Monday, April 24, 2017

Studies Show...

How often do we hear that? From the media, from friends trying to make a point, from out healthcare team.

Studies, it turns out, often show exactly what the people or organizations funding them want them to show.

Take for example a study conducted to "investigate lunch meat consumption in the US population" published in the official sounding Nutrition Journal. The results? People who consume lunchmeats are no different than those who do not in measures of weight, blood pressure or cholesterol.

Good news if you like bologna, right? Not so fast.

The study is riddled with flaws that the media failed to report. It studied only lunch meats, none of the many other forms of processed meats that American consume by the truckload, so its very unlikely researchers would detect any meaningful differences. The researchers simply asked people what they ate the day before. A person who eats salami 4 days a week for lunch but happened not to eat it the day before is counted as a non-lunchmeat consumer.

Despite the fact that the International Agency for Cancer Research has listed processed lunchmeats as a "human carcinogen", the media dutifully reported the study's conclusion that "the study provides insight into how to better utilize lunchmeats in the diets of US children and adults".

Funding for the study? The North American Meat Institute. The researchers? Two "nutritional consultants to the food industry" and a consultant to the National Pork Board.

Sounds trustworthy to me!

Studies show indeed.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Buona Salute!

That's "Good Health! in Italian. And other than the Mediterranean Diet, there is a lot we could learn about it from Italy. Starting with the passeggiata.

The passeggiata is a short, sociable walk taken after meals. In addition to the social benefits, a recent study by the George Washington University School of Public Health found that taking a relaxed 15-minute walk after each meal results in a drop in blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours. That, of course, helps to lower the risk for diabetes.

If you haven't got someone to walk with, ask your dog. He'll be happy to go with you and you will both be healthier for it.

Grazie, Italia!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Five Ways Food Companies Mislead You (On Purpose)

From cancer to heart disease to diabetes to obesity, the heath problems our society faces all have one thing in common - a strong link to the lifestyles we choose to live. You've heard it all before.

Our diet plays a big part in the problem.

If this is true, and it is, why don't we just make the changes that would make us all healthier? Why not just eat better and be done with it? Its tempting to say that people are just lazy, or dumb, and perhaps a few are. But this is largely a case of blaming the victim.

"The narrative is that people who are struggling (to create a healthier lifestyle) don't have the willpower or they just aren't trying hard enough," says Ashley Gearhardt, assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. "In my clinical work and research I consistently find that people are trying SO hard."

Why then does the problem of "lifestyle induced" health problems not just continue but seem to get a little worse every year?

One reason is the deliberately misleading ways in food companies market their products to us.

You probably know that when you go into your local supermarket, the healthiest food choices tend to be located along the walls, not in the aisles. Here are five more things you need to know about how you are being tricked before the next time you go shopping.

1. Product Placement

Did you ever wonder why every time you finally figure out where all the things you normally buy are located, the supermarket moves everything around on you? Its not an accident. Shifting things around every few weeks forces you to go searching for the items you came in to buy. This is more than just annoying. It encourages impulse buying, and not just by making you see things you might otherwise not have taken notice of.

Products placed at eye level sell better than products placed on a high or low shelf. Products at the end of the aisles or at the checkout sell even better than that. Products that occupy more shelf space sell better than those with a narrower presence. Food marketers and supermarkets know this. Companies pay supermarkets chains as much as a million dollars per year per product to get their products placed in these prime locations.

BEST DEFENSE: Be aware of how you are being manipulated, never shop without a list, and very rarely buy anything that isn't on it.

2. Misleading Product Names

Just because a product says it is something doesn't mean that it really is. As long as there is just a trace amount of something healthy sounding in the product, the marketing department can name the product accordingly. Supermarket shelves are packed with crap that sounds like it is made with something virtuous, but isn't.

For example, you might assume that Honest Tea Pomegranate Blue Flavored Herbal Tea contained pomegranate juice. Legally you would be correct. But the only fruit in the drink is a trace amount of "juice concentrates" that are "added for flavor". The product is tea and added sugar. A lot of sugar. Honesty indeed.

BEST DEFENSE: If it is not a product you are familiar with and trust, read the ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in order of predominance.

3. Healthy Sounding Words

Protein! All Natural! Made with Organic Ingredients! Gluten Free!

The larger the product packaging screams this sort of claim, the more suspicious you should be. Some of these terms have absolutely no regulatory meaning at all, like "natural". Others are specious, such as a product with no wheat content (I've seen wine labeled this way) announcing it is "gluten free".
A product can be "made with organic ingredients" and still contain up to 30% non-organic ones. Often the packaging highlights "advantages" that are native to the product so even the cheapest store brand has them.

BEST DEFENSE: Be skeptical of marketing claims and educated about which ones have any real meaning. "100% Organic", "Organic", Certified Non-GMO" and others do have legal, regulatory meaning. Here are a few other misleading claims you should be aware of.

4. Hidden Disclaimers

It's perfectly legal to lie on food packaging, as long as you state somewhere on the package that you have lied. Unfortunately, the lie usually appears in huge, colorful letters right on the front while the disclaimer is hidden away in tiny print on the side somewhere.

Protein is popular, but regulations only allow companies to boast about protein content if a serving contains 5g or more. "4 g of protein" boasts Special K Protein Chocolaty Peanut Butter Chewy Granola Bars. Not to worry, though. Hidden away in tiny print at the bottom on the side of the box, Kellogg's lawyers have made sure you know that you need to eat 1 1/2 bars to get that protein.

BEST DEFENSE: Again, be very skeptical and read the label. Not the marketing label on the front but the legal labeling on the side. Both sides. Yes its a pain in the butt. Food companies are counting on that to discourage you from bothering.

5. Playing Games with Serving Size

This may be the most popular deception of all of all. All of the information contained in the Nutrition Labeling on food packages is provided on a "per serving" basis. Serving size is prescribed by regulation (which the food companies help write). Too often we assume that a serving is the whole package, and very often it is not. Soups, canned items, soft drinks, snacks (when is the last time you had "about 20 chips" after opening a bag?) and candy bars are routinely packaged in single serving packages that contain multiple servings.

Example: "210 calories" crows Dove Strawberry & Cocoa Almond (which contains cranberries not strawberries - see #2). Per serving. Servings per package? 3 1/2. Eat it all and your 210 calories become 780.

BEST DEFENSE: Do the math. If you are counting calories or watching your sodium or sugar intake, its the only way to avoid being fooled. Your smartphone has a calculator on it. Use it.