"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Great Oxymoron: "Healthy" Processed Foods

If you watch TV (or internet ads, for that matter), you know that there are a ton of products being advertised that claim to be healthy. They are all "naturally flavored" and "contain real fruit" and "are now made with antioxidants" and "are a good source of fiber"... but do those claims make the products healthy?

The answer, of course, is NO. In the words of a recent article from the Journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, "There is no such thing as healthy ultra-processed foods. By their very nature they are unhealthy... [and] may well accelerate the deterioration of public goods and public health." Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma, suggested in this New York Times Magazine article to "avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims... [and] especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number-- or that contain high-fructose corn syrup."


Let's look at some of these "healthy" products now.

Kellogg's Smorz cereal claims to be a "good source of Vitamin D." Unless you're eating this product in the sun, I don't know how they can possibly advertise this. Here's the ingredient list:
CORN FLOUR, MARSHMALLOW BITS (SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, DEXTROSE, GELATIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE, RED #40, YELLOW,#5, YELLOW #6, BLUE #1), SUGAR, CHOCOLATEY COATING (SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, NONFAT MILK, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), WHOLE OAT FLOUR, FRUCTOSE, WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, WHEAT FLOUR, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, PALM OIL, SALT, CARAMEL COLOR, COLOR ADDED, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, NIACINAMIDE, REDUCED IRON, ZINC OXIDE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), BHT (PRESERVATIVE), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), VITAMIN A PALMITATE, FOLIC ACID, VITAMIN D, VITAMIN B12.
How that is healthy is beyond me (more than five ingredients, contains HFCS, has ingredients I've never heard of and can't pronounce)... yet I'm sure parents will buy it for their kids because of the huge claim on the top of the box.


Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars (Cherry) claims that it's "a good source of fiber," has "more of the whole grains your body needs," and is "made with real fruit." Huh. First of all, your body doesn't need whole grains; if it did, I would've been dead a year and a half ago. In the words of Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, "there is absolutely no reason to eat grains." (Click here for the article.) Second of all, I didn't know "real fruit" is made with a million ingredients. Check it out:
WHOLE GRAIN OATS, ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, SOYBEAN OIL (WITH TBHQ AND CITRIC ACID FOR FRESHNESS), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SOLUBLE CORN FIBER, SUGAR, CALCIUM CARBONATE, WHEY, WHEAT BRAN, SALT, CELLULOSE, POTASSIUM BICARBONATE, PROPYLENE GLYCOL, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, WHEAT GLUTEN, CORNSTARCH, NIACINAMIDE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, CARRAGEENAN, ZINC OXIDE, REDUCED IRON, GUAR GUM, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), FOLIC ACID. FILLING: HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CORN SYRUP, CHERRY PUREE CONCENTRATE, GLYCERIN, SUGAR, WATER, SODIUM ALGINATE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, MALIC ACID, CITRIC ACID, METHYLCELLULOSE, DICALCIUM PHOSPHATE, CARAMEL COLOR, RED #40.
Oh yes, this product is soooooo healthy. I didn't know "real fruit" had high-fructose corn syrup. I guess I learn something new every day! (Kellogg's FiberPlus Antioxidant Bars have similar ingredient lists-- but OMG, they have antioxidants! Must be healthy!)


Speaking of cherry-flavored things and antioxidants, the most ridiculous "healthy" product is Diet Cherry 7Up Antioxidant which is "a delicious way to cherry pick your antioxidant" "without the calories of the original." There are so many things wrong with this-- just because something is diet, 0 carb, 0 calorie, and has "antioxidants" does not make it okay to drink. Ever.
Filtered carbonated water and contains 2% or less of each of the following: citric acid, natural flavors, potassium benzoate (protects flavor), aspartame, potassium citrate, acesulfame potassium, vitamin E acetate, Red 40.
In fact, studies have shown that aspartame (Nutrasweet) and acesulfame-K (Sunnette), the artificial sweeteners used in diet soda, contain many toxins and cause many health problems including cancer, seizures, tumors, and neuropsychotic disorders (source). According to Primal Body, Primal Mind, they "can increase insulin and leptin levels in people who consume them and thus contribute to obesity." In fact, another popular artificial sweetener used in "diet" products, sucralose (Splenda), "originally started out in an attempt to create an insecticide." Why put that in your body!? No matter what supposed antioxidants a product has, read the ingredients and run far, far away if it has any of these artificial sweeteners... or if it's a soda in general. Check out this awesome infographic on the harmful effects of soda: Harmful Soft Drinks.


My favorite claim is "naturally flavored." General Mills's Oats & Chocolate Chewy Fiber Bar, for example, has this one (along with the "35% daily value of fiber" one too). I guess only in the modern, ultra-processed foods world does this ingredients list mean "naturally flavored":
Chicory Root Extract, Semisweet Chocolate Chips (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural flavor), Whole Grain Oats, High Maltose Corn Syrup, Rice Flour, Barley Flakes, Sugar, Canola Oil, Glycerin, Maltodextrin, Honey, Tricalcium Phosphate, Palm Kernal Oil, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Nonfat Milk, Fructose, Malt Extract, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Baking Soda, Caramel Color, Natural Flavor. Mixed Tocopherols Added to Retain Freshness.
Don't you just love chemicals as part of a balanced meal?

I know a lot of us count carbs, but be wary of low-carb bars, shakes, and food products. They may be low in carbs, sure, but that doesn't make them healthy-- the same way slapping any of the aforementioned health claims make those products healthy. Let's take Atkins Advantage bars, for example-- they're only 2 or 3 net carbs and claim to be "great" or "smart" nutrition... but they contain a million and a half ingredients and artificial sweeteners. I used to live on them in my Atkins days, but I feel so much better now that I avoid that fake stuff.


What I'm trying to get across here is eat real food. Have you ever looked at an ingredient list on a head of lettuce, an apple, or a piece of chicken? No? Well, I haven't either, and you know why? Because real foods don't have ingredient lists.... and they certainly don't make health claims either. While I understand the convenience of these ultra-processed "foods," take the extra few minutes and make your own crunch bars or breakfast bars.

Your health will thank you.

Quote of the Day:
"Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." -Michael Pollan

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Recommendations from a Paleo Bookworm

Many things have changed in my life over the last few years: new school, new city, new friends, new body, new passions (i.e. nutrition/Paleo)... But one thing has remained constant throughout my entire life: my love of reading. I am such a bookworm-- if I'm not reading Paleo blogs online, chances are you can find me reading a book... and lately my books of choice have been about nutrition or evolutionary anthropology. A big question for newcomers to the Paleo lifestyle is, "What should I read?," so I'd like to dedicate this blog to my favorite books on evolutionary and modern anthropology/nutrition, the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, evolutionary fitness, and cooking... and alert you to some new books coming out within the next few months.


Evolutionary and Modern Anthropology/Nutrition:
-Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price. Price, a dentist, studied indigenous tribes all throughout the world and concluded based on their teeth that the Western diet (i.e. sugar, processed crap) has caused dental and other health problems. This is a must-read, and Price's legacy lives on through the Weston A. Price Foundation.
-The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller. Taking inspiration from Price, Miller examined indigenous diets and found them to be leaps and bounds healthier than the Western diet.
-In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. Perhaps best-known for the "7 Rules for Eating," this book examines the food issues in Western society and reminds us to shop the perimeter of the supermarket and to not eat anything our great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. (The Omnivore's Dilemma, also by Pollan, is another great read.)
-Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat (And What to Do About It) by Gary Taubes. Both books pretty much have the same message, but WWGF is for people (like me) who don't really understand the hardcore scientific details behind the research in GCBC. Taubes is quite Paleo in his approach (he was even at the Ancestral Health Symposium last weekend!), and both books are extremely well-researched and absolutely worth reading.
-Change Your Body, Change the World: Reflections on Health and the Human Predicament by Frank Forencich. This book explains how we've become unhealthy because we're stressed out, stay indoors, and have forgotten how to play. He uses such brilliant metaphors to get his points across, and really makes you examine your lifestyle and those of the people around you.
-African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity by Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie. Really fascinating book about our origins in Africa: we all evolved from the humans that left the continent about 100,000 years ago and migrated all over the world. (This is also a Robb Wolf-recommended book!)

Paleo/Primal/Evolutionary Nutrition:
-The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain. This is the original Paleo diet book-- Cordain came out with this over a decade ago and it's still one of the most well-researched and informative books out there (Cordain is also Robb Wolf's mentor!). This was also my first book on the Paleo lifestyle, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
-The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. If you know anything about Robb Wolf, you know that he's one smart and funny guy. This book, like his site and podcasts, is highly informative, hilarious, and very accessible to readers without scientific background. A must-read!
-The New Evolution Diet by Art DeVany. This book is well-written, informative, detailed, and is more than just a diet or fitness book: it's a book about making a lifestyle change and living the way evolution and nature have intended. DeVany also just rocks-- check him out in this video!
-The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. Move frequently at a slow pace. Lift heavy things. Sprint. Follow the Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid. Sisson provides his unique take on evolutionary nutrition and fitness, and this is definitely worth reading!
-Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora T. Gedgaudas. I don't know why this book isn't talked about more, because it is phenomenal. I referenced it a lot a few blog posts ago, and I still can't talk enough about how much I think everyone should read this. Gedgaudas provides a plethora of information and research that isn't in the other Paleo/Primal books, and her writing style is very clear and easy to understand. PBPM is almost entirely nutrition-based, and is probably the best crash-course in Paleo nutrition out there.

Evolutionary Fitness:
-Exuberant Animal: The Power of Health, Play, and Joyful Movement by Frank Forencich. Although many of the Paleo/Primal books talk about evolutionary fitness, this book is dedicated completely to it. We are animals! Go outside in nature and play! I also love Forencich's writing style: humorous, informative, and easy to read.
-Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I'm not much of a runner, but this is one of my all-time favorite books. This true account of McDougall's search for the Tarahumara, a tribe in Mexico that runs hundreds of miles injury-free in huaraches, explains how running shoes have messed up the feet and that we're better off going barefoot. The stories he tells are so fascinating that you will not want to put this book down (well, okay, you might... but just to go outside and run barefoot!).

Paleo/Primal Cookbooks:
-Everyday Paleo by Sarah Fragoso. New to Paleo? Trying to raise a Paleo family? This one's for you! Featuring information on everyday Paleo living, home fitness, school lunch ideas for your kids, and a ton of mouth-watering recipes, this is a must-have.
-Primal Blueprint: Quick & Easy Meals by Mark Sisson. Quick, easy, Primal, and delicious-- an absolute must for anyone following this lifestyle! Not only are his meals fantastic, but he also provides the nutritional breakdown for each of his meals as well. (The breakfast dishes in PB: Q&E are my favorite part of this book!)
-The Paleo Diet Cookbook by Loren Cordain. A great collection of Paleo meals for all types of occasions-- I've made a bunch of his chicken dishes, and they were all really great!

Coming Soon:
-Paleo Comfort Foods by Julie & Charles Mayfield. I love the message on their site: "Food is life, and is a very fun part of our life, and as much as we love to cook for our friends and families, we love being able to share these recipes with you." And Robb Wolf wrote the foreword! (Release: September 2011)
-Make It Paleo by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason of The Food Lovers Primal Palate, one of my favorite sites for recipes. I am so excited for this-- their recipes (and food photography) are incredible, and Mark Sisson wrote the foreword. Congrats, Bill and Hayley-- this is going to be fantastic! (Release: October 2011)
-The Primal Connection by Mark Sisson. This book will, according to Sisson's site, "explore how and why our modern lives have created such conflict with our hunter-gatherer brains and what specific actions we can take to realign ourselves with the hard-wired expectations of those 10,000 year-old genes." (Release: June 2012)

This is great:

Quote of the Day:
"If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run, then yours is the Earth and everything that's in it." -Rudyard Kipling, "If"