I remember sitting in a history class my first semester of college, completely fascinated by the new and seemingly more "real" (or at least more scandalous) versions of history i was hearing for the first time. One of the stories involved the phrase we've all likely heard: "Let them eat cake!" The professor said the phrase was uttered in callous response by some member of royalty in answer to the problem of starving peasants. However, according to my old professor, the "cake" being referred to wasn't the beautiful, sweet, tempting creations we call cake today; it was actually the caked-on, hardened crumbs that accumulated and crusted around the sides and bottom of the oven. I can't find any reference to that story online (and i went to college before the internet was a thing), but for the sake of this post, let's go with it.
Often, especially when reading food labels, i get the sense that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) may be letting us eat cake. And worse. This post is for my people who haven't yet dived deep into health and nutrition and are just starting to get their feet wet. Let's dive in!
I'm not going to go into food additives - Michael F. Jacobson did a great job of that and i encourage you to click here to read his article. Go ahead, i'll wait for you.
Pretty scary stuff, right? And that's just food additives. That's not even getting into all the FDA-approved drugs that harm or kill people every year, or the foods that the FDA says are a-okay to consume. Let's take a look at just a couple of these "foods."
First, what is "food?" By definition, food is defined as, "any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth." So, the substance has to be nutritious, which means -- synonyms: "nourishing, good for one, full of nutrients, nutritive, nutritional, wholesome, healthy, healthful, beneficial, sustaining."
How has the FDA done with our food?
Let's start with Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHO's). PHO's have been around for more than a century now, Crisco being the first commercially sold PHO beginning in 1911! Since then, PHO's have been added to all sorts of foods, from cookies (like Oreos, although they ceased that heinous act after being sued) to frozen pizza and of course margarine, which is just straight-up PHO. This pseudo-oil doesn't spoil, making it appealing and cost-effective for businesses.
So, what's the problem with PHO's? PHO's are trans fats. According to Mayo Clinic, "Trans fat is considered by many doctors to be the worst type of fat you can eat. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fat — also called trans-fatty acids — both raises your LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lowers your HDL ("good") cholesterol. A diet laden with trans fat increases your risk of heart disease, the leading killer of men and women."
This isn't breaking news. The FDA has known about this for - well, who really knows how long? In 2015, the FDA officially banned the use of PHO's in foods after years of pressure. However, PHO's will still be found in our foods until 2020. Why? The FDA is allowing for already produced and packaged foods to be sold out. Profit is more important than our health. In 2013 the FDA announced that PHO's are no longer GRAS (generally regarded as safe), but as early as 2006 the FDA required the food industry to state on their labels the amount of trans fats contained in their "foods," meaning they knew long before then that PHO's were harmful. Read about these facts from the FDA website here.
By definition, are PHO-containing "foods" truly foods? If we look back at the definition of "food," we must concede that NO, fake-food substances are indeed not food and should not be consumed by human or animal. So, why were these harmful substances allowed to be in our products for so long, even after they were known to cause serious health issues?
Big Food, just like Big Pharma have lobbyists and other ways of influencing our government decision-makers. So, how do we fight back? With our wallets. Buy locally grown foods from farmers markets in season. Buy organically grown foods. Buy pure, whole, unadulterated foods - if you must buy pre-packaged foods, scour the label. If you see something you can't identify, or sounds suspicious or "altered" (like brominated oils, brominated flours, bleached flour, etc.) don't buy it. Go back to basics. Cook your foods fresh. Don't have time every day to make fresh foods? On your day off, make giant batches of foods and freeze meals for use throughout the week.
Artificial coloring? Artificial flavoring? Why? Don't buy it. It doesn't belong in the body; it is not food.
Sugar - does it nourish the body? From a Harvard article: "...high amounts of sugar overload the liver. 'Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat,' says Dr. Hu. Over time, this can lead to a greater accumulation of fat, which may turn into fatty liver disease, a contributor to diabetes, which raises your risk for heart disease."
Whole, unrefined sugar in small amounts may not be as harmful as bleached, refined, nutritionally void sugar, but it still elicits an insulin response in the body and is not good to consume frequently. Sugar found naturally in fruit is not the same - fruit contains fiber and nutrients and affects the body very differently. Fruit is food!
How much sugar is okay, according to the FDA? The FDA recommends eating no more than 12.5 teaspoons, or 50 grams, per day. Kids, that is a LOT of sugar. That is way too much. How does the sugar industry influence that number? Read about that here. In that article, you will find that "By 1973, links between sugar, diabetes, and heart disease were sufficiently troubling that Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota convened a hearing of his Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs to address the issue." And yet, more than 40 years later, our sugar intake is insanely high, as is the rate of diabetes and heart disease, both of which have been linked to sugar consumption. From a study published in JAMA: "Most US adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet. We observed a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD [Cardiovascular Disease] mortality."
If you want to live a long and healthy life and feel your best, leave the non-foods, like trans-fats and sugar behind. I know that's easier said than done. I battled sugar cravings - intense sugar cravings - most of my life. As a kid, i would sneak into my mom's brown sugar canister and eat handfuls of it before she could catch me. As an adult, there have been many times that i fell into the trap of eating sugary foods for breakfast, lunch and dessert after dinner. Sugar is ubiquitous. It truly is everywhere. This is another good reason to prepare your own fresh foods...and leave the sugar out of it! Try it for two weeks. Note your craving level. Do you miss it? Are your gut pathogens crying out for it, sending signals via the vagus nerve straight to your brain, making you crave it? Are you able to calmly walk away from it? Once off it, note how you feel. Do you have more energy? Have you lost some weight? Are you sleeping better? Is your skin clearing up? If you try it, i would love it if you would let me know your experience. Email me here.
Live by Michael Pollan's advice: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Note: eat food. Be mindful of what you put in your body.