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Archive for the ‘children’ Category

Beyond Pink Slime

As you have probably heard by now, the food scandal “du jour” has to do with “pink slime”, also known as mechanically-separated meat (or, when made by Beef Products Inc., “Boneless Beef Lean Trimmings”).

This ammonia-treated scrap meat — the same one some fast food giants recently phased out  — has been widely used since the early 1990s, is reportedly present in 70 percent of all ground beef products, and is a staple in school cafeterias (seven million pounds (!) are expected to be served in school lunches across the country over the next few months).

The story essentially writes itself. When fast food companies, infamous for cutting corners at any cost, turn their noses up at a questionably safe ingredient that ends up on the lunch trays of schoolchildren, headlines are to be expected — and rightfully so.

The meat industry has responded via a new website: the awkwardly-titled Pink Slime Is A Myth (I have yet to comprehend how something real and tangible can be labeled a myth).

While I do not dismiss the recent grassroots efforts that have gained significant strength via a petition to get pink slime out of school cafeterias, I worry that the focus on it detracts from bigger and more important food system issues, and provides the meat industry with a convenient distraction and an easily fixable problem that can effortlessly be spun into a public-relations success.

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Some Musings on School Soda Bans

This week, various media outlets reported on a study which concluded that school soda bans are ineffective; or, as as The Chicago Tribute put it — ‘School Soda Bans Don’t Cut Kids’ Consumption’. This not only frames the issue incorrectly, but also blames “ineffective bans” for problems they were never intended to correct.

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3 (More) Examples of Food Industry Deception

As with computer operating systems or software programs, it is imperative to consistently update your Big Food BS detector.  Below, I decode three of the latest misleading declarations making the rounds.

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A ‘Healthy’, School-Approved Snickers Bar!

As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I am currently in San Diego for the American Dietetic Association’s annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE). Over the past two days, I took you on mini virtual tours of the vendor expo, where we visited the Sugar Association, the High Fructose Corn Syrup folks, Subway, Coca-Cola, and other “what are you doing at a nutrition conference?” booths.

While plenty is ‘blog-worthy’, one particular Mars, Inc. product caught my eye: Marathon Smart Stuff Powered By Snickers bars.

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Guest Post: For ADHD & Dyslexia, Good Nutrition Is Best Medicine

Although millions of Americans are increasingly becoming aware of nutrition’s vital role in cardiovascular health, blood pressure regulation, and blood sugar control, that same paradigm is nowhere near as widespread when it comes to learning and comprehension disabilities.

For this guest post, I asked Judy Converse, an established expert on the subject matter, to provide an overview of how proper — and improper! — nutrition can affect children with ADD, dyslexia, and other conditions she commonly works with in her private practice.

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Big Food’s “Wholesome” Deception

Defined as “conducive to bodily health; healthful; salubrious,” the word ‘wholesome’ counts “nourishing” and “nutritious” among its synonyms. It appears Big Food is blissfully ignorant to these facts, at least based on the horrific “kids’ food” concoctions they have branded as “wholesome”. Behold the worst offenders:

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Nestlé Condones Sugary Snacks and Dyes For Kids; Breaks “Advertising to Children” Pledge?

All is not well on Nestlé’s Nesquik website, and that goes for both the parents’ and children’s respective “areas”.

Let’s begin with the material targeted at parents.  Take a look at this horrific “we care about your children’s health” list “to get children to drink milk”:

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Trix = Twizzlers + Flintstone Multivitamin + Corn Dust. Really.

I often joke that many “kids’ cereals” (an euphemism for neon-colored sugar puffs) are the nutritional equivalent of candy and a multivitamin.

Upon sharing that observation on Twitter and Facebook earlier today, one of my followers expressed a curiosity to see a side-by-side nutritional comparison of these two foods.  What a wonderful idea!   I gladly accepted the request and, well, turns out my snarkiness is very based in reality.

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“Food Politics: Advocacy for Social Change” — A Wonderful Talk by Marion Nestle

nestleLast night I was grateful and honored to have a reserved seat for a talk given by Dr. Marion Nestle at The University of Washington to a sold-out audience of over 400 students, faculty members, and food policy buffs (the lecture was open to the general public).

What follows is a bullet-point, Cliffs Notes style recap of Dr. Nestle’s presentation; consider it a crash course in food politics 101!

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Guest Post: Why Is McDonald’s Listed As a Resource For Childhood Obesity Awareness Month?

RonaldI am not a fan of any sort of “awareness” month as I find the concept trivializes important health issues. Are we only supposed to care about heart disease, diabetes, etc, during that one month of the year? And I rarely see anything of substance come from the month-long activities, just the usual ineffective educational campaigns, instead of meaningful public policy reforms. Plus many issues tend to crowd themselves into certain months, so it all becomes background noise. September is one such month. Among other causes (e.g., “cholesterol education“), September has been proclaimed “Childhood Obesity Awareness Month” by Congress and President Obama.

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In The News: San Francisco Doesn’t Toy Around!

Fast food KidsEarlier this Summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest generated headlines and buzz when they announced plans to sue McDonald’s if they continued to use toys to market unhealthy food to children,referring to the practice as “unfair, deceptive, and illegal.”

California’s Santa Clara county was the first government in the United States to implement their own “no toy” rule (though only in unincorporated areas, meaning Burger King and the like escaped unharmed), and it appears San Francisco is next.

San Francisco’s proposed rule, however, does include incorporated businesses.  Rajiv Bhatia, director of occupational and environmental health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health accurarely explains that “this is not an anti-toy ordinance; this is a pro-healthy-meal ordinance.”

See, toys are allowed in children’s meals considered to be “nutritionally fit”.  What makes a meal nutritionally fit?  Here are the suggested standards:

  • Less than 200 calories for a single item or less than 600 calories for a meal.
  • Less than 480 milligrams of sodium for a single item or 640 milligrams for a meal.
  • Less than 35 percent of its calories derived from fat (unless the fat is contained in nuts, seeds or nut butters, or from a packaged egg or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.)
  • Less than 10 percent of its calories derived from saturated fats (with the exception of nuts, seeds, packaged eggs or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.)
  • Less than 0.5 grams of trans fat.
  • Meals must include a half-cup of fruits and three-fourths of a cup of vegetables.
  • Beverages may not have more than 35 percent of their calories from fat or more than 10 percent of their calories from sugar.

Unless most fast-food chains decrease their portion sizes, they do not meet at least one of the above-mentioned guidelines.  My thoughts on the guidelines?

  • I like that not all fats are treated equal (a healthy item that consists of, say, sliced apples and a peanut butter dip would not be disqualified for being “too fatty”)
  • I also like that eggs are not shunned for high cholesterol levels.  Eggs are abundant in nutrients, and the whole “cholesterol in food causes high cholesterol in the blood” theory has been debunked time and time again.
  • Lastly, I like that they serve as motivators for fast food chains to truly revamp their respective children’s menus if they wish to continue promoting them with toys.
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Numbers Game: Answer

img-setThe average 9 to 13 year old child in the United States consumes 33 percent of their daily calories in the form of solid fat — i.e.: butter, shortening — and added sugars (also known as “discretionary calories”).

Source: Institute of Medicine

Ideally, discretionary calories should make up no more than ten percent of someone’s daily caloric intake.

This means that someone who consumes 2,500 calories a day is “allowed” up to 250 empty calories (“allowed” meaning that is the maximum amount that will have minimal negative implications on health).

The fact that the average child is consuming three times the limit is particularly disturbing because it makes it abundantly clear that certain nutrient needs are not being met if only 67 percent of calories deliver vitamins and minerals.

Sadly, federal authorities are too tied up in food industry lobbying to take any sort of stand.  Any time the “discretionary calories should make up no more than 10 percent” figure has been whispered as an “official figure”, the ever-present sugar lobby reminds those in power of its deep pockets.

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Numbers Game: So Much for “Discretionary”….

23190360The average 9 to 13 year old child in the United States consumes _____ percent of their daily calories in the form of solid fat — i.e.: butter, shortening — and added sugars (also known as “discretionary calories”).

Source: Institute of Medicine

a) 16
b) 33
c) 48
d) 25

Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Saturday for the answer.

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You Ask, I Answer: Canned Tomatoes

canned-tomatos-fbI read somewhere that consumers should stay away from canned tomatoes (in any form), and instead buy them in glass containers because the acid in the tomatoes leaches toxins from the tin.

Is there any validity to this concern?

– Katherine Baldwin
(Location unknown)

When Bisphenol A (BPA) concerns spread like wildfire slightly over a year ago following reports of negative consequences on endocrine, reproductive, and neurological health, one added detail was that when acidic foods are stored in cans that contain BPA, they absorb the chemical.

That is most certainly a true statement.  As with anything else (i.e.: soda consumption), you need to consider context.

For example, I use canned tomatoes no more than once a month, if that.  In that case, I don’t consider the “can versus glass” question of utmost importance.

I know some people who cook with canned tomatoes at least three times a week.  In their case, I strongly recommend opting for glass jars whenever possible.

I also recommend treading with more caution when it comes to foods consumed by toddlers, children, and pregnant women.

FYI: Eden Foods canned tomato products are lined with enamel, rather than plastic, thereby significantly reducing the amount of BPA that leaches into their foods.  This is the company’s official statement:

“Eden Organic Tomatoes are packed in lead free tin covered steel cans coated with a baked on r-enamel lining. Due to the acidity of tomatoes, the lining is epoxy based and may contain a minute amount of bisphenol-A, it is in the ‘non detectable’ range in extraction test. The test was based on a detection level at 5 ppb (parts per billion).”

I suppose one then has to ask — “how safe is it to consume from cans with epoxy-based linings?”

Once again, it comes down to context.

Canned foods shouldn’t make up the bulk of the diet anyway, since most of these foods contain considerable amounts of sodium.

PS: In some states, environmental committees have drafted bills to phase out — and eventually ban — the production (or at the very least, the sale) of cans that contain BPA.  I certainly support them!

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Numbers Game: Answer

ButtermilkWhiteBreadHelperNinety-five percent of bread products available at public school cafeterias across the country are of the refined “white flour” variety, offering negligible amounts of fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grain types.

(Source: 2004 – 2005 United States Department of Agriculture School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study)

This pitiful statistic goes back to issues surrounding federal national lunch guidelines and agricultural subsidies.

According to figures from the School Nutrition Association, school cafeterias receive $2.65 dollars, per student, from the government, for a complete lunch.  Mind you, this amount includes expenses like cafeteria workers’ salaries.

Whole grain options (the few that are available from vendors) cost five or ten additional cents per student, so you can understand why schools are not exactly itching to get more of these healthy foods into their lunch rooms.

I firmly believe the government needs to provide incentives for schools to serve as many grains as possible in their whole, more nutritious form.

A few school districts currently require a certain amount of whole grains on the menu, but that is a completely voluntary move.

Of course, this requirement should be met in the simplest of terms (ie: whole grain tortillas and sliced bread to make wraps and sandwiches, whole grain dinner rolls to accompany entrees, lightly-salted air-popped popcorn as a snack, etc.) as opposed to a sodium-loaded slice of pizza with processed cheese on a semi whole-wheat crust.

Allow me to clarify — the occasional refined grain product is no cause for concern.  A diet does not need to be 100% whole grain to be healthy.

However, in a country where children, on average, get only half of their daily fiber recommendations, it is necessary to examine how improvements can be made.

The guarantee of a 100% whole grain lunch at school is a significant start.

PS: The New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunch has made tremendous strides in several of that city’s public schools.  Check out their website for more information, particularly the “creating change in your school” page.

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