Emergency Nutrition Class
- 06-19-2006, 10:24 AM
Emergency Nutrition Class
We hear a lot about nutrition on TV these days. Carbs, net carbs, impact carbs, trans fats, essential fats . . . on and on. Yet studies show that this is way over most people's heads. In fact, it seems that most people have forgotten what they learned back in eighth grade nutrition class—at least those who had a nutrition class. Nowadays, most people get through school having taken no nutrition at all.
But we've all got to eat. So forget about Nutrition 101. There's no time for math; let's break it down even simpler than that. Maybe we'll call it Nutrition 1. All we want to do is get you out of Vons with some idea of what you just bought. For some of you, this 411 on nutrition is more of a 911, so let's call it that. A bit more impact than Nutrition 1, and maybe not as patronizing. It's like Traffic School, but for nutrition. You've been cited for poor eating habits. You can pay the fine and endure a chronic disease, or take Nutrition 911 and get your health back. Ready for class?
Hello class. I'm Prof. Edwards, but you can call me Sir Steve—Hey, you, in the back. Stop shooting spitballs at Mr. Kroc! Give me that thing. What's your name, son? Okay, Carl, one more slipup and you're back on bypass waiting list. Seems the situation is more dire than I thought, so let's get straight to it.
We're here to talk about food. This is the stuff we eat that gives us nutrients. You in the clown suit with the big red wig, stop laughing. This is a lot more important than it sounds! Because we also eat a lot of stuff that's not food but comes with our food. Some of it we're supposed to eat. Things like fiber in plants. But many companies also add things to foods that aren't food at all. Stuff like color, flavors, and things to make the food last longer sitting on a shelf waiting for you to buy it. It has no nutritional value and, often times, is bad for youYes?
Why do they do this, you ask? That's a very good question, Ralph, but we can't answer that here. This is Nutrition 911. Politics 911 is in the other room.
Anyway, the part of food that your body can use gives it its nutrient value. Nutrient value, in packaged foods, can be found on the food label. It breaks down what you are eating into various components. For more on food labels, read Learning to Read Food Labels from Issue 101 of the Beachbody Newsletter. These various components are vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbs. Nutrients have something called calories. Most of us know what these are because we blame them for making us fat, but, in fact, they are just a measurement for the energy of food that we turn into the energy of us. We'll talk more about this later, but first let's talk about natural foods. Natural foods, in general, come without food labels.
Lesson # 1: Foods without labels are better than foods with labels
Some foods don't require a label. These are mainly very fresh and haven't been tampered with, making them more healthy alternatives. The more unlabeled food you eat, the better chance you have of being healthy. Of course, all of these foods can also be bought in packages with labels, but that means they've been, in some way, processed, which gets rid of some—or a lot—of their nutrient value.
First are foods like apples, oranges, broccoli, and many other things that you can buy in the state that they come from the earth. We call them fruits and vegetables. These foods have parts that aren't really foods either. Called fiber, it's the indigestible part of a plant. It has no nutrient value, but it's still important because it does all kinds of things, including cleaning out our digestive tract. It's very important that our diet features plants. They are loaded with nutrients and fiber and have no man-made ingredients (okay, some have pesticides, but we'll get to that later). But when we do things like cook or make juice from these items, they lose their nutrients and fiber, and get a label.
Next are grains and legumes. Things like rice and beans—also plants—these foods have more protein and calories than fruits and veggies. They are less easily found in their natural state. Rice, for example, often has its shell stripped, so it's white. Grains get turned into breads and crackers, often at the expense of their healthiest ingredients. Beans get smashed and have things added to them. As a rule, the closer you can get a legume or grain to its original state, the better it is for you.
Meats and dairy products. Nowadays, unless you live on a farm, you probably have to buy these with labels. That's mainly due to suspect growing and harvesting practices, something else for politics class, though we'll brush over it a bit in a minute.
What are you rolling your eyes at? Yes, you. The guy in the white suit taking up two seats. What are you dressed like that for? Going to the Kentucky Derby after class? Well, pal. I believe that this subject concerns you more than anyone, so pay attention.
Even in their natural state, both meats and dairy products often have a lot of saturated fat. More than you need. I know we haven't gotten to what this is yet, but remember the term. Anyway, you can buy all of these products with much of this fat removed. For the most part, this is recommended, which we'll cover in the "fat free" portion of the lecture later on.
Lesson # 2: Organic, grass fed, free range, farm raised, low carb, fat free, and other marketing jargon
Before we even discuss what's in food, we need to address what you're most likely to hear about food. These terms are evidence that advertisers have used their "market research" tools, and have determined that they need to shove these words down your throat, even if you have no idea what they mean. You see, this way they can spin them however they like. Yes, "spin doctors" are not just politicians. But these terms do have meaning. And once you understand them, they will help you choose foods that are more healthy.
Organic. Organic means living, so organic foods are supposed to be alive or, at least, recently alive. Originally, "organic" meant produce that hadn't been sprayed with inorganic things, like pesticides. But now you'll see "organic ingredients" in boxed, jarred, and canned foods, which can be confusing. Organic was once a term used only by the folks who showed up at your weekly farmer's market. Then word started to get out about large-scale farmers spraying nasty pesticides on their crops that would still be on them when we bought them. Most people are pretty sure they don't want to eat something made to kill animals, so when the little "organic" guys started to impact their business, the big guys just started slapping an "organic" label on anything until the government had to step in.
Now we have an imperfect system. Organic rules can be fudged to some degree, but it seems to be getting better and not worse. It's made the large growers a bit more cognizant about what they add/spray their crops with. Organic has also trickled up. So now packaged foods using "organic ingredients" are labeled as such. But you've to be prudent because the fine print will tell you how much. Lobbyists haggle over how much organic stuff needs to be inside in order for it to appear on the label, and the amount has changed and will continue to. So you can see a big "organic" on a label with very little organic inside.
Bottom line: "Organic" on a label is probably better, but you should read the fine print. On fresh fruits and veggies, it's always better.
Grass fed. Cattle were once all grass fed. They lived on prairies and ate grass, 'cause that's all there was to eat. On the prairie, that grass is nutrient rich because of the soil. Cattle that ate it grew big and strong, and when we ate them we grew big and strong. Then some guy figured out that cattle, if they had to, would eat grain. This meant he could build houses and strip malls on the prairie, put the cattle into little fenced areas and feed them grain, and he would make a lot more money. The downside was that grain didn't have the same nutrient value (like your eating Krispy Kremes instead of broccoli), so the cows weren't so big and strong. To make them look like they once did, he started shooting them with things like steroids, so that the cattle started looking like Jose Conseco, and all was good in the world. Except that when we ate the cattle, they didn't have the same nutrient value. This meant we ate the same calories with less nutrient value. When this happens, we get fat.
For a while, we were none the wiser. Then people started getting sick and dying because, low on grain, some genius started feeding cows parts of other cows mixed with the grain to make more money. Cows aren't carnivorous, like animals with sharp teeth, so this didn't work well and bad stuff like e.coli started showing up in meat. Anyway, feeding cows other cows is now against the law, but lobbyists also were able to make a deal in which it's nearly impossible for meat companies to be sued, so who knows what they're actually up to.
Bottom line: Even though meat lobbyists have been hammering away at the "grass fed" requirements, it still means that the meat is likely to be much better in quality.
Free range. Cattle weren't the only animals out on the prairie. Birds were there, too. In fact, birds were all over the place because they have wings and can, you know, fly. This became problematic when folks decided they wanted to raise them on farms. You listening, Whitey?
Figuring that if birds couldn't fly, well, they would then need no space at all, "farmers" started loading them all in tiny little pens together. Irritatednaturallythe birds would peck at each other and cause general turmoil, so good ol' Foster the farmer put them in little cages where they couldn't get at each otherfor their entire lives!
Since this isn't Animal Cruelty class, let's just talk about how healthy these birds are when they grow up and we eat them. When you get out and exercise, how does that help you? Hmm, since some of you can't answer this, I'll tell you. You get more healthy. Your body systems work better, and you get more muscle. Muscle is meat, like the part of a chicken that we want to eat. If you sit in a small room for a long time, how do you tend to look or feel? Answer: You get fat. You get sick. You die young.
Take two chickens. Let one run around, maybe fly a little, and eat stuff it finds growing out of the ground. Put the other in a two-foot-square box and feed it junk food. Which one do you want to eat?
Bottom line: Only eat free-range fowl.
Farm raised. This term has to do with fish. For those of you confused, that is natural. Fish live in water. We live on land. How the heck do we farm them?
The obvious answer is to put them in big aquariums, but that would be too expensive. Instead, they raise fish in fenced-off areas and treat them a bit like the birds above. This tends to cause a lot of damage for the ecosystem in general but, again, this isn't Environment class. We don't offer environment classes because they don't help your standardized testing. Anyway, the effect on the fish depends a lot on the type of fish. Some, like catfish that naturally live in sluggish conditions, do okay, while others, like salmon, do terrible. In fact, salmon are migratory and swim for most of their lives. Keeping them in a "tank" wreaks havoc on their lifestyle. Farm-raised salmon don't even have red meat, like they do naturally, and are dyed red for market. Do you really want to eat fish that's been dyed red?
Bottom line: Avoid farm-raised fish when possible. Avoid farm-raised salmon always.
There's the bell. That's all the time we have today. I hope you'll feel slightly more comfortable next time you walk into your local Ralph's
Nutrition 911, Part Two
In Part I of our emergency nutrition class, we discussed why natural foods are better than processed foods and covered a few of the terms you see in your grocery aisle, including organic, grass fed, farm raised, and cage free. This month, we'll jump right into the two biggest advertising slogans you see these days: fat free and low carb. Just what do these terms actually mean to you?
Fat Free. We'll start with fat free because it was popular first. The dreaded "f" word is sorely misused out there in foodopia. About the only thing most of us really know about it is when we have too much on our body. Fat is a colloquial term for looking more like Kirstie Alley of the TV show Fat Actress than Kirstie Alley of the '80s slacker comedy Summer School. Fat is also one of the key nutrients that we must eat in order for our bodies to keep functioning. And this is where the association problem begins.
Assuming we're fat because we eat too much fat, marketers decided that by making foods without fat we'd be less fat. This might work if, oh, nutrition was as simple as 1+1. Unfortunately, it's not. It's a science, requiring things like math 'n' stuff that we don't have time for here. All we have time for here is to say this is wrong. If you don't eat fat, you will die a miserable death. Fat, among other things, is vital for proper function of our endocrine system. You might not know what this is, but, basically, it regulates our body's day-to-day functions.
But this "theory" has some bearing on real life. Fat is nutrient dense. This means that by volume it has more calories than other nutrients. In fact, it's about twice as dense as other foods. So you should eat a lot less fat than other things or you might get twice as large. Fat also tends to taste good, so it's easy to crave. We don't need much of it, but we like to eat a lot of it. Starting to see the issue? There is not just a marketing idea, but also a market for low-fat products.
Essentially there are two types of "fat free" or "low fat" labels: those on animal products and those on packaged products. Let's start with the animals, because it's simpler.
Fat-free dairy products and low-fat meats simply have their fat removed. There are different types of fat, which we'll get to later. Animal products tend to have what's called saturated fat. We need only a very small amount of this to survive. If we eat a lot of animal products, we can easily get too much, leading to high cholesterol levels and other assorted problems. The relatively simple step of removing fat does not take away from these foods' nutrient values. It just gives you less fat.
Fat-free packaged foods are a whole other matter. Things like cookies, candy, chips, peanut butter, etc. must be scrutinized because the fat is usually just replaced by another ingredient. It's often sugar, which is usually as bad—if not worse—for you. In some cases, it's extreme. Peanut butter, for example, is loaded with fat, but most of it is unsaturated fats your body can use. "Low-fat" versions usually include a lot of sugar, and sometimes trans fats, which are manmade fats that have no place in your diet. So the low-fat trade-off means you're actually eating worse! There there's candy, which sometimes sports a "fat free" label, as if not having fat is a perfectly good excuse to fill yourself full of gummy bears. Using this type of logic, why not consider crack? It gives you a lot of energy and, after all, it's fat free!
Bottom line: Fat free and low fat can be okay, especially in animal products. "Fat-free" doesn't mean "sugar-free." Learn to read labels. There's often more to the story. Some fat is necessary.
Low Carb. Following the astonishing success of "fat free," the "low carb" label hit our shelves a few years back with all guns blazing. Virtually no labels are left unturned. You now might see a "low carb" moniker on just about anything, from meat, to rice, to beer. Some foods warrant this, but, in most cases, it's absurd marketing jargon—it makes the aforementioned "fat-free" slogan look like a paragon of advertising honesty. We're talking "Swamp land in Florida for sale" territory here. Let's look at the worst offenders.
Meats and veggies. Meats don't have any carbs, so when a meat product advertises "low carb," it's like boasting that your cat doesn't bark. Veggies, though, are mainly carbs. However, they have very few calories. So few, that low cal should be their trademark, but, instead, they'd rather promote low carb. Water, with no calories, would also fit this bill, but I haven't seen low-carb water yet, or have I?
Alcohol. This is probably the most misleading label claim running today. A beer, for example, has around 12 grams of carbs. A low-carb beer may have 5, so you're getting about 25 to 30 calories fewer, hence those commercial with the finger treadmills to burn off all the extra carbs in regular beer. But both have alcohol, which makes up most of be calories in beer. While technically not a carb, it has a similar impact on your metabolism and almost twice the calories. So low-carb alcohols are a misnomer. Sure, they're all technically low carb, but they do the same thing to your system that you are avoiding carbs for in the first place. It's 100% gimmick.
Chocolate and other sweets. We've now come up with all sorts of concoctions to avoid dreaded carbs. Two popular additions are artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Basically, these are substances that aren't really food, have had no long-term testing, and should not be a major part of your diet unless you like living dangerously for something with very little upside.
Starches. You can now find low-carb versions of all of the carb-laden foods from the past. Companies like Atkins have low-carb bread, pasta, and are probably well on their way to harvesting a low-carb potato. Some of these changes are positive. Chips, for example, are junk in the first place, and most of the low-carb options are healthier. However, changing breads and pastas are altering ingredients in a way that may or may not benefit you. You see, you need carbs in order for your body to function properly, especially your muscles and your brain. So if you are active, and like to think, you don't want to cut carbs out of your diet. The trick with carbs is to eat only as many as you can burn off because your body can't store them. It's only excessive carb consumption that will make you fat. With that in mind, we don't need a genetically altered potato. What we need it to take more care in making our food choices in the first place.
Bottom line: Low-carb labels are completely unnecessary. It's either spin doctoring or altering a food that you shouldn't be consuming in the first place. With minimal knowledge of how to eat, you can strike the words "low carb" from your vocabulary.
Other Odd Label Claims. Right onto the bandwagon we find "antioxidant" teas, cancer-fighting calciums, immune-boosting juices, and so on and so forth. It's nearly endless. Practically every health claim that you see on a label should be ignored unless you're in the drug store. What's happening is that manufacturers' marketing departments are latching on to any bit of research that shows something positive and spinning it right off the ol' turntable. For example, tea contains polyphenols, an antioxidant. Always has, always will (unless we alter it), but it's not just Lipton any longer, it's "antioxidant" tea! If your diet lacks calcium, you have a higher risk of cancer, as well as an entire cornucopia of maladies since calcium is essential for human existence, so now it's "cancer-fighting." It goes on and on. These claims are not always bogus, by any means. Tea and calcium are great. But it sheds some light on a potential problem if you believe anything you read.
Bottom line: The best defense is a good offense. The more you understand about nutrition, the less likely you are to be duped. Learning to read a food label is a great place to start.
So next time, we'll discuss how to read a food label and why you want to eat fat, protein, and carbs.
- 06-22-2006, 01:11 PM
- 06-22-2006, 03:10 PM
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