Deceitful, Despicable and Disgusting

February 25, 2011 in Food and the Brain, Foodland, Health, Nutrition, Weight Management by Mary Ireland

I thought I'd play on the alliteration of Dr. Grandma's last blog, Feet, Forks and Fat -- Protecting Our Children to express my reaction to the information in Killer at Large: Why Obesity Is America's Greatest Threat. There is a lot of great information in this documentary and it leads me to consider the actions (and lack of actions) of the food industry and the American government as deceitful, despicable and disgusting.

I don't know what was more disconcerting: watching Dr. Richard Carmona, U.S. Surgeon General (2002 - 2006) testify before a congressional committee that he, in his role as Surgeon General, had the topic of obesity edited out of his speeches by administration officials or watching a 12-year old have 35 pounds of fat liposuctioned from her 215-pound body. Probably watching the 12-year old whose parents thought that liposuction was the best option for their -- let me repeat it again -- 12-year old, 215-pound daughter.

In the documentary, Dr. Barry Glassner talks about the many factors contributing to the obesity epidemic: genetics, social factors, sedentary lifestyle and a variety of diet-related issues. According to Glassner, many people try to over simplify the issue -- as exemplified by the statement of one Food industry lobbyist, "all we have to do is have people eat less and exercise more. Not a very big problem." Hmmm, according to a report from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "health care costs for treating obesity-related illness are as high as $149 billion per year." That sounds like a big problem to me -- and those are just the health care costs, it doesn't include lost productivity, lost wages, and degradation in quality of life.

So why isn't it just as simple as eating less and exercising more? In his blog, A Rat's Eye View of the Recent Junk Food Study, Dr. Grandpa presents research published in Nature Neuroscience relating to behaviors exhibited by rats exposed to junk food constantly. These rats became compulsive overeaters, became obese and sluggish, and their brains revealed evidence of changes similar to those found in human drug-addicts.

An Australian law firm, asks the question "Is junk food the new tobacco?" The firm's website references research reported in the February 2003 edition of New Scientist which comes to the same conclusion as the junk food study reported by Dr. Grandpa: rats fed a high-fat diet lost almost all of their ability to respond to the hormone leptin (which sends signals to the brain indicating the status of the body's fat reserves), causing the rats to keep on eating well after consuming a normal quantity of food, and that large doses of sugar produces a reward response capable of leading to addiction. The law firm's conclusion is that the addictive qualities of fast food may be more real and more potent than previously thought; a factor that will no doubt loom large in any litigation against food suppliers.

The addiction properties of certain foods may explain why more than half of the heart attack patients in a recent study had not cut back on their frequent fast-food habit. To me this is somewhat similar to emphysema patients who disconnect from their oxygen machine to have a cigarette. Although for some patients, heart attacks bring drastic changes, it seems that a certain profile: male gender, white race, lack of college education, current employment, and dyslipidemia played a significant role in resuming a habit of fast food. Perhaps as studies become more sophisticated, genetic testing for addictive tendencies can be included.

Litigation against the fast food companies may be an effective way of dealing with the situation. Case in point is the new Fruit & Maple Oatmeal from McDonald's. When I first heard about this, "naive me" thought that this might be a good thing. After reading Mark Bittman's great commentary, I had a different perspective. Some of the highlights are:

  • 'A more accurate description than “100% natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”' [The other ingredients being sulfur dioxide, food starch-modified, salt, natural flavor (plant source), barley malt extract, caramel color, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, and carrageenan. Anyone want to say YUM to any of those?]
  • The oatmeal is more expensive than a double cheeseburger and ten times more expensive than uncooked oatmeal you can buy in a supermarket.
  • The oatmeal contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

Bittman raises the question that crossed my mind, why would anyone go to McDonald's to buy oatmeal? It is much more convenient to make it at home -- and as he pointed out much cheaper and much less chemically adulterated. Why did McDonald's even put it on the menu? I think that it is perception -- McDonald's trying to give the perception that they care about the welfare of the American public. What a (excuse me Dr. Grandma) Kroc -- sorry for the pun too.

We, the American public, have to realize that we have the power to change this situation -- our collective pocketbook. When we don't spend our money at fast food stores that sell garbage, they will stop selling it. When we turn off the kid's TV programs that are sponsored by products that have high "nag" factors for products that are nutritionally impoverished, things will change. We can't afford to let our babies and toddlers get addicted to this junk. We can't afford to be addicted to this junk.

If you need some incentive to change check out these pictures from the Nutritionist for The Biggest Loser. She measures out shortening and sugar for the fat and the sugar in those "delicious" burgers and fries. This works well too with cookies - think flour, shortening and sugar -- not really so appealing. Once you are motivated, educate yourself about nutrition and the nutritional value of your food choices. Dr. Grandma's site is a great place to learn about nutrition and healthy food. Giving up fast food may not be the easiest thing you have ever done, but it will pay huge dividends in health and well being for you and your family. Start making small steps toward that today.

You might want to try my Wheat Berry, Chick Pea and Roasted Veggie Dish as an alternative to your usual fast food.

Wheat Berry, Chick Pea and Roasted Veggie Dish

3/4 pound fresh trimmed asparagus cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups fresh broccoli florets cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon minced green onion
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 cup chick peas
1 cup wheat berries
½ teaspoon lime zest
1 1/2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice, optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 500°F. Coat the asparagus and broccoli with oil. Spread on a baking sheet with sides. Roast for 6 to 8 minutes, depending upon the size of your vegetables, more time for larger pieces. Shake pan after each 2 minutes, to turn over. Sprinkle with the green onions, sesame seeds, ginger, and lime zest. Roast for one or two more minutes, until the asparagus and broccoli just begins to be a little crisp. Sprinkle with a little limejuice, if desired.

Mix together the chick peas and the wheat berries. Add in the soy sauce and stir. Mix in the veggie mixture and serve.

Cut asparagus into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Cut broccoli florets.

Coat with olive oil.

Arrange on baking tray and bake at 500 F.

Chop green onion and grate ginger.

Sprinkle with green onion, ginger and sesame seeds.

Mix together wheat berries and chick peas.

Mix in soy sauce and veggies.

Serve.