Blog

Industrial Farming and Sustainability

The Guardian released an excellent article about the impact of industrial almond farming on bee populations.

The Role of Bees

In industrial farming, one crop grows acre after acre. All of those plants blossom at once. Because of this, there aren’t enough bees in the area to pollinate all of the plants at once, to compensate, other bees are brought in.

Check out the 99% Invisible episode on this topic.

Transporting bees all over the country puts them at risk for diseases. Almonds are the #1 pollination crop. They are in such a high demand that #2 pollination crop, apples, use 1/10 the number of bees required for almonds.

Consumer Impact

A lot of non-vegans like to take articles like the one from The Guardian and use them to put down veganism. The point here is not dairy vs. non-dairy or one diet vs. another. It is about becoming educated on these issues.

If your intention is to cause less harm, you can. The demand for almonds has been skyrocketing and there have been serious consequences as a result. We all love almonds but do we need almond milk, almond butter, almond flour, and roasted almonds?

If you want to reduce your harm, think about where your food is coming from and how it is produced:

  • Buy local and or organic if possible
  • Buy LESS — of everything
  • Consider your source
  • Do you need to have something delivered, is there a store you could walk or drive to?

I hate making people feel personally responsible for the current crisis our environment is in. But the fact is, almonds are an example of an industry that has been in high demand by consumers. We have seen how consumer demands have been able to shape our buying choices. There are now organic and gluten-free sections at most grocery stores. At my grocery store, the non-dairy milk section of the refrigerator case is three times as large as any other section. We, as consumers, DO have the power to shape our food system.

Why Socialized Healthcare is Good For Everyone

Some people call it a hand-out, others call it a human right. But when it comes down to it, what does it really mean for you?

Single-payer, Public Option, Obamacare, etc.

The democrats on the debate stage spend a great deal of time arguing over the differences between types of socialized healthcare (or universal healthcare). For the purpose of simplifying this discussion, I will not describe the nuances between the different types of universal healthcare. I will refer to them as a whole and assume that the new system of healthcare means more people (ideally, everyone) are covered.

More coverage = lower cost

The debate always seems to come down to “what will this cost me?”, candidates say their plan will be cheaper for everyone. But if these plans cover people who can’t afford to pay for anything, how could this possibly be true?

There are lots of reasons why this can be true, I am going to focus on one.

Emergency Rooms Become Primary Care

Under the current system of healthcare, hospitals do not turn away patients. As of 2019, there were 28.5 million uninsured Americans.1

When people are uninsured they still need healthcare at some point. This can be because of an accident or a chronic health condition. What happens is that these uninsured people rely on emergency room visits to get their healthcare.

There are a few problems with this. Emergency rooms are more expensive than primary care, they become crowded with patients, and without primary care, preventable diseases can develop into chronic conditions. Chronic conditions are more expensive than the preventative care that would be used to halt or slow their progression.

A typical experience goes something like this: John is uninsured, he steadily gains weight through his 20’s. He maintains two jobs, working over 50 hours a week, still unable to make ends meet. Neither of his jobs offers him health benefits. His health deteriorates. He develops prediabetes but is undiagnosed since he cannot afford to see a primary care doctor. Eventually, his prediabetes develops into full-blown diabetes. One day John goes into a diabetic coma, a complication of his diabetes, caused by dangerously high blood sugar. John goes to the emergency room. After treatment, he is unable to pay the bills he receives from the hospital, putting him further in debt. If John is lucky either he is close to turning 65 and will be able to qualify for medicare or he will become disabled as a complication of his diabetes and qualify for medicare that way.

This series of events is all too common. The result of it is that the hospital goes unpaid. In order to cover unpaid bills, the hospital has no choice but to raise prices.

Underinsured

In addition to the uninsured, as of 2018, there were 44 million underinsured people.2 Underinsured is defined as someone who pays 5-10% of their income in out of pocket costs in addition to paying for health insurance. More simply put, underinsured means their insurance won’t pay for much. People in these circumstances will also receive expensive medical bills for an emergency room visit. They also have high copays and high drug prices. Being underinsured has eerily similar consequences to not being insured at all.

Much like the uninsured, the underinsured may not seek treatment due to out of pocket costs. When forced to do so they are unable to pay high hospital bills. Again, the hospital goes unpaid.

What does this mean for you?

Here is why this all matters: as hospitals go unpaid they must charge paying patients more to cover their costs (not fair, I know), since paying patients have insurance it means insurance companies are charged more. As insurance companies are charged more they must raise their prices as well. This means more people are priced out of insurance and fewer people pay hospitals, the cycle continues.

This cycle would stop if everyone were insured.

Another positive is that everyone would be able to receive primary care. This would prevent abuse of the emergency room, making it less expensive (and less busy) for actual emergencies. It would also help to prevent some diseases from becoming chronic.

Primary care exists to make sure people are doing well and to guide them to the care they need. Without primary care, diseases worsen and care becomes more expensive. For the uninsured, this just adds to the cycle of increased cost.

The Number of Uninsured Keeps Rising

This is evidence of the cycle I explained above. In 2017 there were 25.6 million people uninsured, this increased to 27.5 million in 2018 and 28.5 million in 2019.

This rise in uninsured is happening despite the baby boomer population aging into medicare.

Halting this process halts the price increases and the increase in chronic diseases, it makes the system more efficient and better for everyone, and it creates a healthier population of Americans. Healthier Americans lead to a better economy.


Sources

  1. https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2019/demo/p60-267.html
  2. https://fortune.com/2019/02/07/americans-health-care-underinsured-rate/

Tis the Season to Stick to your Diet

Starbucks is yet again dazzling us with their seasonal holiday creations. But before you take a sip, how much extra sugar is packed into these?

A grande, or a 16-ounce, drink is used for each seasonal specialty below.

The Drinks

Toasted White Chocolate Mocha

4 pumps Toasted white chocolate mocha sauce

56 Grams of sugar

Peppermint Mocha

4 pumps peppermint, 4 pumps mocha

54 grams of sugar

Caramel Brulée Crème

4 pumps caramel brulée sauce

49 grams of sugar

Hot Chocolate

1 pump vanilla, 4 pumps mocha

43 grams of sugar

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

4 pumps toffee nut, 1 pump vanilla, 4 pumps mocha

65 grams of sugar

White Hot Chocolate

4 pumps white chocolate mocha

55 grams of sugar

Comparison

On average, one of these things has 54 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that men not exceed 37.5 grams (150 calories) of sugar and women not exceed 25 grams (100 calories) of sugar per day.

Sugar measured in grams can be abstract if you aren’t used to reading labels. For comparison, you could eat any of the following to get the same amount of sugar:

What you can do

Ideally, you shouldn’t order any of these. To limit sugar it is best to drink your coffee with no added sugar. If you can’t fathom doing that you can use a little bit of honey instead of granulated sugar.

If you don’t want to do that, you can slowly wean yourself off sugar in your coffee. At Starbucks, you can request the exact amount of pumps of flavoring you want. You can even order as little as a 1/2 of a pump. Slowly lowering the number of pumps you have in your drink is a (somewhat) painless way to wean off sugary coffee.

If you are the type of person who looks forward to Starbuck’s holiday drinks all year. I have a solution for you too. Ask for half as many pumps. It’s a little less glamorous. The first few times you’ll notice a taste difference but over time you’ll adapt, I promise!

There are enough tempting sweets during the holiday season. Avoiding drinking this many calories and this much sugar will help you to stick to your diet and prevent some holiday weight gain.

Should I Be Gluten-Free?

If you have to ask, the answer is most likely no.

Reasons to Be Gluten-Free

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease affects about 1% of the population. It is the number 1 reason to be gluten-free. Celiac Disease is characterized by:

  • diarrhea
  • bloating
  • gas
  • fatigue
  • unintended weight loss
  • iron-deficiency anemia
  • constipation
  • depression
  • rashes1

There are multiple causes for the above symptoms and if you are experiencing any of them, please see your doctor.

Celiac Disease is caused by an autoimmune response that happens upon ingesting gluten. After eliminating gluten from the diet symptoms should lessen and go away altogether. It is not uncommon in people with celiac disease to have multiple other food intolerances. For this reason, if symptoms persist, it is important to keep a food diary and log any symptoms you have after being gluten-free.

Celiac Disease causes damage to the small intestine, it does not matter how much gluten is ingested for this damage to occur. For this reason, it is important that anyone with celiac disease be strict about eliminating gluten from their diet.

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

You may never get a diagnosis of “Non-celiac gluten intolerance (NCGS)” as some doctors don’t find it to be a credible disease. The reason they feel this way is because people with NCGS will test negative for both celiac disease and a wheat allergy. Despite that, there is a growing body of evidence that it is, in fact, a real disease.2

Current common symptoms include:

  • mental fatigue, also known as “brain fog”
  • fatigue
  • gas, bloating, and abdominal pain
  • headache

If these symptoms subside by eliminating gluten from your diet then you are best off going gluten-free, diagnosis or not.

Reasons Not to Be Gluten-Free

Health

Going gluten-free outside of a medical need has become a growing trend. This seems to correlate with popular diets like the Atkins diet which focuses on reducing carbohydrate intake. But, going gluten-free does not mean “low-carb.” The problem is that many gluten-free products, while helpful to people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, are still high in carbohydrates. They have additives and fillers to help accurately replicate the properties of gluten. Simply replacing all gluten products with gluten-free substitutes does not create a healthier diet.

Wheat Allergy

If you have a wheat allergy, you don’t need to be gluten-free. Gluten is a protein that is present in wheat but it is also present in other grains like rye and barley. If your allergy is only to wheat you are safe to eat products like rye bread. However, this is dependent upon how sensitive you are to wheat exposure. A bread made with a different type of flour could very well still contain trace amounts of wheat.

Should I Eat Gluten-Free Substitutes?

Understandably, people with celiac disease have a gigantic gluten shaped hole in their hearts. While we can all understand this feeling, we can’t truly understand how maddening it can be to follow a strict gluten-free diet. For this reason, gluten-free products have been flooding the market. Gluten-free pasta, crackers, and bread have helped celiac patients to continue to enjoy some of their favorite foods. If eating the occasional gluten-free pasta helps you keep your sanity who am I to tell you to stop? However, I do caution you against relying upon these products.

Gluten-free substitutes often have unfavorable additives like xanthan gum which can cause digestive issues.3, 4

Gluten-free products are also made with alternative flours. It takes a whole lot of almonds to create almond flour and frankly, we don’t know what effect that has on our bodies.5, 6 Until these products are fully researched, it is best to avoid daily consumption.

Processed Carbohydrates

Processed carbohydrates cause weight gain. They are low in nutrients and fiber but great at raising your blood sugar. In America, processed carbohydrates have become a staple of the diet; they are often considered healthy, but their consumption should be very limited, ideally, eliminated.

What You Should Do

Limit processed carbs, whether they contain gluten-containing or not.

Even people who actively avoid processed carbohydrates splurge with some pasta or croissants every once in a while (it’s not just me right?). If you’re gluten-free, use that as a good reason to limit your processed carbohydrates intake. Processed carbs like pasta are treats just as much as a cookie or a cupcake is. Occasional treats in an otherwise healthy diet are ok but try not to eat them daily. Instead, learn how to create a diet that is both healthy and enjoyable while avoiding gluten (if you have to) and limiting processed carb consumption.


Sources:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/celiac-disease-symptoms
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/allergies/gluten-allergy-symptoms
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320272.php
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/xanthan-gum
  5. https://empoweredsustenance.com/avoid-almond-flour/
  6. https://www.thepaleomom.com/pros-cons-almond-flour-rebuttal-5-reasons-avoid-almond-flour/

The State of Nutrition Education

The Sugar Industry Paid Scientists to Blame Fat — and nutrition educators aren’t talking about it

In 2016, NPR reported that the sugar industry paid scientists to blame saturated fat for health problems. Despite this report, while getting my master’s degree in nutrition (beginning in the fall of 2018) I have heard my professors warn students of the ill effects of saturated fat.

In class, not a single one of them has questioned it. This is despite the existence of many other articles like the one from NPR (which sites a JAMA article), along with books, doctors, and dietitians exclaiming the need to reexamine these ideas.

I have been belittled by professors for pointing to the many studies that have come out which refute evidence that saturated fat is the cause of heart disease.

I heard a professor recommend that if a patient won’t limit their intake of junk food, just tell them to exercise more. Exercising more will not solve the American obesity crisis; this is an actual recommendation from a doctor of clinical nutrition.

A refusal to examine conflicting evidence

Processed foods make up to 60% of the diet of the average American. Instead of pushing patients towards whole foods, dietitians are told to redirect patients to the newest scientific innovations like fake meat, low-fat guacamole or to simply exercise more.

I have never once heard a professor mention a need to limit refined sugar intake. In fact, I have heard them mock popular diets which aim to limit carbs including limiting or eliminating refined sugar. However, when comparing low-carb diets to low-fat diets, low-carb diets come out on top again and again.

Meanwhile, vegan and vegetarian diets, which can create deficiencies, are put on a pedestal for their low saturated fat content.

Current nutrition education has created an atmosphere that limits the ability of students, reserachers, facility, and healthcare providers to look at new science and question old beliefs — the very bedrock of scientific discovery.

The 2015 dietary guidelines eliminated the recommendation to limit cholesterol consumption. They also removed previous restrictions on total fat, and set limits on refined sugar intake. Yet, in the winter of 2019, I was told there is, in fact, a need to limit dietary cholesterol. The dietary guidelines (which sure, could be better) were ignored.

I often feel I am wasting my time and money. I am professed ideas that I know are out of date and just plain wrong. At the very least I would expect a professor to respect my opinions and research instead of dismissing me.

An “Evidence-Based” Field

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics demands that nutrition be an “evidence-based” practice. This means, using the best available current research to back up claims. For example, fad diets would not be something a dietitian could recommend without scientific studies to prove the benefits of such diets.

This is a good thing, dietitians must be informed and make recommendations that are backed up by science.

Since this is an evidence-based practice, I recently provided a professor with evidence to support one of my recommendations. Despite providing evidence, my professor said my claims were not evidence-based. I offered to provide her with additional research, but I was told I was wrong. She did not want to see any other studies.

What does evidence-based mean if you’re willfully ignoring evidence that goes against your views? Worse, industry lobbyists are actively suppressing evidence to change dietary recommendations.

I knew that she would never side with me, or allow me to give a patient recommendations she didn’t believe in without lowering my grade, even though I had backed up my claims with evidence. So it seems, in the nutrition world, evidence-based only refers to things the entire community has already agreed upon.

There is no room for growth. There is no room for change. There is no room for new ideas.

When I sit through a class and am told things I know to be false — or simply old science — I get jealous of my husband. His time in law school was so transformative for him. He grew so much as a person and learned how to think like a lawyer. I’ve learned a lot in my program but most of the time it seems to be a necessary evil I must endure.

I cannot become a dietitian without completing this program and after this I must complete rotations in hospitals that still limit saturated fat and allow cardiac patients to consume sugar directly after surgery.

Hospital food is of such low quality it is a cliche. Yet, as a dietitian in a hospital, this is the food I am in charge of. This is the food I must give patients in an attempt to nourish them back to health. I will give dietary recommendations that I do not believe in and know to be false, or risk not being licensed.

This is embarrassing, to say the least.

There is some hope

Before entering my master’s program I got interested in nutrition through books, podcasts, and documentaries. Through the information, I’ve devoured the last 6 years I found a subsect of the nutrition community that upholds new science and desperately wants the field to progress.

When I obtain my credentials I will join the ranks of the other naysayers out there that I admire so much. I am grateful to have found nutrition in the way that I did, had I not learned so much prior to beginning my master’s program I would be just another cog in the machine.

I sincerely hope that I can create change in this profession and in the world. We are in desperate need of an overhaul of the American diet and the way we view nutrition. Making the same recommendations we’ve made since the ’70s is not going to cut it. I hope we can reshape and reclaim this profession before it’s too late.

You Got This

girl eating frozen yogurt

Decreased Mineral and Vitamin Consumption

“Problems as common as dry skin, easy bruising, frequent runny noses, yeast infections, and crampy digestive systems are all exacerbated by, if not due entirely to, inadequate nutrition.” 1

“Percent of Americans aged 100 in 1830: .02

Percent of Americans aged 100 in 1990: .015

Percentage of Americans living today expected to live to 100: .001” 1

“For vitamin A, only 46.7% of healthy females meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), levels are low in 87% of children with asthma. For vitamin D, 55% of obese children, 76% of minority children, and 36% of otherwise healthy, young adults are deficient. For vitamin E, 58% of toddlers between one and two years old, 91% of preschoolers, and 72.3% of healthy females do not consume enough. Zero percent of breastfed infants were found to have achieved the minimum recommended intake of vitamin K. For b vitamins, only 54.7% consumed adequate B2, for folate, only 2.2% of women between the ages 18 and 35 and 5.2% of women aged 36-50 achieved the recommended intake, and for calcium, fewer than 22% of African-American adolescent girls consumed the RDA.

Not one study shows 100% adequacy of any single nutrient. Presumably, the vast majority of Americans are deficient in multiple nutrients.” 1

Increased Disease Prevalence

Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke, these diseases are, for the most part, preventable. Yet, despite our advances in medicine, rates keep climbing and now it is becoming more common for young people to die from these diseases,2 why? Highly processed foods have become more prevalent, accessible, and normalized. Foods our parents and grandparents didn’t have access to until later in life are now what we are giving to young children. To put it more bluntly, 30 years of Doritos will kill you no matter what age you start eating them at.

At the same time, these processed foods that are virtually devoid of nutrients have displaced nutrient-dense foods. Cooking is less common, people work longer hours, a healthful lifestyle has become elitist, and the cost of healthcare is set to reach $6 trillion by 2027.

I don’t think it’s dramatic to say that this is an absolute crisis. But we can still change it.

Positive Change

Healthful food can be cheaper pound for pound than processed or fast foods.3, 4 Not to mention, the cost of hospitalization, prescription drugs, and lost earnings due to sickness or early death massively outweighs the cost of healthful foods.

Running or walking is free. YouTube has excellent free exercise and cooking videos. Pinterest and Instagram have exercise routines, meal plans, and recipes. Meal kits are available in just about every eating pattern. If you want to change your life, and the lives of people around you set a reasonable goal and steps to how you can achieve it. Pick a date and make a plan.

You got this ✌🏻

References

  1. Deep Nutrition by Dr. Cate
  2. Heart attacks are becoming more common in younger people, especially women
  3. Is Grass-Fed Beef Elitist? These 10 Foods are More Expensive and Less Nutritious Than Grass-Fed Beef
  4. $20 Food Showdown: Fast Food vs. Healthy Food

Chile Lime Dressing

I started making dressing at home to avoid industrial seed oils. This time, I wanted to mimic Annie’s Chile Lime Vinaigrette. On Annie’s website, they list the ingredients for this dressing. There’s some sugar, xantham gum, and canola oil, all things I try to avoid. On my first attempt at making this dressing I looked at the ingredients and tried to copy the recipe. It was an epic failure.

I didn’t try again for a while. Then one day I came across this recipe, The Crunch Lover’s Salad. The salad looks delicious but I haven’t made it, I have made the dressing and it’s perfect.

The ingredients are as follows:

  • 6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 clove garlic optional

Combine all ingredients and shake em up!