Mayor Bloomberg is trying to ban sodas and sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces from the town's eateries. Meanwhile, here on the left coast, Californians will be voting on Proposition 37, which will force food manufacturers to label genetically modified (GMO) foods.
What we have here is a case of "no" versus "know." I'm siding with the latter.
New York Goof
Bloomberg's ban falls under the "no" category. God bless Mike for caring about his peeps, but this is silly. I totally understand his transfat ban from a few years back. Consumers can't see transfat. Allowing it in restaurant food basically means you're playing Russian Roulette with your heart every time you dine out. Personally, I would have preferred that restaurants be allowed to use transfat, but be required to issue a warning to customers, but whatever.
But regarding this new rule, if some dumb-ass wants to drink a Super Big Gulp, I think it's their constitutional right. (Which amendment states that we have the right to be morons? I know one of them does.) Furthermore, the law still won't ban folks from guzzling gallons of soda. It just bans big cups. Free refills are fair game. This is far more insipid, given the zeal with which most servers continually top off drinks. And when you're getting your sugar fix via refills, it's so much harder to keep track of how much you're drinking.
On the other hand, I'm a firm supporter of California Prop 37. In fact, I'd wear a t-shirt supporting it, were the t-shirts not so incredibly boring. No one is trying to ban anything. They simply want to inform consumers about what they're getting. I felt the same way about the whole PMRC record labeling debate back in the eighties. No one wanted to ban Twisted Sister from trying, unsuccessfully, to make a decent follow up to Stay Hungry. They just wanted parents to know if lead singer Dee Snyder was going to be dropping any f-bombs in the lyrics.
But back to the GMOs. The logic of the groups fighting Prop 37 is downright Draconian. In a nutshell, they feel that GMOs aren't bad, but the American public isn't smart enough to understand this, therefore telling them what they are actually eating would scare them off and hurt sales. In other words, Americans don't know what's good for them, so Big Business should lie to them in order to make money. Rad.
Just say Know!
The solution here is to "Just Say Know." If Bloomberg is concerned about New York waistlines, taking away their Rock of Ages commemorative plastic tumblers isn't going to help. They'll just find other ways to ingest crap. Instead, start an aggressive program to teach people - especially kids - why soda is shit. (There's your t-shirt right there. "Soda is shit." I'd totally wear that.)
Along those lines, I love that the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently organized a coalition of over 100 health, medical and consumer groups to pester the U.S. surgeon general to issue a report on the health effects of soda and sugary drinks. It's all about the "know," baby!
As for Prop 37, I really hope is passes. And when it does, if GMO food makers want people to buy their Frankenfoods, they can take a page from my "Just say Know" playbook and try to educate the masses as to why GMOs are just fine. Admittedly, it'll be an uphill race given GMOs haven't been around long enough for anyone to fully understand their impact, but that's not my problem.
But sadly, I don't think a GMO label would matter. As Bloomberg's little soda pop power play illustrates, Americans continue to eat and drink crap, even if we know it's bad for us. After all, it's our constitutional right to be morons, remember?
Friday, July 20, 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012
Starting off with a warm fuzzy, I like what he had to say about why high-protein diets appear to promote more fat loss off the starting line.
They report that people on the Atkins diet were burning off more calories. Ergo, the diet is a good thing. Such low-carbohydrate diets usually give a more rapid initial weight loss than diets with the same amount of calories but with more carbohydrates. But when carbohydrate levels are low in a diet and fat content is high, people lose water. That can confuse attempts to measure energy output. The usual measurement is calories per unit of lean body mass — the part of the body that is not made up of fat. When water is lost, lean body mass goes down, and so calories per unit of lean body mass go up. It’s just arithmetic. There is no hocus-pocus, no advantage to the dieters. Only water, no fat, has been lost.That's cool. He uses logic and science and junk to state his case. But then he kind of loses it with his belief in "calories in, calories out."
Perhaps the most important illusion is the belief that a calorie is not a calorie but depends on how much carbohydrates a person eats. There is an inflexible law of physics — energy taken in must exactly equal the number of calories leaving the system when fat storage is unchanged.That's fascinating and all, except for the fact that it's simply not true. I could get nit-picky and point out that various foods work differently thermogenically (meaning things like caffeine and spicy foods cause you to burn more calories), but instead I'll point out something the Good Doctor mentions later in the interview regarding why some people have a hard time losing weight.
What your body does is to sense the amount of energy it has available for emergencies and for daily use. The stored energy is the total amount of adipose tissue in your body. We now know that there are jillions of hormones that are always measuring the amount of fat you have. Your body guides you to eat more or less because of this sensing mechanism.He goes on to explain that these hormones can influence how much fat your body thinks it needs to maintain. He claims "genetics and external factors" influence these hormones.
Hmmm... Ya think maybe diet could be one of those external factors? The foods you eat play a role in hormone production and stimulation. Well-known examples include chocolate, which stimulates the release of "feel good" seratonin; and proteins such as oysters, red meat and beans, which stimulate testosterone. What other hormones might be influenced - and by which foods?
Of the hormones that control weight loss, I don't know which ones can potentially be controlled by diet, but I'm also not the guy who's been wearing a lab coat for over half a century. So instead of categorically stating an absolute that could be disproven at any given second, I suggest that Dr. Hirsch pop back into the lab and look into it.
Friday, July 6, 2012
Last Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported on how farmers have selectively bred tomatoes to look more uniform - to suit consumer tastes - and in so doing, accidentally removed their flavor. Recently scientists have figured out a way to genetically modify these tomatoes to restore flavor. Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you're one of those people), these Frankentomatoes will probably never see the artificial light of Safeway produce aisle fluorescent tube lighting day, given the companies that produce GMO produce do so to increase productivity, not quality. It makes no economic sense for Monsanto (or whoever) to invest in making better tasting produce, given Americans are perfectly happy eating cardboard, as long as it looks pretty.
The findings come from the journal Science, which explains that the flavorlessness occurs due to a lack of a protein that produces sugar in tomatoes. This carb omission also means the carotenoids - aka lycopene - takes a hit. In other words, not only do they taste bland, but they're not as good for you.
The consumer jackass
I include myself in this elite group of idiots. Whether I'm at the grocery store or the farmer's market, I usually look for a lack of blotches when picking tomatoes. Even when picking heirloom tomatoes, I'll opt for the ones with less of that brown scabby webbing. Ewww.
Ironically, animals do the exact opposite. When selecting fruit, they favor deeper hued fruit that's as ripe as possible, instinctively knowing it'll be sweeter and contain more healthy phytonutrients. As you can see from the photo above, the tomatoes we favor have less color, despite looking tidier. In other words, the human race has again managed to ignore survival instinct in favor of being anal retentive.
That's Doctor Larry David to you.
Why are scientists always trying to fix things with science? The researchers narrowed the problem down to two genes - GLK1 and GLK2 - that play an important role in harvesting sunlight in plants. By adding active GLK2 back in, they claim that they can bring tasty back for mass-produced tomatoes. In my mind, this is total Curb Your Enthusiasm logic, where society was done something stupid, so Larry David-inspired scientists want to do something even more stupid to fix the first stupid thing. We were too ignorant to know that selective breeding - which humans have done for centuries - was messing up tomatoes. Why on earth would genetic engineering - which humans have being doing for about five minutes - be the solution?
Here's a better idea: stop worrying about the blotches and start farming better tasting - albeit blotchier - tomatoes.
Leached lycopene and pirated polyphenols.
The Los Angeles Times piece focuses on the flavor issue, almost completely glossing over the real story here. As reported in this UC Davis press release, all this breeding has not only reduced flavor, but it's reduced the phytonutrient lycopene, which is widely known as the tomato's magic nutritional bullet. Lycopene is a carotenoid that acts as an antioxidant and immunity booster. After years of arguing over the benefits of conventional produce, here's solid proof that it's not as good for you.
To add insult to nutritionally deficient injury, here's a new study out of Spain showing that organic tomatoes have a higher polyphenol count. Polyphenols are antioxidant anti-inflammatories that you'll find in most plants. The theory in this study is that conventional farming uses nitrogen-rich soil that doesn't allow the tomatoes to activate their own natural defense systems. These systems - of which phenol compounds play a part - are what make tomatoes nutritious.
It's not a huge leap to apply these lessons to other plants. In other words, while it sucks that most Americans currently eat nutritionally deficient tomatoes and it's annoying that science thinks it can solve that with GMOs, the red-tinted silver lining is that this sordid tale builds very compelling evidence regarding the benefits of organic farming.
Now we just need to be patient and wait for conventional farmers to "ketchup" with our way of thinking.