on food choices, influence and the big picture

a lot is happening in the nutrition world right now (and the world world. yikes). Mainly I’m speaking of this article, which reported on recently discovered internal sugar industry documents that indicate top scientists in the 1960’s were paid to downplay the negative role of sugar in our health and shift the blame to saturated fat.


not low in saturated fat

so many aspects about this report are notable. First, the sugar industry hand-picked the research these scientists reviewed to be published in a very prominent journal article, all in their favor. Study funding and financial compensation did not have to be disclosed at the time, and the public was in the dark as to just how much they were being deceived. Even though funding and financials must be disclosed nowadays, so many of the big food companies continue to try and influence public decision-making with less than honest strategies. Shifting negativity onto another food category as in this example, highlighting “health benefits” of their products that actually mean nothing, funding biased research studies, the list goes on. Whether we realize it or not, we are being influenced by corporations who care way more about the bottom line than our health. And because money is always the loudest talker in the room, I don’t see this changing any time soon. What we can change, however, is our level of education as consumers. Here are a couple ways to start:

don’t assume a food is “healthy” because of these labeling terms: “natural” or “all natural”, “made with whole grains”, “lightly sweetened”, “low sugar”, “energizing”,  “made with real fruit”, etc. These terms are NOT regulated by the FDA and mean absolutely nothing. Ironically, many if not most foods that do contain terms like this on packaging are full of junk that their manufacturers might be trying to distract you away from. Don’t fall for it!

read labels: and not just the calorie and fat content either. Make sure to check out the serving size and ingredients list. This is a good guide with a bit more detail, but in general, if the ingredients list contains unrecognizable food items and/or things that sound like they could fuel rocket ships, it’s probably not what you want to be putting in your body. And your body will thank you!

keep it simple: truly focusing on “whole” foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, low-fat dairy – means there is not a whole lot of room for the processed junk that the big corporations are trying so hard to persuade us to buy more of. A fantastic rule of thumb for most meals is to make half of your plate vegetables, 1/4 starch (so, a whole grain, bean, starchy vegetable) and 1/4 lean protein.


keep. it. simple

it’s also important to point out the other big picture here and look at how the original study in the ‘60s shaped the next couple of decades nutrition-wise. The low fat diet craze vilified any and all kinds of fat, and fat free, sugar laden products became extremely popular (I always think of those awful Snackwell’s cookies here). The incidence of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes also skyrocketed during those decades, and it doesn’t take much to realize the correlation. But, instead of getting on the bandwagon of “sugar is the devil,” let’s think about this a bit more. Vilifying a single nutrient is not going to get us anywhere (as evidenced by this whole story). The most important thing to focus on here are dietary PATTERNS. That is, all of the foods we eat, for a long time period. Changing dietary patterns – again, towards a more “whole” foods diet – is how we’re going to see actual change. Not so much swearing off every morsel of sugar (or whatever it may be) for the rest of life, or in my case, influencing others to do so.

so I guess this topic has gotten me a bit fired up, but I’ll stop for now. This is an important conversation to have, though, and one that I’ll continue here and in my practice regularly.


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