Thursday, February 14, 2013

Conspiracy and Comparisons

Here in the United States we are confronted with a lot of choices on what to eat, and making the right choice can be difficult to say the least.  Sometimes it seems that there are "forces" fighting against us, and those roadblocks give rise to a lot of conspiracy theories and provide fodder for us to react out of fear instead of using good judgement.  I definitely saw some fodder for fear in this blog post that popped up in my facebook feed.

The author does start out with some grim statistics about our health, and does actually provide a link to the article.  One of the things I found interesting, however, is that while the author of the blog post focuses solely on diet, the authors of the linked article point to a multitude of factors that influence our health, including smoking, not wearing seat belts, limited access to health care, etc.  Sure, diet plays a role, but to use those set of statistics and then only point to diet is not evidence based at all.  On a related note, she also talks about how the main problem in Holmes County, MO is a lack of nutrition education.  There might be a contributing factor, although we don't know for sure without some more information.  I will throw my own anecdote in here and say that if lack of education was the only problem, then all of my patients would be slim with no health problems at all (pardon the sarcsam).  Sure, people do need to know what to look for on labels, but they also need the desire to want to change their habits, the funds to purchase the food, the cooking skills to prepare healthy food, access to healthier choices, etc.  I wish we could point to purely one thing (aka diet) as the solution to all our health/longevity issues, but it's more complicated than that.  I also wish that education was the only thing needed to get all of us healthier, but there needs to be more support involved.

There is also an implication that the "Big Food" companies are all trying to kill us.  Since we supposedly are in a free-market economy, the companies are trying to make money, and they will use whatever techniques they can to do so.  Because of this, I can see the case for claiming "apathy" about the health of Americans, but are they out to get us?  Maybe not.  I don't agree with a lot of techniques personally, but I don't know why they are a surprised to anyone or why there was some sort of expectation that these big companies were suppossed to "lead" the discussion on healthy foods?  I think there is definitely value in "voting with our dollars" to change what they make and sell (opinion), but we also going to have to make it a money issue for change to happen.  I also don't think that "it was banned in other countries" is an evidence based argument, particularly when there are drugs (like Tylenol with Codeine) that are available elsewhere but not in the United States.  It should give us pause, but it's not an evidence based argument.

As far as the ingredients that are used here vs. overseas, I find it interesting that she is pointing the finger at these mysterious ingredients as the cause of all of our ills, but then chooses to compare our products to ones that are found in the UK.  A quick internet search indicates that obesity and type 2 diabetes rates in the UK are actually comparable to the rates in the United States (Link), so we can't point to those ingredients as the main cause just by using those comparison's there.   Of the other comments that are made, the only one that she actually has any good evidence for is that hydrogenated oils/trans fats have been implicated in cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.  There just isn't any good evidence for GMO's, MSG, etc causing problems (1, 2).  Even when she talked about the Mayo Clinic claiming that certain food dyes "caused" hyperactivity in children, if you follow the link, their answer is really close to a "we don't really know."  In my very limited experience with pediatric nutrition, usually when parents "cut out" all the artificial colors and flavors and claim that they did experience a change in their children's behavior what they were doing was switching from a low nutrition diet (aka inadequate protein/vitamins/minerals) to a much more nutritionally adequate plan.  Was it really just the artificial coloring that was doing it, or was it just eating like we are all suppossed to be eating that caused a change?  Or was it parents learning to parent differently since their child received a diagnosis?  Or was it all of the above?  More evidence needed please.

Are any of the convenience/fast foods that were chosen actually healthier without the "red" ingredients, as in, would we want to eat those foods on a regular basis anyway?  Probably not, as the foods mentioned didn't really have anything that we need (with the exception of the little bit of fiber in the oatmeal).  Everything mentioned was pretty much devoid of nutritional value and a source of un-needed calories and refined carbohydrates.  That right there should be enough evidence that we need to limit or avoid those foods, we shouldn't have to start using scare tactics using information that may or may not be true.  And if you are like me, you don't want to spend the money on diet sodas, etc that are giving you little to no bang for your buck anyway.

Take home message--Most convenience foods and fast foods are empty calories--foods devoid of nutrition that really provide nothing but a more "convenient" way to get more calories.  That should be enough of a reason to limit/avoid them.

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