Nutrition in the USA: A Look Back 2011

Apple Juice

This year has been full of jaw dropping headlines all around the world. The nutrition world definitely did not fall short of controversial topics and hot buzz debates. Whether it was Dr. Oz’s shocking report about arsenic in apple juice or the battle among researchers in relation to the safety of dietary supplements, 2011 has been a historic and thought provoking year. Take a look at our Nutritious Life 2011 year in review…

 Arsenic in Apple Juice

Dr. Oz’s show, which aired on September 14, 2011, caused quite a stir in the juice industry as well as with the FDA.  Through investigation, he found that many popular apple juice brands had arsenic levels higher than the level deemed safe in water. Dr. Oz used the levels for water as a reference point because currently, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) does not have an established safe level standard in place for arsenic or lead in juice.

The FDA and many juice manufacturing companies expressed concern and were disappointed in Dr. Oz’s studies. They felt that Dr. Oz’s report, which accounted for total arsenic levels rather than distinguishing between organic (safe) and inorganic (unsafe) arsenic, misled the public.

However, 6 weeks later, after further investigation by Consumer Reports and the FDA, they too found apple juice samples to have excessive levels of arsenic, of the harmful inorganic form.

The FDA, on December 9, 2011, stated their next action steps to be:

  • Enhance the surveillance of arsenic in apple juice by testing an additional 90 samples of juice
  • Continue to test samples of apple juice imported from China
  • Collaborate with the EPA to come up with guidelines for reducing the overall level of arsenic in the environment and in foods

With the concerted effort put forth to increase awareness and increase public safety, do you think apple juice is still safe to drink? NL wish: remove the fear from our food supply with proactive, rather than retroactive safety monitoring.

 

MyPlate

This year we said goodbye to the renowned pyramid and hello to your plate.  The food pyramid, which many of us remember from growing up, is now a thing of the past. The USDA revitalized their food group guide to create something that Americans could easily visualize. Their hope is that people will intuitively mimic this visual guide by making half of their plate fruits and vegetables. Nutritious Life recognizes MyPlate as a slight step up from the pyramid, but we still would like to see a more varied and distinguishable nutritional guide that teaches Americans about a fully balanced and healthy diet. NL wish for the future: a teaching tool that is simple, comprehensive and helps explains quality of food.

 

Sugary Drinks

 Sugary drinks are loaded with calories, but offer little nutritional value. The controversial debate surrounding sugar drinks has continued for some time now. Last October, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Governor Paterson proposed an initiative to the USDA to exclude sugar-sweetened beverages from being purchased through the nation’s food stamp program (SNAP).

Mayor Bloomberg stated, “In spite of the great gains we’ve made over the past eight years in making our communities healthier, there are still two areas where we’re losing ground – obesity and diabetes.”

Governor Paterson stated, “The use of food stamp benefits to support the purchase of sugar sweetened drinks not only contradicts the intent of this vital program, but it also subsidizes a serious public health epidemic.”

As reported by the New York Times, the proposal to ban sugary drinks was denied because of the “logistical difficulty of sorting out which beverages could or could not be purchased with food stamps and because it would be hard to gauge how effective the step was in reducing obesity.”

For the soft-drink industry, which lobbied against the proposal, and the advocacy groups for SNAP participants, the decision to reject the proposal was seen as a victory. But for Mayor Bloomberg and others like him, the decision was quite upsetting. Should the Mayor give up the fight against sugary drinks? NL wish: keep going in this direction! Change is uncomfortable, but necessary to turn around our obesity crisis.

 

The Farm Bill

True or False? The U.S. Farm Bill only affects farmers. False. This extensive piece of legislation is by no means exclusive to farmers. It is relevant to every American that has ever taken notice to the price of grocery store food items or has any interest in seeing sustainable food options, such as local, naturally grown, or organic become more widely available.

The farm bill is designed to help the U.S. government manage issues from international food trade to funding various food and nutrition programs such as farm-to-school and farmers’ market nutrition programs. It also affects energy and transportation, as corn is used to make biofuel.

Currently, foods and food products produced by huge food industry companies are somewhat less expensive and more convenient to purchase due to the fact that these companies can produce food in large amounts. Local, naturally grown, and organic foods are not as commonly available. One reason for this is that these companies do not receive the same type of government funding and support as large industry companies.

This year, many advocacy groups, on both sides of the issue, have been busy making their case before Congress and the Senate, for the new farm bill that will be passed in 2012. NL wish: We hope to see a bill passed that supports the availability of healthy choices for all Americans.

 

Meatless Mondays

Before you go off and sign the Facebook petition against Meatless Monday, consider this. Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their goal is to help improve overall health, reduce climate change and our carbon footprint by going “meatless’ one day out of the week.

Star chefs Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich, John Fraser, Marcus Samuelsson and April Bloomfield are already taking part in this movement and offer meatless specials every Monday.

Many celebrities are committing to going meatless on Mondays, including Paul McCartney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Yoko Ono, Kate Moss, Oprah, Robin Roberts, Russell Simmons, Simon Cowell, Olivia Wilde and many more.

Check out your favorite local restaurant to see if they are already on board or if they’d be interested in offering meatless specials on Mondays. NL wish: this movement benefits both the environment and personal health. If we can incorporate more meatless meals into our days and weeks, Meatless Mondays will become commonplace.

 

Grass-fed

What is all this talk about grass-fed meat lately?  Don’t all animals roam around the pasture eating grass?  Sadly, no.  The majority of “big business” slaughter houses feed their cattle a grain diet to fatten them up faster to increase production.  By raising cattle on a pasture, the consumer benefits by eating more nutritious meats; the farmer benefits because the pastures get fertilized naturally; and the animals benefit by eating the diet they were naturally intended to eat. Grass fed animals also have plenty of room to roam rather than being stuffed in a feed lot with no grass.

The American Grass Fed organization states that research is finding grass fed meat tends to be lower in fat and cholesterol and less likely to contain harmful E. coli bacteria.  They also conclude, “A variety of research shows that meat, dairy products, poultry and eggs from animals fed grass diets, rather than grain based diets, are higher in beta carotene (Vitamin A), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to be useful in cancer prevention, total weight control, improved cholesterol levels, and omega-3 fatty acids.” NL wish: a gradual and comfortable return to grass fed practices that benefit the animals, farmers and economy.  

 

High-Fructose Corn Syrup 

…it’s all in a name…

The Sugar Association, who represents growers of sugar beets and cane for producing table sugar, sucrose, is currently in a battle with the Corn Refiners Association who process corn to create High-Fructose Corn Syrup, a syrup made of the same components as sucrose.

Since High-Fructose Corn Syrup has been getting a lot of bad press in the recent years, the Corn Refiners Association wants to change the name of High-Fructose Corn Syrup to corn sugar to help with sales. However, The Sugar Association doesn’t want companies confusing corn sugar with table sugar or sucrose, which they feel may inherently cost them sales.

We shall see what the courts decide in the coming months, but either way, high-fructose corn syrup or corn sugar, it’s the main sweetener used in sugary drinks and other highly processed foods, so try to limit it from your 2012 diet. NL wish: a gradual weaning of all sweeteners in processed foods by at least 30% over time. Lets re-train our palates to prefer less sweet treats!

 

Supplements – to take or not to take?

Throughout this year, there has been quite the buzz around whether or not dietary supplements can be helpful or harmful. According to MedPage Today, government researchers have seen a 40% increase in supplement usage in Americans compared to the early 90’s.

Calcium is among the most frequently taken supplements in the U.S., and according to Dr. George Blackburn of Harvard Medical School, this is a good thing. He commented that without supplementation, most women over age 60 would have inadequate calcium intake, which could lead to bone loss.

Vitamin E supplementation did not get the same love as Calcium, however. A shocking study (the SELECT trial) released by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in October suggested vitamin E taken in large doses may actually lead to an increased risk for prostate cancer. While the results of the study are still inconclusive, medical researchers such as Dr. Jack Cusik say that

“Except for cases of clear deficiency, supplementation of vitamin E has not been shown to benefit any aspect of health, so there is no rationale for taking it unless a deficiency exists.”

Eating a balanced diet with mostly whole foods, in general, can fulfill your daily vitamin and mineral needs and potentially decrease your risk of vitamin deficiency. However, when considering taking supplements, always discuss it with your doctor and registered dietitian prior to starting a regimen. NL wish: more information about the dangers of supplementation would help to make best practice decisions. We’ll be on the lookout for more research to come!

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