Cosmetically “Fixing” Impoverished Foods by Adding Supplements

November 1, 2011 in fiber, Foodland, Health Claims, Nutritionism, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

Eating real, whole foods is not the habit of many Americans; and making the change to real whole foods, is not happening rapidly. Let’s just face the facts – changing our habits is not so easy. This is in the face of the fact that extensive research has left us little to no question that eating less red and processed meat, sweets, refined grains, salt, and drinking fewer sugary beverages, including fruit juice would be a major improvement for our health. The second part is also hard – how to replace those unhealthy foods. Replacing them with vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, and whole grains, and with smaller amounts of fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy could save Americans from most of the diabetes, heart disease and stroke from which we suffer. Despite the evidence for this, it’s a colossal challenge to change habits.

So why are we having so much difficulty in changing to a healthy eating style? It seems to me that two main issues lead the list of why it is extremely difficult.

  • Preparation time and lost cooking expertise

We’ve grown to rely on highly processed foods, fast foods, and restaurant meals. We’ve designed our lives to use our time in other ways; not preparing our own food and/or relying on highly processed foods, results in a loss of control of a great deal of the foods we eat. Certainly, the food processors are not thinking about our health; they must think primarily about their stockholders – how much profit will they be able to report. The food processors supply preparation and we’re at their mercy. And we’ll stay at their mercy, if we can’t get out of the habit of using their highly processed foods.

  • Thinking supplements can fix our problem.

This second problem is related to the first. The food processors and supplement businesses would like us to believe that we can continue to eat impoverished foods and take supplements; and those supplements will take care of our poor eating habits. It appears that there is a group think that is pervasive in our society. It is that we can add supplements to impoverished foods and magically they become healthy choices.

Today I want to focus on the second issue – adding supplements to an impoverished diet. It’s very upsetting for me to realize that so many Americans are being duped into this type of thinking. Many don’t even realize what’s happening to them. As the title of this post suggests, I see this practice as basically a cosmetic approach to fix up the marketing image so it will sell better, not as really repairing the nutritionally impoverished “fudes” inside.

The fact that the food processors know from experience that they can add a supplement to just about any processed food and consumers will think that makes it healthy. Products sell more easily when supplements are added. So they act as smart business people, not as citizens interested in the health and welfare of their fellow being. The food processors will add anything they can and want you to believe that impoverished foods are an acceptable vehicle for supplementation (See George Pontiakos interview quote). Two of my favorite examples are Vitamin Water – food coloring, sugar and vitamins; and WhoNu? Cookies – fat, sugar, impoverished flour, and supplements. (Note: It’s interesting to me, how many hits we get on our website, after I wrote the article about WhoNu? cookies. People google the question, “Are WhoNu? cookies healthy?” If it weren’t so sad, it’d be funny.)

People that argue for taking supplements, scoff at the adage, “You can get all the nutrients in a balanced diet.” They say; “That may be, but how many people have a balanced diet?” Where the entire argument falls apart, is that the food processors and proponents of supplements want us to believe that taking supplements can replace all the nutrients and repair the damage of a processed food diet. And that’s just not true!

If we use the example of whole wheat, and if we don’t pay much attention to the fact that refining removes at least 25% of the protein and almost all the fiber, then we can focus on the micronutrients. So if we want to go along with the food processors and try to build nutrients back into impoverished flour, what we soon discover is that all that was “fixed” was the marketing image, not the impoverished product. (Q. Why is the grain refined/impoverished to begin with? A. Because it facilitates profits.) In the “enriching process” only 5 of the 17-plus key nutrients that are removed are added back to make “enriched flour.’ Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School says that white flour (enriched flour) should be called “depleted” flour or “depleted and partially restored.” We’ve been using the term impoverished, but depleted works just as well.

Continuing with the whole-wheat flour example, most of us should realize that inexpensive synthesized fiber is often added to replace the bran that was removed. The public has often been told to look for grams of fiber in order to identify whole grains. But let’s be clear, refined flour with added manufactured fiber and five nutrients does not equal the health-supporting benefits of whole grains. You can’t add a little cheap processed fiber and make an impoverished enriched flour product equal with a whole grain. You may get more gas from the typical fiber additives, but not the benefits of the bran that was taken out.  Foods made with the crassly named product “enriched flour” are inferior foods. It’s that simple. Let’s stop dancing around this simple information.

Food processors seem have their focus not on what they’ve taken out, but what they’re putting in. In past years they have emphasized fat, salt, sugar or whatever unhealthy component had been reduced (trans fat, for example); but they now it seems to emphasize, “We’ve added vitamin E, or omega 3’s or fiber.” Whatever nutrient is in the latest research seems to the nutrient of choice to find a cheap substitute for the real whole food and add it to many processed foods. This is nutritionism at it’s worst. Beware of over fortification! You may think that it’s harmless, but research is turning up example after example that it’s not. Some examples are: Folic acid – too much may result in an increased risk of lung and prostate cancer. In addition, too much folic acid may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency in older adults, resulting in permanent nerve damage.  Beta-carotene and the famous Finnish lung cancer studies is an example of trying to fix smoking problems with a beta-carotene supplement.  It’s been known for decades that too much fat-soluble nutrients can be toxic. The recent vitamin E study reported in JAMA, found a significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men. An increased risk of death for older women, who use some vitamin or dietary supplements including multiple vitamins, was reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine in October 2011. Calcium and vitamin D can increase the risk of kidney stones. There are numerous other studies cited in our blog.

It’s not just the damage of too much being supplemented, but in addition, there are plenty of studies that illustrate how much better nutrients function when in food, than taken as supplements. To illustrate this issue, there is a brand new study that was published on September 19, 2011; the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This interesting study was conducted by Oregon State University. They found that the body absorbs 5 times as much sulforaphane compounds and 8 times as much erucin compounds from vegetables as from pills. (Despite their forbidding names, these compounds are nutritional powerhouses found in broccoli). They think that they’ve tracked the differences to the fact that the pills do not contain an enzyme that helps break down the glucosinolates into the active compounds. The researchers were studying why increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli may reduce the risk of various cancers.

David Ludwig, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School helped us to realize that we will not be running out of broccoli soon, since broccoli can’t be trademarked, there is no incentive for industry to market it. He says kids are eating what is advertised and marketed to them.

There are certain groups in the population that may need supplements. One group is, older women (and perhaps men) who may benefit from intake of vitamin D3 supplements, especially if they have insufficient vitamin D supply from the sun and from their diet. People with various disease states, metabolic problems and health concerns, will be guided by their physicians to take the nutrients that are helpful. But as related to supplements, generally, we may have more to worry about in over supplementation than in true deficiencies.

If you want to increase your health and decrease the risk that comes with supplements, eat whole foods – the healthiest and safest way to nourish a body. Don’t be fooled that supplements can make up for the processed, impoverished, depleted or deficient fudes in your diet. I often advise friends and family, to begin the process of taking back the control of your foods by replacing processed with whole foods, one food at a time, step by step. It’s challenging, but worth taking the steps to move toward a healthy whole food diet.