief and doing very naughty things. And in the original books, Mr. McGregor is essentially “the villain”. So in that context, the audience usually wants something bad to happen to the villain.
There are even some edgy descriptive scenes in the original Potter stories. Mrs. Rabbit (Peter’s widowed mother) warns her bunnies early on that they are to stay away from Mr. McGregor’s garden because “your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor”.
Well, that’s a scary thought isn’t it? But we shouldn’t’ be worried that daddy will be made into pie should we?
Laughter is Good Medicine
I wonder how the Brits are reacting to the movie boycott over this issue? The Brits have a great (and sometimes crass) sense of humor and make light (or you could say make fun) of just about everything. In my life, laughter is good medicine, and almost everything we laugh at is at someone or something’s expense. This doesn’t mean we are insensitive, it means we need to laugh to keep real life in check.
Laughing at the scenes in the Peter Rabbit movie (including when the hedgehog, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, is almost electrocuted) is okay in my mind. Laughing at real-life tragedies is not. I’ve taught my sons to treat all people with kindness and respect. Through at some points in life, every child is challenged to do this (peer pressure, insecurities, etc), so we keep reminding.
Be sure to let your children know that some people do have severe allergies in real life, and probably have a medical plan in place for when or if they occur. And, that it would be very wrong to do what Peter does in this movie. Help your children understand the difference between the movies, and real life, and use movies and books as teaching moments.
The guidelines for high blood pressure have changed. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is now defined as a blood pressure of 130/80 (stated “130 over 80”). The first number (130) is the systolic pressure measurement, and the second number (80) is the diastolic pressure.
There’s some disagreement about the new guideline in the medical so the best thing to do is to check in with your physician during an annual visit, and let him or her determine what your blood pressure means. Blood pressure rises with age and with body weight. For this reason, checking in with your doctor is the first step to managing blood pressure. The next step is asking for a referral to a registered dietitian to discuss diet therapy. And, if you are overweight or obese, losing weight is a first-line treatment for lowering blood pressure.
Knowledge is Power – Know Your Numbers
You should know what your blood pressure is. Checking in each year with your physician is a good idea. At your visit, you’ll get your blood pressure checked. If you have high blood pressure, you are at twice the risk for heart issues as those without high blood pressure. You may, or may not, require medication, but you do want to know what your numbers are.
According to the American College of Cardiology, blood pressure categories in the new guideline are:
- Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
- High Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
- High Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg
- Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120 (may require immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage)
And what about your blood cholesterol numbers? These are also important. Having multiple risk factors increases your risk for heart disease. A normal blood cholesterol is <200 (200-239 is borderline high, and >240 is high). In addition to the Total Cholesterol numbers, your doctor may review multiple factors, including other fats in the blood, called lipoproteins (HDL and LDN – sometimes referred to as “good” and “bad” blood fats), in determining what your risk is, and whether or not you need a cholesterol-lowering medications. You complete risk is dependent on considering all of these risk factors, including your family history, weight, and whether or not you have diabetes and high blood pressure.
The DASH diet plan is a good fit for anyone with either known heart disease, diabetes, or at risk for either. Remember, this eating plan isn’t just a low salt diet. DASH has been proven to lower systolic pressure, whether it’s low salt or not. A lower sodium diet does help control blood pressure, but nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium are important too.
Rather than thinking about the DASH Diet as a “diet” (the preconceived notion that you are going “on” a diet), think of it as a lifestyle. Making lifestyle changes means creating a different environment in which you live. It’s not just eating well, but moving more, not smoking, setting up an annual doctor’s visit, preventive care and stress management. It’s also helps to change your perspective on healthy eating and healthy living. Rather than focusing on a food as a magic bullet, consider how your whole diet can impact your health. Consider how taking weekends off to relax and do something fun, can improve your stress level. Consider how sitting at a table together with family and friends (instead of in front of the TV), can improve your lifestyle and food choices.
Small changes every day can make a difference. Know your numbers. Know your risk. Live well.