Posts Tagged ‘food’

What Sugar Actually Does To Your Brain And Body

Source: Adam Dachis on Lifehacker

We consume an enormous amount of sugar, whether consciously or not, but it’s a largely misunderstood substance. There are different kinds and different ways your body processes them all. Some consider it poison and others believe it’s the sweetest thing on earth. Here’s a look at the different forms of sugar, the various ways they effect you, and how they play a role in healthy — and unhealthy — diets.

Of course, if you already know how sugar works and how your body uses it, feel free to skip down to the final section about healthier sugar consumption.

The Different Types of Sugar

There are too many types of sugar (and, of course, sugar substitutes) to tackle in a high-level overview like this one, so we’re really only going to look at the two (and a half) that you regularly encounter: glucose and fructose.

Glucose

Glucose is a simple sugar that your body likes. Your cells use it as a primary source of energy, so when you consume glucose, it’s actually helpful. When it’s transported into the body, it stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. Your brain notices this increase, understands that it’s busy metabolising what you just ate, and tells you that you’re less hungry. The important thing to note here is that when you consume glucose, your brain knows to tell you to stop eating when you’ve had enough.

But glucose isn’t perfect. There are many processes involved when you consume glucose, but one that occurs in your liver produces something called http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very_low_density_lipoprotein (or VLDL). You don’t want VLDL. It causes problems (like cardiovascular disease). Fortunately, only about 1 out of 24 calories from glucose that are processed by the liver turn into VLDL. If glucose were the only thing you ate that produced VLDL, it would be a non-issue.

Sucrose and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

For our purposes, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose are the same thing because they’re both highly sweet and they both contain a large amount of fructose. Sucrose is 50 per cent fructose and HFCS is 55 per cent fructose (which is high compared to normal corn syrup, but pretty normal when compared to cane sugar). The remainder of each is glucose, which we discussed above. In most cases, fructose is bad for you because of how it’s processed by the body. Fructose can only be metabolised by the liver, which is not a good thing. This means a greater number of calories — about three times more than glucose — are going through liver processes and that results in a much higher production of VLDL (the bad cholesterol mentioned earlier) and fat. It also results in a higher production of uric acid and a lot of other things you don’t want, which is believed to lead to fun stuff like hypertension and high blood pressure.

On top of that, fructose consumption negatively changes the way your brain recognises your consumption. This is because your brain resists leptin, the protein that’s vital for regulating energy intake and expenditure (which includes your keeping your appetite in check and your metabolism working efficiently). As a result, you keep eating without necessarily realising you’re full. For example, a soda containing high amounts of fructose (which is most non-diet sodas) will do little to make you think you’re full even though you’re taking in large amounts of calories. Your brain doesn’t get the message that you really consumed much of anything and so it still thinks you’re still hungry. This is a very, very basic look at part of how fructose is processed and doesn’t even touch upon many of its other problems, but identifies the issue most people care about: fat production.

This isn’t to say fructose is all bad. It does have a practical purpose. If you’re a professional athlete, for example, it can actually be helpful. HFCS actually repletes your glycogen supply faster, which is useful when you’re burning it off, so the use of HFCS in sports drinks actually has a practical purpose for those who can quickly burn it off. It’s not so helpful for those of us whose life focus is not physical activity — unless we find ourselves in a situation where we need fast energy that we’re going to quickly burn off.

Processed vs Unprocessed Foods

Fruit contains fructose, but as any food pyramid or suggested intake ratios will tell you, fruit is OK. How is that possible if fructose is almost always bad? This is because fruit, in its natural form, contains fibre. Fructose doesn’t provide a satiety alert to let your brain know to tell you to stop eating, but fibre does this to a high degree. This is why you can eat fruit — despite the fructose content — without experiencing the same problems as, say, drinking a sugary soft drink. This is why fruit can actually be beneficial. The same goes for processed sugar. Sugar doesn’t exist naturally as sparkly white crystals, but as a really tough stick called sugar cane. It isn’t until you process the sugar can that you lose all the fibre it contains. Without the fibre, you only have the tasty but problematic part of the original food. That’s why processed sugars can cause problems.

So why not keep the fibre (or at least some of it)? Because when you process food, you’re not processing it for the purpose of eating immediately. Instead you’re processing it to ship all over the country, or even the world. To do this, you obviously can’t let the food expire or it will be useless when it arrives. Because fibre causes the food to go bad much faster, it needs to be removed.

Photo by Dee’s Illustrations

Additionally, many processed foods are even worse off because of their low fat content. Sure, low fat content sounds good, but just because you eat fat doesn’t mean you retain it. Your body can efficiently process and excreted fat, so fat intake isn’t a huge issue by default. Nonetheless, the past 40 years brought us a low-fat craze. Fresh food can still taste good without a higher fat content, but processing low-fat food makes it taste like crap. Companies understand this, and so they add a bunch of sugar (and often salt) to fix that problem. This process essentially exchanges fat your body can actually use for fructose-produced fat that it cannot.

These are the main reasons why processed food is often an enemy if you want to stay healthy. This isn’t always the case, but it is far more likely than not. Check the sugar content on the back of every package of processed food you own or see at the supermarket and you’ll see it for yourself.

Healthier Sugar Consumption

OK, so some sugar isn’t really bad for you but some sugar, like fructose in high amounts, is unhealthy. Since fructose is plentiful in many processed foods, how can you eat better and still enjoy the sweet things you like? What follows are some suggestions. Some require a bit of sacrifice and will be difficult — but more effective — and others are easy enough for anyone to incorporate in his or her diet. If you want to try and curb your sugar intake, be reasonable about what you can accomplish. Failure is a lot more likely if you try to pack in large amounts of change at once . When you cut back on anything slowly, it feels much easier and is more likely to stick.

Stop Drinking Sugared Beverages
Of anything you can do, this is the most important. Fructose-heavy soft drink is remarkably problematic because, for reasons discussed above, you can keep drinking it while your body isn’t recognising your sugar intake — so your body remains hungry. On top of that, a lot of soft drink (Coke is a great example) contains high amounts of sodium. Why would you want salt in your soda? You wouldn’t, but it makes you thirsty and prompts you to buy more soft drink, so it’s great for the companies that make it. It also makes you pee (as does caffeine if your drink of choice has that) so you’ll feel the need to drink more as well. This is masked by simply adding more fructose to the drink, which is another obvious problem.

All of that is bad, but what makes it so important to stop drinkingsoft drinks is that you get absolutely nothing else with it. While other sugary items — such as a slice of cake or a doughnut — are no shining examples of nutrition, they at least contain some nutrients that will help to alert your brain that you’re actually eating. Fructose-heavy soft drink won’t do this, so it’s best to just cut it out entirely. This is the hardest thing but the most important. Cutting it out will make it easier to stop eating too much sugar (or anything, really), because you’ll be taking in far fewer calories that will go unnoticed by your brain.

What can you drink without issue? Water.

This may sound horrible to some people, but pretty much every other drink you can buy is a processed drink. This isn’t to say you can never have another sugared beverage again, but the more you drink them the harder it will be to control your appetite. If you want to incorporate sugared drinks and alcoholic beverages into your diet, try consuming them 20 minutes after you’ve eaten. You can use this same trick for desserts. (More on this in a minute.)

Eat Fibre with Your Sugar
As previously mentioned in the section about processed and unprocessed foods, fibre is very necessary in curbing sugar intake. It does what fructose can’t do, and that’s alert you that you’ve consumed calories and you don’t need to eat anymore. Basically, fibre and fructose need to work together. Fibre is fructose’s unattractive but brilliant friend. Fructose makes up for fiber’s lack of sweetness while fibre makes up for fructose’s uselessness.

So how do you eat fibre with your fructose? Don’t eat processed foods. Get your fructose from fruit or other sources that contain built-in fibre.

Avoid Processed Foods with High Amounts of Sugar
Cooking your own meals from unprocessed foods is almost always going to be a better option, but our busy lives make that difficult to accomplish for every single meal we eat. While avoiding processed foods altogether is a nice thought, it’s not very realistic. If you’re going to eat something processed, be sure to check the label for sugar content. If it is not a dessert food and the sugar count isn’t negligible, you should probably avoid it. If it contains HFCS early on in the ingredient list (or at all, really), you should probably avoid it. Buy whole wheat breads that are actually whole wheat. Avoid pre-packaged dinners whenever you can. Buy foods with more fibre. They’re likely to expire faster, which means more frequent trips to the grocery store, but that’s a pretty minor sacrifice to make.

Keep Sugar Products Out of the House
If you like dessert, don’t keep it at home. This is obvious, but it’s also one of the most effective options (you can’t eat something you don’t have). If you really want it, make yourself do a little work. Have dinner, and if you have a craving for dessert afterwards then go out and get some. Chances are it won’t take more than 20 minutes for that craving to die, as you’ll fill up and won’t want to eat anything else. In the event it doesn’t, go out and buy a reasonably sized dessert. As long as you’re not inclined to do this regularly, prolonging the decision to eat dessert should help you out.

Don’t Cut It Out Entirely

Photo by Nick Depree

If you’re currently eating quite a bit of sugar, or you really like it, cutting it out entirely is a bad idea. Not only is comfort food possibly good for your mental health, but it’s also believed that you can develop a dependency to sweet foods. As an experiment I cut out sugar for a month before writing this post. While the physical cravings were easy to curb, the psychological ones were much more challenging. Angela Pirisi, writing for Psychology Today, points to a study conducted by psychologist Dr Bart Hoebel, who believes sugar creates an actual dependency:

Laboratory experiments with rats showed that signs of sugar dependence developed over the course of 10 days. This suggests that it does not take long before the starve-binge behaviour catches up with animals, making them dependent. There is something about this combination of heightened opioid and dopamine responses in the brain that leads to dependency. Without these neurotransmitters, the animal begins to feel anxious and wants to eat sweet food again.

Artificial sweeteners didn’t change the dependence, leading Hoebel to believe that the sweetness was the main factor and not the calories. While the study couldn’t identify why these cravings exist, it could identify a dependency. If you’re cutting down on sugar, take it slowly.

Get Moving
Your metabolism pretty much goes in the toilet when you don’t move around at all, making sitting the harbinger of death. We’re big on standing desks, which, for starters, helps your burn far more calories than sitting. It’s just good for you all-around. As with any level of physical activity, from standing to walking to running, calorie burn is a poor focus to have. Going for a 20-minute run is about equal to two thin mint cookies (unless you’re really fast, in which case you might get a third cookie). Burning off a fast food meal would require exercising for most of your day. It’s just not feasible for anyone. Physical activity helps because it reduces stress (which reduces appetite) and improves the way your metabolism functions (so less fat is produced when processed by your body). These things are much more important than calorie burn.

Standing up is a good way to negate the effects of sitting down but you might not be able to do it all the time. If you can’t, make sure you get up and walk around at least every 30 minutes. If you just don’t want to stand up while you work, try doing it for only an hour a day. It’s a short amount of time and is better than nothing. Regardless of how much you sit, keep track of the time and try to engage in physical activity — even if it’s as mild as walking around — for as close to that amount of time as possible. Go for walks (or walk instead of drive), play a sport, exercise, clean the house, or do anything that keeps you moving around. Generally the entertainment you consume while sitting (television and movies) can still be consumed while you’re standing or moving around. This may not be your ideal situation, but it’s a good way to increase your physical activity without giving up a normally sedentary activity you enjoy.

Like with anything, sugar isn’t all that bad for you in moderation. The problem with sugar these days is that there’s a lot more of it in everything and it’s in practically everything. So long as you pay attention to what you’re eating and you don’t overdo it, sugar can be a pleasant part of your life few to no issues. The important thing is that you know what you’re consuming and make good choices as a result. The answer to this problem isn’t groundbreaking, but just a matter of paying attention.

Want to learn more about sugar and how it works? You’ll find a lot of links within this post to other studies and additional information that’s worth reading, but you also should check out Dr Robert H. Lustig’s lecture on sugar (which was the initial reason for writing this), as well as Sweet Surprise, which is an HFCS advocacy website that argues against the claims that it is bad for you.

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… and if wouldn’t have my bread in the oven, I’d try it right now 🙂

This post was originally published by Chow

Here’s the thing: Vegetable chips just taste better than potato chips. This is not a subjective call. It’s proven. (Not really, but we all agree, so let’s say it is.) Forget all your preconceptions about vegetable chips being just a tasteless, soulless attempt to convince your brain that you’re eating fatty, carby potato chips. It’s much easier to convince your brain that you’re eating something delicious. Because you are.

That said, don’t buy veggie chips in a store. Commercial versions are often deep-fried and no more healthy than their potato or corn brethren. And you want your deliciousness to come with a healthy glow, right? The good news: Veggie chips are very easily made in your very own oven. Peel, slice, and bake. Dip and eat. Done.

Click on the image description to go to the Chow website for further instructions

By David Hill on Singularity Hub

Another chapter in the ongoing David-and-Goliath-esque saga between organic farmers and the Monsanto Company kicked off recently with a lawsuit filed in federal court. The suit, titled Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, is an effort by a group of family farms, seed businesses and organic growers associations to both protect themselves from being sued by Monsanto and undermine its patents on genetically modified or transgenic seeds. The Public Patent Foundation filed the suit on behalf of these farmers and organizations, which collectively represent over 270,000 members. While it may appear to be just another hopeless attempt by a small band of rebels against a powerful, unrelenting empire, this lawsuit has the potential to stop the bullying practices of the company and undermine its foundation permanently.

As many readers are probably aware, genetically modified food is highly prevalent in the States and an increasing amount of transgenic seed is being used in other countries, though regulatory issues remain. Since the genetics revolution of the 1970s, interest in using gene technology to produce better food has abounded, and an obvious way to accomplish this is to make plants more robust to environmental changes and pathogens, which would ultimately lead to better yields. Monsanto’s approach has been to develop technology that makes plants genetically resistant to herbicides, so that fields could be sprayed with the company’s herbicide, called RoundUp, without crop loss. The way Monsanto immunized plants was to incorporate genes from other organisms into the natural plant genomes, patent their technology and then sell the transgenic seeds to farmers.

So how could a seemingly great technological advance from a company that claims to stand behind farmers end up being voted as the Most Evil Corporation, according to a NaturalNews poll, and become the subjects of some eye opening documentaries like Food, Inc. and The Future of Food? Fundamentally, it boils down to three things:

1.       Monsanto aggressively defends their patents.

How aggressively? Put it this way…Monsanto puts the “agro” in agricultural patent law. What’s worse is that the genes themselves are patented. So let’s say farmer A is using Monsanto seed next to farmer B who is using seeds passed down through the family. If the wind blows the wrong way, a seed gets caught in the fur of field mice, shared equipment gets contaminated or any other possible way that a transgenic seed or a patented gene should happen to get from farmer A’s field into farmer B’s crops and then Monsanto finds out about it, odds are the company will sue farmer B for patent infringement.

2.       Monsanto has pushed its transgenic seed business hard.

The lawsuit claims that currently 85-90% of all soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and canola grown in the United States contain Monsanto’s patented genes, primarily marketed under the RoundUp Ready brand, and its global reach is extending. That’s right — we are all already consuming these genetically modified foods.

3.       Transgenic seeds and natural seeds cannot coexist…and Monsanto knows it.

Unlike a traditional manufacturer that must continually make product, plants derived from Monsanto’s transgenic seeds make more transgenic seeds as part of their reproduction. Successfully introducing transgenic seeds into crops permanently places the gene in the genome of the species. The lawsuit puts forth that organic canola became extinct after contamination from transgenic seed and warns that the future of many crops, including organic corn, soybean, cotton, sugar beet, and alfalfa, face the same fate. It is an impossibility for a company to have the scientific prowess to develop this kind of genetic technology and yet be ignorant of population genetics within an ecosystem. In other words, Monsanto merely has to bide its time before its patented genes have found their way into the agricultural systems of the world and then everyone will have to buy its products.

In light of these points, what on earth could this little lawsuit actually accomplish, especially when a group known as the Organic Elite, consisting of Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, effectively surrendered to Monsanto this past January?

It turns out a lot.

Thanks to a previous controversial lawsuit that went in Monsanto’s favor last year, an opportunity was given to the organic community and anyone else worried about preserving a transgenic-free food supply. The Supreme Court overturned a ruling from a San Francisco district court, which had said that the USDA had approved Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready alfalfa seed illegally and forbade sales until the USDA completed an investigation. However, in that same hearing, the Court also recognized that economic loss due to genetic contamination or gene flow now constitutes “environmental harm,” which is antithetical to patent protection. This means that a technology can only be protected by a patent if it can be shown to be beneficial to the well-being of society.

So if someone could come along and show that Monsanto’s seed technology were causing environmental harm, either economically or genetically, to individuals and/or society as a whole, then the patents might be nullified and therefore not enforceable.

Enter the Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association.

As the plaintiff in this case, this association is seeking to protect the farmers from being sued, for sure, but what it really wants to accomplish is no less than hobbling Monsanto for good. If the patents can be rendered invalid, then not only will the Monsanto v. anyone-who-accidentally-uses-a-transgenic-seed lawsuits stop, but the anyone-who-cares-about-food v. Monsanto lawsuits are going to keep coming.

While the lawsuit brings up many issues and emotions about food and the future of society, its worthwhile taking a moment to reflect on the reality of what all of this means.

Without a shadow of a doubt, genetically modified foods were certain to become part of our future.  There are some people who like the idea of food that is completely naturally grown that is never tainted by anything, but frankly, that approach only worked when there was one percent of the human population of today. The bottom line is the world needs more food and businesses need the food industry to be profitable. The genetics revolution opened the door to bolstering the DNA of plants and animals that provide foodstuffs against harmful conditions and organisms to create nutrient-rich superfoods. It only makes sense that in due time foods would be genetically modified to meet the demands of everyone. But clearly that research needed to be done carefully while respecting nature, and the development of products should have been done with a significant amount of oversight.

farmers_marketIt may be too late for even organic food markets to protect consumers from Monsanto’s gene technology

The real problem that this lawsuit underscores is Monsanto has been cavalier in its business practices. The company has taken an irresponsible stand on the negative impact its technology could have on crops worldwide, instead choosing to focus on market penetration and profits. Science has only scratched the surface on the complex role between genetics, diet, and environment, so how in the world can a company claim that introducing a foreign gene into a seed’s DNA is going to be safe for everything and everyone, both now and in the distant future? They can’t, but the law doesn’t require them to and that’s a detrimental problem. The legal system needs to catch up with the realities of the Genetic Age and fast.

Companies are often given credit for making the world a better place, but certainly no company wants to go down as the one that tainted the food chain. Hopefully, this lawsuit can at least protect organic farmers, but just maybe it will finally put the agricultural giant in its place. Unfortunately, it may be too late for certain crops. We have to sober up to an unfortunate truth: thanks to the aggressive and ecologically-disastrous policies of Monsanto, we may be eating a Monsanto gene with every spoonful whether we want to or not.

[IMAGE: sxc, sxc]

[SOURCE: FastCompany, Grist, Monsantoblog, NaturalNews, Organic Seed Alliance, OSGATA, PubPat,
 

Genetically Modified Rice and Corn To Grow in China, then the World

 

 

The Genetically Modified Food You Eat

 

 

Future of Genetically Modified Rice/Corn in China May Be Both Certain and Delayed

 

From Killer Infographics

The following article by Elizabeth Farrelly was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 03. February 2011, highlighting a serious lack of political will to tackle current food labelling laws in Australia. Both, the food regulator FSANZ and consecutive Australian governments have long been  accused of having a cozy relationship with food industry, and it seems that the latest Blewett report on change to food labelling, if implemented, will therefore not generate a revolution in the ways consumers get informed of what actually is contained in the foods we buy. Farrelly highlights some of the areas of food safety concern, including GM foods, and points out that (unsurprisingly) the “report ignored more than 5000 submissions that called for disclosure of extraneous chemicals in food, all but capitulating to industry lobbyists”. Looks like we’ll continue to remain guinea pigs.

It’s hard to swallow food rules that treat us like mushrooms


Illustration by Harry Afentoglou
Illustration: Harry Afentoglou

I often wonder how many people died, back in hunter-gather days, while we worked out that this berry was safe to eat but that one had to be peeled, mashed, soaked in human urine and boiled for a week or it made blood pour from your eyes.

Causality, in everything that matters, is almost always obscure, and our Neanderthal forebears may not have been fully across the idea of the control experiment. But now, if last week’s Blewett food-labelling review is anything to go by, it seems we too are happy to experiment on ourselves, and our children.

There are many, many instances where food safety is not clear. Genetic modification, hormone-additives, antibiotics, preservatives, pesticides, trans-fats and allergens are just a few areas where the jury is still out. In every case these extras exist as profit-enhancers, not nutrition-enhancers, and therefore have industry support. But they also arouse consumer suspicion, and quite rightly, for in no case is it proven that these ”food science” products are, actually, food.

This is a bit of a turn-up. We’re used to corporates v the community. We know that developers, miners and bankers are not on ”our” side. But food is different. It’s intimate. And the thought that our food producers – our cheery-faced farmers and bakers – would happily experiment with our well-being is still alarming. More alarming yet, however, is that our government is with them, not us.

The long-awaited Blewett report ignored more than 5000 submissions that called for disclosure of extraneous chemicals in food, all but capitulating to industry lobbyists. Big Food – which in many cases is identical with or owned by Big Pharma – insists, naturally, that these additives are harmless. But if so, why are they so reluctant to disclose? What are they hiding?

Take the hormones-in-beef thing. Coles has banned them. The meat industry responds by insisting the ban will cause environmental damage, requiring more feed, more land, more water, more fossil-fuel and more methane-rich cow-fart per kilo of meat. Like they care.

But the health questions are real. Europe banned hormone-fed beef in 1988 and reinforced the ban in 2007. Its scientists concluded that although the link between meat-hormones and cancer was unproven, there was sufficient ”epidemiological … evidence for an association between the amount of red meat consumed and certain forms of hormone-dependent cancers”, in particular breast and ovarian, prostate and testicular, for the ban to be prudent.

Hormones in meat, which include testosterone, progesterone and ultra-strong (body-building) replicas of these, have also been linked – inconclusively – to premature puberty.

So the label doesn’t need to say ”this meat could give you cancer” but simply ”this meat contains human growth hormone”. Let us decide.

The choice here is between ”safe until proved dangerous” and ”dangerous until proved safe”. If toxicity were proven, banning would be relatively simple (although even then, as with asbestos and tobacco, bans could still encounter industry opposition). But uncertainty makes labelling more important, not less. At root, it’s an FOI question; the guinea pig’s right to know.

Over Egypt, we are rightly outraged at Mubarak’s crackdown on knowledge, as much as the overall tyranny of which it is a basic tool. But when it comes to food we, too, are in the dark.

The standard rule-of-thumb for healthy eating is Michael Pollan’s ”eat food, mainly plants”. By ”food” he means not food-science. In other words, eat as close to the ground (or tree, or sea) as possible.

But say you wanted, now that school is back, to feed your kids this way. How would you do it? Say you wanted no GM (which many allergists blame for the global allergy epidemic), no hormones, no canola (links to macular degeneration) and no palm oil (saturated fat, destroys rainforest, kills orang-utans). How would you know?

Answer, you wouldn’t. Genetically modified corn and canola are grown commercially in Australia already and 1300 varieties of GM wheat were approved for pre-commercial testing last year. Much of the soy and corn grown in the US and used everywhere as emulsifiers and fillers is also GM. But although their presence in your mayo, margarine or muesli bars should be labelled, there are gaping loopholes.

The main one allows the silent presence of GM if less than 1 per cent, or less than 0.1 per cent and accidental. But because intentionality is hard to prove (and anyway scarcely enforced) the industry treats the 1 per cent as an allowable limit. This is the subject of Greenpeace’s action against Pfizer, whose S-26 newborn formula repeatedly tests positive for GM soy. Never mind why you would let a drug company feed your newborn. Pfizer’s repeated misfortune at finding GM soy in its formula seems a bit like bedwetting, you can just go on having ”accidents”.

Further, in ”refined” foods such as oils, where the modified DNA is in theory removed, there is no labelling requirement. Even the type of oil need not be explicit, but may come within the umbrella ”vegetable oil”.

Under the Blewett review, following industry pressure, none of this will change. Most industry pressure is naturally covert but some groups made submissions, like Dow AgroSciences. Dow insists that ”food label information should be restricted to information enabling consumers to make choices for healthy living” – which does not include GM because ”genetically-modified crops are thoroughly evaluated for safe consumption”. Uh, was that a double G in AgroScience?

You might think you could solve this by buying organic, and it would be true if there were a single, legally enforced definition. But no. Too easy. We even have governments, as in Western Australia, arguing to allow GM contamination in ”organic”.

If our own leaders persist in blinding us to what we eat we’ll need a supermarket iPhone app to sniff out the farmer from the pharma.

Point and shoot.

food incThis looks like a good book to read: Food, Inc., available now from PublicAffairs and Amazon. The following excerpt is part of one of the  contributions to the book, titled “Declare Your Independence” by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm fame.

Perhaps the most empowering concept in any paradigm-challenging movement is simply opting out. The opt-out strategy can humble the mightiest forces because it declares to one and all, “You do not control me.”

The time has come for people who are ready to challenge the paradigm of factory-produced food and to return to a more natural, wholesome and sustainable way of eating (and living) to make that declaration to the powers that be, in business and government, that established the existing system and continue to prop it up. It’s time to opt out and simply start eating better — right here, right now.

Impractical? Idealistic? Utopian? Not really. As I’ll explain, it’s actually the most realistic and effective approach to transforming a system that is slowly but surely killing us.

What happened to food?

First, why am I taking a position that many well-intentioned people might consider alarmist or extreme? Let me explain.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the unprecedented variety of bar-coded packages in today’s supermarket really does not mean that our generation enjoys better food options than our predecessors. These packages, by and large, having passed through the food-inspection fraternity, the industrial food fraternity and the lethargic cheap-food-purchasing consumer fraternity, represent an incredibly narrow choice.

If you took away everything with an ingredient foreign to our 3 trillion intestinal microflora, the shelves would be bare indeed. (I’m talking here about the incredible variety of microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts and perform an array of useful functions, including training our immune systems and producing vitamins K and biotin.) In fact, if you just eliminated every product that would have been unavailable in 1900, almost everything would be gone, including staples that had been chemically fertilized, sprayed with pesticides or ripened with gas.

Rather than representing newfound abundance, these packages wending their way to store shelves after spending a month in the belly of Chinese merchant marine vessels are actually the meager offerings of a tyrannical food system.

Strong words? Try buying real milk — as in raw. See if you can find meat processed in the clean open air under sterilizing sunshine. Look for pot pies made with local produce and meat. How about good old unpasteurized apple cider? Fresh cheese? Unpasteurized almonds? All these staples that our great-grandparents relished and grew healthy on have been banished from today’s supermarkets.

They’ve been replaced by an array of pseudo-foods that did not exist a mere century ago. The food additives, preservatives, colorings, emulsifiers, corn syrups and unpronounceable ingredients listed on the colorful packages bespeak a centralized control mind-set that actually reduces the options available to fill Americans’ dinner plates.

Whether by intentional design or benign ignorance, the result has been the same — the criminalization and/or demonization of heritage foods. The mind-set behind this radical transformation of American eating habits expresses itself in at least a couple of ways.

One is the completely absurd argument that without industrial food, the world would starve. “How can you feed the world?” is the most common question people ask me when they tour Polyface Farm.

Actually, when you consider the fact that millions of people, including many vast cities, were fed and sustained using traditional farming methods until just a few decades ago, the answer is obvious. America has traded 75 million buffalo, which required no tillage, petroleum or chemicals, for a mere 42 million head of cattle. Even with all the current chemical inputs, our production is a shadow of what it was 500 years ago. Clearly, if we returned to herbivorous principles five centuries old, we could double our meat supply. The potential for similar increases exists for other food items.

The second argument is about food safety. “How can we be sure that food produced on local farms without centralized inspection and processing is really safe to eat?”

Here, too, the facts are opposite to what many people assume. The notion that indigenous food is unsafe simply has no scientific backing. Milk-borne pathogens, for example, became a significant health problem only during a narrow time period between 1900 and 1930, before refrigeration but after unprecedented urban expansion. Breweries needed to be located near metropolitan centers, and adjacent dairies fed herbivore-unfriendly brewery waste to cows. The combination created real problems that do not exist in grass-based dairies practicing good sanitation under refrigeration conditions.

Lest you think the pressure to maintain the industrialized food system is all really about food safety, consider that all the natural-food items I listed above can be given away, and the donors are considered pillars of community benevolence. But as soon as money changes hands, all these wonderful choices become “hazardous substances,” guaranteed to send our neighbors to the hospital with food poisoning.

Maybe it’s not human health but corporate profits that are really being protected.

Via AlterNet

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food-labelsLiving healthy is a multi-billion dollar spinner, and the food industry takes a rather large share from the cache, a share that often is not fair at all. In a world where fast food giants can claim to sell healthy foods, government food agencies are stacked with industry representatives and politicians have an open door policy for industry lobbyists, it pays both financially and in terms of health benefits to retain a healthy scepticism towards the marketing spin that tries to sell us health. If our health is a concern to us, it’s important to become and stay informed about foods: their nature, the ways they are produced and processed, how our body interacts with them and which diets are appropriate or not. Equally important is to become discretionary, for example by applying this knowledge to reading labels when shopping.

The US magazine WomansDay published a list of advertising gimmicks that all too often make us trust and fall for a brand in the wrong belief we’re paying fairly because the product’s health tag, while something as simple as reading the label could spare us throwing good money after bad food. The list makes interesting reading (it is tailored to the US market, but in our globalised world it is as valid here in Australia as it probably is in other countries).

Good source of whole grains

This means the food contains 8 to 15 grams of whole grains per serving, which isn’t bad. (An “excellent source” has at least 16 grams.) But what else is in there? Foods can be made with whole grains and also be packed with lots of preservatives, sugar, fat and other things you want to avoid. So scan the nutrition facts to see what you’re really getting. Generally, the best sources of whole grains are the simplest and made with very few ingredients, such as brown rice, oatmeal, basic bran cereal, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta and 100%-whole-wheat bread. Also remember that the first three ingredients listed are what the product’s mostly made from.

Organic

Just because it’s labeled organic (meaning it’s grown or processed without pesticides or hormones) doesn’t mean you’re home free. Organic chips, cookies, candies and other treats often still pack the same calories, sugar and salt as their conventional counterparts. Keep snack portions in check and focus on organic items that really are worth the extra dough (like dairy products and certain fruits and vegetables that don’t have thick skins or rinds). To find out when it’s best to go organic with produce, go to Foodnews.org [for US only].

Sugar-free

Sugar-free and no-sugar-added foods swap sugar for artificial sweeteners, preservatives and other man-made ingredients—and often still have plenty of calories. (A “sugar-free/low-cal” brownie can have 250 calories or more.) Not only that, but you may not feel satisfied after you eat a “diet” snack, so you could end up going back for more. Sugar-free foods are also super-sweet, so you may find yourself craving them more often. Stick with small portions of the real stuff.

High fiber

Fiber keeps us full longer and speeds up digestion, but there’s a catch: Most packaged foods with a “high fiber” claim contain powders like maltodextrin, inulin, polydextrose and oat fiber. These fiber powders will help you stay full, but they don’t provide the same health benefits that you’ll get from the kind of fiber found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They may also cause digestive distress.

Granola

It’s often loaded with sugar (upward of 4 tsp, or 16 grams, per ½-cup serving) and can be very high in calories (a bowl can easily rack up 600 to 700 calories). Look for a brand with 10 grams of sugar or less per serving (I like BearNaked or FEED ). Also, think of granola as a condiment: Sprinkle a few Tbsp on cereal or yogurt.

Energy, granola and other snack and meal bars

Many of these have the same sugar and calories you’d find in a chocolate bar. Others are packed with artificial sweeteners. Instead, pick ones that have just 3 or 4 ingredients and at least 3 grams of fiber. All-natural fruit and nut bars like Lara, KINDND and Clif Nectar are good; I also like Kashi granola bars because they’re low in sugar and have a good amount of protein.

Yogurt

Sugar strikes again! Sugary-sweet fruit-flavored yogurts can have up to 6 tsp (32 grams) of added sugar per serving. Start with plain yogurt; add some fresh fruit or a tsp of honey or jam for sweetness. If you have a real sweet tooth, a basic vanilla or fruit-flavored yogurt is OK once in a while.

Fruit smoothies

Popular chains tend to whip up jumbo-size blends of sugary juice and frozen yogurt, which can cost you upward of 600 calories if you’re not careful. If you’re going to order a smoothie, make sure you read the nutrition info carefully. Better yet, make your own: Fill an 8- to 16-oz glass with fresh or frozen fruit, lowfat yogurt and skim or soy milk. Add about a tsp of natural peanut butter or flaxseed for an extra boost of energy and nutrients.

Bran muffins

Why yes, they have fiber, but they also have saturated fat and a lot of sugar—and nowadays they tend to be gigantic. Some top out at 500 calories and 14 grams of fat; a donut is often a lighter pick! Try keeping portions, fat and sugar in check by making your own mini–bran muffins sweetened with applesauce, fresh fruit or a little sugar. Grabbing a muffin on the go? Eat just the muffin top or pick one that’s no larger than your fist.

Pretzels

They may be low in fat, but pretzels are simple carbohydrates, so they’re basically empty calories. They won’t do much to fill you up and could spike your blood sugar.Instead, opt for whole-grain or oat bran, and pair them with some protein-rich peanut butter or hummus.

Sweet potato or veggie chips

They’re fried, which means they contain unhealthy fat (and probably a good deal of sodium).You can get your crunch from natural popcorn, which contains cholesterol-lowering fiber. Baked chips are a little better (watch the number of servings in one bag) but they’re still pretty processed, so you’ll end up eating empty calories. Try making your own “chips”: Slice white and sweet potatoes, beets or parsnips super-thin, brush with a little olive oil, add salt and chili powder, and bake at 350°F (175°C) for 7 to 10 minutes until crisp.

Diet soda

Artificial sweeteners can heighten sweet/carbohydrate cravings and may impact weight gain if consumed in large quantities. A healthier option is seltzer with lemon or lime, or an occasional naturally sweetened soda like Gus Grown Up soda or Fizzy Lizzy.

Fortified water drinks

A few vitamins and minerals don’t make up for the excess sugar (and calories) or artificial sweeteners. Get vitamins from real, fresh food. Flavor regular water with simple additions like lemon or fresh herbs.

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