Is health food is actually healthy? Three ways to know.

One lecture during my certificate work outraged me. Jeff Novick, a distinguished nutritionist, guest lectured about nutrition labels. Nutrition labels? No problem. I prepared for boredom, but as he spoke, my knowledge gap became apparent. As it turns out, there’s more to nutrition labels than just reading them. You have to know how. They can be enormously deceptive.

2% milk labels are just one fascinating case. Did you know 2% milk is actually about 35% fat? Take a look:

Fat is listed three ways on any nutrition label, but you’d never know it. By weight, daily value, and calories from fat. Only one of these ways is accurate.

Here’s a breakdown of the fat on this label. The 2% fat content in 2% milk actually refers to fat content by weight, not calories! It has nothing to do with the actual percentage of fat from calories. This number decreases as companies increase the weight by volume. 5g/244g = 2%. Hence, they can label the product as 2% milkfat. The fat by daily value is irrelevant, as the recommended daily value of 65 fat grams is way too high to begin with, and doesn’t distinguish vegetable fat from animal fat.

The actual percentage of fat is calculated by calories divided by calories from fat, showing that 2% milk is actually about 35% fat. (It can vary slightly but not by much.) …Are you outraged? I was. Similarly, 1% milk is about 24% fat.

Lesson learned? Only calculate fat percentages by dividing calories by calories from fat. The rest isn’t nearly as important. Start checking your “lowfat” labels pronto.

Knowing the tricks food companies turn, Novick presses the wise advice to never ever believe anything on the front of any product and to always read the nutrition label on the back.

There are three quick ways to assessing if any “health” product is actually healthy. Just because it says it’s a health product or is sold in a health store does not make it healthy! Here’s your checklist.

1. Fat Calories  Calories from fat should be less than or equal to 20% (or 15% if possible, in my opinion).
2. Sodium Ratio Sodium should be at a 1:1 ratio. If the product contains 100 calories, its sodium content should be 100 mg or less.This is the body’s optimal input/output ratio in terms of calories to sodium. Daily requirements can be as little as 250mg. If you only ate fruits and vegetables all day, you’d still be consuming around 500 mg without a pinch of added salt.
3. Ingredient List In the ingredient list, avoid “bad” fats (saturated animal fat, saturated vegetable fat, and man-made fat such as margarine or partially hydrogenated fats). Also cross off any product that contains any kind of sugar in the first three ingredients.

Also: be mindful of products that list a lot of individual sugars at the end of the ingredient list. They’re broken down that way because if they were combined (like they are in the product), sugar would be in the first few ingredients. Sneaky.

There you have it! Check back for how duplicitous labeling like this has affected Americans. It seems strange that with all this lowfat and lowcarb labeling that we’re getting heavier, doesn’t it…?


A Meat Eater’s Guide to Better Health and Greener Eating

Note to readers: I’ve been incredibly busy with studying and taking the GREs while getting my nutrition certificate. Now that I am finished both, I’m back and even more revved up to share my newfound knowledge. Start checking back regularly. And comment! 

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman sung the praises of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) newest release in his article “More Weight on Less Meat.” Of their Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, Bittman writes that it is “a comprehensive report that suggests what’s become a common refrain here and elsewhere: we all need to eat fewer animal products – not just meat, but dairy as well.”

Like many vegetarians, I hardly expect those of us who do eat meat to change into tofu/seitan/tempeh guzzlers overnight. Yet it is hard to deny the benefits of eating less meat to both our health and environment, so I am with the EWG here. You don’t have to go vegan to do your body and the earth a solid. Carnivores take heed, eating less meat can still significantly and positively impact your health and the environment.

EWG’s full report is about 20 pages long with 3 1/2 pages of references. If this sounds intimidating, they have a handy at-a-glance brochure that summarizes their report in 7 pages that are approachable, understandable, succinct, and most importantly, compelling. The large print and colorful bubbled facts could put even zealous carnivores in a pensive state.

I encourage you to go through this brochure and take a look at the reported facts and figures. Their “lifecycle assessments” measured by environmental analysis firm CleanMetrics are innovative. I do, however, have a  few issues with this brochure. Below are my top three contentions taken from the report that I debate as misleading or incomplete.

Read more…

Don’t feed the models: Obesity, Part 1

Note to the reader — Be sure to click on both pictures and words with hyperlinks, they lead to sites that provide evidence and expand further on the subject. 

“Obesity is the terror within. It is destroying us, destroying our society from within. And unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9/11 or any other terrorist event that you can point out to me.”  

— Dr Richard Carmona, US Surgeon General 2002-2008

112,000 > 28

These numbers speak for themselves. Americans are in the middle of a battle far more lethal on our home turf, with very real death tolls. We’re not funding just one war, but two. Our tax money goes towards the many causes of our health epidemic.

The obesity crisis is deeply rooted within our country. I almost favor calling it a conundrum instead of a crisis because of how convoluted the issue has become with equally evasive solutions. Who do we blame? The government? The food industry? Ourselves? Biology? Is it nobody’s fault?

Read more… 

The Linchpin To Going Green Is On Your Plate

Going green gets literal.

You’ve replaced all the bulbs in your house with energy efficient bulbs, started biking and walking places, collected reusable cloth shopping bags, switched to a hybrid car, bought a share in a community garden, use natural soaps and detergents, and recycle down to your last biodegradable straw and spoon. You, like many others, know that going green is better for the environment, and it is.

But it’s not the whole story.

You’ve surely heard of carbon emissions, the front liner and resident bad guy. The dastardly gas that we all blame for making the ozone into swiss cheese. Endless news broadcasts and policy debates revolve around efficient cars and factory emissions. While I applaud the (sortof) effort that several governmental administrations have expended, there is a far bigger pollutant that policy makers have been ignoring. Move over, carbon, there’s a new villain in town, although it’s technically not new, and goes by the name of methane.

Quick science review: each harmful gas is measured by it’s global warming potential (GWP). It measures how much heat gases trap in the atmosphere. The potential of a gas depends on the time span in which its effects are considered. Carbon is the system’s baseline at 1. If we take a look at methane’s GWP over a 20 year span, its GWP is 72. Methane traps 72 times the heat that carbon traps. Methane accounts for just about half of Earth’s manmade warming, yet almost no attention is paid to this massive pollutant. Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all the transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.

Read more…