Entries Tagged as 'health'

Why Food Stamps Don’t Pay for Healthy Meals

October 11th, 2011 at 12:03 am 44 Comments

I applaud Monica Marier’s commitment and the good intentions of Sesame Street’s producers in drawing trying to draw attention to child hunger in the United States. Certainly, far too many children grow up in bad circumstances in the United States and some of these circumstances relate to food.

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Calorie Counts are a Dud

September 12th, 2011 at 1:30 pm 35 Comments

September is National Childhood Obesity Month, mind and the President marked the occasion with a proclamation calling on all Americans to “take action by learning about and engaging in activities that promote healthy eating and greater physical activity by all our Nation’s children.”

Obesity is a major issue; a third of American children and two thirds of adults are obese or overweight. So we must ask: how to fight it? For many policy-makers, the answer is better labeling. But is that enough?

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The Fat Diaries: Drawing the Line at 1% Milk

August 12th, 2011 at 7:16 pm 8 Comments

Summer is almost over and the weather has gone from molten to within mortal endurance. I’ve been going outside a little more, sick and began to examine my diet again to make sure I was on the right track. Sadly, ailment my rock-hard zero tolerance for goodies has softened a little. I wondered if I could make up for it by cutting something else out, discount so I considered switching from 2% milk to 1% milk.

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The Fat Diaries: The Supermarket Field Trip

June 10th, 2011 at 4:33 pm 4 Comments

Yesterday I was, sale once again, debating whether I should go grocery shopping with the kids or whether popcorn and ketchup would be a good dinner. The fact it was 99° outside was making that ketchup look really good.

In the end, however, the human desire for real food won out and, both kids in tow, I headed to the Giant supermarket.

I like Giant for one reason in particular: hand-scanners.  I like seeing an itemized tally, being able to bag as I go, and simply waltzing through check-out.  It’s also a fantastic way to keep my kids busy in the store. They take turns scanning and then calmly passing the scanner to their sibling. I occasionally hear “It’s your turn now,” or an “Oh, thank you!” from the kids that makes me hope other grownups are listening.

Something occurred yesterday, however, that had never happened before. My daughter started asking me about the food I put into the cart.

“Mommy, can we have blueberries?” she asked.

“Sure, we can have those.”

“Are blueberries healthy?”

I beamed. GREAT question, kiddo .“They sure are. They’re very healthy.”


(I had to think about this.) “They have antioxidants and… uh… vitamin, C and junk… and they’re high in fiber.”

“So I can like them?”

“Yeah, go nuts.”

“Can we get some more healthy food, mommy?”

“You bet. You want some cucumbers?”


At this point I had to suppress the urge to jump up and down with glee. I had a daughter who was interested in eating healthy.  Sure, my son was busy spinning in circles, dangerously close to the pineapples, but ONE of them was starting to care!

I’d been stressing for a while with my kids that we want to eat healthy food so we can have healthy bodies. I’d purposefully avoided the word “fat” because I didn’t want to put emphasis on body type. I simply used the words “healthy” and “unhealthy”.

And this seemed to be doing the trick, to the point where my daughter was now asking questions.

It was all going swimmingly until I grabbed a package of whole-grain tortilla chips (I was going to make nachos with leftover chili).

“Mommy? What are those?”

I froze like I’d been caught doing something unspeakable. “Um. Chips.”

“Are chips healthy?”

“Whole grains are healthy,” (Notice I didn’t say chips were healthy.)

“So chips are healthy?” she asked again with alarming perception.

I couldn’t lie. The damage could be irreversible. “No. They are not.”

“Are they junk?”


“Then why are we getting them?”

‘Cause I like nachos, I thought, but I knew better than to say it.

“Are they going to make you FAT?” she asked.

Oh crap.

Where the hell did she pick that up from? Did she pick that up from me? Suddenly everything was going all wrong! I didn’t want her to equate junk food with fat, I just wanted her to equate good food with healthy.

Needless to say I spent the rest of the shopping trip in quiet meditation (aside from the usual, “keep your hands to yourself!” “No, that cereal has too much sugar,” “That’s for dogs, not humans,” “If I hear one more quote from SpongeBob…”).

I’m still freaking out. How am I going to do this? My kids are getting to an age where what they learn now can affect how they view food throughout their entire lives. How in the heck am I going to get all the right messages across? How can I instill the right kind of caution without causing them to hate themselves, or judge other people?

I don’t know. There’s a lot of pressure to get everything perfect, and I realize that the chance of perfect is slim to none. There will be lessons to learn, and a bit of re-programming when I get those lessons wrong and have to start again.

I have to accept that I will be asked questions about body-types and diet that will be uncomfortable and justify why some kids get soda and cookies every day but they don’t.

And I won’t always have the right answers, especially considering that I’ve only changed my eating habits in the last four years.

The most I want for them is to avoid the pitfalls I fell into, but I don’t know how, since I never was able to avoid them myself. In other words, I discovered a cure for the sickness, but not how to avoid getting it in the first place.

I feel an overwhelming sense of desperation when I think about how clueless I am right now.

I can’t get discouraged though, even when it seems I’m failing. This is worth trying to get right.

The Fat Diaries: I’ll Miss My Food Pyramid

June 3rd, 2011 at 6:41 pm 8 Comments

When I was a kid, and the PE teacher used to give us lectures on health.  PE class was always a trial for me. I was one of those kids who was always on the sidelines, prescription clutching my inhaler like it was a magic talisman against jarred fingers and rug-burn. Needless to say, pills the teachers always thought I was a lost cause since I couldn’t kick a kickball, run a lap or hit a whiffleball. They pretty much implied that by being a sick-y, I would never be an all-American, Schwarzenegger-looking, healthy young person. When we were being lectured on nutrition, I always got some pointed looks from the teachers. Then in 1992 we were gathered cross-legged on the gym floor and showed a pyramid. This was supposed to solve all our problems nutrition-wise.

There was an enormous base of bread and pasta, a colorful tier of fruits and veggies, a tier of dairy and protein and a starry field on the top of the pyramid labeled “fats, oils and sweets”. We colored in charts with crayons, and made our own charts with pictures of foods cut out from magazines (It was kind of sad how many pictures of cookies, Twinkies, Little Debbie cakes and Gushers fruit snacks we tried to cram into that top triangle). And of course we got stuff wrong. We were informed by our teacher that potatoes were not vegetables, that cake was not a grain and that Slim Jims were not meat.  And after we studied the pyramid, every one of us kids noticed something. No one ate 11 servings of bread a day. Some of us didn’t even eat meat every day.  And being children, vegetables were to be avoided and scorned.  For a ten-year-old, this was a curious puzzle.

This chart was made by our beloved and infallible government, which I held in awe and terror. I was also convinced that the government had at its disposal learned scientists like Einstein and Batman to reign over ignorance. How then did they create a chart that so poorly reflected my life? I asked my mom about why we didn’t eat 11 servings of bread a day. I even got upset about it a few times. Eventually my mom told me to quit overdramatizing, that her meals were perfectly healthy, and if I was so worried about my health that I might try getting a little more exercise. Exercise? That wasn’t on the pyramid! I was stumped. Two omnipotent forces in my life were contradicting each other and I didn’t know which one to believe.  So I did what most 10-year-olds did: I ignored it and watched TV until I forgot about it.

The pyramid was still an intrusive force in my life, but I just nodded my head and colored in the worksheets like a good little android. My mother and the school cafeteria were still selecting what food I ate and I had little influence over either. The most input I had on my daily meals was selecting a breakfast cereal.

Needless to say, the pyramid over its nearly 20-year career has failed miserably. It’s been criticized as misleading, inaccurate, and everything else. It got a makeover in 2005 by including exercise, but that failed horribly too. So this week, the Government has released a new advisory graphic called “choose my plate” and given it a new website.  The graphic itself is fairly straightforward: a plate, divided into four sections, each sporting a food group. Dairy has sadly been reallocated to a tiny glass in the corner (which I personally don’t agree with) and a whopping half of the plate is dominated by fruits and vegetables, with the grains and meat fighting for dominance of the other half.

This will probably get me a lot of censure as a meal planner and mom, but when I saw how many fruits and veggies were supposed to fit on that plate, I uttered a very loud, “WHAT THE CRAP?” This went against everything that was inadvertently drummed into my head — that whole grains were the most important.  (Hey! I guess I was paying attention!) Not only that, but a few things were left a little vague. Does this plate represent my day or just any given meal? Where do dairy products that are not milk (like cheese and yogurt) fit in? How do I cram so many fruits and vegetables into my fridge and then manage to eat them before they go bad?  Why is 2% milk no longer considered low-fat?

I was a little annoyed at all the applause this icon is getting too. People are lauding it as life-changing and a superb overhaul, etc. It’s just a picture. It’s as vague and meaningless to a 10-year-old as the other picture was, because kids don’t make those choices. I mean, yes, thanks for trying, and yes, thanks for teaching this to kids, but then don’t send them to a school cafeteria where their serving of vegetables are going to be French fries or salty canned corn.  Consequently, completely removing sugars and fats (dubbed by Sesame Street as “sometimes foods”) is just ignoring the biggest elephant in the room. It gives viewers no clue as to how often or how many treats should be allowed.

One thing I approve of is the website’s emphasis on portion control. They advise you to eat off smaller plates to avoid overindulgence. In addition we’re encouraged to avoid processed foods (which unfortunately they refer to as “frozen meals” — again, kind of vague). They also say that you should “compare numbers” to pick food that’s lower in sodium, but then don’t give you any idea about how many milligrams to shoot for.

The website still has to update their section for kids (and subsequently what our kids will be taught in school), but I’m pretty sure it will be similar to my nutritional education on the carpeted gym floor and involve crayons and glue sticks. I just don’t see how this plate will function any better than the pyramid, nor do I really understand what people hope it will achieve other than giving people a VERY general idea.  As a tool for parents, teachers and students it seems pretty useless. The only thing that I’m optimistic about is how this will affect school nutrition programs. If the schools have to adopt these guidelines in their lunch programs, I’m all for it (provided that ketchup and potatoes stay out of the veg section).

As for the kids, I get the feeling that they’ll do what generations of kids have already done with the pyramid: pay minimal attention, color their worksheets and forget about it — that is until another graphic comes out that changes everything again.

The Fat Diaries: Can I Have That Downsized?

May 27th, 2011 at 9:57 pm 3 Comments

Lately, buy cialis people have been complaining that companies are cutting back on the size of food portions. The chips come in smaller bags, medical the cookies come in smaller boxes, sale and even the food itself is smaller. We can pretty much blame this on the rise in food prices, affecting everything from milk to eggs to meat and sugar. Since companies don’t want to substantially raise their prices, they’ve decided to compromise and make the portions smaller. It’s pretty evident when 8 oz of chips becomes 6 oz, less so when those 8 toaster pastries are just a little smaller and a lot of Americans feel like they’re being cheated. They are getting indignant or even downright angry over the change!

Public opinion aside, I think this is a GOOD thing for America. The fact that food companies are choosing to make packaged portions smaller actually suggests they may be listening to our demands for healthier options. In fact, some companies are jumping on the fact that smaller portions mean fewer calories. The sneaky part is when they advertise their smaller packages as being lower calorie when they haven’t changed the formula.

Still, in a capitalist sense this is America really taking lemons and making low-sugar lemon-flavored Crystal Light. And I have to say, I like it. I LOVE that Starbucks now has teeny-weenie cake-pops that are only 200 calories. Don’t get me wrong, $3 for two bites of chocolate cake is grossly expensive, but hunger-wise it’s just as satisfying as paying $6 for a scone the size of my head, and there’s no guilt afterwards (except for the wasting $3 part).

Teeny-tiny ice-cream sandwiches in the grocery store, smaller crackers, smaller yogurt pots — it’s working out well for me! I’m eating less calories and still feeling full while still spending about the same on my weekly grocery bill. When you consider that specialty health food costs MUCH more money than average food, one of its chief tools for weight loss can be… wait for it… portion control. Simply eating less food costs less than a commercialized diet meal plan or a gym membership.  The only thing left to lose is our sense of entitlement – something which could potentially scuttle this great movement.

One mentality that Americans have, which is one of the reasons (I think) that we’re battling an obesity epidemic, is this mindset that we need more food because we deserve it.  “How dare you make my food smaller! I work hard, I deserve the biggest ice-cream cone money can buy!” “I’ve had a hellish week I deserve a burger — not piddly quarter-pounder— I deserve a GIANT burger made out of 2 lbs of Angus beef!” Well my fellow fat Americans, bigger isn’t better. Being the nation with the largest number of heart-related deaths should be proof of that.

So rather than feeling entitled to that extra 2 ounces of food, I’m going to heave a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to pay an extra 2 bucks for those extra ounces that I shouldn’t be eating anyway.

And my message to the food corporations of America is this, “Can I have that downsized, please?”

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For the Pros: The Pain is Worth the Gain

May 27th, 2011 at 9:56 pm 2 Comments

Rajon Rondo played most of the Celtics-Heat playoff series with torn ligaments in his elbow, ampoule illustrating the courage and pain threshold of professional athletes.  But was it worth it?  Rondo is 25 years old.  Should he have endangered a career that figures to last another decade just to improve the Celtics’ chances of winning a championship?  Perhaps not, treatment but we should be slow to dismiss his playing as reckless folly.

Coach George Allen once remarked that he would trade a year off his life in exchange for another Super Bowl.  He took a lot of flak, his remark was considered illustration of the pathological obsession with winning that mars professional sports.  The surprising thing is that anyone would find Allen’s remark objectionable.  Living to 88 instead of 87, or 73 instead of 72, hardly seems paramount.  Experiencing the ultimate achievement in your field and the intense pleasure that accompanies it seems easily worth a small tradeoff in lifespan.

The willingness to trade longevity for glory has an impressive pedigree.  In The Iliad, Achilles forfeits the prospect of a long life for the equivalent of a Super Bowl victory.  Having deserted his army over a personal slight, he is implored by his mates to return to battle.  At first he resists, but when his friend Patrokolos is killed by Hektor, Achilles sees the error of his ways.  He returns to battle, seeking revenge but also the glory due him if he topples his formidable foe.  Unlike George Allen, he wasn’t mocked for choosing glory over longevity.

Several athletes have made the same choice as Achilles, albeit trading in years in uniform rather than years of life.  Remember Steve Stone?  Likely not, because he was a journeyman pitcher who managed only one memorable season.  That year, 1980, he won 25 games and the Cy Young award.  Stone destroyed his arm that season by over-reliance on his bread and butter curveball.  His hook was virtually unhittable, but the curveball (used too often) does in pitchers as well as batters.  The following season was Stone’s last.  He staggered to a record of 4-7, and retired at the age of 34.

Stone knew the consequences of his pitch selection.  When he got off to a fast start, he saw the opportunity for a special season and opted to throw caution to the wind.  If that’s nutty, Stone has good company in the nut kingdom.  During the 1987 NBA playoffs, Kevin McHale played on two severely injured feet for a dozen games.  Unlike Stone, McHale was in the prime of a fabulous career – this was not his only chance for glory.  In fact, McHale already wore three championship rings and had made several all-star appearances.  His teammate, Larry Bird, urged him to go home and heal for the next season rather than risk permanent damage.  But McHale, like George Allen, had sipped the champagne and knew there’s no comparable taste.

His courage didn’t pay off.   The Celtics lost in the finals, and McHale was never the same player.  He retired after the 1992 season at 35, outlasted by any number of his contemporary big men.  As it happens, in the early 1990s, Larry Johnson and Derrick Coleman, who played McHale’s position but never approached his greatness, signed contracts for $84 million and $38 million respectively.  McHale’s decision to play on bum feet for a few weeks cost him a fortune.   A few weeks ago, Rajon Rondo ran that same risk.

Did McHale and Rondo act foolishly?  Surely there are times when discretion is the better part of valor.  One is hard-pressed to defend Pete Reiser, the 1940s Dodger great who aborted his career by repeatedly running into outfield walls.  But McHale and Rondo weren’t blindly reckless.  They made a calculated gamble based on the sensible belief that you measure a career less by the number of years than by the quality of however many years.

When Sugar Ray Leonard opted to keep fighting despite a detached retina, some sportswriters went ballistic.  How could anyone risk permanent eye injury for another championship belt?  They were arguably more shortsighted than Leonard.  To be sure, I wouldn’t want my own kids to make Leonard’s decision.  In fact, I didn’t want Leonard to either.  But to be baffled by his choice is to reveal oneself a stranger to the allure of sports.  A non-athlete may have trouble understanding how someone can attach so much significance to an hour in the ring as to risk one’s eyesight.  Steve Stone, Kevin McHale, and Rajon Rondo would not.

I’ve heard it said that it’s not whether you win or lose, or how you play the game — what matters is that you can play tomorrow.  Not necessarily.

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The Fat Diaries: Selling Junk Food to Mom

May 20th, 2011 at 5:55 pm 2 Comments

Whenever I go grocery shopping, malady I forget everything. I forget to bring in the plastic bags to recycle. I forget to bring the cloth bags (so I don’t have an even BIGGER pile of plastic bags to recycle). I forget to clip coupons, see and check the sales. In 3 out of 4 trips I forget my shopping list. Let’s face it. Grocery shopping is not for people like me, store with the memory of a stunned duckling and the attention span of a toaster.

So this week I was making an urgent run for some of life’s essentials (like milk, coffee, more coffee and yet again more coffee in case I burn through the first two too quickly). I was about halfway through when I remembered to check the front of the store for the gas station rewards points list. My local chain of choice runs weekly promotions where if you purchase selected items you get points you can redeem when purchasing gas. Most are items you’d usually find in a house: cola, breakfast sausages, coffee, toothpaste, that sort of thing.

When I tore off the list and examined the items listed I actually fought back my impulse to scream like the Hulk in the middle of the store. Almost every single item worth points was junk food. There was a large selection of frozen treats like ice cream bars and popsicles. There were sugary cereals, brownie mixes, pound cake, ranch dressing, cookies. And (here’s the real groaner) an ENTIRE SECTION of the list was dedicated to a certain chocolate company’s products. Yep. All candy. There WAS a section that was lacking in junk food (except for margarita mix) but it was designer bottled water, pet food, diapers and barbeque supplies.

I couldn’t believe it! This entire list was made of products I’ve decided not to keep in my house. Sure, ice cream is seasonal, but who would stock up 6 boxes of it in order to get points off of gasoline?! And that was really my choice here. Pay full price for gas, or restart some of my old eating habits (and let my kids start some bad ones as well).

It’s kind of a cruel reminder that no matter what laws are made against advertising, placement, mascots or other methods, in the end the corporations will still find ways to try to get their food into your pantry. And it will never stop. With the new law proposals about banning ads for junk food targeted to kids, we have to ask ourselves: who calls the shots? Is it the same green-checkmark guys who gave a seal of approval to Froot Loops and Baked Lays? ‘Cause if so, than we’re on our own again. And they don’t have to sell to your kids.

None of these junk foods were dangled enticingly in front of kids saying, “sugary fun for cool kids!” No, this carrot was dangled in front of mom and dad this time, saying, “Gas prices are only going to go up. Just get junky cereal instead of healthy cereal this week, and you can spend $10 less at the pump!”

Pretty effective. Well, I was proud of myself for walking out of the store without a cart full of ice cream, cake, and chocolate. I didn’t have much choice, really. I’m going to pay full-price at the pump this week, but it wasn’t worth the price of letting myself fall into bad eating habits again… Which was just as well since the receipt printer was out of paper and would have eaten my gas points anyway.

The Fat Diaries: Beware the Vending Machine Diet

May 13th, 2011 at 6:33 pm 2 Comments

New rules are being proposed by the FDA that could (if approved) make some changes in the world of vending machines. The feds want the calorie content of each item sold to be prominently displayed next to or on the machines themselves, seek much like restaurants have been required to do on menus.  Now I said “yippy” when they did this in restaurants, cialis and I even did a victory dance when they required movie theatres to do this, but as far as vending machines go, I’m not so sure.

In its favor, I like the new caloric display rules. I like going into a restaurant and knowing the calorie content of my meal. I like knowing that I weigh my options more carefully and that I have to stop and ask myself: am I really hungry enough for a 500 calorie sandwich or will the 230 calorie soup be enough? If they post calorie information on vending machines, people are more empowered to make healthy choices (even if that choice is to skip the machine and bring a sandwich from home).

But on the other hand this seems a little redundant and the logistics of it seem like a nightmare. Even the FDA admitted it was stumped and couldn’t provide many feasible solutions as to how this should be done.

For one thing, the calorie content of snacks is ALREADY printed on all the packaging. In revolving machines, one can usually spot the labels on sandwiches and some chips. In spiral machines, you can’t see them though. This problem could be solved by simply flipping the packaging around, but then you’d lose the product name. Some companies are beginning to package their products with calorie content on the front of the bags. If they start doing so on the front of their single-size packages that would solve this problem.

Some proposals suggested that signs or posters displaying a comprehensive list of the contents and the calorie count be hung next to the machines.  The problem with this is that the content of vending machines is in constant flux. When one product doesn’t move it’s switched out for another. This would require the nutrition signs to be (a) cheap and easily replaceable ; (b) in a medium where content can be easily updated, for example a digital sign – though this of course would need to be durable and tamper-resistant, or (c) display every conceivable item that could ever be sold in the vending machine.

One idea I came up with in my mad imagination with is to have a “general calorie count” sign where approximate calorie counts are given by types of items. Chips: 200-250 calories. Or chocolate bars: 130-200 calories. It wouldn’t be foolproof, but combined with the nutritional information on the packets, one could make some general estimates.

A way to accommodate schools where there are vending machines (and there are already proposals in this vein) would be to limit the types of food that go in machines in the first place. Many schools are already restricting machine selections to snack foods that are low calorie and healthy.  But as for office buildings, there’s nothing that can really restrict vending machine contents. That’s for the office-dwellers to work on. And some have gotten proactive and done this.

They start petitions! They leave post-it notes on windows and hold meetings about vending machine snacks! We’re not powerless drones in this situation; we CAN affect change when it comes to vending machine content without relying on the government to make mandates for us. So until the FDA comes up with a solution, let’s come up with our own.

My solution? I skip the vending machine entirely. I’ve known the pitfalls of living on vending machine food in high school and college and it brought me nothing but heart ache, acne and rotten teeth.  It’s just one of those things I had to swear off of when I decided to drastically change my eating habits. It’s also the one thing I miss the least. There’s nothing that bugs me more than paying a buck-fifty for a bag of chips I could make for twenty cents. I bring my own snacks and lunches to the pool, gym, and work (when I do work in a building) and I use my own selection of healthier food from home. If it’s just a passing 3:00pm fancy when I really need a sugar rush, I ignore it and look for a water fountain instead.

Having absolutely no quarters on my person helps this resolution a great deal, but it kind of sucks when we have to take the toll road.

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Why’s FDA Wasting Time on Vending Machines?

May 12th, 2011 at 12:14 pm 17 Comments

Under the terms of Section 4205 of the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act, cialis sale vending machine operators who own or operate more than twenty machines will be required to disclose the calorie content of the items in their machines. There’s a Latin phrase: Parvus error in principiis, magnus in conclusionibus. It means that a small error in principles can be large in its conclusions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent decision to implement a rule requiring vending machines to disclose the calorie content of the items in stock is a great example of this.

The FDA has the primary responsibility for insuring that the nation’s pharmaceuticals and medical devices are safe for the American consumer.  For some in Washington this responsibility now seems to cover ensuring that consumers know which ingredients and calories are in a vending machine product before purchasing their snacks instead of reading the existing details on the item after purchase. Ultimately, this is redundant legislation. A package of M&Ms already has caloric and nutritional information on it, even if it’s in the vending machine.

The FDA’s responsibility should be on approving new drugs and procedures for treating or at least alleviating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s. Whatever one thinks about candy consumption by Americans, the FDA has more important things than wasting its time regulating vending machines.