Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nutrition Facts vs. Ingredient Lists

Governor David Patterson of New York recently announced his proposed Executive Budget. Among many cost-cutting measures, there is a planned tax on non-diet soft drinks.

According to the Briefing Book for the 2009-2010 Executive Budget:
"The Executive Budget proposes an additional 18 percent sales tax on certain high caloric, low nutritional beverages like non-dietetic soft drinks and sodas. Expansion to other high caloric and low nutritional beverages can be considered. Almost one in four New Yorkers under age 18 are obese. Significant price increases should discourage individuals, especially children and teenagers, from consumption and help fight obesity which results in higher risk for diabetes and heart disease. (2009-10 Savings: $404 million; 2010-11 Savings: $539 million)"
Many, including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, think the proposed tax is a great idea. In a column last week, Kristof wrote, “. . . the new soda tax proposed by Gov. David Paterson of New York is such a breakthrough.”

I think it’s a st
art, not a breakthrough; I can’t fathom why diet soft drinks aren’t covered by the tax. This omission, though, coincides perfectly with our society’s infatuation with the nutrition facts--rather than the ingredient lists--on food labels.

Mind you, soda is a poor example since it is unhealthy no matter what form it comes in, but should Governor Patterson be condoning the consumption of aspartame, an artificial sweetener that has been linked to a myriad of serious diseases, including cancer? Aspartame is what makes diet sodas “diet.” But is saving a couple calories really w
orth the risk?

It see
ms our society is overzealous about the amount of fat, calories and cholesterol we consume. We focus on the nutrition facts, zeroing in on the numbers found next to the above three line items. Yet, in our pursuit of nothingness, what damage are we doing to our health by ingesting synthetic, man-made substances of nefarious provenance?

Look at the ingredient lists for some of these “light” and “diet” and ”reduced fat” foodstuffs. Does anyone have a biochemistry degree? What exactly are the corn syrup solids, soy protein, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, and polyglycerol esters of fatty acids that save us a gram of saturated fat here or there? Should we be so willing to barter minimal amounts of fat for additives we have to Google to find out what they are?

If real fat (
not Ring Ding or Dorito fat) was so bad for us, wouldn’t avocadoes, wild salmon, olive oil and nuts have been subject to some sort of government tax since the Roman Empire?

Governor Patterson, do the health care system and the state a favor--tax 98% of the items in the supermarket that come in a box, plastic package or can. That would be a breakthrough.

1 comment:

David Brown said...

Hi Rob,

I see you've been reading some excellent nutrition literature.

Politicians, it seems, are rarely if ever interested in nutritional issues so they are not likely to be familiar with what you've been reading. Not motivated to acquire the knowledge base required to understand nutritional controversies, they use prevailing scientific opinion as a starting point for formulating public policy. This setup, as you know, has had disastrous consequences for the public health.

I've been studying nutritional controversies for more than 30 years. In the first decade of my investigations, I found it disturbing that so few researchers and health professionals ever thought to question prevailing dogmas regarding sugars, saturated fats, omega-6 vegetable oils, and cholesterol. Biochemist, teacher, and author Ross Hume Hall, PhD remarked about this in the Preface to his excellent book "Food for Nought" published in 1973. Here's the opening paragraph:

"Nourishment of the American populace has undergone a startling transformation since World War II. A highly individual system of growing and marketing food has been transformed into a gigantic, highly integrated service system in which the object is not to nourish or even feed, but to force an ever-increasing consumption of fabricated products. This phenomenon is not peculiar to the American scene and occurs in every industrialized country. The United States, however, has progressed furthest in the transformation. Man can never be more than what he eats (good observation), and one would expect that a phenomenon with such profound effects on health and well-being as a radically changed system of supplying nourishment would be thoroughly documented and assessed by the scientific community. Such is not the case. The transformation has gone unmarked by government agencies and learned bodies. Government agencies, recipients of the public trust charged with protecting and improving the public's food, operate as if the technology of food fabrication rested in pre-World War II days. Scientific bodies, supported by public funds and charged with assessing and improving the public's health, ignore completely the results of contemporary methods of producing and marketing food."

It's a wonder that no prominent authority in public health, over the past 40 years, ever questioned the low-fat dogma or noticed the sugar-obesity/chronic disease connection.

My sentiment, where the public health is concerned, is that politicians need all the help they can get. They need to be exposed to the truths that you and I have become familiar with.

I've begun to try to do this with Montana state lawmakers, our governor's chief policy adviser, and Montana's congressional delegation in Washington, DC. It's too early to determine the effectiveness of my educational efforts. It make take several years for concern about the quality of the food supply to find it's way into political dialogue.

Regarding public health proposals, a major impediment to intelligent political discussion is the misinformation contained in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A 13-member Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee was selected earlier this year to review current Guidelines and recommend changes based on the latest scientific findings. Hopefully, this group will correct the four major mistakes that have persisted for three decades. I'd like to see them recognize saturated fats as heart healthy, warn the public about excessive sugar (especially fructose) intake, recommend that polyunsaturated omega-6 fats be replaced by healthy fats such as butter, lard, beef tallow, and coconut and palm kernel oils, and admit that high cholesterol is not a health hazard.

If you can find the time, Ron, you might contact your governor's policy advisers and try to help them understand these issues.

David Brown
Nutrition Education Project