Friday, February 5, 2010

We're killing ourselves with an unhealthy lifestye_Part IV

Putting the brakes on the obesity epidemic should be easy. If you consume more calories than you burn, and do this everyday, you will gain weight. It's that simple. On the other hand, if you cut back on calories, and add a little exercise to the mix, you'll lose weight. Again, it's that simple.

Processed foods are notoriously calorie dense and often nutritionally thin. Why are so many people turning to processed foods when the results are as obvious as the thickening waist lines expanding around the world? Paul Berton, the editor-in-chief of The London Free Press has an answer, "We'd rather buy our food prepared (and salty) than make it ourselves."

He's right but I also think a little mean spirited and preachy. (If there is one tone that I can recognize it's preachy.) I think Berton needs a little history lesson.

When I was young most families were supported by only one working parent, usually the father. My father never made a lot of money. My mother told me my father never earned much more than $5000 in any year. Yet, my mother was never forced to work outside the home.

Speaking of home, our home didn't cost a lot; I don't think it was more than $7000 in 1960 when my parents bought the pleasant, two-story, five-bedroom home, built in the 1920s. Our home didn't cost even two times my father's annual wage. (Well, maybe it did on a bad year.)

Today the average wage in Canada is about $42,305 and the average home costs about $332,00 according to The Canadian Real Estate Association. It should come as no surprise that more than three-quarters of mothers with school-aged children are employed, most full-time, or are actively looking for work.

Today parents struggle to juggle multiple responsibilities. Fifty percent of working mothers, and 36 percent of working fathers report having difficulty managing their work and family responsibilities. Stress is on the rise.

Many parents simply do not feel they have the time to cook. Processed foods are time savers and many of them are healthy — at least that's what it says on the label.

And if the processed food product doesn't have the word healthy in the name, often it carries the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check program logo. Many believe the Health Check logo means 'healthy,' 'good for you' and 'approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.'

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

According to The Uniter, Winnipeg's Weekly Urban Journal:
"Although high amounts of sodium are associated with increased health risks leading to strokes and high blood pressure, the Health Check can be found on food products with extremely high levels of sodium. Canned soups with 650mg of sodium per serving still bear the Health Check symbol . . . Dinner entrées are allowed to bear the Health Check symbol with 960mg of sodium per serving."
1500mg of sodium (salt) is all an adult needs in a whole day!
The Health Check program is updating their nutrition criteria as of November 2010. Soups will soon have to contain less than 480mg of sodium; and dinner entrees, less than 720mg.

It's tough out there. Putting good food on the table is even hard for those of us who shun processed foods and have the time to play in the kitchen cooking healthy meals.

Check out the peaches at the top of this post. They are from Chile, imported by Del Monte, and tossed out by my wife. They were hard; They never ripened — not even when left for days to ripen in a bag — they were stringy, dry and tasteless. The food value was nil as they were inedible. 

O.K. I know I shouldn't buy peaches out of season but I did. Forgive me. It won't happen again. Trust me.

Oh well, when it comes to the Chileans it all comes out even. We sent them Coke. And the stuff, unlike the peaches, tastes good. Now they, like the rest of world, are hooked on sugar water.

When I was in the little Saharan town of dusty Douz in Tunisia, I discovered Tunisians quench their thirst with Coke. When I bought a carpet from a desert shop I was offered the choice of traditional mint tea with an almond cookie or I could sip a Coke while we haggled. (I went with the mint tea.)

What do Canadians look for when buying healthy foods. The Heart Check icon is not perfect. How about the Kraft Sensible Solutions flag? It's not perfect either. According to Kraft the Sensible Solutions products cannot have more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat plus trans fat . . . Trans fat? I think not.

Trans fat is related to elevated risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes but even if you read labels you may still be eating trans fat. You see, Health Canada says if a food contains less than 0.2 grams of trans fat per serving it can claim to be "trans fat free."

But stated serving sizes are often rather small. In some cases a consumer can eat three "trans fat free" cookies a day and in a week consume approximately 4 grams of trans fat. And that is just from three cookies over a week. How much trans fat sneaks in the back door and into our diets in year of eating "trans fat free?"

Berton tells us that we eat too much fat. I don't know. Maybe we do. But according to Harvard School of Public Health the low-fat approach hasn't helped Americans control weight or become healthier.

In the 1960s, fats and oils supplied about 45 percent of the calories in the U.S. diet. At that time 13 percent of Americans were obese and under 1 percent had type 2 diabetes. Today Americans take in far less fat, they get only about 33 percent of calories from fats and oils. Yet, 35 percent of Americans are now obese
and 8 percent have diabetes, most with type 2 diabetes.

Why hasn't Paul Berton's suggestion paid off? I admit, I thought he was right. Let's have Harvard's answer:
"Detailed research — much of it done at Harvard — shows that the total amount of fat in the diet isn't really linked with weight or disease. What really matters is the type of fat in the diet. Bad fats, meaning trans and saturated fats, increase the risk for certain diseases. Good fats, meaning monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, do just the opposite. They are good for the heart and most other parts of the body.

What about cholesterol in food? For most people, the mix of fats in the diet influences cholesterol in the bloodstream far more than cholesterol in food does."
According to Harvard, "Eliminating trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent between 6 and 19 percent of heart attacks and related deaths . . . "

Here we really get the last laugh on Chile, they'll be sorry for those peaches; we may be cutting our trans fat use but inexpensive partially hydrogenated oil has become a staple in homes in the developing world. There is a growing epidemic of cardiovascular disease in developing nations around the world.

Slowly, I'm beginning to think there my be something to be said for the eat-organic-movement. And I no longer think vegetarians are giving up an important source of protein. We will be taking another look at food in the coming weeks and maybe giving out some recipes that my wife uses and which help us avoid the worst of the processed food traps.

It's the weekend,
I'm off,

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