Monday, December 6, 2010

Vitamin D recommendations revised - When food sources are not enough

If you haven't heard about the prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency yet, I consider this a must read.

Our knowledge of the role of Vitamin D has been rapidly advancing. For most of us, food sources may be insufficient to correct the problem alone. Why? Because I don't know many who enjoy cod liver oil or beef liver, or many who drink enough milk with Vitamin D added in sufficient quantities to meet our daily recommended intake of Vitamin D despite the award winning "Got Milk" advertising. We may be staying away from other good sources such as salmon, tuna, sardines due to concerns about too much mercury from fish. Vitamin D is also found in egg yolks which are great for you but old science suggested that eggs yolks contain cholesterol so we should stay away. (By the way, newer science says that dietary cholesterol does not impact the cholesterol level in your blood but did you know that? Eggs are the food that supports life, I think they're pretty important to eat.)  Fortified foods -- such as some yogurts, cereals, and orange juices -- may also provide Vitamin D but you have to seek the brands out since not all brands of these foods are fortified. Do you consume enough Vitamin D each day?
Finally, we need approximately 15 minutes of sunshine exposure daily too for our skin to produce the Vitamin D we need. This can be a challenge for those trying to stay out of the sun to avoid it's negative impact on our skin, especially for those that work too many hours indoors.

What should you do? It's certainly time to check your diet but more importantly ask your doctor to check your Vitamin D level the next time you have a blood work up. Some figures report that as many as 80% of the U.S. is now Vitamin D deficient. Even if that is too high, and it's one out of two of us, odds are that you or someone you love is deficient.

Now, why should you be concerned? For many reasons tied to your immune system, but perhaps the one I find most convincing is that Vitamin D is involved in the mechanism which checks to see that we replicate our cells properly. Cancer cells are examples of cells that have not replicated normally. If our cell checking mechanism isn't functioning correctly, we are potentially at greater risk. I would like my immune system to be in tip top shape so I'm not taking any chances. Research on the role of Vitamin D continues but early indications are strong enough that guidelines for Vitamin D have been increased.

Several years ago, I was getting sick often - so often that I went on a personal quest to sort out the issue and with my background fortunate enough to get to the root of the issue quickly. Yes, I was one of the many whose Vitamin D level was exceptionally low; a little surprising to me because I ate tuna and whole eggs and live in Southern California. After requesting a blood test, my doctors acknowledged my low level and recommended taking daily supplements in such small amounts that it would have been impossible for my levels to ever normalize.  My own research with Vitamin D experts internationally put me back on the right course and feeling much better.

Remember to have your levels rechecked if taking higher than the new recommended doses to get your level back to normal and work with your doctor. Toxic Vitamin D levels can result from excess intake. The only way to know before it's too late is to have a blood test. In fact, always talk to your doctor when taking Vitamins (especially A, D, E and K), minerals and other supplements at levels beyond daily recommended levels. Too much of a good thing isn't always better.

How much Vitamin D is recommended? The Institute of Medicine (IOM) set the following new recommendations for vitamin D:
  • Ages 1-70: 600 international units (IUs) per day. Older than 71:800 IUs. The IOM previously said 200 IUs was adequate for people aged 50 and younger, 400 IU for people aged 51-70, and 600 IUs for people older than 70.
  • The tolerable upper limit (UL) is 4000 IUs for ages 9 and above (up from 2000 IU in the IOM's previous guidance).
  • The IOM's calcium recommendations, based on age, range from 700 to 1300 milligrams (mg) daily with a tolerable upper limit range of 1000-3000 mg.

Nutrients interact with one another so it is key to keep them in balance. If your Vitamin D level is low, you may see a higher level of calcium on your blood test - still normal but higher. This is because Vitamin D helps your bones to absorb calcium. If your blood calcium level is in the higher end of the normal range, it may not be reaching your bones. More on the relationship and new calcium recommendations in my next posting..

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More on the best way enjoy sweetness in your diet

People often ask which sweetner is best to consume when the answer is that all are fine in moderation - too much of anything is bad. I think we know when we are consuming too much because we are often looking for permission or the maximum amount that won't hurt us rather than focusing on how to keep the sugar we consume to a minimum. 

Most sweetners are not markedly different in terms of their impact to your body. They are all rapidly converted to blood glucose. This process begins from the moment you put the food in your mouth. Think about how quickly you feel energy from eating a candy bar or sweetened beverage. The timeframe is roughly the same if you eat table sugar or agave - both are rapidly converted to blood glucose.

The real issue is that we consume too much. A general guideline is for your total sugar intake to be less than 10% of your daily calorie intake - 24 grams or no more than 6 teaspoons. Another way to think about your consumption is to keep sugars to 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men.

When you reduce your sugar intake very gradually, it's not as difficult as you would think because your taste buds will slowly become more sensitive to sweetness.  Fruits and veggies will begin to satisfy your sweet tooth most of the time.

What about artificial sweetners? If you just replace the sugar sweetness with sugar substitutes, would   your consumption would be excessive? Probably, especially if your all of the beverages you consume are artificially sweetened. The key is to think about how to increase your sensitivity to sweetness rather than numbing your taste buds with excessive sweetness. It's a different mindset, aiming to heighten your sensitivity to sweetness.

Challenge for the week: Check the nutrition label for the line that says sugars under carbohydrates. Try to purchase most grocery items with no more than 2-3 grams of sugar per serving. Also try to reduce the level of sugar you consume gradually until the sweetness in the veggies you eat is more pronounced.
For more on this topic, including a list of sweetners that will be counted on your nutrion facts label as sugar, see the following link

Friday, November 5, 2010

Where do you get your nutrition advice?

Most physicians are not fully educated in nutrition from medical school and may not be the best professional to speak to regarding advice on your diet. That is why there are nutritionists and dieticians who not only focus in this area but are also required to keep up with the current scientific knowledge in this area. Doctors rely on them and you should too when you are determining whether you are getting the nutrients you need.

Read labels and don't assume that the nutrients you might expect are there. Just check the package and you will know for sure. Unless the food is enriched (to add back the nutrients that are removed in processing) or fortified (adding nutrients above and beyond that in the food prior to processing) you may be shortchanged.

Gluten free or not

It's a choice you definitely should consider if you are symptomatic. If gluten is an irritant for you, you will feel better quickly, if you don't notice a difference, by all means enjoy the many foods containing this protein.

Often only those diagnosed with Celiac disease are told to be on a gluten free diet but many of us react to gluten, or are either not diagnosed with the disease or the disease is not sufficiently progressed for this diagnosis. If you are one of those that are suffering, listen to your body even if the test for Celiac disease is not positive.

Should you decide to try a gluten free diet, consider supplementing your diet with the nutritients you may be eliminating such and B vitamins and fiber. Beloved broccoli and many green vegetables are a better source of these nutrients than most gluten based products.

If you are currently relying on bread and other gluten based products for your B vitamins and fiber, you need to check nutritional labels to see if you are really getting enough of what you need in terms of nutrients.  Whenever you are eliminating types of foods from your diet, always consider what nutrients you are eliminating and how you might need to supplement you diet accordingly.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is the food you eat a good enough friend?

I've been thinking about  people eating food that isn't really a good "friend" to them. If we pick our foods like we pick our friends, would we make better choices?

Usually, we pick friends that we think are going to be nice to us, inspire us and help us along in life. We even choose some "spicy" friends and ones that are adventurous in ways we are not. Sometimes, we choose a few partners in crime but we try not to surround ourselves with too many of these because we know that we will become like our friends over time.

When we eat food that is physically nourishing and good for us we feel better. When we eat foods that weigh us down or are too indulgent, we are just that - weighed down paying the price of excess and extremes. We feel good in the moment and then crash down.

We make hundeds of food choices daily. As we select what we eat, we might think about if that food is the kind of friend we want and need.

Getting "enough" from fruits and vegetable

Aiming for 5 fruit and vegetable servings is great but what we consume matters.

Let's take an orange for example. It's a delicious fruit and provides vitamin C and fiber, aids in fat digestion and is a great antioxidant. It's only 50-60 calories for a medium orange and takes you at least 3/4 of the way towards meeting your Vitamin C need for the day and has more fiber than most prepackaged bread servings. It's contains about 4 ounces of water so it's very thirst quenching and only 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Now let's say you don't want to peel the orange and you opt for juice. It's faster and works well with your meal. Did you know that 8 ounces of juice is a one serving? Most Americans will drink from a 12 or 16 oz. glass not a little 8 oz. one. If you want 12 or 16 oz., just add water or also have a glass of water flavored as suggested in my earlier post. Drinking from little prepackaged pre-measured containers will show you how much one real serving is. Play along for a moment. Let's say, you don't like veggies much and just went for OJ for your 5 fruits and vegetable servings. Is this a good idea? If you drank 5 glasses of Minute Maid orange juice, you would get the vitamin C, D potassium and calcium you need for the day. That is really terrific and important. But you'd also get nearly half of your daily carbohydrate most of which is in the form of sugar (about 2 tablespoons or one grams worth) and a third of your calorie requirement for the day based on a 2000 calorie diet. I can tell you that most women will gain weight on a 2000 calorie diet. A 1300 - 1500 calorie diet would be more appropriate so now you are drinking almost half of your daily calorie requirements to get the nutrition you wanted from fruits and vegetables.

Now what about when you are out and go to a place like a Jamba Juice franchise for fresh squeezed orange juice ? It's one of the lowest calorie juice items on their menu. You can't purchase one 8 ounce serving from their menu but if you had a twelve ounce serving (just a little more) you would get much of the fiber you need for the day (not in the store bought juice unless you buy it with pulp) and 300% of the vitamin C. But you'd miss the Vitamin D since it is added to store bought orange juice but not necessarily added otherwise. Did you know that 80% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient? We have to fix that if we want to have strong bones and lower the chance of getting many illnesses.

I hope you now realize that even when considering a serving of a single type of fruit - an orange or orange juice and where you buy it can impact your nutritional intake drastically. 

Simple Takeaway 1: Stick to serving sizes. The easiest way to do this is to buy the right size glass or container. Clear plates and glasses are preferred so you can see what you are consuming and many studies show you will eat less. If you don't know how much a serving size is, just look on any container in the supermarket for items you eat commonly. Or go to or

Simple Takeaway 2: An easy rule of thumb is to know that 10% of the daily value on a package for carbohydrates translates to about 2 tablespoons of sugar. 100% of the Daily Value for a 2000 calorie diet is then 20 tablespoons. Take a look at 20 tablespoons of sugar in a glass. Look at it again so you have a picture in your mind.  If you are adding sugar to your coffee or tea, are drinking lots of sugared soda or juice, etc. you won't be able to eat real food with nutrients for you calories. More often than not sugars or carbohydrates that break down in your body to sugar account for much of the carbohydrates in food and you need to watch out so you don't go overboard. Too much sugar is excess energy that the body will store as fat and will cause premature aging if you are past your growing years. Sugar helps all things grow so if you are not growing taller you are growing wider or growing what shouldn't be growing inside you.  Sugar and other carbohydrates are less expensive ingredients to use, tend to increase taste appeal so it will find it's way into many products that you buy. If you don't like that then buy product that you do like, it's election time and remember to vote if you want to find the foods that you like and are good for you.

Simple Takeaway 3: If you slowly decrease the amount of sugar and carbs that you eat, you will easily get used to lower levels and foods you previously thought were not sweet will taste sweeter.  It works. You just have to make a committment to look at what you are eating and take baby steps.

Simple Takeaway 4: Eating less sugar if you are eating too much is being good to yourself. Because we like sugar as children, we have an emotional attachment to it as a reward.  If you eat too much sugar or too much of anything that puts on the pounds you are not being good to yourself, if you are overweight. You want to be good to yourself and do what is in your best interest, don't you? Our emotions are powerful and we need to respect them in ways that benefit rather than harm us. Words to remember.

Simple Takeaway 5: Variety is the spice of life! Always vary your fruits and vegetables as well as the rest of your diet.  Seasonal variation help us do this naturally and cost effectively. There is no perfect set of foods because you need to eat different foods to get all of the nutrition you need. It's all about eating lots of different foods in the right quantities.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making breakfast healthier

Are your breakfasts high in grains but don't provide the protein and fiber you want for a good start to your day and a well running metabolism? A small amount of "good" fat will also help absorbtion of the Vitamins A, D, E and K - essential fatty acids, vitamins and  fat soluble nutritients you consume from food or a mutivitamin.

Typical cereal and muffin style breakfasts rarely offer much other than carbohydrates for energy so consider the following convenient and healthy options to help sustain you through the morning.


Add a slice or two of sliced chicken or meat, you might have for lunches or leftover from yesterday's dinner. Heat and it's ready.

Do you eat oatmeal? Great on fiber and better with an add-in of a spoonful of flavored beans for a savory flavor. There are lots of varieties in the store - I love Trader Joe's Cuban style black beans adding protein, fat and fiber to my breakfast for under 50 calories. Use any spices you like. For other less savory oatmeal flavors mix-in cinnamon. It's great to lower inflammation and consistently one of the top selling flavors of cereal hot or cold. If you must use a sweetener, limit it to a teaspoon or two of raw sugar or honey. Consider fresh fruit to add fiber and vitamin C. An occasional 8 oz. glass  of juice (1 serving) with pulp preferrably for fiber and added water for more hydration can complete your meal.

Boil a few eggs at a time for hard boiled eggs in 5-10 minutes. You'll want to eat about 2-3 a week for protein and nutrients. Eggs have the most "complete" protein. If they are good enough to develop life, they are good for you! If you do want to make an egg dish, buy whites only in a container and and add them to extend your whole egg. You can take a hot cup, pour in the eggs and or whites, a slice of ham or even crumble of cheese, microwave for 2 minutes and you have a breakfast to go. You can add some egg whites to your oatmeal in the microwave too. I like to add a spoonful of low fat cottage cheese (chosing one with no additives) for a great boost to my breakfast.

Save your money:

Light juices just have water added so save money by adding your own. Buy pure juices and over time add more and more water to your juice. You'll get used to the light flavor and lower the amount of sugar you consume. Drinking no more than 8 oz. of pure juice per serving will give you what you need nutritionally.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Strategies for eating chocolate

The best chocolate is different for different people across the globe. The specific foods and tastes we are introduced to early in life become our comfort foods later in life. Simply said, when we are children, familiarity breeds liking especially when tied to an emotional connection such as a treat for good behavior or a shared happy experience. But children are also attracted to sweets at a young age since their bodies need sugar for growth. Once we are adults, we no longer need the same amount of sugar as children, yet our minds still associate high sugar foods with reward and comfort. While most of us love chocolate, in large quanties, chocolate does not love us. 

In small quantities, as part of a meal, chocolate can not only be delicious but also beneficial to our health.Try one of more of the following tips to enjoy your favorite chocolate in moderation and consume it as the special treat we treasure:

1) Consider buying really expensive chocolate that you love. Reserving one small piece for dinner time will help you avoid eating it earlier in the day and give you a treat to look forward to. You can indulge safely and without guilt since the calorie count of one indulgent piece of chocolate should easily fit into your meal allotment and will not raise your blood sugar suddenly or much more than eating the meal without the chocolate.  If one piece is under 100 calories, you may have two pieces. If you buy boxed chocolate, check how many pieces in the box and think of how much time the box should last (e.g. a box of 30 pieces should last a month). This strategy may work for those who are price conscious and want to make their expensive purchase last a long time. It may also work for those who want a treat to look forward to at the end of the day.
2) Check nutritional labels for calories per piece. Do not eat more than one bite size piece with a meal or as a snack unless you've checked calories first. Remove the piece from the original package and put it in a clear bag or container so you can see it. Reading labels for calorie, fat and saturated fat content, planning and separating your intended portion and visually seeing only the amount you want to eat will help you what you monitor your eating. This strategy will work best for those who will read labels and those that are willing to do a little advance planning.
3) Buy bite sized chocolates that are individually wrapped.  Unwrapping takes time and will slow consumption. Most men, in particular, do not like to have to unwrap chocolates so it will deter them from eating more. The harder to unwrap the better. Slowing the eating process give the brain more time to recognize that it has been satified. Save each wrapper and place it in front of you to visualize the evidence so you brain registers exactly how many pieces you've eaten at all times even if you have measured your portion ahead of time. This strategy will work best for those who don't have the patience to fuss or for emotional eaters who would rather not see the evidence of what they ate.
4) Drink your chocolate treat warm in the evening with low fat milk or a soy based milk for added protein. If you prefer it cold, add low fat milk, soy based milk or whey powder with little to no lactose content and some ice cubes. You can add a teaspoon of vanilla or instant coffee, some unflavored or vanilla yogurt or some fresh raspberries. Chocolate consumed with protein milk or soy protein will make a better snack than chocolate alone since it will spike your blood sugar less.Try an unsweetened chocolate mix and add your own sugar. If you feel you need more than two packets or teaspoons of sugar, pour the number of packets into a cup and see how much sugar you are actually drinking. Visualizing drinking the sugar by seeing it in the glass may help you reduce the amount you want to be consuming in the weeks ahead.  At 14 calories per "packet", you will know exactly how many calories you are consuming.  This strategy will work for those who can be satisfied the taste of chocolate and are less focused on the texture.

Do you have questions or other suggestions? Comment by clicking on the link below.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Eat whatever you want just not too much of anything

Eat what you want, just not too much of the foods that we know are high in sugar, fat and salt without providing much in the way of nutrients.

In fact, the more we eat foods that have lots of nutrients, the better the likelihood that we will not exceed our caloric requirements and will meet our nutrient needs. While we don't have to deny ourselves any of foods that we love, we do need to keep foods high in sugar, salt and fat limited to smaller portions and learn how to "fit" these foods or a satisfying substitute into our diet.

In the 70's, the FDA listed some foods to be "Generally Recognized As Safe". Concerns about additives and other ingredients led to the much government research to determine acceptable levels that would not lead to cancer or ill health. After years of this research, it was concluded that all substances consumed in high enough quantities even theose considered "safe"  would lead to unfavorable health risks and the research program was abandoned.

Foodfitter Tip: Eat a piece of your favorite chocolate after your main meal. One Lindt or Ghiradelli square after dinner is a great treat. A chocolate pudding is another way to finish your meal with a sweet indulgence that will not raise your blood sugar and is great dessert under 100 calories. If you prefer to eat fruit for dessert, try fresh fruit in season or a serving of fruit packaged in it's own juice rather than in sugar syrup.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Water it, flavor it and consume fewer calories

Do you drink sweetened beverages? If so, do you keep track of what you drink? If you don't, you may be consuming more "sugar" and calories than you realize.  We try to stay away from too much sugar and too many calories means putting on the pounds.

Many of us have switched to "diet" beverages but that may not be the best answer. While it will help to curb your calories, many advise to stay away from excessive levels of artificial sweetners. Others may have switched to juice but we really should limit our juice consumption to approximately 8-10 ounces. Juices (100%) are full of natural sugar and very caloric; drinks contain many added sugars. (Do you know all the ways sugar is labeled on packaging?)  Many tell us just to drink plain water and milk but realistically that might not be appealing to most. So how do we get enough to drink?

Often you will be guided to drink water, perhaps unsweetened tea and milk, no more than 8 ounces of juice daily . With so few options, realistically, how will kids comply? Get used to adding water to your non-carbonated drinks. Try 1/2 water to start. Start with your 8 ounce serving of any non-carbonated beverage and each time you drink it add a little more water. Challenge yourself to skew the balance to be more water than non-carbonated beverage. Go to the store and notice how many beverage products have water as the first ingredient on the package. If you were to add water to a beverage yourself, you'd save money too. So now if you could save calories and money, why not try it.

Now think about water as a beverage. Most of us who don't drink more think of it as too plain. So why not add something to the water? Lemon, oranges and other fruits are great to add. Even powdered drink mixes if you use a quarter of the package instead of the whole package.

What about milk? You can add unsweetened chocolate drink mix or blend in any kind of fruit for a smoothie.

Now that you have some ideas, I'd love to hear some ideas of your own. Contact me on Twitter @ foodfitter.

Friday, July 2, 2010

What's in a Name? Is a rose a rose by any other name?

Would you pay more for Friskies or Fancy Feast brand food for your cat? Meow Mix or Wholesome Goodness? Fun names are memorable but names that describe or suggest a desired benefit are likely to be perceived as more "valuable" and command a higher price.

You would expect that a higher priced product with a "premium" name was higher in quality but do you really know? Consumers who choose these products will certainly convince themselves that the higher price is justified and the product is better. It's human nature to do so.

What irritates you?

Do you always know what irritates you? When you are irritated, do you avoid the irritant or try to confront it?

Now think about this in the context of foods we eat. Sometimes we don't even know what is irritating us. Is the irritant a whole food or ingredient? Can it be easily isolated? If identified, can it be avoided or do we need to treat the symptoms caused by the irritant?

Finding irritants in our diet can be difficult. Irritants cannot always be isolated. At this time, there is no test available to identify irritants and so we need to do the best we can by observing what we eat and listen to how we feel.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Allergies or Irritants?

Today I went to the allergist to test for food and other allergies. The nurse came in with 66 bottles of potential culprits. Having spent the majority of my childhood with allergies that resulted in large amounts of my body covered with mosquito bites, I opted out of the skin method. Anticipating reactions - possibly 66 of them was too much for me to handle.

So I opted for blood tests and had to choose about 20 food and other allergens to start the process with that I thought might be the cause of my allergic reactions.

I mentioned that I react to many salad dressing and other ingredients and was told these are irritations rather than allergies. I'm now on a quest to understand these irritants in foods. I'll share more as I find out more about this.

Making sense of food labels

If we don't know what we're looking for we won't find it. Most of us don't know the terms used in food labeling. So how will we know what to look for on a label if we don't know what our options are? We didn't learn this in school, and even if we did, the terms have probably changed.

Our children may know more than we do if they are in one of the many new education programs popping up for our children. But what are we to do now? Logical assumptions about terms in labeling only take us so far.

Here is a quick list of new terms you might want to know about to demonstrate our dilemna:;cbsnewsLeadStoriesSecondary

For a quick sheet of label claims you can print and take with you when you go to the grocery store:

Now if you are really serious about learning about your food labels see:

Friday, April 30, 2010

Organic's "healthy halo"

Cornell Professor Brian Wansink's latest research finds that organic foods have a "healthy halo" causing overeating. An organic food which is free of synthetic materials used in processing may be safer to eat if handled properly and eaten quickly, but defining a food as organic certainly does not give us license to eat a food without moderation. Organic foods can be healthier than non-organic foods in some respects because of how they are grown or processed but do not have more nutrients than naturally occur in that food and need to be eaten soon after harvest and in appropriate quantities. Organic does not tell us how healthy a given food is, it just says it is grown or formulated in a certain way with certain standards.

Importantly, organic certainly doesn't mean a food is low calorie. If we give ourselves permission to overeat when we choose organic foods are we defeating our purpose at least to some extent?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reward kids and make them happy!

New legislation in California puts restrictions on a "Happy-type meal" so that a kids meal that doesn't meet certain nutritional guidelines cannot be sold with a toy.

How did these "Happy-type meals" come about? Rewarding children for behavior works well to create a desired action. While, there are many ways to reward children, food and toys are typically the rewards of choice. Personally, I would argue for more love, hugs and attention with a few good toys and other treats. Can't we interchange rewards so that all the rewards are good and sometimes even an unexpected surprise? No one consciously wants to teach our children to mistake food or objects for love.

I vote for one reward at a time. If the reward is a burger or a food or candy treat, do we really need to double dip with two rewards - a food or candy and a toy? Just in case the first reward doesn't work, there is a fallback reward?

Now if it is established that if the toy is the reward, should the child be rewarded for eating an meal that doesn't meet nutritional guidelines? Wouldn't you want your child to be rewarded with a toy for eating a healthy meal?

Using a smaller plate to adjust portion sizes to what they should be

When you want to be accountable for calories you eat in a meal and be sure to eat for one rather than two, look at the portion and calories associated with frozen food entrees. If you want to consume lower calorie meals refer to frozen entrees such as such as Lean Cuisine. Notice the size of the plate (typically about 8 inches in diameter) and the size of each food portion. If you are preparing the meal yourself, eliminate the dessert or sauce on your own meal and you can eat a little more quantity for the same amount of calories and your meal will have more nutrition per calorie.

If you are not trying to have a lower calorie meal but just want to be sure that you are not eating more than you should, use the full calorie frozen entrees for reference. Eating Right or Healthy Choice are good selections to reference.

Once you get used to the amount of food you should be eating in a meal, you can use your own plate that is a similar size but stick to the quantities you have become accustomed to. Remember, whether preparing your own food, purchasing food from a store or eating out, portion size quidelines should be minded.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Processing and the chemicals in our foods

Technically speaking, processing is the "process" of bringing food from the farm to the consumer. Handling and processing can be more or less harmful depending on practices used.

Often there is an issue of what chemicals are used to bring foods to consumers. Some chemicals that have been found to have negative consequences on health are used to preserve foods from spoilage so that they can be brought to the masses who cannot get to farmers markets or who cannot afford to purchase these fresher foods. Foods that spoil and are eaten are not safe either and there are tradeoffs that must be made for safety. Foods that are thrown away cost us money. Recently, I have seen some new innovative, natural food preservation methods. With the appropriate focus in this area more innovations are likely to surface.

The USDA will be announcing new regulations to keep our food safe in the coming months. Some of these regulations will be hard on smaller businesses as the required practices may be costly to implement.

Some chemicals are used so that foods alter the appearance of foods to make them more appetizing to consumers such as additives that enhance the color of a product. The upside of this approach can be to make these foods more appealing to purchase. The question becomes, can we educate consumers to be comfortable consuming oranges that are not completely orange so coloring is not a part of their processing? How can we manage the cost of bringing food to consumers that is healthy and still appealing. (I'd hate to see us throw away all the oranges that don't have a great orange color but still are sweeet and have lots of Vitamin C). What price are we willing to pay for healthier food?

We pay a price, risking our health in many ways that we may not be aware of. But if we are aware, we need to speak up. Consumers need their voices heard so that competition in the market will bring us the very healthiest and safest food for the lowest cost.

Trend towards ingredients and other food to avoid

In short, from research I've seen, only a very small segment of consumers read labels and of those, few are aware of what specific ingredients used in food processing that they should steer away from. If we are talking about the Whole Foods shopper perhaps a few more are aware. Therefore, considering basic human behavior, I highly doubt consumers will be on the lookout for more than a few ingredients to avoid since it's hard enough for them to keep track of these details and factor all of this information into their diet.

As for trends in this area, we can think back to issues with Red Dye #3 and or even MSG. Any one additive ingredient can begin an awareness trend that would bring these issues to light today either because of a study that causes the government to bring attention to the ingredient or because of a consumer movement that tips the media attention.

I believe our problem today is that the consumer is overwhelmed by hearing about specific ingredients to eat or not to eat rather than following a more holistic approach with their diet considering how a particular food fits into their diet, budget, need for convenience and beliefs. Yes, it's important to stay as educated as possible about what we should eat but even more important to step back and put it all into perspective. We need to weigh the risks of what we eat in total. I believe in simple, guiding principals overall rather than expecting a consumer to know the healthy or non-healthy food or ingredient of the day.

We eat what we do because we consciously or unconsciously give ourselves permission. If we really took a look at what we consume honestly, would we give ourselves permission or would we make changes? More often than not we already know what we should do and just need some further guidance.

Here are some guidelines. Eat more whole foods and make tradeoffs as necessary. Be conscious and honest about these tradeoffs. Only when we are honest and diligent about our own food choices, will real change occur.


About Me

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First trained as a food chemist and nutritionist, my career began enriching a Twinkie, comparing the nutrition of a Twinkie to an apple and studying the role of sugar in the diet. With an M.B.A. and years in food and pharma understanding consumers and manufacturers, I'm back to where I started - food should taste great and serve to keep us healthy. To do so, there needs to be consumer awareness. Consumers need to vote for what they want by buying what they really want. If they buy impulsively, that's what they will see more of. They need to practice balance and responsible choices. That's when change will come. Please engage me with your conversation so that I can help you make and stick to better food choices that you enjoy. You'll gain a deeper appreciation of food not only from farm to table but farm to health. My vision is to promote solutions for healthful food and food practices you can happily embody and embrace!