“Fed Up” a movie about childhood obesity

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I have never been a fan of Katie Couric, particularly. But last night my husband and I saw her film,“Fed Up.” and appreciated how she is bringing to light childhood obesity. While everything I heard in the movie I already know, it was still great to hear it again. 

The plot of this documentary is the pure evil perpetrated on us by big food companies. Their mission is to make money for stockholders and they do it at the expense of our health. They push products out into the marketplace that are unhealthy but earn their shareholders megabucks. Featured in the film are the experts who have for decades alerted us to this situation includingGary Taubes, Dr. Robert Lustig, David Kessler and many others. 

The devil is sugar. We eat it by the bucketful and it is hiding in practically everything we eat.  While we know it in its natural form of table sugar, it’s also in bread, pasta, rice and hidden in foods like ketchup, yogurt, spaghetti sauce, Hot Pockets, Pop-Tarts, waffles and on and on, well, it’s just about everywhere, including the majority of our processed, refined food products. 

It’s truly a travesty and tragedy that the American government has sold itself out to the food lobbyists. How short-sighted is it that we allow people to eat foods that down the road will cost their health and their lives. And we will all be paying for their healthcare. The obesity rate has risen in parallel with the removal of fat from our food when we once thought fat was the culprit for obesity. But, you know, it is not. And, as everyone would like you to believe, “a calorie is a calorie,” it is not. Different foods work differently in our bodies. The biggest take away is unused sugar turns directly into fat in your body. A calorie in is not a calorie out. Start eating healthy fats and stop eating refined, processed food-like substances as Michael Pollan will tell you. 

The real tragedy is when you see what it is doing to our young people. When I went to school lunch in the cafeteria was homemade meals and my favorite, tuna fish sandwiches. Today, kids at school get 80% of their lunchtime food from fast food franchises – Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, McDonalds …they are truly up against it to find a healthy meal. Shame on the American government. 

Food manufacturers know the earlier they hook a child on their food, they will form a lifelong customer. Thus, TV commercials and characters like Ronald McDonald are marketed to kids. It is criminal what we allow food manufacturers to do and put in the marketplace. It is simply immoral. It is costing all our health. To live healthy in America you have to be extremely vigilant.

If you’re lucky enough to have an independent theater in your community, see the film. Then make a pledge to eat healthy – real foods. Stuff that doesn’t come from fast food restaurants or out of bags or cans. It’s not more expensive to buy a whole chicken and some vegetables to cook for dinner, than fast food chains would like you to believe. 

I’ve said it before: food is medicine. Eat healthy, feed your family healthy, real food and let’s not let the big food companies steal our health. This is our generation’s battle just as tobacco was the battle before us.

September 19th’s UN Summit hits an upset

I seem to keep saying, “If you read my last post…” but this is a story that keeps growing. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF), who are driving a campaign to get President Obama to the first-ever high-level UN Summit to contain and eradicate non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the top 4 of which are: cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory and yes, disease – now cites a stand-off getting U.S. and European Union representatives to commit to outcomes and timelines. 

The IDF issued a press release early this morning that some UN member states are jeopardising international progress by trying to postpone and weaken United Nations negotiations.

The press release goes on to say, “Of particular concern are the actions of the U.S., Canada and the European Union to block proposals for the inclusion of an overarching goal: to cut preventable deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025.

As Jacquelyn Beals, PhD writes at Medscape News in “UN Summit on Noncommunicable Diseases Hits Snag”negotiations over an outcomes document for discussion at the Summit have hit a wall, with the United States and the European Union opposing many of the target-oriented resolutions on the grounds that they would be responsible for the bulk of the action items. Because developed nations would foot much of the bill for combating NCDs, they are reluctant to commit to time-bound targets in an uncertain economy.

Brian Ward, policy advisor for the European Respiratory Society, says in the article, “Despite the fact that the NCD burden is highest in Europe and the United States, these regions have also been very reluctant to commit any financial support to this UN process aimed at tackling the NCD epidemic.”

President of IDF, Jean-Claude Mbanya, MD, PhD, who will address the delegates at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes Annual Meeting on September 13, says we have the evidence cost-effective solutions are available and with the Summit we have the political opportunity.  

With President Obama engulfed in the U.S.’s financial woes it’s easy to say let’s concentrate our attention and finances on jobs, yet something else he said early in his presidency is healthcare will bankrupt us if it, and we, don’t change.

Ann Keeling, CEO of IDF and chair of the NCD Allianceand CEO of IDF, which groups some 2,000 health organisations from around the world focused on non-communicable diseases says rich nations are reluctant to foot much of the bill for tackling a chronic disease epidemic in poorer nations, and are reluctant to commit to this when their economies are in turmoil. But such fears are short-sighted.

So which comes first? Put our money toward helping people around the world, and here, to achieve better health in order to halt health care costs from bankrupting us and halt non-communicable diseases from impeding global progress and devastating the world economy or ignore the state of the world’s health and pay later? 


When the healthy choice is the easy choice, that’s the one people will make

Biking in Finland, easily accessible


New York City trying to create bike lanes


The great gateway to the West, St. Louis


Where our diet is leading us: two thirds of Americans are slowly dying from obesity


Around the same time that the Diabetes Prevention Program in 1992 proved that losing a moderate amount of weight (7%–about 10 or 15 pounds for many people who are overweight) and getting 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week can possibly prevent diabetes, the Finns ran a similar study and came up with similar results.

But there the similarity ends. The Finns actually did something about it. For the past 15 years they’ve been building parks and bicycle paths, changing foods available in schools and restaurants: they’ve been making healthy choices easier to make. And people have been losing weight, getting fitter and lowering the incidence of type 2 diabetes in Finland. 

As Dr. Pekka Puska, Director General of the National Public Health Institute says in Dr. Francine Kaufman’s documentary, Diabetes Global Epidemic, “You can give people all kinds of information but unless you make the healthy choice the easy choice, it’s not going to be the one people make.” The key is connecting the dots from information to action, so in Finland city planning has changed direction so people can more easily be physically active. The central lesson from Finland’s success is it’s human nature to make the easy choice and when you make the easy choice the healthy choice, people will follow: fitness trails now fill Finland’s cities and people who otherwise would not be, are on them.

I had the opportunity to reflect on this last week when out of my home town of New York City I was in the heartland, attending a conference in St. Louis. The first morning I was abruptly reminded and saddened to see how poor the choices are across much of America to make healthy choices when it comes to eating. Lodged at a very lovely, star-studded hotel, I was frankly appalled at the dismal breakfast buffet. It appeared the best way to make a healthy choice was to get on line for the fresh omelets. So I did. I got a spinach omelet dripping in butter and when I asked for lettuce and tomato instead of potatoes both grill chefs looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

Surveying the breakfast buffet, on tap were gummy scrambled eggs, fruits in canned syrup, bacon, sausage, biscuits with coagulated gravy, sweetened, flavored yogurt, frosted cold cereals and only instant oatmeal in only sweetened flavors like Apple and Cinnamon, Maple Syrup and Brown Sugar. 

My whole four days were an enormous effort to work around the unhealthy selection of foods plentifully available and try to find a few nutritious choices. The one evening my colleagues and I went off premises we took a short ride into historic downtown St. Charles for dinner. Having asked our driver for a good restaurant that offered a variety of foods he recommended Lewis & Clark. It appeared to be a typical family restaurant chain like a Fridays or Houstons. Scanning the menu I immediately saw almost everything was fried. We settled on what I thought would be the healthiest choices: guacamole and a spinach-artichoke dip for appetizers. Both came creamed and with a mound of corn chips. Luckily there were two fish entrees which you could order grilled with steamed veggies which I did. If this is how America eats because this is what we’re offered, how can we expect people will not be fat?

The straw that broke my back was breakfast at the St. Louis airport the day I left. In the new concourse there was only one place to sit and eat a meal, at the bar. I ordered scrambled eggs which came with sausage, only white sourdough bread, and when I asked if they could substitute lettuce and tomato for the hash browns, I got my second startled lettuce-and-tomato look. The eggs tasted like they came out of a plastic container not a chicken, the sausage was so salty I’m sure it spiked my blood pressure right then and there, the coffee incidentally was burnt. I felt almost sick after that meal, physically and spiritually. 

Understand, I’m not picking on St. Louis and I’m not saying everyone in this country makes poor health choices; I am saying I experienced how difficult it was to make healthy choices in the course of a day in an ordinary American city, and that it’s shameful to hawk at us on morning news programs and magazines that we have to change our eating habits and then make it almost impossible to do so. 

America, shape up–and I’m not talking to those of you who have pounds to lose–but our agriculturalists, industrialists and politicians who let the food industry and big business get away with murder–because frankly they’re killing us.

A sobering obesity report

Last week it hit all the news wires that obesity in children and adults has not only not abated, but grown ever bigger, greater, huger, wider. 

Childhood obesity has tripled since 1980 and most schools don’t meet the local FDA requirements for planned menus. 23 states have increased in obesity with Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and West Virginia topping the list. Colorado and Vermont are our thinnest states, the year-round active outdoor culture sighted as a major reason.

But I have another thought why people in this country are fat beside the usual culprits — stress, status, poverty, availability of food, super-sizing, processing and illiteracy. It first came to me while in Europe and I am reminded every time I return: Food there has so much more flavor. In Holland, for instance, tomatoes drip down your arm with their sweetness and even the lowly brussels sprout comes packed with layers of chewy deliciousness. Largely across Western Europe food is grown in richer, less fallow soil, on farms only miles from where it is then sold, only days or minutes after it is picked. Freshness is a flavor all its own. Farming is a prideful occupation and the higher price of food funds higher quality growing conditions.  

I say that if our food had more flavor, we’d be satisfied with less. We could put down our forks when we should, and feel fed. Think about it. If what you ate was flavorful, delicious, nutritious and wholesome, granted, if that was a rare treat you might over eat, but if that was the character of most of your meals, I believe you’d reach your level of satisfaction and feel satiated with smaller portions. In contrast here in America, I believe an unspoken reason why a great majority of people overeat is because, like on a treasure hunt they are foraging for flavor which never comes. And, there’s a hope that if they keep eating, eventually taste and satisfaction will arrive. 

Whether it’s two thin slices of tangy cheese on a that-morning-baked yummy crunchy seeded roll or a light as air soul-satisfying four-forkful sliver of pastry ordered for the table or peas shot through pod to pod with green, earthy deliciousness, less food on your plate is actually much more satisfying when it actually has taste. Food as nature intended.

Want to lose weight and get healthy? Nutrient-dense foods.

Are you ready to Eat to Live?

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Maybe he’s just another hawker wanting to sell books or sit next to Oprah, or maybe he’s got it right. Joel Furhman is a doctor and up and coming weight loss healthy eating guru. I’m now reading one of his earlier books, Eat to Live, from 2003 and here’s his proposition in a nutshell: Make the overwhelming bulk of your diet nutrient-dense foods and you’ll avoid disease, particularly heart disease and cancer, your diabetes’ symptoms may go away if you’re type 2, your blood pressure and cholesterol will lower and you’ll lose weight and maintain a “normal” body weight. Furhman says most of our weight, ills and diseases come from our (profit-making-big-business) unhealthy American diet which is high in fat, refined carbohydrates and calories and low in nutrient-dense foods, leaving us hungry, unsatisfied, fat and unhealthy.

Further, our most recent mania to control portions is like putting a band-aid on a levy that’s bursting; limiting our portions of non-nutritive food may cut some calories but it still leaves us nutritionally deficient with over stimulated appetites. He says if you have type 2 diabetes you can eradicate insulin resistance using his eating plan, if you have type 1 you can dramatically lower your insulin requirement. And I believe him. It seems common sense to me that the over-processed, packaged, chemically-formulated and steroid-pumped, refined junk we eat causes weight gain and disease.

Furhman just hates the food pyramid the U.S. Department of Agriculture rolls out each year and proposes one of his own. Drum roll please: our personal food pyramid’s bottom, the foundation of our diet, should be built on vegetables and leafy greens, then fruit, beans and legumes, whole grains, with the top of the house giving us a trickle of non-fat diary, animal protein and healthy fats derived from foods like nuts and avocado. If you think you’ve heard this a million times, his USP (unique selling proposition) is he rates foods according to their nutrient density. Something by the way is going to soon make an appearance in supermarkets. But what I found compelling was Furhman’s forceful argument, continue to eat unhealthy foods and your sickening yourself every day, want to truly “fortify” yourself against disease? Do it with food, not drugs. Highlights from his book:

1. Olive oil is not the miracle drug we all thought, 97% of its fat will go straight to your hips so use it limitedly.

2. Leafy greens like salad greens and green vegetables are 1/2 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/4 fat. Who knew? You don’t need to eat a side of beef to get enough protein if you’re eating lots of veggies.

3. If you’re eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies you’re getting enough water. 8 glasses a day, fugedabout it, 3 is plenty!

4. Furhman agrees, don’t be fooled be foods that say “fortefied.” A spray of folic acid won’t do it.

5. Animal protein whether white, as in chicken or red, as in beef is equally disease causing. Fish is better but even fish should only be eaten 2xweek and mercury-free.

6. Don’t worry about getting the right mix of veggies and beans etc. on your plate to get your protein covered, eat this healthy way and you will.

Mind you, always, any significant change in your eating plan may create a change in your blood sugars, which means a change in your medication–and I guarantee you if you follow this plan you will definitely need less medicine, whether you’re on orals or insulin. So, be alert and discuss this with your health care provider. If you have a condition like kidney disease you may not be able to eat enough veggies, fruits, nuts and legumes for this to work for you, so please don’t undertake this without consulting with a professional. Also if you have vitamin or mineral deficiencies talk with a professional before making any dietary changes.

You might call this a super-charged slightly left of center vegetarian eating plan, but many vegetarians rely on refined carbs and saturated fats like pasta, crackers, pretzels and cheese, which are not nutrient-dense, whereas this plan is mostly vegetables, fruits and beans. Whole grains, healthy fats and animal protein are parceled out according to your weight loss goals.

Of course, restaurants and social outings are harder to maneuver than home cooking, so he proposes using outings as a time when you indulge a little. If you’re living in this century, time is the other nasty. Who has much time to shop and prepare vegetarian meals? Furhman offers recipes, but darn, somebody’s got to make them. I mostly do the simplest thing: steam an assortment of fresh veggies every night for dinner, lunch is a spinach salad with beans, left over veggies from the night before and a little feta cheese. Breakfast is steel cut oats.

If you want to really get healthier and drop some pounds read the book, try the diet and see what you think. Wouldn’t it be remarkable to shed those 20 pounds forever, really feel full and satisfied, and watch your health transform, including your energy and outlook?

End note: I will be away this week at the American Association of Diabetes Educators annual conference in Washington D.C. I am not an educator or any other type of medical professional, merely a lay person interested in knowing what educators are learning, talking about, being taught, where their struggles are with patients, what they see for the future and will let you know.