Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What's More Important: Reducing the Carbon Footprint or Eating Healthy?

Do you know where your food comes from? No, the answer to that is not Whole Foods or Trader Joe's or your local supermarket. 

My question is more deep-rooted than that. Do you know where your food is produced? Have you ever read the labels on say the produce you pick up at the store or read the origins of your fruits/vegetables? In this era, when everyone wants everything all the time food travels a long distance to enhance your palate making most items available year round. But have you thought of what goes into this food travel? The amount of gas utilized in shipping your food to your doorstep? Or the carbon footprint it leaves in its global travels? Most of us don’t think of this but this is a growing issue. 

The buy local movement is a part of this solution. Buying what grows around you is the best way to avert such crisis. But sometimes you cannot. For example, I buy organic bananas – but in my local food store these come from South America. Now I admit this is a long distance for my bananas to travel but the bananas produced here are laden with pesticides and I don’t fancy them at all.
So what is the answer? Frankly, I don’t know. My desire to eat healthy overshadows my desire to reduce the carbon footprint of my food. And then there is winter when local farming is all but dead. For now, I tell myself at least during summer, I make it a point to source as much local food as possible. 

What do you think is the answer to this conundrum?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

good grubbin' is Moving!

Thank you so much for all the support over the past few months! I couldn't have asked for more! The response was simply overwhelming!

Considering the interest in the blog, I decided to move the it to a website. Please visit for the same content and much more!

Let's keep the revolution going. We all deserve to eat healthy and live healthy!

See you there!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Alzheimer's: the New Type 3 Diabetes?

Evolution wise we are programmed to eat food that give us the highest calories. Fat and sugar served the early man well since the hunters and gatherers did not know where and when their next meal would come from. That was back then though. 

Today, we see fat and sugar everywhere - there is practically an implosion of sorts. With rising obesity in the US, due to over dependence on junk food, we have seen the costs of healthcare sky rocket. Kids, as young as 2-3 years old, are being diagnosed as obese. Add to that the morbidly obese population and the country seems to be on a precipice. 

Companies such as McDonalds and Wendy's usually get the blame, but isn't the consumer to be blamed as well for succumbing to such malpractice techniques? The low-income group gets hit the hardest with most vying for the maximum calories their dollars can buy and thus preferring a Big Mac over a bag of carrots and hummus.

We are well aware of the Type 2 diabetes epidemic we face. Now, however, there is new research that takes it a step further and has introduced a potentially new grade of diabetes - Type 3. In an experiment conducted on rats, researchers discovered that patients who have developed a resistance to insulin might be prime candidates for Type 3 diabetes or Alzheimer's. 

Insulin is a hormone naturally occurring in the body and aids in the absorption of fats and carbohydrates. Diabetes occurs due to excessive blood glucose resulting in the body's inability to either produce insulin or cause resistance in absorption.

This is an absolute shocking discovery and with the recent rise in Type 2 diabetes could spell disaster for the country. According to Ewan McNay of the University at Albany in New York, "The epidemic of type 2 diabetes, if it continues on its current trajectory, is likely to be followed by an epidemic of dementia". According to New Scientist, 35.7% of people in the US are obese, putting them at greater risk of Alzheimer's. Further, some 98m people in the US show some signs of insulin resistance, putting them at greater risk of Alzheimer's.

While further research is most certainly in need, the implications of such an accusation are too severe and drastic to ignore. Ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and other engineered foods added in the name of adding nutrient value to the food, loading foods with sugar and fat, marketing unhealthy junk to kids and under stating impact of foods are just some of the actions that need to be immediately halted. The under regulated food industry needs to be put on a leash and the USDA seriously needs to get its act together!

The future of the country is at stake and if such research does not serve as a wake up call, what will?

Brown Sugar, White Sugar – Which is Healthier?

This post first appeared here. An extremely and educative take on sugar.

Do you find yourself paying more for brown sugar than the “regular” white sugar? Have you ever wondered which is healthier for you? In order to answer, let’s explain how sugar is manufactured. Yes, although it comes from sugar canes or beets, sugar does go through quite a bit of processing before we see it in its final form on supermarket shelves.

What you need to know:
The raw materials utilized are either sugar cane stalks or sugar beet (a root). Let’s talk sugar cane today:
  1. After the sugar cane stalks are harvested, they are chopped into small pieces
  2. The stalk pieces are pulverized in order to release the sugary cane juice.
  3. the juice usually has some impurities in it such as mud, pieces of stalk and other stuff, so it is filtered using both mechanical and chemical processes (using polyacrilymides).
  4.  The purified liquid is boiled until the water evaporates.
  5. The remaining “juice” is heated once again and the sugar begins to crystallize. A side product that is left over is called mother liquor (it is the source of molasses)
  6. A centrifuge is used to separate individual sugar crystals.
The result is raw sugar. It is also known as Turbinado or Demerara sugar. The crystals are relatively large and have a brownish tinge to them. Stay tuned folks, this is NOT brown sugar.
Raw sugar is shipped to a refinery for further processing to create the white sugar that we know:
  1. The raw sugar is heated and melts into a liquid again.
  2. The coloration is removed by using chemicals such as phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide or calcium dioxide.
  3. The liquid is boiled one last time in order concentrate it into the fine white granulated crystals that make up white sugar, or refined sugar.
Here’s the kicker: Brown sugar is made by taking refined sugar and mixing in some molasses. The molasses are not healthy and do not contain any important nutrients for the body.

Therefore, brown sugar cannot be considered healthier than white sugar, even though some marketers would like us to believe so. Each teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams of sugar, which adds 16 calories to your food / beverage.

What to do at the supermarket:
All granulated sugars are more or less the same nutritionally. Sugar with molasses tastes a bit different (very few people can actually tell the difference) and behaves a bit differently in baking – the end result is slightly more moist.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Soda Ban Explained

A very good article in the NYT explaining the recent soda ban in New York City. The video can be accessed here.

I don’t drink much soda, I don’t buy Big Gulps, and my body mass index is right where it should be. Until the public hearing on July 24, I had largely ignored Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large, sugary drinks because it would have no effect on my daily life. It was watching supporters of the ban struggle to articulate exactly what it would mean that motivated me to educate myself and ultimately make a movie about it. The proposal is best conveyed visually, not verbally. 

To start — the proposed ban on large, sugary drinks isn’t really a ban on anything. Even if the New York City Board of Health passes the ban this coming Thursday, 7-Eleven, the ubiquitous convenience-store chain, will still be able to serve its 50-ounce Orange Explosion Slurpee, which contains 107 grams of sugar, the equivalent of nearly four full-size Snickers bars. Dunkin’ Donuts could still sell its large Vanilla Bean Coolatta (174 grams of sugar, or nearly six Snickers bars, in its 32 ounces). And if you can find a place with unlimited refills, you can still drink as much soda as you like. 

The proposal would not include alcohol, fruit juices or any diet soda. Grocery stores and convenience stores would be exempt. Iced coffee and other beverages where the sugar is added by the customer would remain unaffected. Drinks are also exempt if they contain more than 50 percent milk, which would most likely allow Dunkin’ Donuts to sell Coolattas, and Starbucks Frappuccinos, as long as they can prove the milk content is there. Buying multiple 16-ounce drinks is also O.K. The ban will certainly not stop people from getting exactly what they want, as Mayor Bloomberg has made clear. 

“All we’re doing here is educating,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “It forces you to see the difference.” Limiting the serving size forces people to consider how much they’re ingesting. Earlier this year the Center for Consumer Freedom ran a full-page ad in The Times saying that “New Yorkers need a Mayor, not a Nanny.” With 58 percent of adults in New York City overweight or obese and 5,800 deaths a year in the city because of obesity, it is evident that some people just aren’t responsible enough to feed themselves. This lack of nutritional responsibility affects everyone — obesity costs the city $4 billion a year in direct medical costs. A nanny is just what New York City, and the rest of America, needs. 

If New Yorkers reduced portion size to 16 ounces from 20 ounces for one sugary drink every two weeks, it would collectively save approximately 2.3 million pounds over one year. This proposal could be the catalyst the city needs. Obesity is an epidemic, a crisis whose impact is widespread — over 27 percent of young adults in America are too overweight to serve in our military. Sugary drinks alone are not to blame, but they are part of the problem, and this proposal is a small step toward a solution. 

Casey Neistat is a New York-based filmmaker. He has made dozens of short films released exclusively on the Internet and is the writer, director, editor and star of the series “The Neistat Brothers” on HBO. His previous Op-Docs include “Texting While Walking,” “Bike Thief” and “Taxi Lost and Found.”

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ice cream Social

Yesterday at work, we had an ice-cream social to grieve the demise of summer. On the whole I am glad summer is coming to an end - not only it means there will be respite from the sweltering and excessive humidity but also because Fall will be here and trendy scarves, sweaters and boots will make a comeback! At work, however, the end of summer means the end of summer Fridays which means we are at our desks on Friday until 6pm! Brutal, I know!

In the spirit of democracy the HR department sent out a survey with a needlessly long list of ice-cream flavors and short listed the 4 below.

Of course no ice cream social would be complete without an array of toppings

And here is the serving size

I guess its a good thing Ben & Jerry's uses fair trade certified ice cream, but that's about the only thing to be cheerful about. To be a kill joy, I went looking for their caloric information to see the harm everyone was about to perpetrate on themselves. 

Americone Dream
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Phish Food

Mango Sorbet


Notice how the calorie information is for 1/2 cup and considering how everyone had their cups filled to the brim; the serving was perhaps several cups! 

I guess HR had the right idea but maybe next time they will come up with something healthier! Fruits and yogurt/fresh smoothies or popsicles, anyone?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Regulations do change eating behavior

This post first appeared on Food Politics. I thought it an interesting follow up to my earlier post on What's So Wrong with Soda?

Q: I still don’t get it. Why would a city government think that a food regulation would promote health when any one of them is so easy to evade?
A: Quick answer: because they work.
As I explained in my July discussion of Richmond’s proposed soda tax, regulations make it easier for people to eat healthfully without having to think about it. They make the default choice the healthy choice. Most people choose the default, no matter what it is.
Telling people cigarettes cause cancer hardly ever got anyone to stop. But regulations did. Taxing cigarettes, banning advertising, setting age limits for purchases, and restricting smoking in airplanes, workplaces, bars and restaurants made it easier for smokers to stop.
Economists say, obesity and its consequences cost our society $190 billion annually in health care and lost productivity, so health officials increasingly want to find equally effective strategies to discourage people from over-consuming sugary drinks and fast food.
Research backs up regulatory approaches. We know what makes us overeat: billions of dollars in advertising messages, food sold everywhere – in gas stations, vending machines, libraries and stores that sell clothing, books, office supplies, cosmetics and drugs – and huge portions of food at bargain prices. 
Research also shows what sells food to kids: cartoons, celebrities, commercials on their favorite television programs, and toys in Happy Meals. This kind of marketing induces kids to want the products, pester their parents for them, and throw tantrums if parents say no. Marketing makes kids think they are supposed to eat advertised foods, and so undermines parental authority.
Public health officials look for ways to intervene, given their particular legislated mandates and authority. But much as they might like to, they can’t do much about marketing to children. Food and beverage companies invoke the First Amendment to protect their “right” to market junk foods to kids. They lobby Congress on this issue so effectively that they even managed to block the Federal Trade Commission‘s proposed nonbinding, voluntary nutrition standards for marketing food to kids.
Short of marketing restrictions, city officials are trying other options. They pass laws to require menu labeling for fast food, ban trans fats, prohibit toys in fast-food kids’ meals and restrict junk foods sold in schools. They propose taxes on sodas and caps on soda sizes.
Research demonstrating the value of regulatory approaches is now pouring in.
Studies of the effects of menu labeling show that not everyone pays attention, but those who do are more likely to reduce their calorie purchases. Menu labels certainly change my behavior. Do I really want a 600-calorie breakfast muffin? Not today, thanks.
New York City’s 2008 ban on use of hydrogenated oils containing trans fats means that New Yorkers get less trans fat with their fast food, even in low-income neighborhoods. Whether this reduction accounts for the recent decline in the city’s rates of heart disease remains to be demonstrated, but getting rid of trans fats certainly hasn’t hurt.
Canadian researchers report that kids are three times more likely to choose healthier meals if those meals come with a toy and the regular ones do not. When it comes to kids’ food choices, the meal with the toy is invariably the default.
A recent study in Pediatrics compared obesity rates in kids living in states with and without restrictions on the kinds of foods sold in schools. Guess what – the kids living in states where schools don’t sell junk food are not as overweight.
Circulation has just published an American Heart Association review of “evidence-based population approaches” to improving diets. It concludes that evidence supports the value of intense media campaigns, on-site educational programs in stores, subsidies for fruits and vegetables, taxes, school gardens, worksite wellness programs and restrictions on marketing to children.
The benefits of the approaches shown in these studies may appear small, but together they offer hope that current trends can be reversed.
Researchers also suggest other approaches, not yet tried. The Yale Rudd Center has just shown that color-coded food labels (“traffic lights”) encourage healthier food choices.
And Rand Corp. researchers propose initiatives like those that worked for alcoholic beverages: Limit the density of fast-food outlets, ban sales in places that are not food stores, insist that supermarkets put junk foods and sodas where they are hard to see, ban drive-through sales, restrict portion sizes and use warning labels.
These regulatory approaches are worth trying. If research continues to demonstrate their value, cities will have even more reason to use them. If the research becomes compelling enough, the federal government might need to act. 
In the meantime, cities are leading the way, Richmond among them. Their initiatives are well worth trying, testing and supporting.

**Marion Nestle is the author of “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics,” as well as “Food Politics” and “What to Eat,” among other books. She is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University, and blogs at E-mail: