Monday, July 25, 2011

My Take on MyPlate

Last month, the USDA announced it had discarded its hard-to-interpret Food Pyramid  and replaced it with “MyPlate,” a simple, colorful, icon designed to teach Americans how to eat more healthily. The pyramid was terribly flawed (it suggested 6-11 daily servings of “bread, cereal, rice, and pasta,” for example) and MyPlate is an improvement on that. The USDA’s website encourages us to “enjoy your food, but eat less,” and “avoid oversized portions,” which are great ways to avoid adrenal burnout and maintain a healthy metabolism and weight. 

Though I disagree with some of its recommendations, the good news is that MyPlate emphasizes vegetables and fruits. If I were to create my own version of MyPlate, I would use half the plate for vegetables, eliminate the dairy category, and move fruits over to where dairy is now: eat fruit for dessert. All the meats would be grass fed, and the produce would be organic. Looking at MyPlate’s grains serving, if you are under 22, it’s okay to include whole, unprocessed, gluten-free grains as 25% of every meal. Most adults, however, should be eating far less.

MyPlate also doesn’t take food allergies and sensitivities into consideration. Many people suffer from allergies and sensitivities that have not been diagnosed. Making a blanket statement that everyone should eat grains and dairy is unwise.

On an interesting side note, the federal subsidies that support farming are not in line with MyPlate at all. MyPlate shows us that each meal should be comprised of about 50% fruits and vegetables, yet fruit and vegetable farmers receive less than 1% of subsidies. Please contact your congresspeople to let them know that while MyPlate is a step in the right direction, the government needs to alter its agricultural policies in order to truly promote healthy eating.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meat Eaters Guide

The Environmental Working Group has done a great study on the different protein options we have and their impact on our health and on the environment. When eating beef or pork, it is important to eat grass-fed, organic meat free of hormones and antibiotics. Poultry, as long as it’s free-range and organic, is a better option for everyday consumption because it’s less expensive and has a smaller carbon footprint. For years I’ve been saying we need to eat beef less frequently and eat only premium-grade grass-fed beef. It’s nice to have the EWG back this up with all the facts!  

If you choose not to eat meat it's vital to get enough protein from beans, legumes, and/or clean protein powder.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

FDA Trying to Ban Supplements

On July 1, 2011, the FDA proposed new guidelines for food and drug manufacturers to follow to get approval for New Dietary Ingredients, or NDIs.  Bill S.1310, the "Dietary Supplement Labeling Act," would require supplement companies  to adhere to these guidelines, which state that any supplement currently sold that was not sold prior to 1994 must go through the same approval process that medication does.

In theory, this is a great idea: the government wants to make sure that substances people are consuming are safe. In reality, this could spell the end of the supplement industry, because the red tape is extensive. According to the FDA, a product would be classified as an NDI if any aspect of it is changed: if a capsule that was approved at 50 mg is now manufactured in 100 mg capsules, for example. If a supplement that was sold prior to 1994 has been chemically altered in any way, it would now be considered an NDI – and “chemically altered” includes baking, cooking, or using a botanical ingredient at a different life stage, such as using a bud instead of a flower. Supplements that contain several different ingredients would go through a separate approval process for every single one of those ingredients, making it cost prohibitive to bring them to market.

Additionally, each supplement company would have to seek approval for every single NDI they sell. If one company gets Vitamin B12 approved, that doesn’t mean that Vitamin B12 is approved for all companies. This is akin to every bread, cereal, and cookie company in the country being forced to seek approval for flour.

And here’s the tricky part:  if a drug company conducts research on a dietary ingredient as a medication and publishes its findings, that dietary ingredient can be patented by Big Pharma and supplement companies will no longer be able to use it. In 2009, this happened with a form of Vitamin B6 used in treating kidney disease.

Because the substances found in supplements occur naturally in nature, they cannot be patented. Big Pharmaceutical companies want to make it so the natural ingredients are able to be patented.  That way, they can have exclusive rights to the ingredients in order to make them prescription only, which means 3000% mark up or more.

We must act now and let the FDA and our Congresspeople know about our concerns. We must convince them that the FDA's new definition of NDI is too broad and that the approval process is so burdensome as to threaten the entire supplement industry – an industry we and our families depend upon for our health. The Alliance for Natural Health has an online petition you can send directly to the FDA, your Senators, and your Representative. I urge you to speak up, and to encourage your friends to speak up as well.  Don’t let the corruption in Washington take away your right to affordable supplements that nourish your health.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Child Labor and Cocoa Farming

Are you aware that the chocolate you eat may be the product of child slavery?  At least seventy percent of the world’s chocolate supply originates in West Africa, with the Ivory Coast and Ghana as leading producers. A shocking report in 2001 called “A Taste of Slavery” exposed a world in which boys as young as 12 were forced to work 13-hour work days on cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast, enduring malnutrition, beatings, and psychological abuse. 

The easiest way to make a difference?  Vote with your purchases.   The major chocolate companies – Hershey, Kraft, and Nestle – do not have fair trade certification, which includes strict policies that monitor and prohibit child labor.  These certifications also ensure that suppliers earn an appropriate fair wage. Look for fair-trade chocolates made by Alter Eco, Coco-Zen, Divine, Equal Exchange, Sjaak’s, Sweet Earth Organic, and Theo Chocolate. All of these chocolates are organic, too! An added benefit of buying chocolate from companies that support fair trade is that they tend to be more health-conscious, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly. Alter Eco’s products are made using sustainable farming methods, for example, and 45% of Divine is actually owned by the cacao farmers themselves.

To take further action, write to your congresspeople and encourage them to make sure the International Cocoa Initiative implements ethical labor practices. You can also write to the major chocolate companies and urge them to adopt third-party certification for their cocoa. Green American magazine provides a form on their website that you can email directly to Hershey.

By shifting our focus as consumers to companies that promote social responsibility instead of ignore it, we can have an impact on ending child labor.

Updated on December 18, 2012 to add:  

Hershey has recently pledged to source 100% third-party certified cocoa by 2020. The company has also announced plans to spend $10 million on solving child labor problems in West Africa.

Korfhage, Andrew: “Valentine Chocolates Tainted by Child Labor.” Green American, January-February 2011
Raghavan, Sudarsan and Sumana Chatterjee: “A Taste of Slavery.” Knight Ridder newspapers, June 24, 2001.