Well, THAT title sounds rather negative, something I don’t like to be on this blog. But today it’s for a good reason.
I’m mad, and you should be too. I’m mad that although we have more information about how to be healthier through good nutrition, more Americans are overweight or obese than ever before.
Are we not listening to what we are hearing, or are we misinterpreting what we are hearing?
My Sister’s Story
I have a 50-year old sister who has a mild developmental disability. Last year, she was diagnosed as having diabetes and high cholesterol (she is at a healthy weight). I had so many things going on at the time that I didn’t realize that she was subsequently given three prescription medications by her physician. When I found out, I asked her, “Did your doctor say anything about how to heal from diabetes and high cholesterol through diet and exercise?” “No, never,” she said. I confirmed this with another sister who had accompanied her, and made sure that the doctor didn’t diagnose her with forms of both that could not be reversed by a healthier lifestyle.
Needless to say, I was less than pleased. My sister makes very little money and is spending a huge portion of it to buy these medications, and now is dealing with significant side effects. My sister may have cognitive deficits, but she is not stupid. If her doctor had just given her some sound advice about diet and exercise, she would have followed them to the letter. There wasn’t even a discussion of taking meds for a short time while she worked on improving her health. Sure doctors are overworked and have little time, but what would it have taken to direct my sister to some helpful resources?
It’s a moot point now because I am now working with her to make these changes, and will present these to her physician.
Who Are You Listening To?
When I took my sister to the store to read food labels in order to make better choices, I was struck by how little she knew about eating well. Again, it was obvious that this was not because she is “slow”. It seemed like she had bought into the misinformation that commercials and the words on the front of food packages cause. If we are looking to these two sources to tell us the optimal way to eat, we are in trouble.
Which of these six things have you believe?
Lowfat is Healthy
OK, admit it. You’ve bought into this one. I have too. Just because something is lower in fat, doesn’t make it the best choice if it doesn’t have any other redeeming value. Case in point: all of the low-fat chips whether baked chips, lentil chips, rice chips, pita chips, veggie chips, as well as pretzels. Often there is little nutrition and more salt than your body wants. If you’re like me, however, you crave crunchy and salty food, and these SEEM like a better choice than Frito’s. But they are adding calories that will not fill you up or give you sustained energy. Try to incorporate some low-salt or raw nuts instead, or something like apples, carrots and celery to satisfy your need to crunch.
Zero Calories is Healthy
The only things you want to ingest that have no calories are O2 and H2O–oxygen and water. Don’t think that you are doing yourself a favor by drinking zero calorie soda. Take Coke Zero for instance. Here is the ingredients list: Carbonated water, colour (caramel E150d), phosphoric acid, sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K), flavourings (including caffeine), acidity regulator (E331). The only thing that sounds remotely nutritious is the phosphoric acid. Yet even that has been linked to lower bone density in some epidemiological studies, including a discussion in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Even Vitamin Water Zero contains things like sorbitol that can aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and other gastro disorders. Try water with really natural flavoring, like fresh lemon juice or naturally flavored teas.
If It’s Labeled “Organic” It Must Be Good For You
We fell for this one in our household when we jumped on the organic bandwagon years ago. We started buying packaged meals because they contained all organic ingredients. The problem? The ingredients weren’t much to brag about–cornmeal, white rice, high sodium or high fat sauces, etc. We realized that we saved money buying unprocessed, organic foods and that their preparation didn’t take much more time than these “convenience” meals. Also be aware that “natural”, “all-natural”, “100% natural” and “organic” do not mean the same thing. Natural foods are processed without preservatives or additives, but may have been grown with the use of pesticides or other conventional methods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the term ‘natural’ only as it applies to added color, synthetic substances and fragrances.
Sugar-Free is Healthy
This was a big source of misinformation for my sister, especially with her diabetes. She thought she could ingest whatever amount of artificial sweeteners that she wanted because sugar was the devil. But Sucralose (Splenda) and Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweeet) come with a whole host of problems themselves. They have proven to cause headaches and intestinal distress, and have recently been linked to cancer and the increase in MS, lupus, fibromyalgia and even diabetes (ironic). Why risk it? Food additives are not your friend. Did God design our bodies to be able to process artificial ingredients? Don’t just listen to me, there is so much information available about these sweeteners. There are fabulous natural alternatives like agave nectar and honey, so why not give them a try?
Multi-Grain is the Same as Whole Grain
According to Mayo Clinic Registered Dietitian Katherine Zeratsky, multi-grain and whole grain are not interchangeable terms. “Whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel–the bran, germ and endosperm–are used. In contrast, multigrain means that a food contains more than one type of grain, although none of them may necessarily be whole grains,” she says. The reason we want whole grain is that fiber, nutrients and other healthy parts of the plant are lost when they are milled. So we should look for breads and pastas that are labeled “whole wheat” or “whole oats” for example.
Wheat Flour is the Same as Whole Wheat Flour
Since whole grains keep you fuller longer due to a higher fiber content (which also helps with blood sugar and colon health), they are a better choice. But don’t be fooled by ingredient labels that say “Wheat Flour”, because that has been refined to lose the outer bran that contains the majority of the fiber. Choose only “Whole Wheat Flour” if you are eating wheat at all.
It took a little while for my sister to realize that just because a commercial or a label gives the impression that a food is good for you, doesn’t mean that it truly is. I think she has become a wiser consumer and actually feels empowered with this new information. We both look forward to seeing her “numbers” at her next doctor’s appointment.
(And yes…she has also started walking and doing a bit of strength training which will also help).
What are some things that have tripped you up in your quest for better nutrition?