Tag Archives: processed food

Are the additives in your food safe?

Making healthier food choices is something that you should be thinking about every day. Since November 4 is National Eating Healthy Day, this seems like a good opportunity to revisit some advice to help you make smart decisions. Eating more fruits and vegetables, limiting added sugar, and focusing on “real food” instead of processed, prepackaged meals and snacks are always good ideas. One reason for this is to avoid food additives, some of which may be harmful.

food additives


If you have ever read the ingredients on a food package you no doubt realized that much of what we eat isn’t really food. Chemical additives are common in packaged foods as preservatives, coloring agents, flavor enhancers, and even vitamins and minerals. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since these chemicals allow food to last longer, look and taste more appealing, and provide essential nutrients. The assumption is that these additives have been tested and proven safe for us to consume. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many commonly used additives.

This may be surprising, but it isn’t new. In the late 1950s Congress required that new food additives must be proven safe before they could be used. That raised the question of what to do with additives that were already widely in use. Since people had been eating these additives with no apparent ill effects the decision was made to classify them as safe, and the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list was created.

Now additives may be approved as GRAS by an expert panel without rigorous testing and FDA approval. One study found that in every case these reviewers worked directly for or had financial ties to the companies that manufactured the additives. This raises serious questions about the process and whether or not the chemicals added to our foods really are safe.

So, are the additives in our food safe? There is no good answer to that question, mostly because the safety studies haven’t been done. However, it is rare that a food additive is removed from the market for health reasons. Most research showing that a food additive may be unhealthy is conducted in animals. These studies often test amounts that are far higher than people would reasonably consume, so they may not predict the health effects in humans. And some additives, such as iron added to cereal or vitamin D added to milk, for example, are widely thought to be beneficial.

To be sure, there are some chemicals in our food that we should avoid, but it isn’t fair to say that all food additives are bad. Even so, eating foods that are free from additives is probably a good idea. Even though each individual additives may not be hazardous, it is possible that exposure to small amounts of several of these chemicals could be dangerous.

Much of our exposure to food additives comes in the form of processed, prepackaged foods, including many restaurant meals. Getting back to basics and cooking using “real” food— fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats—is one way to avoid processed foods. Reading food labels can help, too. Look for ingredients that you recognize as food and avoid additives that clearly aren’t.

Avoiding all food additives is almost impossible. Even foods that don’t come in packages, such as fruits and vegetables, may contain coatings that prevent damage or preserve freshness. Even canned fruits and vegetables will likely have added salt or sugar, so even apparently healthy foods can contain additives. The best way to limit them is to select as many fresh foods as possible and make an effort to check labels for additives.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

 

 

Affordable care acts

The Affordable Care Act is in the news again, this time because the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled on the legality of subsidies offered to help people afford health insurance. Health care has long been an important and contentious topic in both political and social circles. Given the importance that accessing quality health care has for everyone, it is unfortunate that promoting good health has turned into a political debate.

In addition to expanding access to health care, the Affordable Care Act should also make it easier for people to get preventive care. This is important since preventable chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease, are among the leading causes of disability and death as well as contributing to high health care costs. It turns out that adopting some simple lifestyle modifications can go a long way toward making you and your family healthier, as well as saving money.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Here are a few affordable care acts you can implement today:

1. Move more

Significant health benefits, including weight loss and improved fitness, can be achieved with as little as 30 minutes of activity per day, but more is better. The activity doesn’t have to be “exercise.” It can include walking the dog, yard work, or house work. Research shows that sitting too much is just as unhealthy as not exercising. Spending less time sitting at work, home, or in the car is another easy way to improve health. And getting up and moving for even a few minutes is better than staying seated for long periods of time. Every little bit of activity really does count.

2. Eat smart

Making dietary changes can be difficult, but a few simple changes can lead to big benefits. Eating more real food including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and less added sugar is a good place to start. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread, pasta, and cereals are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and most are low in calories. Eating less added sugar in sweets and processed foods can help you cut down on calories and lead you toward healthier food choices. Controlling portion sizes plays as big of a role in weight gain and loss as the types of food you eat, so pay attention to how much you eat, especially when you eat out. Chances are, it is more than you think!

3. Chill out.

Reducing and managing stress is essential for good health. Uncontrolled stress can lead to high blood pressure, poor immune function, and weight gain. Daily exercise will help, as will using stress management techniques like progressive relaxation. When you can, avoiding stressful situations is wise. Taking time to do something you enjoy each day is a good idea, too. Getting enough sleep (most adults require 7–9 hours) is also important for good physical and mental health.

4. Don’t smoke

Cigarette smoking more than doubles your risk of heart disease and stroke, and is by far the leading cause of lung cancer and other lung diseases. If you smoke, quitting now is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health—and the health of those around you. Nicotine replacement therapy and prescription medications can help, but quitting really does require serious dedication. It’s well worth the effort and the benefits of quitting can be realized almost immediately.

Regular activity, quitting smoking, managing stress, and the types of dietary changes described here can have a profound effect on preventing and treating many health problems. Best of all, these affordable care acts are basically free to implement and can lead to both health and financial savings now and in the future.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

Celebrate Food Day every day by eating real food

This Friday is Food Day, an annual event that aims to raise awareness about the food we eat and the impact it has on our health, environment, and quality of life. It turns out that many of us don’t know much about our food including where it came from, the method of preparation, and the quality and nutritional value.

As I describe in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week, we are increasingly disconnected from our food, a fact that has implications for our health and the health of the environment.

Our lack of knowledge about the food we eat has been replaced by a heightened awareness about nutrients. In fact, many people follow diets that either emphasize or restrict certain nutrients in order to obtain health benefits. But the research to support the importance of these individual nutrients is often mixed or lacking altogether. Still, as we seek out sources of these nutrients we are led to supplements, such as fish oil, or processed foods with added nutrients, like fiber.

To be sure, fish oil and fiber are good for us. But does that mean that taking a fish oil supplement will have the same health benefits as actually eating fish instead of, say, fried chicken? Or is adding fiber to a chocolate breakfast bar equivalent to getting more fiber from fruits and vegetables? Both research and common sense suggest that the answer is no.

Beyond the individual nutrients, the food we eat has changed. Even the way food gets to our table has changed. Since nearly half of our meals are eaten outside the home, it’s not even “our” table anymore. And when we do eat at home, take-out and prepackaged heat-and-eat meals have become the norm. In fact, the idea of cooking meals from ingredients is so foreign that we have to be reminded about how and why we should do it.

Events like Food Day are an attempt to get us back to the basics of cooking and eating real food. This, of course, is how people ate for years before the obesity and diabetes epidemics we are dealing with now, so eating real food again is a step toward reducing these, and other, health problems.

In addition to the potential health benefits of focusing on food over nutrients, this approach is also good for the environment and the economy. It turns out that eating healthier food promotes sustainable agriculture and can support local farmers. Locally grown produce, which is picked at the peak of freshness, can be more nutritious and have a lower environmental impact than food from factory farms which is often shipped great distances. And most important, food from local farms usually tastes better!

This is the point of Food Day. We should make ourselves aware of where our food comes from and do our best to eat “real food” as opposed to processed and pre-packaged foods that tend to be high in calories, added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. When possible, we should buy foods that are grown locally to minimize the environmental impact and support local farmers who live, work, and pay taxes in our area.

It turns out that focusing on food, not nutrients, will have a positive impact on your health, the environment, and quality of life for you and others. And that is why it is called Food Day, not nutrient day. You can learn more about how you can celebrate Food Day every day at www.foodday.org.

Being mindful of eating habits, according to Shannon.

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Shannon earlier this week that fit with the topic of being mindful of health habits. (I have written about Shannon previously, but not for some time) 

She was telling me that one recent evening she drove to three fast food restaurants to get dinner for her family. Apparently, she wanted food from a different place than her husband, neither of which worked for her kids. As they sat down at the dinner table she became mindful of how ridiculous this was.

First, she spent almost an hour driving to fetch the food. This was time she could have spent doing any number of things, including actually preparing a meal for her family. Second was the cost, including the food itself and the gas required to drive to three different restaurants. Third, looking at the food they were eating made her realize that it wasn’t healthy. In fact, their meal included no fruits or vegetables (beyond french fries) at all!

What struck me was that the quality of the food they were eating was the last thing Shannon mentioned to me, almost as a afterthought. What got her attention was the time and money she sent on the food. Cooking at home could have taken less time and certainly would have cost less. It would have been healthier, too.

At least they ate dinner together

 

Being mindful of eating habits, according to Shannon.

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Shannon earlier this week that fit with the topic of being mindful of health habits. (I have written about Shannon previously, but not for some time) 

She was telling me that one recent evening she drove to three fast food restaurants to get dinner for her family. Apparently, she wanted food from a different place than her husband, neither of which worked for her kids. As they sat down at the dinner table she became mindful of how ridiculous this was.

First, she spent almost an hour driving to fetch the food. This was time she could have spent doing any number of things, including actually preparing a meal for her family. Second was the cost, including the food itself and the gas required to drive to three different restaurants. Third, looking at the food they were eating made her realize that it wasn’t healthy. In fact, their meal included no fruits or vegetables (beyond french fries) at all!

What struck me was that the quality of the food they were eating was the last thing Shannon mentioned to me, almost as a afterthought. What got her attention was the time and money she sent on the food. Cooking at home could have taken less time and certainly would have cost less. It would have been healthier, too.

At least they ate dinner together

 

Stealthy Healthy Eating

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about the many processed foods that include added nutrients, primarily vitamins, minerals, and fiber, to make them healthier. While this seems like a good thing—helping people get enough essential nutrients, even if they eat a poor diet—there are drawbacks to using these foods instead of eating actual food that contains these nutrients.


What if there was a way to get the benefits of eating vegetables without having to eat any vegetables? This may be a dream for millions of American children and adults who don’t eat enough vegetables.

Thanks to creative food processing, the healthy components of vegetables can be added to many foods, including soda, candy bars, and other sweets. Books and websites contain recipes for adding pureed vegetables to brownies and other baked goods. There is even a new line of prepackaged pureed vegetables to use!

The recommended intake of vegetables ranges from one cup per day for young children to 3 cups for adults. A simpler guideline is to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. The goal should be to eat a variety of vegetables throughout the week.

There are plenty of good reasons for people to eat vegetables. Most vegetables are a low-calorie source of essential vitamins and minerals. The dietary fiber found in vegetables (and fruits and whole grains) plays a role in maintaining a healthy body weight, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of some cancers.

Fiber is increasingly added to processed foods including granola bars and energy bars. It is possible to get up to half of your daily recommended intake of fiber by eating a single Fiber One bar. That is the equivalent of a cup or more of most vegetables! Considering that many of these snacks are essentially candy bars, they are a tasty way to get fiber.

Vitamins and minerals have long been available as supplements and added to certain foods, including products made from grains like pasta and bread. But now you can get vitamins in many soft drinks, many of which have as much sugar as soda. And calcium is added to a variety of foods from breakfast cereals to snacks.

There are, of course, some benefits of doing this. People who don’t eat a healthy diet can get enough essential nutrients through these products. Some of these foods are low in calories so they can help people who are trying to lose weight.

While these “hidden” nutrients may seem like a good solution for people who don’t eat enough vegetables, this form of stealthy healthy eating may have some negative consequences.

These processed foods may be high in sugar, fat, and calories which could contribute to weight gain. The fact that these foods are designed to taste good—many include chocolate—may lead people to overeat. Aside from excess calories, eating far too much fiber could cause GI discomfort or other health problems.

More concerning, though, is the fact that these foods set an expectation that healthy foods should be sweet. This is particularly problematic in children, who may avoid eating vegetables (and other healthy foods) in favor of sweet drinks and snacks that contain the same nutrients.

Additionally, getting vitamins, minerals, and fiber through processed foods keeps people from learning how to make healthy choices and prepare real food. This has consequences for developing healthy eating habits in both children and adults.

Focusing on getting individual nutrients over eating a variety of healthy foods is thought to be an important cause of the current obesity epidemic. Relying on processed foods with added vitamins, minerals, and fiber may be doing more harm than good to your health.

The bottom line is that you should get your nutrients from real food and balance what you eat with daily physical activity. Remember, good health comes from making smart choices, not from a bottle or a box!

In vitro beef and other fake food.

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week is about the in vitro burger you no doubt heard about in the news. Would you eat meat that was created in a laboratory? Many people would say no, mostly because it seems “unnatural.”

But most of us eat plenty of processed and modified foods every day. Aren’t these foods also unnatural?

You can learn more about the story behind the creation as well as results of the first taste test of the “test tube” burger at the following links:

A good New York Times story about the taste test here.

An article in Scientific American here:

If you are looking for something to listen to while you exercise, try this radio story on Science Friday on NPR.

Another New York Times story about the creation of the burger is here.