Wishful Thinking – and Advertisers Who Promote It

January 15, 2013 in Foodland Chronicles, General, Health Claims, Immune System, Psychology of Food by Joyce Bunderson

Exactly two weeks have gone by of 2013. Have you heard the data that two weeks is just about how long many resolutions last? I’m not familiar with any real research, but of course such estimates are about averages. Therefore, the possibility is that things are going well for you as an above average individual, and your goals. If you’ve decided to make 2013 the beginning of a healthier you, I send you my sincerest wishes for success. If your resolutions were more wishful thinking than commitment, then I think that Antoine de Saint-Exupery, was on to something almost a hundred years ago when he said; “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. I also want to encourage you to strengthen your plan and try again, while disdaining the advertisements promoting wishful thinking.

It’s good that we can laugh at ourselves, then learn from the failure and try again.  This is the human condition. We need to rise up and try again, else each failure leads to more discouragement and less hope. My guess is that many of us know someone who has taken charge of their health – has made big lifestyle changes, and is healthier. The easiest one for me to think of is my husband, Victor, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004. He’s one of those people who learned about a diagnosis and decided that he didn’t like the ominous predicted outcomes and he did something about it. When he slipped on a resolution, he reflected on what had gone wrong and tried again, trying to avoid the same mistake. Today his weight loss of 35 lbs has been maintained, and his blood sugar remains low without any medications.

Some people have said, “Well, he married a dietitian; I am not married to a dietitian, so it won’t work for me.” I think that the critical issues is in making a decision and systematically discovering what is not supporting health and then making plans to do something about it. Certainly he did not need to wait for a New Year’s Day to begin the work of moving toward improved health. The diagnosis was in March, and he spent a couple of weeks learning, then jumped into a new and evolving plan – the plan was simple at first, but things were added to it along the way. I trust that some of you non-wishful thinkers are not going to sit around and wait for a diagnosis of heart disease or diabetes to motivate you to move toward a healthier lifestyle.

One of the first changes that he made was moving away from large portions of red meat; cheese; saturated fats; processed grains; and sugary drinks and snacks. So that he would not be too hungry in cutting back on those foods, he doubled (sometimes tripled) his intake of vegetables.  In the rest of this post I am going to concentrate on replacing some of the animal protein, and learning to resist the false advertising about how much of it we need. I’m going to stress multiple whole-food sources for needed proteins. Replacing the worst meat and cheese proteins with healthier ones was the earliest and one of the most important steps Victor took, and can be so for most people as well, because these fatty meats and cheeses, so central to the so-called Western Diet, are at the heart of the life-style changes that can lead most rapidly to better health.

I realize if you’re reading this in 2013, you know there’s a big protein craze going on right now. Every where you look you see advertisements touting, “Our product is loaded with protein.” So if I say that he ate less meat and cheese, you may be worried that he would not be getting enough protein. I’m not the only one who points to the fallacy of the advertisements that make us worry that we are protein deficient (or imagine, as the advertisers intend, big muscles or sleek bodies through eating it). The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states, “Inadequate protein intake in the United States is rare.” The fact is that most Americans are far exceeding their protein requirements; and in addition, because red meat and whole fat cheese are often chosen in the American diet, the real problem is that the substantial amount of fat accompanying the protein in these foods is contributing to a high risk of metabolic syndrome and coronary heart disease.

Yes, we do need protein, but we tend to forget that vegetables, grains, nonfat milk, eggs, beans, legumes, tofu, soy products, seeds and nuts are also good sources of protein – and without all the fat and saturated fat that goes with the meat and cheese. The groups of people that are more likely to need to pay attention to filling their protein needs are vegans (eat no animal products at all); the elderly and those who go on certain imbalanced fad diets. Note: Some elite athletes need extra protein too, but it is usually easily gotten by the extra calories they’re eating to cover for the exercise calories.

You not only don’t need bacon and eggs for breakfast, but your arteries may be in a healthier state, if, on some days, you switch to a bowl of whole grain cereal or oatmeal; sprinkled with nuts and berries; and served with fat-free milk. Certainly there are a hundred other options; this is just one idea to show that you can get plenty of protein, without a breakfast of meat and eggs.  It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have eggs now and then. Most people can eat an egg every day and be just fine. The problem with cholesterol is primarily with eating a diet high in saturated fat.

Protein intake is related to aging.  Older people might need to have good sources of protein more evenly distributed throughout the day. Research is presently being done to discover if doing some resistance strength training and having more protein for breakfast and lunch can slow sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle). It’s important because our body uses our muscle mass as a store for the protein it needs to fuel the immune functions. Thus, one of the issues, as related to older persons, is that we may need to provide good sources of protein throughout the day. This does not mean it has to come from meat and hard cheese, with their excesses of saturated fat. In the breakfast example that I shared above the milk, nuts and the whole grain cereal all contribute protein. The tasty fruit is not a source of protein, but it is a great source of nutrients that help keep you healthy. For lunch a sandwich with meat; low fat cheese; hummus; peanut butter; and whole grain bread would be a good source. Both soups and salads with added beans or meat, can contribute to the protein requirements.

Balanced protein is surely needed as we age, and the right proteins in the right amounts are needed for younger people as well.  But I think it is unconscionable for the labs that make the protein supplements to go to such lengths to deceptively advertise them to young healthy persons.  This is pretty cynical, since the supplements do not have the balance or nutritional variety and richness found in real foods that contain needed proteins along with other needed nutrients. The supplements are usually processed from cheap byproducts of milk, and lack a full nutritional profile. These advertisers are doing their best to exploit human weaknesses in wishful thinking.  The images they present usually depict fit, attractive, and active young people building their bodies toward the ideals many of us can only wish for.  Such ads are cynically designed to sell us wishful images, implying by suggestion that we can attain these wishful ideas by eating their supplements. It’s just another shortcut that actually bypasses what will really work, a balanced and intelligently planned nutritional menu from real, whole foods that we do need. Design your intelligent plan. Take action and do not give up. Reject wishful thinking and the advertisers who so blatantly and unconscionably promote it. Your well-designed plan can work and that leads to more and more success.