Tag Archives: Nutrition
That last time you ordered the sea bass, odds are you got some other denizen of the deep — maybe an endangered species. In a report out Thursday, the advocacy organization Oceana suggests that fish fraud is rampant. That, in tandem with climate change, poses a dangerous threat to the world’s food supply
Over the course of a monthslong investigation, Oceana took 449 samples of seafood from restaurants, grocery stores, and markets, then sequenced their DNA to see what species they really were. One in every five fish tested had been mislabeled. More than half of the fish called “sea bass” were something else, often Nile perch, or giant tilapia. A third of the fish on the menu labelled “Alaskan halibut” — a thriving fishery — was Atlantic halibut, a species struggling to recover from overfishing.
“To guarantee that we still have fish in the future, we need to make sure that the seafood we are eating is properly labeled,” said Kimberly Warner, senior scientist at Oceana.” “Without that transparency we can’t tell if it is legally attained, implicated in human rights abuses, or safe,”
It’s one of two major threats to the world’s seafood supply, a vital source of nutrition for half the world’s population. Thanks to climate change warming the oceans, the amount of fish people could sustainably catch is now 1.4 million metric tons less than it was in 1930, according to a recent study. The mislabeling monkeyshines make the problem worse, thwarting efforts to police overfishing, and protect vulnerable fish stocks.
In an effort to clamp down on fraudulent labelling last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started monitoring imports of 13 species of fish, including bluefin tuna, abalone, and dolphinfish. But the Oceana testing shows that fraud still abounds where the government isn’t looking.
The flimflam schemes allows miscreants to hide rule breaking and environmental damage, and it also hurts regular eaters, Warner said.
“Diners in the Great Lakes region are thinking they are getting a freshly caught local species,” she said, “and instead they are getting something that’s been shipped halfway around the world.”
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There’s been a long decline in the nutrition of our crops, often attributed to people breeding plants for higher yields rather than health benefits. But, as is often the case, climate change is making it worse.
An altered atmosphere means altered food, because plants suck up CO2 from the air and turn it into sugars, Helena Bottemiller Evich points out in a new piece for Politico. That means we’re getting more sugar per bite, and less protein, iron, and zinc. The global phenomenon puts hundreds of millions of people at risk for nutrient deficiencies.
It’s not just a problem for humans. Analysis of pollen samples going back to 1842 shows that protein concentration declined dramatically as atmospheric CO2 rose. That makes yet another suspect in the great bee-murder mystery.
“To say that it’s little known that key crops are getting less nutritious due to rising CO2 is an understatement,” Evich writes for Politico. “It is simply not discussed in the agriculture, public health, or nutrition communities. At all.”
The world is changing in so many ways that it’s nearly impossible to track them all — even when those changes happen right at the ends of our forks.
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According to a 2015 New York Times analysis of government and private-sector data, the number of calories consumed annually by the average US child declined 9 percent between 2004 and 2013. And yet, researchers from Duke and Wake Forest have found that trend has not improved the child obesity situation.
Using body mass index data from the National Health Examination Survey, which tracks randomly selected households with health exams and surveys every two years, the researchers calculated moderate (class 1), mid-level (class 2) and extreme (class 3) obesity rates among kids aged 2 to 19. Here’s what they found, from a paper they published in the peer-reviewed journal Obesity.
From “Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity in US Children, 1999-2014,” Skinner et al, 2016.
The “overweight” rate—which encompasses the above “obese” categories as well as slightly overweight kids—also nudged upward from an already-high level: 28.8 percent from 1999 to 2000, compared with 33.4 percent from 2013 to 2014, the study found. The authors broke out data by age, gender, and race, and not a single group showed a statistically significant decline in obesity or being overweight over the time frame. (The authors used standard definitions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Overweight kids fall between the 85th and 95th percentiles compared with peers of the same age and gender, while obesity starts above the 95th percentile.)
So, despite the above-mentioned drop in calorie intake, our kids are still packing on too much weight too fast. What gives?
I put the question to Barry Popkin, a veteran obesity researcher and professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health. (He wasn’t involved in the paper). He said that while kids have eased up on problematic items like sugary sodas in recent years, they’re “not shifting the quality of their diets toward healthy foods.” Instead, “we continue to see our children mainly eat what we would call junk food,” relying heavily on cookies and other grain-based sweets, along with plenty of salty snacks, fruit juice (which acts an awful lot like soda in our bodies), and other sugary beverages.
A recent analysis of another big federal data set, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), bears out Popkin’s claim. When infants transition from baby food to solid food, they still tend to get plied with plenty of processed junk and few vegetables, the study found (more here). The report noted that 40 percent of babies get brownies or cookies, and that French fries and chips are the most common form of vegetables kids eat by the time they’re two years old.
But obesity doesn’t exist just because of individual choices by parents and kids. On the policy front, the US government “has yet to aggressively do more than try to make some minor changes in a few programs,” Popkin added. For example, Congress and President Barack Obama reformed the school food environment in important ways back in 2010, cutting down on the once-ubiquitous availability of sugary snacks and beverages, but public school cafeterias are still constrained by tight budgets to churning out plenty of highly processed food. (More here on the the modest US lunch reforms and the brewing congressional backlash against them.) In Brazil, by contrast, “70 percent of all food served in schools must be real food that is healthy,” Popkin said.
And then there are chemical factors not directly related to food choices. Chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are ubiquitous in food packaging and all manner of consumers products; yet there’s “strong mechanistic, experimental, animal, and epidemiological evidence” that at tiny doses they mess with our endocrine systems and can trigger obesity and diabetes, warns the Endocrine Society. Kids can be saddled with a higher risk of obesity before they’re even born, when their pregnant moms are exposed to BPA.
Add all of this to stubbornly low rates of physical activity among kids and the long decline of time and resources devoted to physical-education classes and even recess, and it’s no wonder our childhood obesity problem persists.
Sprouts truly are the best locally-grown food, yet not enough people eat or grow them. Considering there many health and environmental benefits, its time to consider adding sprouts to your diet. Here are 10 reasons to eat more sprouts:
1. Experts estimate that there can be up to 100 times more enzymes in sprouts than uncooked fruits and vegetables. Enzymes are special types of proteins that act as catalysts for all your bodys functions. Extracting more vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids from the foods you eat ensures that your body has the nutritional building blocks of life to ensure every process works more effectively.
2. The quality of the protein in the beans, nuts, seeds, or grains improves when it is sprouted. Proteins change during the soaking and sprouting process, improving its nutritional value. The amino acid lysine, for example, which is needed to prevent cold sores and to maintain a healthy immune system increases significantly during the sprouting process.
3. The fiber content of the beans, nuts, seeds, or grains increases substantially. Fiber is critical to weight loss. It not only binds to fats and toxins in our body to escort them out, it ensures that any fat our body breaks down is moved quickly out of the body before it can resorb through the walls of the intestines (which is the main place for nutrient absorption into the blood).
4. Vitamin content increases dramatically. This is especially true of vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E. The vitamin content of some seeds, grains, beans, or nuts increases by up to 20 times the original value within only a few days of sprouting. Research shows that during the sprouting process mung beansprouts (or just beansprouts, as they are often called) increase in vitamin B1 by up to 285 percent, vitamin B2 by up to 515 percent, and niacin by up to 256 percent.
5. Essential fatty acid content increases during the sprouting process. Most of us are deficient in these fat-burning essential fats because they are not common in our diet. Eating more sprouts is an excellent way to get more of these important nutrients.
6. During sprouting, minerals bind to protein in the seed, grain, nut, or bean, making them more useable in the body. This is true of alkaline minerals like calcium, magnesium, and others than help us to balance our body chemistry for weight loss and better health.
7. Sprouts are the ultimate locally-grown food. When you grow them yourself you are helping the environment and ensuring that you are not getting unwanted pesticides, food additives, and other harmful fat-bolstering chemicals that thwart your weight loss efforts.
8. The energy contained in the seed, grain, nut, or legume is ignited through soaking and sprouting.
9. Sprouts are alkalizing to your body. Many illnesses including cancer have been linked to excess acidity in the body.
10. Sprouts are inexpensive. People frequently use the cost of healthy foods as an excuse for not eating healthy. But, with sprouts being so cheap, there really is no excuse for not eating healthier.
Check out my article: Grow Your Own Sprouts.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
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While the Dutch and other nations are advising consumers to cut down on red meat, it’s estimated that Americans will eat more beef this year than we have in the last decade.
The Netherlands Nutrition Centre’s new dietary guidelines suggest eating no more than 500 grams (just over one pound) of meat per week, including no more than 300 grams (0.7 pounds) of red meat, which it describes as “high carbon.” The agency wants the Dutch to scale back red meat for health reasons and sustainability. After all, the meat industry produces 14.5 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and land for grazing takes up a quarter of the Earth’s non-ice surface. The Dutch agency’s new guidelines also decrease the recommended fish consumption from twice to once per week, and they encourage protein from sources such as unsalted nuts and legumes.
In the United States, on the other hand, diners are piling more meat onto their plates. The USDA has predicted that 2016 will be the biggest year in a decade in Americans’ consumption of beef. We’ll eat an estimated 53.4 pounds, nearly half a pound more per person than last year.
Bloomberg Business compares US chicken and beef consumption since the 1970’s. Source: Bloomberg
According to Bloomberg, the increase could be due to cheaper prices on red meat and the popularity of protein-heavy diets like the paleo diet. Also, there are more cows. Droughts that plagued the Southwest in 2014 meant fewer cows and higher beef prices. However, cattle counts from earlier this year show there are nearly 3.5 million more cows than two years ago.
The Dutch aren’t the only sustainability conscious eaters. Sweden altered its dietary guidelines in 2009, and in 2012 Brazil called for cultivating and eating foods that had “environmental integrity.” Last week, the United Kingdom released its EatWell Guide, which advised Brits to eat less red meat.
It’s unclear whether the USDA will change its guidelines to reflect sustainability any time soon. When “My Plate,” the Obama administration’s food group
The USDA’s “My Plate” guidelines were released in January. The guidelines advised more vegetables, fruits and lean meats, and less sugar. Source: ChooseMyPlate.gov
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Stroll through the aisles of your supermarket and you’ll see advertisements left and right for snacks packed with the new magical nutrient: protein. Wheyhey ice cream—”20 grams of protein per pot”—promises to help you with “losing weight” and “skin anti aging,” while P28 high protein sliced bread wants to be “part of your journey to a healthy lifestyle.” Lenny & Larry’s protein-packed cookies supposedly help “chase away hunger.” Artisanal bison jerky bars line the Whole Foods’ checkout aisle, and everyone at work is on a Paleo diet.
Do we really need this much protein? To maintain normal health, the average sedentary adult woman needs a daily dose of 60 grams and a man needs around 70. Yet data show that Americans may consume around 120 grams daily. That means we’re consuming twice as much as what’s needed, likely without even trying. “If you have enough calories in your diet, not getting enough protein would be very, very hard,” journalist and author Marta Zaraska told me in an interview for our latest episode of Bite, “Zebra Meat and Vegan Butchers.”
In her new book Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat, Zaraska digs deep into the reasons behind this protein hunger. According to Zaraska’s research, the craze goes much further back than the rise of the Paleo and other protein-focused diets. In fact, one of myths fueling this protein fixation has roots in a shaky finding from the 1800s. That’s when German scientist Carl von Voit determined how much protein soldiers and hard laborers consumed each day, and then extrapolated that the average body required 150 grams a day. “The problem with his methodology is obvious,” writes Zaraska: “it’s a bit like observing children stuffing themselves with cookies and concluding that young humans require tons of sugar to grow.” By 1944, the USDA had halved that recommendation, but the idea that we need lots of protein to be healthy lived on.
Most of the protein we consume comes from animals: Americans eat roughly 270 pounds of meat a year. For years, many people thought that without animal flesh, our bodies don’t get all of the essential amino acids they need. (Meat is considered a “complete” protein because it contains all of the acids.) Zaraska traces some of this misunderstanding back to, ironically, Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet. In her seminal 1971 manual for embracing a low-impact life, Lappé suggested that vegetarians should chart the amino acids in their plant foods and eat the foods together at the right times to make sure they could “complete” their plant-based proteins through the right combinations of amino acids from different sources, a task that required laborious planning and analysis.
True, plant foods can lack enough essential amino acids; beans, for instance, are low in methionine. (Grains are high in methionine, hence the advice to enjoy rice and beans together.) But since the 1970s, we’ve learned that the body actually completes proteins—fills in the missing elements —on its own. “Now we know that the liver can store amino acids so we don’t have to combine the acids in one meal,” states the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In the 20th anniversary edition of her book, Lappé acknowledged that when it came to amino acids, she had “reinforced another myth.” Not only does the body complete proteins, there are several plant foods that have all of the essential amino acids that a person needs, writes Zaraska, such as buckwheat, quinoa, soy, and potatoes.
The consensus among many doctors and dietitians these days seems to be that if you are eating a diverse array of foods, you don’t need to stress about protein. The Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight (adjusted slightly if you’re active, ill, or pregnant). I’d need about 42 grams to meet my requirement; when I added up everything I ate earlier this week, I was startled to discover that I had eaten 66 grams without thinking twice—and I don’t eat meat. Considering a single serving of chicken breast clocks in at 31 grams and a piece of skirt steak at 22, it’s easy to see why Americans frequently double-dip on their protein allowances. (Calculate your own daily allowance here.)
On its own, eating a lot of protein isn’t actually that unhealthy. As Stanford medicine professor Christopher Gardner told me, for the most part our bodies can tolerate extra helpings of the nutrient, though excessive amounts have the potential to wreak havoc on the kidneys. It’s what comes with the protein that puts us at risk, explains Gardner. When General Mills came out with its more expensive “Cheerios Protein,” the brand boasted that the new cereal would provide the whole family with “long-lasting energy.” But that energy likely had more to do with the nutty O’s sugar content; as the Center for Science in the Public Interest pointed out in a November class action lawsuit, Cheerios Protein contains 17 times the amount of added sugar as the original, and only a touch more of the protein. (General Mills tried to get the suit thrown out in January, to no avail so far.)
Gardner also worries that in our hunger for protein, we’ve begun skipping real foods. We’re saying, “‘I’m not going to eat food, I’m going to have a bar as a meal’—which means that it’s coming with fewer of the natural nutrients of food,” he says.
But Gardner’s real concern has to do with the planet’s health. Around 80 percent of the protein we consume comes from animals, he says, in the form of meat, eggs, or dairy. And those creatures need a lot of resources to become food. A third a pound of hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce, if you include the irrigation needed for the feed. Raising animals for people contributes to a bevy of environmental plagues, including deforestation, water contamination, loss of biodiversity, and desertification. Of the more than 25 percent of all greenhouse gases attributed to the food system, 80 percent come from producing livestock.
In early 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a body of scientists who review nutrition advice for the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, advised the government to encourage a shift to a more plant-based diet: “Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods…and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average US diet,” the committee wrote. Ultimately, this recommendation was left out of the 2016 Dietary Guidelines. But others are sounding a similar alarm. Earlier this week, Oxford researchers published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences arguing that a global shift to a more plant-based diet could reduce global food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29-70 percent by 2050 and save the planet up to $31 trillion US dollars, or 13 percent of the world’s GDP.
Protein-cramming probably won’t hurt you, but it likely won’t do you much good, either. And as the aforementioned Oxford researchers note, the choices we make about food “have major ramifications for the state of the environment.” For the sake of our crowded planet, maybe it’s time to relax and stop trying to make protein part of every item on your plate.
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Who decides what kids eat at school? The answer is complicated, but one big piece of the puzzle is the US dietary guidelines, the nutritional recommendations released by the federal government every five years. Last week, the Obama administration dropped the long-awaited guidelines, urging Americans to cut down on sugar.
Many of us don’t pay much attention to the recommendations, but they guide the food served to millions of people through federal programs for women, children, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations. And overall, they’ve remained relatively consistent for decades: Americans should eat more vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, and less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. The suggestion to cut back on sugar this year sticks out because it is so specific: Americans are supposed to limit added sugar to no more than 10 percent of total daily calories. (In the past edition, Americans were simply encouraged to “reduce the intake” of added sugars.) For an American on a 2,000 calorie diet, 10 percent means no more than 12 teaspoons a day—a dramatic drop from the 30 teaspoons consumed by many Americans.
Here’s a comparison of how much added sugar the average American eats versus how much they should be eating, according to the most recent guidelines:
The guidelines call for a pretty dramatic change—so can we expect school cafeterias to do a major sugar purge? Not necessarily—at least not anytime soon.
For starters, senior officials with the US Department of Agriculture don’t expect the new guidelines to affect school lunches—no surprise, since sugar doesn’t tend to be a big problem for lunch. But school breakfast is a different story—think sugary cereal, flavored yogurt, and pastries. Waffles and pancakes often come prepared with added sugar so schools don’t have to deal with messy maple syrup dispensers. The result is that school breakfasts often contain more than half of the recommended daily amount of sugar—and yet, currently, there are no sugar standards for school meals, says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Snacks at schools can also be supersweet—foods compliant with the current federal standards include cereal bars, chocolate chip cookies, and frozen yogurt. There are sugar standards for school snacks, but they’re relatively weak—foods are supposed to be no more than 35 percent sugar by weight. (The typical sugary cereal bar is, by weight, about one-third sugar.)
But changing snacks and breakfasts so they align with the latest guidelines would likely take years—and such a change would be far from automatic. First, the USDA would need to issue rules requiring schools to comply with the dietary guidelines, and then schools would need to be given time to implement the changes. Timing is tricky, since, over the past five years schools have had to make dramatic changes to meals to comply with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act—which was passed in 2010 but was not fully implemented until 2014. Many school nutrition directors weren’t great fans of those reforms—they resisted making meals healthier, claiming kids won’t eat more wholesome food.
What’s more, any changes to school food standards are sure to get significant pushback from the sugar lobby, which has already spent nearly $3 million on the upcoming elections—far more than other agricultural industries. The Sugar Association, the industry’s main trade group, released a statement last week calling the guidelines “agenda focused, not science focused.” And school food is big business for Big Sugar, says Wootan. “The cereal makers won’t want to reformulate for schools, and snack food companies—they’re not going to want to change.”
Every five years, the government tries to tell Americans what to put in their bodies. Eat more vegetables. Dial back the fats. It’s all based on the best available science for leading a healthy life. But the best available science also has a lot to say about what those food choices do to the environment, and some researchers are peeved that new dietary recommendations released yesterday seem to utterly ignore that fact.
Broadly, the 2016-2020 dietary recommendations aim for balance: More veggies, leaner meats, try some fish! Oh, and eat way less sugar, no more than 10 percent of your total diet.
But Americans consume more calories per capita than almost any other country in the world. (Austria occasionally out-gorges the US.) So the things Americans eat have a huge impact on climate change. Soil tilling releases carbon dioxide, delivery vehicles burp exhaust, and cattle spend much of their life farting methane into the atmosphere before they end up medium rare and slathered in A-1. The government’s dietary guidelines could have done a lot to lower that climate cost. Not just because of the bully pulpit: The guidelines drive billions of dollars of food production through federal programs like school lunches and nutrition assistance for the needy.
On its own, plant and animal agriculture contributes 9 percent of all the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not counting the fuel burned in transportation, processing, refrigeration, and other waypoints between farm and belly. Red meats are among the biggest and most notorious emitters, but trucking a salad from California to Minnesota in January also carries a significant burden. And greenhouse gas emissions aren’t the whole story. “Food production is the largest user of fresh water, largest contributor to the loss of biodiversity, and a major contributor to using up natural resources,” says Miriam Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention at Tufts University.
All of these points and more showed up in the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s scientific report, released last February. Nelson chaired the subcommittee in charge of sustainability for the report, and is disappointed that bullet points like eating less meat and buying local food aren’t in the final product. “Especially if you consider that eating less meat, especially red and processed, has health benefits,” she says.
So what happened? The official response—foreshadowed last October in a joint press release from the secretaries of Health and Human Services and the USDA—is that sustainability falls too far outside the guidelines’ official scope, which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information.” (A government spokesperson referred me back to that press release when I requested to speak with an official about the sustainability omission.)
Possibly the agencies in charge of drafting the decisions are too close to the industries they are supposed to regulate. “On one hand, the USDA is compiling dietary advice,” says David Wallinga, a physician and senior health officer with the National Resources Defense Council. “On the other, their clients are US agriculture companies.” To the USDA’s credit, the agency makes sizable investments in sustainable farming.