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Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Dreaded Fifth Food Group

The government came up with a food pyramid illustrating things you should get out of your diet and a reasonable proportion to represent each as a "step" or "building block" of this pyramid. It was a well thought out derivation of what the human body needs to survive based upon our omnivorous nature. It was pretty reliable source until the advent of "fast food" and overly processed pre-packaged meals became available.

These handsome delectible devils first arrived in the form of frozen TV dinners, pre-cooked lasagna, pot pies, etc. They were touted as the "futuristic" savior of the busy American family and the "modern" housewives' best friend. Many companies adopted and turned these frozen miracles into big bucks.

Later came pioneers of the "fast food" nation offering fast cheap alternatives to cooking at home. You could take the family out for an intimate meal in the car or you could pick up a fast meal to take home. Soon these drive-ins changed the face of America's youth. Not only were drive-ins a popular teenage hangout but everyone could afford a little slice of the new "Americana."

It didn't stop there. Other companies came up with variations of "fast food" that went from easy dips to meals in a box (just add the meat) to the lowly instant no-bake cheesecake. Cheap, easy and fast became the new American way of dining. From that point on new problems reared their ugly heads.

Have you ever stopped to read the contents of that prepackaged miracle you fed your kids? Many of the "ingredients" are practically unpronounceable preservatives or salt additives, colors, and flavors. There are thickening agents and antimicrobials that you would not normally eat if you knew what they were, let alone feed them to your kids.

We are the fattest nation on earth. With a staggering obesity rate of 80% of our entire population it makes one wonder where we find any skinny people to be celebrities. No wonder many of our popular actors come from other countries. Who could fit in those size 0 dresses? Definitely not us.

We in the medical community are all to intimate with the complications of obesity and improper nutrition (or malnutrition but the common person on the street believes malnutrition to only be a disease of the anorexic). High blood pressure, type II diabetes, coronary artery disease, and increased risks associated with many types cancer, osteoporosis, respiratory diseases, and arthritic complicatons are topping lists for common causes of morbidity and mortality.

"Common" is a word that should not be associated with ANY of these disease states. The medical community, the government, and even special interest groups are spreading the word that in many cases all of these things can be prevented, treated, or even REVERSED with proper diet and moderate exercise.

A good example, although extreme, is the show "The Biggest Loser." It takes a group of obese to morbidly obese men and women and teaches them how to make better food choices, reasonably estimate fat and calorie content, control portion size, and set exercise goals including tips on how to work exercise into a busy day even if that activity does not necessarily seem like exercise. All of the people are seen by a physician that reviews their medical history, takes their current full physical (including a lipid panel, blood sugar reading, and HbA1c) and discusses goals and health risks associated with their current status and family history. They are broken into teams that each get a personal trainer to act as a mentor and motivator for each days workout or challenge. Sure the ultimate goal is to win the money at the end of the show but it also shows America that it can be done through follow up with contestants who were voted off the show. They even check up on former winners and contestants years after the show to see how they maintain their health.

I am just taking a drawn out long way of saying it can be done. We need to motivate people with taking charge of their health with lower insurance premiums for non-obese patients, mandatory yearly physicals for every person in the nation (it could be used as mandatory to get welfare assistance--I will get into a welfare rant later, school entrance--it is a mandatory free government service to the public and their physical ed requirements need to be revamped, and a federal tax break for healthy families that are no more than 20 pounds over their ideal body weight. Yes, I know there are downsides to all of these suggestions but it is surely a step in the right direction to use government programs to educate and motivate people to take care of themselves.

Medication is not the way. It is like putting a band-aid over arterial spray. It may stop a little bleeding but the patient dies from it anyway. I am suggesting the creation of a fifth food group, the "danger" food group or "impending doom" food group. It should have a symbol like Mr. Yuckmouth to let the public know that it is not the best healthy alternative for nutrition. There would need to be regulations for the warnings. My suggestions are:

1. anything with greater than 35mg of salt per serving size
2. anything with added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or similar sweeteners
3. anything prepared with more added fat than a pat of whole butter
4. anything that has added man-made chemical color
5. anything that has added man-made chemical flavor
6. anything that has added man-made chemical preservatives

I am not saying we should all be eating completely organic or that food preservatives are causing cancer (or am I, cancer rates, mainly upper and lower digestive tracts, are steadily on the rise). I am saying that our packaged food and fast food industries are selling our health down the river in the name of profit. YOU need to take care in food selection and preparation. YOU need to make healthy choices for yourself and your family. YOU need to live happier, healthier, and longer! So don't forget to tell your patients!


Anonymous said...

What I found most shocking was the "hot lunch program" at our local elementary schools. The same schools that voted out pop machines because sugary pop was not healthy. The choices that these kids have (and their parents sign off on!) are all from fast food places. Like Macdonald's double cheeseburger. Keep in mind that this is for elementary students. What ADULT needs a double cheeseburger??? Never mind a nine year old???? The mind boggles.

LSUfan247 said...

I have never understood why it is so hard for most people to maintain a healthy weight.

My wife is staring down the big 4-0 and has had 3 kids yet she weighs all of about 100 lbs.

My active, sports-loving teen daughters eat well but they are the scrawny ones among their groups of friends.

I'm probably the fattest one of the family (with a little bit more around the middle since I hit my 40s --- I blame the Internet...lol) and I'm still about 30 pounds away from being classified as overweight, much less obese.

Each of our kids is involved in at least one organized sport, spends a lot of time outside, and accompanies the family on hikes, swims, & group sports like volleyball and doubles tennis. They say they feel "gross" if they don't go for a run a few times a week.

Sure, we're guilty of the occasional fast food run, but we also emphasize eating fresh fruits instead of artificially flavored "fruity snax" and skinless chicken instead of the fried pieces-parts-fused-together that McD calls food.

But to me, it all comes back to being active. I simply cannot understand how sitting in front of a tv or game system is more fun than actually going out and DOING those things.


thomlynn said...

People don't realize that the Standard American Diet or S.A.D. is made up of the worst eating guidelines ever. Yes, we should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables, but more than that we should avoid margarine, soy of any kind, pasteurized, homogenized, milks. You should eat butter, eggs, fatty meats, and raw or at least non-homogenized milk. Saturated fat and cholesterol are good for and have been for thousands of years. IT IS MODERN PROCESSED FOODS THAT ARE KILLING US!!!

Here are some links to explain what I'm talking about:



Lola Cherry Cola said...

Over here in Britain some of the supermarkets like Sainsbury's are introducing a traffic light system for food. They have sections of a circle where one will relate to salt, another to saturated fat and so on, they then colour code each section according to how healthy/unhealthy it is. For example green is good, you can eats lots of this, amber is ok in moderation and red is a treat only, not to be eaten on a regular basis. I find it good because it does spell out to people what is good and what isnt. And its on the front of the packaging so you dont have to go looking for it.

Laurie Anderson, RNP said...

If you haven't already seen it, check out the book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michel Pollan. It is an eye-opener about how much we have been manipulated by the food industry to eat more and more processed food. It reminds me of the manipulation of tobacco to keep people smoking. Scary stuff!

Not a Kool-aid mom said...

Fast Food Pharmacist--your talents are being wasted behind that counter. I've read several of you posts regarding nutrition and couldn't agree with you more. You should compile your expertise into a book.

Anonymous mentions the dreaded school cafeteria...one of my pet peeves. Every once in a while, I drop by the elementary school to have lunch with my first grader. 95% of the time (his choice), he brings his lunch to school. By the way,"lunchables"--the pre-boxed baloney/crackers, pudding and juice box montage marketed to kids during saturday morning cartoons, don't count as a home made lunch.

Anyway, having eaten there several times, here are some observations:

The cafeteria provides several choices for the main entree. It's usually something high in fat and salt (pizza, corn dog, burrito, fried chicken or chicken nuggets). Bless their hearts, they also provide a salad bar, baby carrots, fruit (not necessarily fresh) and milk (plain and chocolate). Dessert is a cookie or ice cream.

Most of the kids eat the entree. Nobody, and I mean nobody touches the salad bar. I see the occasional kid take a few baby carrots. The fruit goes onto the plate sometimes, but is thrown into the trash uneaten. The kids usually choose the chocolate milk. So, despite the good intentions of the lovely school district nutritional department, here is the typical elementary kids lunch...pizza (or other greasy salty piece of crap), chocolate milk and a cookie. Then they go home and fall into a TV coma with a bag of chips and a coke. No wonder we have 3rd graders with guts just as big or bigger than their middle aged fathers.

It just pisses me off to no end to see obese elementary school kids. When I was a kid, we had maybe one or two in the entire school. Now I'd venture to say that nearly half of all kids are obese or overweight. Scary.

Anne said...

Bravo! I agree completely! And maybe going organic (or local, or vegetarian) wouldn't be such a bad thing...
I work in a hospital, and in the cafeteria it costs me upwards of four bucks to get soup, a salad and fruit...meanwhile, the fries are 85 cents and the cheeseburgers are a buck fifty. In a hospital. What the hell? The only thing I can guess is that they're drumming up business for the cardiac care unit...

Anonymous said...

Alotta years ago "the Simpsons" had a episode that featured an expanded food-group pyramid. The memory of these additions still bring a chuckle: the "whipped" and the "congealed" groups.

Ahhh, the ol' days.