4 Questions

In The New York Times’ November 22, 2015 Sunday Review, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, an oncologist and vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote an opinion piece, “Are Good Doctors Bad for Your Health?” In it, he discusses a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine analysis of 10 years of data: “It found that patients with acute, life-threatening cardiac conditions did better when the senior cardiologists were out of town.”   Dr. Emanuel points out there are no explanations for this fact.

Toward the end of his piece, Dr. Emanuel offers good advice; he says there are four questions patients should ask whenever their doctors are proposing an intervention (“whether an X-ray, genetic test, or surgery”). The four questions are:

  1. “What difference will it make? Will the test results change our approach to treatment?”
  2. “How much improvement in terms of prolongation of life, reduction in risk of a heart attack or other problem is the treatment actually going to make?”
  3. “How likely and severe are the side effects?”
  4. “Is the hospital a teaching hospital?” The reason for this, “The JAMA Internal Medicine study found that mortality was higher overall at nonteaching hospitals.”

Given the time constraints placed on medical professionals today, we need to be our own health advocates. It’s our health—the clock be damned. Don’t be shy about asking questions, and if necessary, ask for clarification and ask again. Get all the available information before making a decision, and if necessary, ask for a second opinion.

Something’s Fishy

In two previous posts, September 21, GMOS & GE—“Different Names, Same Process” and October 12, “The Right To Choose,” I discuss genetically-engineered food. In the latter post, I state: “I want to know how my food was grown as well as the food sources. I believe Congress does not have the right, under the influence of agribusinesses or anyone else, to eliminate my right of choice. Once again, what are these companies trying to hide?”

Now I must address the same remarks to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Last Thursday, they approved genetically-engineered salmon for human consumption, and they said the salmon wouldn’t have to carry a label specifying it as genetically modified. Why? The law for labeling only applies to the “material” aspects of food, and guess what, under the current guidelines, genetic engineering isn’t a substance.

Since these salmon would be raised in a production facility in Panama, I have some thoughts on various aspects of these genetically-engineered fish. In no set order:

  • Farm-raised fish have a different omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio than wild fish have—for farm-raised the ratio shifts to a higher omega 6 (inflammatory) content over a omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) content. Thus, eating farm-raised fish greatly reduce the omega 3 health benefits of eating fish. In addition, American diets are already too high in omega 6 fats.
  • What type of testing was performed to deem these salmon safe for us to eat? What are the potential long-term ramifications (I’m talking years) of eating such fish? As I have previously asked, “Do you want to be the experiment?” Please note, it will be at least two years before these fish become available.
  • Since these fish are being raised in Panama, are the safety standards less stringent or more stringent than those in the United States?
  • Since they will be farmed-raised, what type of feed will they be fed? Chances are the cheaper, the better for profits. Again, what safety standards would be used for the feed?
  • Since these salmon will be raised in tanks, antibiotics and other drugs will probably be used to fight infections/parasites.  Thus, you would be eating tainted food.
  • Also, think of these tanks as being similar to the farming methods used in the commercial livestock industry. Not a pretty picture.
  • Even though these tanks will be inland and the fish sterilized (the technique isn’t 100% effective), can the company absolutely guarantee a fish won’t escape and negatively impact wild salmon?

In connection with my above thoughts, I have an update regarding my September 21 post on the H.R. 1599 bill: “What you might not be aware of is the House of Representatives passed “The Safe and Accurate Food labeling Act” (H.R. 1599) in July of this year that would, among other things, ban states from passing laws requiring the labeling of GMO foods. Interestingly, this act has been referred to by opponents of the legislation as the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act (DARK Act).”

This bill still has not been introduced in the Senate. But Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan would like to see the legislation passed by the Senate by the end of the year.

If you’re not pleased with the above developments, please speak up and demand your right to know.  Thank you.

Change Is Happening

In previous posts, I talk about taking charge of your food choices by letting the food corporations know your vote by what you put in your shopping cart. We may question if we truly have any power—we do! Remember, David defeated Goliath.

Because of consumer demand for healthier options, the following are some of the positive changes currently happening:

  • General Mills is eliminating all artificial flavors and colors from their cereals.
  • Since 2000, packaged cereals sales are down 25%.
  • Kraft is removing artificial dyes from its macaroni and cheese.
  • Poultry companies (Perdue, Tyson, & Foster Farms) are limiting the use of antibiotics.
  • Since 1998, soda sales are down 25%—usually being replaced by water.
  • McDonald’s sales have been steady decreasing.
  • Forty-two percent of consumers, age 20-37, don’t trust food companies.
  • Campbell’s new version of its chicken noodle soup contains 20 ingredients, down from 30.
  • Connecting with the above, most soup sales are stagnant, but organic soups sales are on the rise.

The above information comes from articles in The New York Times—Hans Taparia and Pamela Koch’s opinion piece, “A Seismic Shift in How People Eat” and Stephanie Strom’s business article, “Campbell Rethinks Its Soup Recipe as Consumer Tastes Change.

I can offer commentary on some of the above points, but today I’m focusing on the fact we are making a difference. Yes, I wish it was happening faster—I still celebrate the progress being made in the right direction. Let the work continue.

Avoid, If At All Possible

On October 5 of this year, Jim Murphy, president of General Mills cereal business, announced the recall of boxes of gluten-free Cheerios™ and Honey Nut Cheerios™ on the company’s blog: “. . . this recall is necessary because an undeclared allergen—wheat—with potential adverse health effects may be present in cereals we produced on several dates in Lodi [CA], in July.” According to the company, wheat flour was inadvertently added to their “gluten-free oat flour system.” General Mills called this a “human error.”

Murphy also stated: “We have long said we would address any issue if we ever found we were making cereal that wasn’t meeting our gluten-free standard—and today that became necessary.” He goes on: “We are testing all finished products. We’ve also instituted additional flour-handling protocols at all facilities to ensure this will never happen again.”

Interestingly, he doesn’t say if this inspection process was in place prior to the contamination in July or put into place after it occurred? If it was in place prior to the incident, wouldn’t the error have been detected? Could this incident actually be the result of a procedural error?

Knowing people with celiac disease this error is a serious one, because precautions against cross contamination are critical to protect the health of such individuals—I know someone with celiac who has a four-slice toaster in their kitchen; the two right slots are only used for gluten-free bread.

Most people think a gluten reaction only affects the digestive tract; think again. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists, and some symptoms of this condition are: joint pain, foggy thinking, headaches, and numbness in arms, legs, fingers. Are you currently experiencing any of these issues? Do you ever think you might have gluten sensitivity?

I have no idea of the design and setup of the General Mills gluten-free facilities. I know the government has strict standards for gluten free—less than 20 parts per million (ppm) in foods that carry the gluten-free label. Some questions: What was wheat flour doing at a gluten-free facility especially given government standards and the risk of cross contamination? Was the wheat flour clearly marked? How distinctive is its packaging from the one for gluten-free oat flour?

A lawsuit now exists in California over this General Food error for “deceptive, unfair, and false advertising and merchandising practices.” This will be an interesting case to follow.

How can we protect ourselves? The only safe way I see, if at all possible, is to avoid packaged/processed food and eat only whole, fresh foods (no labels required). Extreme? We each have to decide the risks we’re willing to take regarding our food sources.

Not By Taste Alone

I use a variety of approaches when I work with clients. One of them focuses on my clients’ thoughts/beliefs surrounding food and examining such areas as who they are as eaters, feelings that trigger eating, one’s fullness mindset as well as how their perceptions of food affect their lives and their weight. Through such inquiries, one realizes the concept of willpower goes out the window.

An intriguing article in the November 2 issue of The New Yorker, Nicola Twilley’s “Accounting For Taste,” expanded my thoughts about how we perceive food. She writes about Charles Spence’s (a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University) research—“. . . Spence said, consumers are constantly, if unwittingly, proving his point that taste can be altered through color, shape, or sound alone.” Please read the piece when you have a chance.

Some Spence’s findings:

  • “Strawberry-flavored mousse tastes ten percent sweeter when served from a white container rather than a black one.”
  • Coffee tastes nearly twice as intense but only two-thirds as sweet when it’s drunk from a white mug rather than a clear glass one.”
  • Adding two and half ounces to the weight of a plastic yogurt container makes the yogurt seem about twenty-five percent more filling.”
  • “. . . curve shapes can enhance sweetness . . . cheesecake tasted twenty percent sweeter when it was eaten from a round white plate rather than a square one.”
  • “. . . participants perceived salty popcorn as tasting sweet when served in a red bowl.”
  • Soup presented in a blue container can make food seem “significantly saltier.”

And you thought you could rely on just your taste buds.

Yes, food companies are in contact with him—“Spence estimates that seventy-five percent of his work is industry-funded.” Spence’s above comment about altering taste through color, shape, or sound connects to how food corporations manipulate our taste buds through their manipulation of the sugar, salt, and fat contents in their processed foods. It’s all about profits and to keep us coming back for more and more and more . . . .

Please note, Spence also wants his research to be used in beneficial ways. For example, he is working with a children’s cancer center to tweak the eating environment to counter the metallic taste of food and nausea which are common chemotherapy side effects.

The grocery store has become a minefield. How do we maneuver our way through it? One way is to avoid as much processed, packaged food as we can and to eat quality organic, whole foods whenever possible. Another way it is educate ourselves about how food corporations are manipulating us. As I mentioned in my posts about the The Clean Fifteen™ (6/8/15)) list or The Dirty Dozen™ (6/4/15) list, we need to think twice about what we place in our grocery carts.