The politics of food and the looming health crisis

Image courtesy of scienceblogs.com
Image courtesy of scienceblogs.com

Health care reform needs to include food industry reform. The well-off often wonder why the poor are obese. I can tell you simply: fattening “food” is cheap. I call it “food” because anything with more than four ingredients on its label can hardly be called real food – it is little more than processed poison, a poison laden, usually with high fructose corn syrup, the bane of anyone trying to stay healthy. It is put in food for one reason and one reason only- to appeal to our sweet tooth, to get us addicted to junk. I mean, really, does a fast-food burger need sugar? No, but they have them. And, as anyone knows, fast food is cheap – check out the $1 menus sometime.

This has been on my mind ever since the battle over health care reform heated up. We have an epidemic of obesity and we’re going to be paying for it either personally or through our taxes if we get universal health care. Ergo, we should care that people’s waist to hip ratio is right, we should care that the food stamp program in some areas is so backward it forbids the purchase of yogurt but allows people to buy soda, we should care that the food industry is stuffing our cows with corn instead of grass and beefing up our chickens with hormones to the point they can’t stand on their own…. and that all that poison goes into bodies that are biologically designed to eat food in its natural state and revolts (gains weight disproportionately) when we eat what our too busy (or too poor) lifestyles seem to demand: fast, cheap, processed food. (And don’t even get me started on the “leftovers” grocery stores and restaurants send to soup kitchens.)

I don’t have time to explain all this today, but luckily, the NYTimes is having a discussion about it today here, and there are links to various blogs discussing the politics of food, who gets what in our nation, and why the real health care issue is reform of the food industry here, here, here, here, here, and this video about “portion distortion” with links to more discussions on those blogs. Read them and engage your brain. Then take a walk, make your own lunch and read labels: If it’s got more than four or five ingredients, don’t eat it.

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2 thoughts on “The politics of food and the looming health crisis

  1. High fructose corn syrup may have a complicated-sounding name, but it’s simply a kind of corn sugar that is nutritionally the same as table sugar. According to the American Dietetic Association, “high fructose corn syrup…is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose.  Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”  High fructose corn syrup, sugar and honey all contain the same number of calories (four calories per gram). High fructose corn syrup is used in the food supply because of its many functional benefits.  It is used in certain applications for sweetening, and in other applications it performs functions that have little to do with sweetening.  For example, it retains moisture in bran cereals, helps keep breakfast and energy bars moist, maintains consistent flavors in beverages and keeps ingredients evenly dispersed in condiments.  High fructose corn syrup enhances spice and fruit flavors in yogurts and marinades.  In salad dressings and spaghetti sauce, it improves flavor by reducing tartness.  In addition to its excellent browning characteristics for breads and baked goods, it is a highly fermentable nutritive sweetener and prolongs product freshness. As many dietitians agree, all sugars should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced lifestyle. Consumers can see the latest research and learn more about high fructose corn syrup at http://www.SweetSurprise.com. Audrae EricksonPresidentCorn Refiners Association

  2. It is unfortunate that consumers are being misled into thinking that sugar is a “healthier” option as compared to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  As already stated, HFCS and other sweeteners are nutritionally equal.  Furthermore, no single food ingredient, or even processed foods for that matter, is responsible for the obesity empidemic.  Rather, it is an ongoing behavioral pattern of consuming high-fat, high-sugar foods in unchecked portion sizes while doing little or no physical activity.  As a dieitian, I eat some processed foods; I eat foods that contain more than 4-5 ingredients; I eat foods that contain HFCS.  However, I maintain a healthy weight because I choose to exercise, and the bulk of my diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources.  This is precisely the concept I strive to teach my clients: consume ALL sweetened food in moderation and maintain a healthy diet overall.  The efforts of some individuals to polarize foods into categories of “good” or “bad” and in this case, “poison,” are not helpful in teaching individuals to navigate current food choices and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

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