You are what you eat

DSC03287‘You are what you eat’. A phrase we heard so often that we have stopped paying attention to what it actually means. Or maybe, we never grasped this idea in the first place? After all, it is made of 5 little words that we use constantly on a daily basis.

Food, after water, is our most important need. It keeps us energized, keeps our body moving and our hearts beating. It’s like gasoline and our bodies are cars. Just as car’s come in different shapes and sizes, so does gasoline, which can be cheaper or more expensive depending on its quality. So, if you put a cheap gasoline in an expensive car, or even an old one, both engines will start performing worse. And after constantly feeding the engine with low quality oil, the car gets ruined and stops running.

This analogy is perfect for describing our own bodies. We all come in different shapes and sizes, but what matters most is the fuel we put into ourselves. Whether your body is in tiptop shape and is the latest model, or an average car, the food that you put in it will have similar effects. Good food will help keep you energized and your heart engine running for many years. Low quality food doesn’t discriminate with bodies and likes to ruin them all.

Now that we know a more broad idea behind the small phrase, we can take a look at how it plays out in real life. With information from countries in different parts of the world we can paint a picture of how our diet affects our life. To do this, we analyzed various cultures of the world and tried to see whether the food the population eats has any effect on their health.

The results we found were not surprising. People in Asia eat fish, and a lot of it! The sushi capital is Japan, and eating fish is part of their culture. In theory this diet should be very healthy, but recent rise in mercury contamination has actually made it a source of health problems. In USA, where fast food nature comes installed in every newborn, people suffer from a different illness, one that causes obesity, thanks to all the fat and processed food consumption. The healthiest people on the list are the French. In fact, their Mediterranean diet went through a phase of popularity, with everyone being eager to adopt it in hopes of getting a perfect body, without giving up on tasty food. And this is clear; on the French diet you can eat all the dairy, bread and drink all the wine you want, without becoming obese. The secret is portion control and a less sedentary lifestyle.  In Africa, lack of physical and economical access to sufficient and nutritious food has left most of its population food insecure and malnourished. Currently, about one third of the continent’s population lives in chronic hunger.

So what does this picture paint? Those 5 words are very important and shouldn’t be taken so lightly. After all your food makes up who you are and how your life plays out. You can choose to be healthy or not by the type of food you put on your plate.

Resources:

1. Folaranmi, Temitope. “Food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa: Current trends, causes and consequences.”
2. Bowers, Alena. ”Healthy French Diet.”
3. NRDC. “Mercury Contamination in Fish.”

posted by Hokuma Karimova

Are you being fooled?

Yesterday morning, while getting news from Democracy Now, an independent news media outlet, I heard about a great new book called “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” by Michael Moss. Today, I couldn´t write about anything else but that book.

The book tells you the story of how food corporations “destroy” food in order to get better financial results, because a lower quality food (if it is food) is much cheaper. So we are a part of a legal scandal without even knowing about it. Even if some of us know about the consequences of eating processed food there is not much choice in the supermarkets, especially in the US.

An average American eats 33 pounds of cheese every year. That stands for 3,100 grams of saturated fat and 60,000 calories per year which is about 165 calories per day coming only from cheese. Why do we eat so much cheese? Is it really the best part of your daily meal? And we all know that these are not French cheeses that you would have at the end of your meal with a little bit of red wine. The answer is that the government subsidies the industry of processed food. The two more subsidized produces are corn, which is used to produced high fructose corn syrup (all processed food has it) and meat. Why the government does not subsidies lettuce or tomatoes. Well no big corporations buy it in such big quantities.

As a result of this $1 trillion-a-year industry, one-in-three adults, and one-in-five children, are now clinically obese. Which is in some ways also good for the government, because it generates more cash flow. These obese people are having an infinite number of health problems, so a lot of doctors get paid. The biggest problem is that the majority of obese people are actually poor and don’t have much money for a proper treatment. Because the processed food industry is subsidized the big corporations can set a low price on their products, so as a result healthy food is expensive and unhealthy food is cheap. How many times have you seen this sign: 2 Burgers for 3$! Have you ever seen: 2 Salads for 4$?!

Another very interesting part of the book was the comparison of the processed food industry to the tobacco industry. The easiest connection is the word ‘unhealthy’. But there is even a more shocking fact. No CEO of a big food company eats its produce! So the CEO of General Mills would not eat a chocolate bar produced by his own firm, just as the CEO of Philip Morris would not smoke a cigarette. As the CEO of a tobacco company I guess you can be a non-smoker, but as a CEO of a food company not eating your own food product says something very serious to the public.

There are very thoroughly conducted scientific studies that find the amount of salt and sugar currently present in our processed foods to be highly addictive. Of course, there are different kinds of sugars and it is much worse to consume artificial ones than natural ones. For example, it is proven that a Diet Coke drinker will buy the product more often than a normal Coke drinker because of their physical addiction to the sugar. If you go to a supermarket, let’s say to the cereal aisle you will notice that the cereals with more sugar are on the eye level. If you actually want to get cereals that have less sugar you will either have to kneel or ask a taller person for some help in reaching it.

All this information was quite shocking for me, because an average human being is being fooled without even knowing it. And the worst part of it is that the majority of us will never know about it and less more people start discussing these scary new findings. Please spread this message so that we can make a difference in this world and fix our broken food system!!

References:
1. Democracy Now! http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/1/salt_sugar_fat_ny_times_reporter

posted by Piotr Wielezynski

The growing portions story.

Growing portions is a big problem of our civilization, as far as the food system is concerned. Serving portions are far bigger today than they were in the past, which often leads to an intake of far more calories than we actually need. It is particularly a problem in the USA. People that have visited McDonald’s in both Europe and USA know that a large Coke in Paris would be a small one in New York (not considering the possibility of refills that doesn’t exist in all countries).

Scientist agree that the increase in portion sizes accounts to an additional 50-150 calories per meal. It is not a big deal if we consume such portions once in a while. However, a daily injection of additional 100 calories can lead to an addition of extra 10 lbs of weight a year. Nowadays, people eating in fast food restaurants can get the daily amount of calories in one meal. Think about it, small french fries have 210 calories, while the large size has 610 calories. A small soft drink contains 150 calories, while the 42-ounce cup has 410 calories. If you add to that a giant hamburger you have to count around 1,000 calories, which would add up to a total of 2,020 calories!!

To give you a broader notion of how the caloric consistency of our food has changed from the 1950‘s to today, I will give you a couple of examples:

French fries – 2.4 ounces à up to 7.1 ounces
Fountain soda – 7 ounces à 12 to 64 ounces
Hamburger patty – 1.6 ounces à up to 8 ounces
Hamburger sandwich – 3.9 ounces à 4.4 to 12.6 ounces
Muffin – 3 ounces à 6.5 ounces
Pasta serving – 1.5 cups à 3 cups
Chocolate bar – 1 ounce à 2.6 to 8 ounces

Some people say that maybe you don’t need to eat the entire portion that was served to you. Even though many people don’t care about wasting food, the majority of the population knows from an early age that “no food should be left on the plate”, since there are children starving in Africa.

A study carried out by Massive Health found that if we are served a portion of 500 g (a little bit more than a pound), on average we will eat only 335 g. On the other hand, if we get a portion of 1,000 g we will eat 434 g. That means that with bigger portions we eat 30% more, and these bigger portions don’t necessarily make us feel any fuller.

In order to win this battle with growing portions all over the world, I wanted to give you 3 simple tips:

  1. When you eat out try to split an entrée with a friend or put the half of the meal in a to-go container.
  2. When you eat at home try to serve meals on your plate rather than serving it on serving dishes placed in the center of the table.
  3. You can also keep healthier foods in places that are easier to access and tempting foods, such as cookies, out of sight, in cupboards.
  4. When you have the possibility to choose a smaller portion, go for it. If you eat it slowly, believe me you won’t feel hungry at all!

References:

1. http://blog.massivehealth.com/post/15352155175/swelling-servings-the-growth-of-american-food-portions

2. http://www.mealsmatter.org/Articles-And-Resources/Healthy-Living-Articles/Portion-Distortion.aspx

 

Posted by Piotr Wielezynski

Our increasing caloric intake

When we think about food waste, our thoughts often ends at the moment when we realize that a given produce has been thrown away. We tend to forget about all other derivatives that are also thrown away at the same moment. A few weeks ago I posted an entry about how food waste also leads to land misuse or mismanagement. Today I would like to reveal results from a study that I found extremely interesting.

“The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact” was carried out by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The study gives you a very important piece of information, i.e. food waste leads to wastage of all the energy that was put into the production of food. According to the research  “in 1974 approximately 900 kcal per person per day was wasted whereas in 2003 Americans wasted, 1400 kcal per person per day or, 150 trillion kcal per year.” The rise of the energy input is directly correlated to the annual per capita rise in municipal solid food waste. “Municipal solid food waste accounts for approx. 30% of the total wasted food energy assuming that solid food from the US diet has an energy density of 1.9 kcal/g”. Figures show that food waste has grown from 30% in 1974 to over 40% in recent years, and is still growing. We also need to remember that serving portions still continue to grow. I will post a blog entry about serving portions in today’s world later.

Agriculture in the US uses around 70% of the freshwater supply. Taking into account that 40% of all food is wasted it means that around 30% of all freshwater goes to waste. In a book “How sustainable agriculture can address the environmental and human harms of industrial agriculture.” written by Horrigan L., Lawrence R.S. and Walker P. we get the information that an average farm requires 3 kcal of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 kcal of food before counting in energy required for transportation and processing. It means that food waste accounts for around 300 million barrels of oil per year, which represents approx. 4% of total US oil consumption.

I believe that it is very important to understand the immense negative impacts of  the food waste problem. To be aware that food waste exist is one thing, but to know about all of its implications and impacts on the society and the environment is another, and more important one. If people don’t understand the problem the idea might not stick with them and the message won’t spread. After all, the ones that know the most can explain a given issue better.

Posted by Piotr Wielezynski