Food matters.

Three years ago, I decided to educate myself as part of a self-designed program of recovery from complete thyroid impairment and endometrial cancer. I wanted to know what would give me the best shot at repairing the physical devastation I’d experienced.

It was my good luck that this decision occurred just when on-line health summits hit the Internet. I watched. I listened. I took notes.

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It became clear that there are different schools of thought about exactly what is best to eat, but health professionals all agree we can’t become well if we don’t pay attention to our food. Our choices are important.

That’s quite a change from the prevailing attitude when I studied nutrition at university. It was the mid-1960s, an era when we were enthralled with technology. I recall hearing that we’d soon be wearing throw-away paper dresses and getting our nutrition in the form of pills. When my mom asked my opinion about Tang, which had recently appeared in her grocery store, I shrugged and said, “It has the same amount of vitamin C as an orange and tastes the same. It’s fine.”

I cringe as I write this. I was overlooking the common-sense principle that real food has nutrients and qualities that an artificial product can never duplicate. And I completely ignored the sugar and additives it took to make a fruity-tasting powder that had never seen an orange.

If food is a substance consumed to provide nutritional support for the body, a package of coloured and flavoured powder does not measure up. In fact, artificial products are a double-whammy for body systems trying to do their job. Not only do these products lack nutrition, but their sugar content depletes the body of nutrients it already has and the additives stress the body because it has to figure out how to deal with foreign substances. 

So manufactured products don’t provide what is needed and they have a direct negative effect on top of that. What was I thinking?!!

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That was then…this is now.

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I’ve learned a lot in the intervening years—from an accumulation of life experience and over 600 hours of studying expert interviews.

Among functional medicine practitioners, there is little doubt that the standard American diet (ironically abbreviated SAD) is at the root of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, obesity, high blood pressure, and several types of cancer.

On the surface, it’s puzzling why we’ve gone so far down this destructive road.

What I now know…

  • We must become conscious consumers, thinking for ourselves and making choices through deliberation rather than default.
  • The conventional view often prevails for reasons that have nothing to do with what keeps us healthy. Since we entered the era of manufactured products, the focus has been on what is best for the corporations producing them. They profit at our expense if we let them.
  • In case you think I’m being cynical or melodramatic, I’ll briefly summarize two references. The first is a 2013 article from The New York Times Magazine, written by investigative reporter and author Michael Moss. The second is research published in JAMA Internal Medicine in November 2016.

Evidence of manipulation…

Michael Moss, in The New York Times Magazine, says: “What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort—taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles—to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s.”

One of those he spoke with was Howard Moskowitz, a food engineer with a long history of “product optimization” to create products that are the most “crave-worthy.” This is corporate-speak for making a company’s products as addictive as possible.

Prego Sauces, one of his projects, were made more appealing by the addition of sugar. Apparently, half a cup of Prego Traditional has as much sugar as two-plus Oreo cookies. “There’s no moral issue for me,” Moskowitz is reported to have said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature.”

That’s the very real dilemma of the economic system we live under. Moskowitz’s statement goes to my point that the corporate focus is on economic interests rather than our well-being. If we do not make conscious and deliberate choices, we stand to lose—in this case, our health.

…and if that isn’t enough…

The title of a recent CBC news article clearly states the essence of another instance of manipulation. “Sugar industry paid scientists for favourable research, documents reveal. Harvard study in 1960s cast doubt on sugar’s role in heart disease, pointing finger at fat.” This news article, about a research report published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, goes on to say:

The analysis published Monday is based on correspondence between a sugar trade group and researchers at Harvard University, and is the latest example showing how food and beverage makers attempt to shape public understanding of nutrition.

In 1964, the group now known as the Sugar Association internally discussed a campaign to address “negative attitudes toward sugar” after studies began emerging linking sugar with heart disease, according to documents dug up from public archives. The following year the group approved “Project 226,” which entailed paying Harvard researchers today’s equivalent of $48,900 US for an article reviewing the scientific literature, supplying materials they wanted reviewed, and receiving drafts of the article.

The resulting article published in 1967 concluded there was “no doubt” that reducing cholesterol and saturated fat was the only dietary intervention needed to prevent heart disease. The researchers overstated the consistency of the literature on fat and cholesterol, while downplaying studies on sugar, according to the analysis.

“Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print,” wrote an employee of the sugar industry group to one of the authors.

The sugar industry’s funding and role were not disclosed when the article was published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

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And so…I rest my case

The system is set up in favour of commercial interests rather than our health and wellbeing. As much as we would like to trust and hope that science is definitive and scientists are highly ethical, that is clearly naive.

It’s up to us to be conscious consumers and make deliberate choices to cultivate our health.

With the holiday season upon us, next week I’ll talk about making treats without adding a lot of sugar or, heaven forbid, artificial sweeteners. In the meantime, you might want to check out Cuisinicity. Catherine Katz makes a conscious effort to cook fabulous food with a minimum of added sugar. 

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