What You Should Know About Labeling Genetically Modified Food

My job at Diets In  Review keeps me, a slacker, on her toes. This week, I had to pay attention to petitions to label genetically modified foods.  For that, I turned to the eloquent public health nutrition scholar, Marion Nestle, who examined the issue in her blog, Food Politics.

The Condensed Version

The Committee for the Right to Know is a grassroots coalition of groups in California that is trying to get the issue of labeling of genetically modified foods on the California ballot. Last year, 14 states introduced bills to require GM foods to be labeled, but none passed because the bills were fought by multinational agribusinesses. Now, the campaign has now gone national. Marion says, and I agree, that consumers have a right to know.

Man has been manipulating the genetic material of plants ever since Mendel first hybridized pea plants in the 1850s. It’s just that today’s methods of bombarding seeds with radiation and chemicals seem so unnatural. Modern day GM techniques began in a big way in 1996, and now, close to 90 percent of corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the United States are GM varieties. At time point, GM crops have not produced any noticeable health problems, but there are no long-term epidemiological studies that might find subtle effects. The FDA thinks GM foods are safe, but the fact is that no one knows for sure.

My gripe has more to do with the business argument. I dislike giving Monsanto (the company that dominates the GM market) any more control over the American food supply. Monsanto’s strict intellectual property-regulations are unfair to farmers and they divert energy away from research on organic farming. This clip from the movie, Food, Inc., shows just how powerful Monsanto is in the food industry, which leaves the average person no other choice but to eat their genetically engineered soy beans. Watch Monsanto bully the poor farmers. It’s pathetic.

The Bottom Line

Marion writes, “Intelligent people can argue about whether GM crops are good, bad or indifferent for agriculture, the environment and market economies, or whether the products are safe. But one point is clear. The absence of labeling cannot be good in the long run for business or American democracy.”  Ultimately, it’s more important to eat wholesome foods in the correct amounts, than it is to worry about whether or not they are GM. Still, Monsanto needs a punch In the nose.

Your thoughts: Will you sign the petition to label genetically modified foods?

When Times Get Tough, Eat Placenta

Here’s a good one. Today I added my two-cents to an article for Diets in Review titled, January Jones Adds Placenta To Her Diet. At first, I thought the Mad Men actress must be from Brooklyn where Human Placenta Smoothies are supposedly popular. But it turns out that January is a wuss from L.A. She took placenta capsules.

Eliza, my daughter, asked me, “Why would a woman eat placenta?” My answer: because animals do it, it’s nutritious, and no food should go to waste. Since forever and ever, excluding now, females had to eat back the nutrients lost in pregnancy. After making another whole circulatory system and losing a pint of blood in childbirth, a mom has to recoup those nutrients from somewhere. The placenta is packed with iron and other and minerals, major and trace, and B-vitamins, vitamin A, other vitamins, protein, and essential fatty acids. Placenta is FREE FOOD. But as far as claims for placenta improving breast milk, increasing energy, curing post-partum depression, and whatever, well, iron from any source will do that. But placebo is FREE HEALTH.

Eliza then asked, “How do you eat placenta?”  My answer: as a blended drink, cooked like liver, dried jerky-style, ground into sausage, or dried, pulverized and capsulized. She could imagine a sausage because the spice might disguise the taste. That’s a good attitude because you never know when times will get tough enough to make us eat placenta. Read this feature article in New York Magazine, The Placenta Cookbook. As for me, I’m still working on oxtails.

Your thoughts: Will you eat placenta if times get tough?

How Sugar-free Peeps Saved the Day

Aunt Jean: “You have to call your Aunt Pauline. They told her to eat white bread. What’s going on? She doesn’t know what to eat. ”

Mary: “Her kidneys are failing and so she can’t have much potassium. Brown breads have a little more potassium. I’ll visit.”

You would think we dietitians always preach the conventional paradigm of healthy eating, but that is not the case. When the body’s major organ systems fail, we modify our advice.  For example, my Aunt Pauline’s kidneys are on the fritz. She can’t remove excess potassium, so the level builds up. Too much can cause an irregular heartbeat and even sudden death. And so, Aunt Pauline was prescribed a low potassium diet, also low in sodium for swelling, without excessive protein for the kidneys again, with her blood glucose levels in mind for diabetes, well controlled on pills.

Aunt Pauline had two low-potassium diet sheets listing what to and what not to eat. Both sheets were a little different and, on my laptop, another sheet from the National Kidney Foundation was a little different still. The lists agreed upon the very high and very low potassium foods, but the middle range was questionable. Cooked cabbage? Maybe yes, maybe no. The same was true for whole wheat bread. Believe me, I know what it’s like to make those lists. The results depend on the makeup of the committee and the time of day.

For breakfast, according to the lists, Pauline could choose oatmeal, puffed rice, a bagel, or white toast. Oatmeal is fine, but every day? What about other cereals? The paper didn’t say. That’s when we had to look at the real numbers and make decisions case-by-case. The rule: be wary of foods with more than 250 mg of potassium per serving. Puffed rice, 6 mg of potassium, 1 mg of sodium (“too bland”); raisin bran, 357 mg of potassium (not an option); yada-yada, try this and that, and then bingo! Rice Krispies, 30 mg of potassium, 190 mg of sodium. That will do. And food-by-food, we went down the list. How much, how often, what’s it worth to you? It’s the only way to get buy-in to the diet therapy.

And, to keep life sweet, we make room for indulgences, also a personal thing.
Mary: “Check it out: Marshmallows have zero potassium and 6 mg of sodium; I’ve seen sugar-free marshmallows made with sugar alcohols. You could make Rice Krispies Treats.”
Aunt Pauline: “Really? I would like that…But what I’d really like is Peeps.”
Mary: “I’ve seen sugar-free Peeps made with sugar alcohols. You can have those too.”
Aunt Pauline: “This diet isn’t so bad after all.”

Sugar-free Peeps save the day, junk food that they are.

Your thoughts: Do you know someone who is confused by his/her medical diet?

Jon Stewart: Milk – It Does A Body Bad?

Milk is being vilified for no good reason. I think it started in 1985 when Neal D. Barnard, M.D. founded the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a vocal vegan advocacy group. PCRM does many good things, but I don’t agree with the way they bully milk.  Look at their anti-cheese billboards in Albany, New York. Vulgar and silly. People the world over enjoy cheese, a natural fermented food, in moderation.

I can see wanting cows to eat grass instead of corn. And humane treatment of animals goes without saying  And I would feed organic milk to toddlers. But Barnard called cheese “dairy crack.” Come on! How could milk be such a problem when it is the mainstay of so many primitive diets? The Maasai tribe in Kenya, the Todas of Southern India, the Kazaks of Central Asia? No milk, they die.

And so, that had been my long-held belief, and then I saw this precious video on the website of dietitian, Katherine Tallmadge.  She appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” as a “lactose sympathizer” and I’d say that Jon Stewart is a sympathizer too. Watch “Milk: It Does A Body Bad.”  Enjoy!

What I Don’t Get About SPANX

You might have seen the recent headlines about Sara Blakely, inventor of SPANX, when Forbes named her the Youngest Self-Made Female Billionaire in the World. Isn’t Sara a smart cookie to realize that women actually want to wear corsets?  Bloggers everywhere are confessing to their SPANX collections. No surprise there. Sara’s billions of dollars had to come from somewhere.

I own the full body shape-suit (Slim Cognito®). It does the trick but it makes it hard to pee. I read that Gwyneth Paltrow wore two SPANX at the same time after having a baby. (I want to say that Gwyneth is too much, but that would be unkind.) Still, we should take it for granted that lots of women have the In-Power Line Super High Footless Shaper under their jeans. And men, don’t go too far because there is SPANX for men too. Men can use the Gut Gauge to determine how much compression they need.

But there’s one thing I never understood about SPANX, apart from the full body suit: What happens to the fat that gets squished out the other side? Wouldn’t the High-Waisted Body Tunic make backfat and saddlebags worse? And don’t Power Panties® create fat rolls at the waist and thighs?  I don’t get it.  Is the fat Photoshopped away?

Your thoughts: Help me out. Where does the displaced fat go?

Vitamin D3 and Me

I finally found a vitamin D3 supplement that I am willing to take for my presumed deficiency. I say presumed because I haven’t actually had my 25-Hydroxyvitamin D serum levels tested. I’m skipping that step because the values haven’t been standardized and, besides, I’d have to self-pay.

But, why wouldn’t I have low vitamin D levels? The most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) estimated that 25% to 57% of adults have insufficient levels of vitamin D. Other studies set the number as high as 70% for some segments of the population.

Vitamin D is made when the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit the skin. There are many reasons why I wouldn’t get enough. I work indoors (UVB rays don’t penetrate glass), live in the northern latitude, often wear sunscreen, and I’m getting older. Those factors push me towards the brittle bones that are conclusively related to a lack of vitamin D. Less conclusive are the links to cancers, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, and, it seems, to whatever else ails you including colds and flu and forgetfulness.

The RDA for vitamin D is set at 600 International Units (IUs) per day from food. That amount meets the needs of 98% of healthy people. But Americans don’t eat nearly enough vitamin D. According to NHANES, average intake is 204 to 288 IU/day for males, and for females, the range is 144 to 276 IU/day. Vitamin D is found in only a few foods: oily fish and cod liver oil are the most important sources, followed by egg yolks, liver, and mushrooms. And while 3-ounces of cooked salmon supplies 477 IUs, one egg has only 40. Milk has been fortified with vitamin D since the 1930s, but 16 ounces supplies a little more than half of the RDA. Some brands of orange juice, yogurt, cheese, margarine, and breakfast cereals are also fortified. Scroll down to see the vitamin D content of selected foods.

I’m Covered

I thought I should take some vitamin D, but I couldn’t stomach another pill. I take a multivitamin, a prescription med, two fish oil capsules, a curcumin capsule, and a calcium tablet sometimes. But then the folks from Nature Made invited me to look at a few of their products, and I accepted the offer because they are big on scientific research and purity, and because we met at 250 Greenwich Street, the new World Trade Center Tower 7. I’m a sucker for a skyscraper with a fantastic view.

Nature Made’s vitamin D3 (the active form) comes in a grape-flavored chewable tablet that tastes like a sweet tart. Each tablet supplies 1,000 IUs, the daily amount commonly advised. The leading vitamin D scholar, Dr. Michael Holick, recommends taking up to 2,000 IU per day (4,000 IUs is the Tolerable Upper Limit.)  And so now, if I get about 250 IUs from milk, 500 IUs in my multivitamin, and 1,000 IUs in one sweet-tart. I am covered.

 Your thoughts: How do you manage to get enough vitamin D?

Talking About Oxtails in Brooklyn

I recently went to the new restaurant, Bar Corvo, on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn. It got fantastic reviews even before it opened – and it is 200 feet from my apartment. Sweet. I went with my lifelong friend, pediatric dietitian Barbara Robinson. (Readers of my blog might remember when we traveled on the BQE back from Rhode Island to New York.)

Everything was perfect at Bar Corvo. We had the Lentil Soup, Warm Farro Salad (with roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, goat cheese, red onion, hazelnuts, and warm sherry vinaigrette), Focaccia, and Trebiano D’Abruzzo wine. It didn’t seem like much food for two people, but we couldn’t finish it all. I can still conjure up the aromas and flavors. A lasting experience is all I ask from a restaurant.

Barbara and I were both surprised by the relatively large number of unusual foods on the menu. Besides lentils and farro, there were dandelion greens, fava bean puree, oxtail ragu’, octopus confit, and roast Amish chickens (wearing little bonnets singing, ’tis the gift to be simple) to pleasure the palates of the foodies on the Brooklyn culinary scene.

Barbara:  “What exactly is an oxtail?”
Mary:  “I guess it’s the tail of an ox.”

That’s a pretty lame conversation for two veteran dietitians, and so I Goggled oxtails; here’s the poop: ox tails are actually tails – bony and muscular – from cows (there are no oxen left around here.) Oxtails are among  the offals, the internal parts of an animal – the heart, liver, tongue, tripe, brain, kidneys, etc. – that are edible, but not commonly eaten in America today. They are traditionally braised gently and slowly to made an intensely-flavored gelatinous stew. The stew is served in Roman trattorias (like Bar Corvo) and in Jamaican and African restaurants. A few doors down at The Islands, a Caribbean restaurant, the oxtail stew is a very popular dish. In fact, New York City seems to be crazy about oxtails. There are 402 comments at Yelp, New York, Oxtail Soup! I guess it’s only a matter of time before I try them.  I’ll be sure to report back.

Your thoughts: Have you eaten oxtails? Would you?

Colbert Reports on Responsible Snacking & Second Breakfast

Did you see Stephen Colbert’s “Thought for Food – Responsible Snacking & Second Breakfast” on Tuesday? If you did, then I know you’ll be glad to see it again. He spoofs the end of King-Size Snickers bars, Taco Bell’s revolutionary “fourth meal” and the rising popularity of “second breakfast.”  “America won the space race by taking up the most space.”  He begs, “We must explore new vistas in mealtimes: breakfast, post-breakfast pre-lunch, brunch, bru-lunch, lunch, dinner-prequel….” And it goes on. Talk about The Sh*t Food Marketers Say! Oh, Stephen, your truthiness is so delish.
Prepare to laugh for 4:36 minutes:

Susie Orbach Tells It Like It is About Women and Beauty

Woman Is the Nigger of the World~John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Weren’t they the best at getting our attention?  The words are appropriate because today is March 8th, International Women’s Day, a day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, they get the day off.

In honor of the celebration, Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst, author and feminist (mentioned in my blog, My Intuitive Eating “Aha” Moment) delivered a speech, “Body Image in the Media: Using Education to Challenge Stereotypes,” to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City last week. Susie compared the self-starvation, surgical cosmetic procedures and the use of appetite suppressing pharmacological agents to all forms of violence practiced against girls and women in the rest of the world. You can read the transcript of her speech at Any-Body.org, Susie Orbach Speaks at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She explains that beauty’s tyrannical hold zaps females of their energy, dollars, and sense of self.  In her speech, Susie Orbach says,

“The beauty companies, the fashion houses, the diet companies, the food conglomerates who also of course own the diet companies, the exercise and fitness industry, the pharmaceutical industry and the cosmetic surgery industry combine together, perhaps not purposefully or conspiratorially, to create a climate in which girls and women come to feel that their bodies are not ok. They do this through the promotion of celebrity culture, through advertising on every possible outlet from billboards to magazines to our electronic screens, through the funding of media outlets which can only exist because of their economic support.”

Don’t you love it?  All people, women and men, have a responsibility to rally against using the female body as a profit center. It’s especially important this year as basic rights like birth control are being challenged. We need the energy spent on beauty to protect our rights!

Your thoughts: How much beauty-time is too much? Do you share Susie views?

My Intuitive Eating “Aha” Moment

On LinkedIn, I am a member of the Intuitive Eating Professionals Group, where Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, group founder, asks us to “share something…that is not included in your profile, perhaps an “aha” moment in your career.”  I am inspired to share my “aha” moment after attending the BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association) national conference on Saturday, where I learned that, treatment-wise, not much has changed over the years.

In 1985, I worked in a large gastroenterology practice affiliated with a teaching hospital. I saw lots of eating disordered patients because one of the docs did medical evaluations of patients with bulimia and AN. At the same time, another gastroenterologist performed a procedure with a device called the Garren-Edwards Gastric Bubble. A deflated ‘bubble’ made of stretchable plastic (like a pool toy) was placed by endoscopy in the stomach of a severely overweight patient.  With the pull of a cannula, the bubble was inflated and left in place to fill the stomach while the patient followed a low-calorie diet. That’s where I came in. The bubble was developed by a team at Johns Hopkins. It was all above the board. The hospital asked us to do the procedure, but we stopped after a patient got a small bowel obstruction from the bubble. Those were interesting days. My patients’ eating patterns were all over the map.

But my “aha’ moment came by way of a patient referred by an internist for a simple weight loss diet.  She was a favorite patient, a young woman of my age, overweight but far from obese, with my mother’s maiden name. We were doing the balanced, flexible diet thing with a focus on behaviors when one day, she looked at me and said, “Mary, you don’t understand. I peek behind the curtain, and when my husband drives away, I make a batch of scalloped potatoes, and I eat the whole thing.” Aha! I thought, “they didn’t teach us this in school.” And then I thought, “this is really real.”

I was lucky because psychologists who specialized in EDs would stop into  the office. They turned me on to Susie Orbach, Fat Is a Feminist Issue (1978); Geneen Roth, Feeding the Hungry Heart (1982) and Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating (1986) and, of course, Hilde Bruch. Evelyn’s book, Intuitive Eating (1995), wasn’t published yet and there was no Gurze catalogue. But, I read and read and saw lots of patients, and attended Geneen’s workshops,  consulted with therapists, and taught others how to do it. And now it’s wonderful to see so many dietitians espouse the non-diet approach. But, after all those years, the pills, shakes, meals, stomach stapling (but not swallowing pool toys) are all still here.

Your thoughts: Why don’t more people give up dieting and follow a non-diet approach?