What’s Cookin’? Evidently, Not Americans

April 21, 2015 in Foodland, Health, Health Claims by Joyce Bunderson

If you want to really understand blood pressure, there’s a wonderful article on the Medical News Today (MNT) website. What I like about this particular article is that you do not need to have had a course in physiology, anatomy and biology to understand the article. It is written for all who are interested; and it is very comprehensive.

Since about a third of the US population (according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute) have hypertension and that number is expected to grow as the population ages, and the fact that hypertension/high blood pressure is the main risk factor for cardiovascular disease-associated death, it seems that we, as a nation, would want to be informed about issues that impact hypertension. In my rush to get to discussing the news I don’t want to whisk by the fact that it’s not just heart failure and heart attack risk that are increased by hypertension; it also increases the risk for kidney failure, aneurysm and stroke.

On March 18, 2015, in the American Journal of Hypertension, professor Tazeen Jafar MD, and others published a study that was conducted in Singapore. Of course she (Jafar) realizes this is preliminary research and more must be done to prove that eating out is strongly linked with high blood pressure, but this is a great first step. This study is the first ever to show a link between eating meals away from home and hypertension. Great first step! We look forward to the follow-up studies that will be done with a variety of age groups and ethnic backgrounds. Based on other research, we already knew that eating meals away from home is associated with higher intake of calories, saturated fat and salt (which is linked with high blood pressure.) As I’ve said before, we don’t need to wait for a final validation to reap the benefits from a study like this. It’s not going to hurt us to be aware of our potential risks. Final validation is unattainable anyway in science. More evidence just makes the argument for validity stronger and stronger; so we are wise to act on best evidence we have.

One of the outcomes of this study is that it should give a wake up call to the younger set. The risks created by hypertension are an issue of the elderly, but not just an issue of the elderly; Jafar’s population were young adults. The author suggests that young adults, particularly younger males, should modify their eating behaviors and make them more aware of risk for pre-hypertension.

I must admit that I’m not surprised at the results of Jafar’s study. Just last week I put up a blog about Daily Weighing. I mentioned that one of the bits of information that I’d learned over the years of daily weighing is how my weigh jumps up after just one salty meal; and eating out is almost always associated with one of those water fluctuations. Restaurants have developed habit patterns and recipes that are simply way over the top in saltiness, (as defined by The American Medical Association; The American Heart Association and The American Diabetes Association, to name a few).

What’s cookin’? Evidently, not Americans. What I’m sad to report is that the Department of Commerce has released data that informs us that, for the first time ever, food sales at restaurants and bars overtook spending at grocery stores. The restaurants and bars will be catering to the Millennials (Strauss and Howe use 1982 – 2004 birth years; about 19 to 33 year olds) who are the biggest group driving this generational shift toward restaurants. It is reported that the National Restaurant Association has caught on. Keep in mind Jafar’s work above; she used those in the Millenial age group. It’s interesting that 51 to 69 year olds are spending more on groceries compared with a year earlier; the Boomers are learning the benefits of preparing food at home. Maybe some of the older people have time to weigh and realize that the extra water weight picked up at restaurant meals can contribute to their untimely demise.

I recognize that more food may still be purchased at grocery stores than this news implies, because restaurant meals tend to cost more per meal than home cooked meals. In addition, all the food purchased at Costco, Target, and Wal-Mart is not included in the data because they are considered “general merchandise retailers,” not grocery stores. But the fact remains that the trend is definitely changing. Check out the graph from the Commerce Department. Certainly, we can’t explain away 23 years of the narrowing of the gap between restaurant meals and grocery store purchases by price and general merchandise retailers.

These two items in the news are a wake up call. If you’re eating out frequently, you may want to purchase a blood pressure cuff to keep from blindly moving toward some health hazards. Some nice ones that automatically sense the upper and lower levels of blood pressure can be purchased, you will not need to use a stethoscope to hear the blood pressure changes yourself. While taking your own blood pressure at home can be helpful, the most helpful thing is your own life-style choices. Is all that salt, calories, saturated fat and sugar in restaurant food worth it? Should eating out become more of a once-in-a-while choice, not a daily choice? Should you at least consider a shift in frequency to one of the increasingly popular places that recognize the bane of too much salt, fat, and sugar in your diet?