Until it happens to you: Rethinking the food industry’s role in people’s well-being

As I write this, the knowledge of my father’s recent diagnosis of diabetes lingers at the back of my head.

I have seen my own diabetic grandfather, my father’s father, suffer from amputated legs because of a foot infection that would not heal. I have seen my own diabetic grandmother, my mother’s mother, suffer from gastrointestinal cancer at the last stages of her life, fed through a tube because of her inability to digest anything any more (though this may be due to a whole host of factors apart from diabetes – but that’s besides the point).

Yes, there are genetic dispositions for contracting diabetes, but there is almost universal agreement that lifestyle factors often trump diabetic genes. “Bad” genes can be switched off by good lifestyle habits – a good diet, regular physical exercise, not smoking/drinking.

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Why I’m OK with MSG

Try typing “MSG” in Google search and here are some titles that will greet you:

“MSG Is This Silent Killer Lurking in Your Kitchen Cabinets”

“MSG is Dangerous — The Science Is In”

And this is quite a common perception among the common people. We all hear from our mothers, grandmothers, and the occasional health-conscious father about the dangers of MSG. And sometimes hearing these messages is enough to convince us that all MSG is bad and that it ought to be avoided at all costs.

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The myth of “nutritionally complete” food replacement: A critique of Soylent

Is it possible to completely replace food with meals condensed in pills? Science fiction during the early 20th century certainly hoped so. The meal-in-a-pill was seen as the food of the future – the food that would liberate women from kitchens, solve food shortages, and embody man’s triumph over the whims of nature.

Not too long ago, a similar idea was birthed in the form of Soylent, a powder mixture of known essential nutrients including carbohydrates, protein, fats, a vitamin and mineral mix, and food additives. By simply adding water to the powder mix, the resulting liquid concoction can be consumed.

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Portion Size Matters

yakult

Yakult is a probiotic cultured drink that originated from Japan. Probiotics are microorganisms that are believed to provide health benefits when consumed. Specifically, the supposed health benefits of Yakult is that it contains “good” bacteria that benefit the digestive system.

I’m not here to talk about the effects of drinking Yakult on the digestive system though.

Rather, I want to talk about portion size.

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On Nutrition Authority: Scientists vs Layman

Oh, the debates we have on what to eat.

I have followed the debate between Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and avid proponent of plant-based diets (or avid opponent of animal proteins if you prefer to be more antagonistic), and Denise Minger, English lit graduate who apparently spends five hours a day reading and writing about nutrition.

Long story short: Minger used to be an avid raw vegan and developed lots of health problems. She started to eat meat, felt better, and felt compelled to criticize Campbell’s research (which supposedly shows the dangers of animal protein, specifically casein). She even went through great lengths to study statistics in order to do her own statistical analyses of Campbell’s data so that she can show all the supposed flaws in his study. (See Dr. Campbell’s rebuttal to Minger’s criticism here.)

I admit that I didn’t pay close attention to all the arguments, because they’re all so long and tedious, and…

…the interesting part of the debate, in my opinion, is the scientist-layman war going on.

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Conflict of interest (Part 2): Arguments against industry funding

One of the most prominent critics of industry-funded food-related research is Marion Nestle, author of the book Food Politics and a blog with the same name. I was interested to find that Marion’s campaign against industry funding originated from her experiences with the industry during the early part of her career.

In this interview, Marion revealed that she used to serve as a Senior Nutrition Policy Advisor to the Office of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention for the US government, where her primary role was to edit the 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health. When asked what the experience was like, she recalled,

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Artificial sweeteners: Does eating sweet foods cause further sugar cravings?

diet soda

I have always thought it made sense that when people start to consume less sweet food/drinks, their preference for sweet foods/drinks also decreases. Or, their threshold for sweetness decreases (i.e. you need less sugar to perceive the same level of sweetness as before). These speculations were based on my utterly unscientific personal experience–I used to finish a whole roll of Double Stuff Oreos in one sitting, on top of drinking soda, but now I can’t stand the sweetness of Oreos and soda any more.

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Penalizing Food Companies

Just heard an interesting point of view by a prominent food and nutrition scientist in Asia (let’s call him Dr. X)

Dr. X argued that taxing food companies’ products that are high in sugar, fat, and salt may be misguided in the context of many countries in Asia, because this:

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The Demand-Supply (False) Dilemma: Should consumers or food companies take responsibility?

Confusing food environment

A man from FrieslandCampina once shared with me about the time he tried to introduce healthier options in the Asian market, specifically unsweetened fresh milk.

The Asian market is flooded with sugar-sweetened flavored milk. Having grown up with fresh unsweetened milk in Europe, he was pretty disgusted by the sickeningly sweet stuff that his company sold in Asia. He was also aware of the health implications of adding sugar to milk–an especially worrisome thing since it’s mostly consumed by kids. So he pushed for no-added sugar milk to be introduced into the Asian market. He recalled hoping to slowly phase out the sweetened milk brands.

Well, it was not that big a surprise that nobody bought these products.

So FrieslandCampina had no choice but to withdraw that from the market and let the sweetened versions remain.

The “dilemma”: Who is to blame?

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Do you need to avoid fructose?

dreamstime_xl_18752284

If you have been following the sugar saga, you would have undoubtedly come across this groundbreaking lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” by Robert H. Lustig and perhaps this article by Gary Taubes, “Is Sugar Toxic?”, from the New York Times.

If you haven’t, the short of it is this: Lustig argues that the obesity problem is not as simple as calories in, calories out. We get fat not because we eat too much calories and exercise too little, but because of the way sugar, specifically fructose, is metabolized (fancy scientific word for processed) by our bodies to produce:

  • uric acid that induces hypertension;  
  • triglycerides (fats) that induces liver insulin resistance and eventually obesity.

Because of its potential harm, Lustig describes fructose as a “poison”–a foreign substance metabolized only by the liver, generating various problematic (i.e. toxic) compounds in the body. (Here I point out that the liver is our body’s main detox organ, which is why Lustig highlights the fact that fructose is only metabolized by the liver).

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