Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

Archive for the 'Nutrition and Health' Category

Michael Pollan: Food, Ads, and Revolution

Here’s an interesting video that covers quite a bit of ground: swine flu and industrial ag, GMOs and overpopulation, politics and sustainability, and consumer confusion campaigns (including Cheerios). Pollan also mentions Michella Obama’s White House garden, big ag subsidies, and the impact of the Standard American Diet on the health care crisis.

It’s about 20 minutes long, but there’s plenty of good stuff. Pollan is a man who keeps things simple: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.


Why Communists Hate Cheerios (and Other Tales)

It turns out that communists and their grand poo-bah (read: Barack Obama) hate Cheerios.  So says Ed Anger of the Weekly World News.  Now, I’m not familiar with Anger, and I have no idea if he shoots from the hip as a columnist or if his schtick is parody.  The pseudonym and the whole Weekly Word News medium suggest parody, but the intertubes tell me he has a devout following that embrace his rants as gospel, so what do I know?  That said, you may have noticed that Cheerios cereal has been getting some press lately due to a warning letter the FDA issued to General Mills. Certainly, some people certainly are taking the defense of their breakfast very seriously.

Seeing as she’s a red-blooded, all-American, all-capitalist sort of columnist, the (fortunately) inimitable Michelle Malkin has stepped up to decry the attack on Cheerios.  In the sparse lines of a non-article, Malkin manages to equate the Cheerio dust-up with both Nazi fascism (see the title of her post, an echo of the first line of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem) and socialism (complaining of proposed public funding of health care), an interesting paradox that defies my best attempts at logic.  To wit: based on Niemoller’s poem and Malkin’s clumsy invocation of its first line, somehow the Cheerios actually became the communists in this scenario. I honestly didn’t see that one coming.  (I doubt Malkin did, either.)

So, what’s the problem here, anyway?

According to the FDA, the problem is the liberal sprinkling of overambitious qualified health claims stamped all over every box of Cheerios, particularly this one: “[It can] lower your cholesterol 4 percent in 6 weeks.”

The FDA, being the killjoy that it is, had the gall to point out that a few of these claims are not backed up by  actual science.  Simply, unless GM were to add in some info about fat levels, fruits and veggies, and some other odds and ends in making a truly heart-healthy diet, these claims are misleading.  Naturally, the FDA wants these claims taken off or General Mills to consider reclassifying Cheerios as a drug, seeing as how they are trying to use a claim that “according to federal law, should apply only to drugs designed to cure disease.”  Imagine.  Those little cardboard-flavored oaty-O’s that give thousands of American children weird-tasting burps each day…soon available by prescription only?

Because I like bottom lines, I’m going to give you one.

Ain’t nobody trying to take your Cheerios away.

All the FDA is asking is that companies try not to convince consumers that good health comes in the shape of highly-processed oaty-O’s, wrapped in plastic and sitting in a pretty box.  They don’t have to stop selling them.  They just have to stop bending the truth into funny shapes while trying to sell them.

What’s the problem again?


Updated List on Most Contaminated Produce

I’ve spoken about this handy guide before, but the Environmental Working Group just updated their Dirty Dozen list for 2009.  They’ve reissued their convenient pocket guide, which you can stick in your wallet and take to the grocery store to easily identify the twelve most contaminated and fifteen least contaminated fruits and vegetables.  For those who want to limit their exposure to pesticides without breaking the bank, it’s a good place to start!

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Peanut Butter Gets Uglier

Current stats:  501 reported illnesses and 8 deaths attributed to this outbreak

On Wednesday on up at the capital, senior state and congressional officials called foul on the Peanut Corporation of America, the manufacturer responsible for the recent salmonella debacle.  Specifically, they charge that the PCA knowingly shipped peanut butter contaminated with salmonella multiple times throughout 2007 and 2008.  You can read the FDA report on-line to get all the gritty details about the contaminations, as well as unacceptable plant conditions, but let me hit some highlights for you.

First up is the charge that PCA knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella.  Reading over the report, you’ll find one dozen instances from June 2007 through the end of September 2008 where one strain or another of salmonella was discovered.  Troublingly, the write-ups read almost identically: Peanut product manufactured on x date under batch z tested positive for salmonella by a private laboratory.  After the firm retested the product and received a negative status, the product was shipped in interstate commerce.

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More on the Peanut Butter Recalls

The saga continues.

As of yesterday, the FDA was reporting just over 500 cases of salmonella, and its recall list has become epic.  Plenty of snack crackers, ice creams, and cookies are on the list, but so are a bunch of what most consumers imagine are “healthy” snacks, including Lära Bars, Clif Bars, Carob Energee nuggets at Whole Foods, Health Valley brand granola bars, and more.  Salmonella is an equal opportunity offender.  This lesson is an important one to learn.

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Meet Bix

I recently got turned on to Fanatic Cook, written by Bix.  Bix provides interesting tidbits of news on food safety, politics, policy, and nutrition, along with thoughtful commentary.  It’s a good read; if you haven’t yet stumbled onto Bix, you should hie yourself over there and check out the site.  Of particular interest to me is this recent post on what Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services might mean for the FDA.

Happy reading, everyone!


Answering Your Questions: Boosting Your Energy Levels

This post is for Cheryl, but it’s also for my dear little brother, Shorty, who asked about this back before Thanksgiving.  I intended to have it up last night, but WordPress was chapping my hide and the post-writing amounted to a heckuvah fiasco.  In any case, today is a new day, so here it is—another post answering questions from Simple Spoonful readers.

The question: What can you do to stay awake and alert throughout the day without knocking back enough caffeinated beverages to float a battleship?  Shorty tends to nod off in college lectures without his Mountain Dew (shudder), and Cheryl laments The 3 pm Slump.  Unfortunately, food can’t cure it all (Shorty, for example, is only sleeping about 5 hours a day, and no strategically administered parsley or pinto beans or spaghetti squash can fix that), but there are some things that can help to an extent, assuming you don’t have a medical condition such as anemia, hypoglycemia, thyroid issues, or diabetes.  If you are abnormally tired despite sleeping a reasonable amount (8-9 hours), get to a doctor and get checked out.  However, if you just feel a little sluggish, here are some tips for you, in no particular order.

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Whales as Toxic Waste: What is the Warning Sign We’re Waiting For?

Despite the fact that environmental and animal compassion efforts to end commercial whaling have not been totally successful, whaling may finally be on the way out.  Why?

Whales are becoming toxic.

Recently, chief medical officers on the island of Faroe (located between Scotland and Iceland) told the Faroese that their traditional pilot whale hunts not might not be such a good idea, what with the mercury and DDT and PCBs being found in the meat.  Sadly, this advice came not as a precaution, but as a recommendation based on actual studies showing that the Faroese were suffering harm as result of these chemicals and heavy metals.  Studies on the Faroese have indicated that mercury in pregnant women, even at levels well within the “safe” zone established by the World Health Organization, had caused problems for their offspring including learning, memory, and attention deficits, as well as impaired immunity and high blood pressure.  Adults were dealing with higher rates of Parkinson’s disease, circulatory problems and possibly infertility.

This is not a problem isolated to pilot whales or to the island of Faroe.

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Weighing the Pros and Cons of Vitamins and Supplements

Nowadays, it seems every time you turn around, someone’s slapping a health claim on a box of Triscuits.  Picking out a box of cereal now involves a moral dilemma, as you contemplate boxed breakfasts that claim to turn your ticker up a notch by promoting heart health while others offer to boost your cancer-fighting potential with a dose of much-hyped antioxidants.  Will you suffer heart failure if you forgo an oat-based cereal in favor of puffed rice?  Or will you find salvation in the cracker and chip aisle, where you can choose potato chips “proven” to lower your cholesterol?  Not even water is immune, as you know if you’ve found yourself lost amid shelves of vitamin water or electrolyte-infused water claiming to increase your energy, improve bone density, boost immunity, and scavenge free radicals.

Welcome to the world of nutraceuticals and qualified health claims.

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How to Read a Label, Pt 2: The Big Fat Deal

I’m going to be honest here.  Because I really do like things simple, trying to figure out which processed foods I could buy if I cared about fats was pretty much the deal-breaker for all processed foods.  It turned out that it was easier to make my own food than to decipher a lot of the information on fats.  Seriously.

Basically, when you get into fats, things get slippery.


Puns aside, I will do my durndest to boil this information down to the bare essentials.

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