Archive for Bad food

It’s what you do eat, not what you don’t.

So I don’t like the starvation mentality among health-conscious people: don’t eat this, don’t eat that, maybe eat a bit of that but not too much… There’s a lot of poison out there masquerading as food, it’s true, but if you take that approach too far, you’ll become a freaked-out, paranoid hermit.

So.

Think about what you do eat more than you think about what you don’t eat. Do eat real food, plenty of it. Eat a lot of vegetables, more than you might think is reasonable: big piles at every meal. Eat bright and dark colored plants, lots of them. Eat the cleanest meat you can find, including grass-fed red meat. Eat all different parts of the animal, especially “organ meats.” (Yes, eat liver.) Eat fermented foods, all different kinds, as often as you can.

If you eat enough of those foods, you won’t have much room left for poison, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with the poison you do encounter. And you can’t avoid poison these days. You really can’t. (You do breathe, right?)

I’m not much of a video-watcher, but this talk from TEDxIowaCity gets to the point. Terry Wahls is inspiring: she came back from progressive MS, which is almost unheard of, and she’s a plainspoken doctor who knows what she’s talking about.

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A “duh!” and an “eek!” in the Times today.

I know it’s time for the blog party, and I’ve been mulling over my contribution, but I just couldn’t let these two items in the NY Times today (well, yesterday) go by:

Metabolic Syndrome Is Tied to Diet Soda, to which I answer, oh-so-eloquently, “Well, duh.” Henriette explained it her characteristic plain language a while back, and if you’re into weird rat studies, you can check out this and this.

The bottom line? It’s not a good idea to try to trick your body with imitation foods. If you’re going to eat sugar, eat sugar. Your body knows what to do with that. Best to keep the chemistry experiments in the lab.

(Here’s the most amusing part. The column quotes one of the study’s co-authors, apparently totally perplexed: “Why is it happening? Is it some kind of chemical in the diet soda, or something about the behavior of diet soda drinkers?”)

And even better…

New Food Formula: Tastes Fine, Kills Worms. I swear to you, Donald G. McNeil, Jr. of the New York Times wrote an entire 500-word column on Kraft’s development of pesticide-laced “foods” without once questioning whether tapeworm-killing vermicides should be fed to children in the developing world in the shape of “a cheese, a pasta, a granola bar or something else” rather than, well, say, a pill? Vermicidal granola bars. Eek!

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Bad medicine: my run-in with a fancy cardiologist.

I recently spent some time at a hospital with a family member who had a heart attack. And I’m shocked to be reminded of the mainstream medical establishment’s attitude toward food.

This is what a cardiologist said about his patient at one of New England’s “finest” hospitals:

He certainly seems to enjoy his food! [Snicker.] Well, I think we know what caused this heart attack, don’t we? [Wink, wink.] Probably not much chance of a heart-healthy diet for him, is there? All that fat…. [Shaking his head.] Well, we’ll just make sure he takes lots—and I mean lots—of lipitor. [Smiling as he moves on to the next patient-victim.]

Wow.

Classic food puritanism mixed with backward nutritional advice. What a doctor.

His first mistake: Assuming that the enjoyment of food is inherently unhealthy. (After all, pleasure is a sin, isn’t it?)

His second mistake: Defining a “heart-healthy” diet as low in fat but not necessarily low in sugar. (None of the hospital’s nutritional literature mentioned the relationship between blood sugar and heart disease.)

His third mistake: Declaring that there’s no use bothering with a patient’s diet when you can prescribe medications instead. (Especially medications with dangerous side effects.)

Absolutely infuriating, this cardiologist.

My boyfriend says I “shouted him down.” Not quite, though I might have been a little sharp. After all, he was a condescending twit.

I’m not going to go into all the details of why the conventional “heart-healthy” low-fat diet is wrongheaded. For that, you might check out Nina Planck’s Real Food: What to Eat and Why.

But I will say this: Doctors seem to be most comfortable condemning and blessing foods in categories: butter is bad, olive oil is good; beef is bad, fish is good. But really it’s not like that at all. It’s a question of what kind of butter or olive oil, beef or fish. Conventional feedlot beef and butter are straight-out poisonous, it’s true. But grassfed beef and butter contain Omega-3s and CLA—truly “heart-healthy” fats. Likewise organic extra virgin olive oil and wild-caught fish are great for your heart, but solvent and pesticide-laden “pure” olive oil and antibiotic-laced farmed fish are not.

So the challenge for this family member of mine is not to eliminate all fat from his diet, but to learn the difference between butter and butter, between fish and fish, between olive oil and olive oil—to learn the difference between modern industrial foods (refined sugar and flour, hydrogenated oils, fake sweeteners) and real, nutritious foods (traditional fats, grassfed meat, fermented whole grains).

(Oh, yeah, I can’t even begin to write about the food they fed him in the hospital. Are they trying to murder people, or what?)

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Trans fat update: bureaucracy + marketing = bad food.

Okay, get this: Starbucks is now using margarine instead of butter in baked goods so they can label them “trans fat free.” No, I didn’t mix that up.

You see, “trans” just refers to the shape of the fat molecule. And it turns out that nasty partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (the stuff that New York City banned) isn’t the only fat that’s shaped this way. Butter and other animal fats naturally contain some “trans” fat molecules. The thing is, the naturally occurring trans fats don’t seem to be harmful. In fact, it seems likely they’re beneficial.

But guess what? The FDA doesn’t distinguish between the two kinds of trans fat. So even though all the research suggests that artificial trans fat is the thing to worry about, on an FDA-mandated food label, trans fat is trans fat is trans fat.

So Starbucks sees trans fat hysteria brewing. And Starbucks wants to have nice pretty “trans fat free” labels so people will feel cozy and happy and buy their processed food. The result? Croissants made with palm oil instead of butter. Ridiculous.

(The NY Times article on this is good, but you have to pay to get it from the archives.)

Related post: Trans fat-free industrial food is still bad food.

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Trans fat-free industrial food is still bad food.

So partially hydrogenated “trans” fats are bad. Everyone knows they’re bad. Hell, they’re illegal now in restaurants in New York. There’s even a trans fat–free Crisco on the market.

But guess what? The food industry isn’t replacing this nasty industrial fat with some wholesome, expensive ingredient like, say, coconut oil. Yes, you guessed it, they’re replacing it with another nasty industrial fat! And the early research suggests this one might be even more poisonous than the last. (Not only does it lower “good” HDL cholesterol, it raises blood sugar. Just what we need.)

So watch for it on food labels: interesterified fat, also known as fully hydrogenated oil. And steer clear. (And just give up on the Crisco. How about organic lard from happy pigs on small farms instead?)

The bottom line: industrial food is industrial food is industrial food. And it’s bad.

Geek note: The study in question is Stearic acid-rich interesterified fat and trans-rich fat raise the LDL/HDL ratio and plasma glucose relative to palm olein in humans by
Kalyana Sundram, Tilakavati Karupaiah and Kc Hayes in Nutrition and Metabolism 2007, 4:3. And there’s a free full-text PDF!

Related post: Trans fat update: bureaucracy + marketing = bad food.

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Food sensitivities vs. bad-food sensitivities

Food sensitivities are in style now. Gluten/wheat and casein/dairy are the most commonly cited offenders. I have a suspicion about this: most people feel better when they eliminate wheat and dairy from their diets because most wheat and dairy products people eat are just plain bad food.

I don’t doubt the existence of food sensitivities. I have several herbal clients who have clear negative reactions to gluten and/or casein in any form. For them, scrupulous avoidance is the only choice. But I think there’s a difference between a true food sensitivity and the universal sensitivity to bad food. And to help determine that difference, I’ve added some elements to the tried-and-true elimination diet.

The old-time common-sense approach is: if a food makes you feel bad, don’t eat it. An elimination diet is just a fine-tuning of that sensible bit of advice. These are the elements of a traditional elimination diet:

For at least 3 weeks, avoid all potential trigger foods. (I like to develop a list of potential trigger foods based on an individual’s health status, ancestry and dietary history. The most common trigger foods are: dairy, wheat and other gluten grains, corn, soy, rice, eggs, citrus, fish and nuts.)

At the end of the month, reintroduce the foods one at a time, carefully observing possible reactions. (Each food needs to be eaten in quantity on two occasions, separated by 2-3 days in order to “prime” the immune system for a potential reaction.)

To this sensible system, I add the following:

In addition to avoiding potential trigger foods during the elimination and testing period, avoid all foods on the bad or sketchy food lists. And when you reintroduce the suspected trigger food, reintroduce it in the healthiest form available (e.g., if you suspect wheat, reintroduce it as long-fermented sourdough or levain-type bread rather than pasta or quick bread).

I suspect that using this system, quite a few people who feel they’re sensitive to all wheat (or dairy, or corn, etc., etc.) might find they’re only sensitive to the bad or sketchy forms of the food in question.

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Sketchy food.

Last time I wrote about straight-up bad foods—foods to avoid if you possibly can. Now I need to tackle sketchy-but-sometimes-unavoidable foods. This is more nebulous territory, which is why I’ve been avoiding writing this post for days.

Sketchy food is not as clear-cut as bad food because it affects different people in different ways. Some people can tolerate moderate amounts of refined sugar, for example, but other people can’t tolerate it at all. So my list of sketchy foods is really a list of foods to be aware of, foods to be careful with, and definitely foods to avoid if you have unresolved health problems.

Suspect #1: Heavily refined and processed foods.

White sugar and white flour are the obvious ones here. Too much of these bleached-out “carbs” can send you into Syndrome X territory. But let’s not forget that ubiquitous over-refined and processed of “health foods”: soy. (Soy milk, soy cheese, soy meat, isolated soy protein powder, etc.) I’m always suspicious of newly-invented industrial foods, and soy products are no different. Touted as miracle foods when they were introduced, there’s increasing evidence that all of these processed soy products could be hazardous. (Canola oil is another invented industrial food. Originally called LEAR oil—for Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed—Canola was bred from Rape, which produces high levels of toxic erucic acid. Canola oil still contains low levels of the toxin, and I don’t think there’s any reason to eat it when there are plenty of good oils out there.)

Suspect #2: Unfermented grains and beans.

In traditional diets, grains and beans are usually fermented—through overnight soaking, wild yeast leavening, partial sprouting, etc. Fermentation makes the cooking process shorter, but it also changes the chemical makeup of the beans and grains, making them much easier to digest. (Yes, I know this applies to a huge swath of American food: pasta, crackers, cereal, etc.)

Suspect #3: Pasteurized dairy.

Raw milk contains enzymes that make it significantly easier to digest than pasteurized milk. Raw milk also contains immune-supporting proteins that are denatured by the pasteurization process. For more on raw milk, check out the Campaign for Real Milk. (Higher temperature pasteurization is more damaging to the proteins, so ultra-pasteurized milk is especially sketchy.)

Suspect #4: Grain-fed meat and dairy.

So, when cows (or sheep, or goats, etc.) eat grass, they produce healthy fats. When they’re fed grain and soy and their ground-up compatriates and who knows what else, the fat they produce is not so good for humans. You can’t always tell what the animals ate when you’re looking at a label in a grocery store, so you might have to do some detective work. For meat, look for “grass fed” on the label. For dairy, check out the dairy scorecard.

All four suspects are pretty much everywhere. Like I said before, I’m not into food fascism—but if you’re working with serious unresolved health problems, eliminating these sketchy foods is a good place to start.

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Straight up bad food.

So I need to define “bad food” for another post I want to write. It’s going to be painful (I’d rather talk about good food) but here goes.

First, we have nasty things that really aren’t even food to begin with:

  • artificial flavors
  • artificial colors
  • artificial fats (olestra)
  • artificial sweeteners (saccharine, aspartame, splenda, etc.)
  • anything hydrogenated
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • synthetic preservatives (sodium benzoate, nitrates, etc.)

Then we have genetically modified foods (GMOs). If you want to avoid them, you have to make sure these ingredients are organic or labeled GMO-free:

  • corn (corn syrup, corn starch, maltodextrin, etc.)
  • soy (soy oil, soy protein, etc.)
  • canola
  • cotton (cottonseed oil)
  • dairy (see below)

Other foods that are sometimes GMOs: potatoes, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, Hawaiian papaya, flax, sugar beets & rice. (Check out the Sustainable Table‘s genetic engineering page for more information.)

Next, we have the poisonous results of treating animals like inanimate objects:

  • commercial / factory farmed meat, eggs and dairy

(In this case, local is best—know your farmer. There are “organic” factory farms too. The new Certified Humane label is helpful, as is the Cornucopia Institute‘s dairy scorecard.)

Whew! That was a lot. And I’m just warming up. But this is a natural place for me to take a break. The above are “foods” I try to avoid—and advise my herbal clients to avoid—at all costs. Next: bad foods you really should be aware of, but can’t always avoid. (I’m not in favor of food fascism. I’ll post on that later.)

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Good quality ice cream is healthier than high-sugar yogurt.

So yesterday I was standing in line at the Co-op next to a very pregnant woman who was pining after the amazing local ice cream in my shopping basket. She was buying some high-sugar yogurt shipped from the other side of the country. She said she was “being good.”

Thing is, I think her body and her baby would have appreciated it if she’d been “bad” and eaten the ice cream instead. First of all, the milk in her yogurt wasn’t organic and likely came from grain and soy-eating cows in a large factory-type milking operation. My ice cream was organic, and the milk came from a Guernsey herd right up the road that’s grass-fed most of the year, with farm-made silage and hay in the winter.

The difference in fat-quality between grass-fed and grain-fed beef and dairy is well-documented. Grass-fed animals produce milk and meat that’s higher in omega-3 and other essential fatty acids. I wonder if she was taking an omega-3 supplement with her grain-fed yogurt?

And the sugar thing. Her yogurt had 36 grams of sugar per cup. I don’t know exactly how much sugar was in my ice cream (its small producer isn’t required to do nutrition labeling) but I can make a guess. It’s significantly less sweet than, say, Ben & Jerry’s—one of the reasons I like it—and B&J’s Organic Vanilla has 32 grams of sugar per cup.

So. My ice cream was higher in omega-3s and lower in sugar than her yogurt. The only thing the yogurt had going for it was its live culture—and I know a great local pickle company that could help her with that.

Good food. It’s good.

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