Whole Foods

Noteworthy Notes, March 2015 Edition

Time for our monthly trip around cyberspace for tidbits.

Just in: Newsweek published an article on how water fluoridation might be linked to increases in ADHD diagnoses. I personally thought there were too many question marks to draw conclusions, but if you have alarmist tendencies, you may want to get a filter that takes out the fluoride or start adding to the world's plastic-trash heap by buying bottled water.

Lovely pic from the City site

If you're curious about the City of Bellevue, I found this: "In January 2011, the concentration of fluoride was reduced from 1 part per million to 0.8 part per million, the lowest concentration in the acceptable range defined by the WA State Department of Health. Based on surveys conducted by the Seattle-King County Health Department and the University of Washington School of Dentistry, there has been a 49 percent reduction in dental decay as a result of adding fluoride to drinking water."

In heartening news, I'll bet you heard how McDonald's has decided to go with antibiotic-free chicken in the long run. Meaning, suppliers of their chicken will (gradually) not dose their chickens prophylactically with antibiotics, something that contributes to antibiotic-resistant bugs.

Awesome! The pic from the McDonald's website includes the tagline!

Now supposing you recoil at the thought of fast food and tend to clog up the aisles at Whole Foods instead. You'll be happy to hear I found this article on relative "bargains" to be found there. Basically, rejoice if you love organic tofu, almond milk, organic frozen berries, coconut oil, and such. Some of the items found were plain silly (dried basil!), but it was nice to know about the berries, since we've been on our smoothie kick. And it's always worthwhile to know where I can find the cheapest hearts of palm (what? you mean people actually buy those, and they don't just stay on the store shelf for decades?). Not to mention vegan "cheese"--don't get me started.

Man, if that doesn't make your mouth water, I don't know what will

If it's all just too much trouble, Puget Sound Business Journal named these "5 Cheapest, Most Delicious Restaurants in Seattle" from Urbanspoon's annual list. Clearly I need to get out more. Paseo, anyone?

Unless you'd rather have the heart-of-palm salad with vegan cheese

Where Our Food Outlook Goes Wrong

Author Gyorgy Scrinis defines "nutritionism" as "characterized by a reductive focus on the nutrient composition of foods as the means for understanding their healthfulness, as well as by a reductive interpretation of the role of these nutrients in bodily health." Meaning, we reduce food to vehicles in a delivery system: this will give me Vitamin A; this will give my body calcium; this will provide protein to build muscles.

Not only does the nutritionism view miss the holistic nature of our relation to food and how our bodies process it, but it has allowed in the door all manner of highly processed "functional foods" that, unproven, promise superior delivery of the nutrients du jour.

Scrinis traces the history of our "nutritional reductionism" from the end of the 19th century to the present, ranging from the discovery of vitamins and the fight against specific deficiency disorders, to the ongoing a-calorie-is/is not-a-calorie arguments, to the low-fat push, to the latest diets and the marketing of functional foods.

Some of my 21 pages of highlights (I added any emphases):

  • "The health effects of a food may also depend on the other foods they are combined with in a meal. At the same time, various food processing techniques and additives may significantly transform--and in some cases reduce or degrade--the nutritional quality of whole foods." In other words, eat a grapefruit with your breakfast and drink a glass of whole milk--don't bother with the calcium-fortified orange juice.
  • "Nutrition experts have...made definitive statements about the role of single nutrients, such as the role of fat or fiber, in isolation from the foods in which we find them. This single-nutrient reductionism often ignore or simplifies the interactions among nutrients within foods and within the body...Nutrition scientists have also tended to exaggerate any beneficial or detrimental health effects of single nutrients." Scrinis gives the saturated fat and cholesterol (supposedly detrimental) examples, along with the omega-3 fats and vitamin D (exaggeratedly beneficial) ones.
  • Foods developed by manufacturers were once required by the FDA to be labeled as "imitation foods."
  • Much-reviled refined grains, while they lose their vitamins and minerals, still retain their protein. An artisan loaf of homemade white sourdough bread is not in the same class as factory-produced white bread, with its many additional, unnatural ingredients. Moreover, how the body processes refined grains (i.e., whether your blood sugar and insulin levels skyrocket), depends on what you eat it with. Slap on some butter, eat it with your meat and vegetables, and that hit to your system is muffled.
  • After trans-fats got the thumbs-down, manufacturers rushed to replace them with fats extracted, refined, solidified, and so on, in other ways that did not produce trans-fats. However, these replacement fats have not been tested and may cause problems of their own down the road. Even the vegetable oils we've been downing in place of butter and bacon fat and so on "may suffer oxidative damage [and depletion] as a result of the extraction and refining process, as well as during high-temperature frying."
  •  "With processed and fast-food meals...a high calorie count may reveal the existence of so-called hidden calories..."hidden fats" (e.g., refined vegetable oils), "hidden carbs" (e.g., flour, chemically modified starches, or sugar), or "hidden protein" (e.g., soy isolates)." Not that low-calorie is safe, since foods can be engineered to replace fat and carbohydrates with "noncaloric synthesized ingredients, such as artificial fats and artificial sugars."
  • In a world where we are always chasing the latest diet--Mediterranean, Okinawan, vegan, low-fat, Paleo, Atkins, etc., etc.-- what most diets have in common is a reliance on whole foods and severe restrictions on processed elements.
  • "The health threats posed by processed-reconstituted foods has little if anything to do with the presence or absence of specific naturally occurring nutrients--such as fats, carbs, or vitamins--but rather with the combined effect on the body of high levels of reconstituted, degraded, and synthetic food components and additives." Think protein bars. Chicken nuggets. Storebought baked goods.
  • Fret about spending extra money at the farmers market? According to Scrinis, "the quality of foods can vary according to the types of agricultural technologies, production methods, breeding techniques, soil quality, and harvesting and transportation practices." He recommends grass-fed and pastured meats, eggs, and dairy throughout. Studies that compare nutrient value between organic and conventional foods completely miss the point--it's all about what is absent: chemical pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and hormones.

What, finally, does Scrinis conclude? EAT WHOLE FOODS. If you want to eat meat, go ahead (but get the good stuff--see point above). If you want to forgo meat, go ahead. If you want to eat some refined grains, go ahead. Just stay away from the processed stuff. Approach your meals holistically, and don't reduce food to nutrient dispensers, because that isn't how it works anyhow.

 And given the other books I've been reading recently, Fat Chance and Why We Get Fat, for example, I can't tell you how glad I am to hear someone talk about the implications of recommended diets! People, we cannot all go on the Paleo diet. The earth cannot support it. We cannot all go fish-only and fish-oil supplements--the world fisheries cannot support it. Scrinis declares, "Dietary guidelines should also be contextualized in terms of their implications for environmental sustainability and animal welfare." Here, here! As he points out, when everyone got warned off red meat and saturated fats, the demand for poultry went through the roof, a demand met "through cruel factory-farming practices."

Completely sane stuff. I highly recommend the book because a short review can't do it justice. In the meantime, the Bellevue Farmers Market can't open soon enough!

Primed and Ready

The hub and I recently watched The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, written, directed by and starring Morgan Spurlock, of Super Size Me fame. In it, the tongue-in-brand-name-cheek Spurlock hits up corporate sponsors to fund his movie in exchange for product prominence, a widespread Hollywood practice, if usually done more subtly. The one take-away--if you don't count the fact that, after watching the entire film, you really do want to go buy a bottle of main sponsor POM Wonderful's pomegranate juice--is that we Americans are constantly being marketed to. In our schools, in our television shows and movies, in our grocery carts, on the sides of buses. Sometimes the ads are obvious--giant billboards, or commercials to be TiVoed through, for example--but other times we are being sold to almost imperceptibly.

Consider the Fast Company article making the internet rounds. In it, writer Martin Lindstrom analyzes how Whole Foods "primes" its shoppers to...shop, with everything from a low thermostat to fresh flowers to "chalk" signs and faux crates that are actually parts of a giant cardboard box, to make you think those canteloupes were just harvested and driven in from the farm that morning. You may never click on another link in my posts, but that one's worth the two minutes. The goal of the brick-and-mortar store is to recreate the farmers market experience.

A year ago Seattle Safeways threw fuel on the fire when they took Whole Foods tomfoolery one step further, hanging banners above the produce section that trumpeted, "Farmers Market." When people noticed  mangoes in the display, the closest of which are grown in Mexico, eyebrows were raised. Safeway withdrew the claim.

In a world where we are constantly being sold a bill of goods, thank heavens for the real deal. Supermarkets may emulate farmers markets, but, like artificial vanilla flavoring and margarine spread, they just don't quite measure up. Which is not to say there isn't a little priming at the Bellevue Farmers Market:

  1. Low Thermostat? Check. Courtesy of Mother Nature.
  2. Fresh flowers? Check. Straight from the growers' hands.
  3. Handmade signs? Check. 
  4. Fruit in boxes and crates? Uh-huh. From the field to the truck to you.

There are two more Thursday markets, and Saturdays will continue up to Thanksgiving. Now that you're primed, come get your goodies. To paraphrase a famous ad campaign, "Enjoy your local farmers market--it's the real thing."