Archive for September, 2008

You Decide: Is Junk Food GOOD for Children?

Do you believe the news media presents “fear-mongering” tactics in order to get a message across? If so, what types of messages do we believe about health for ourselves? Our children? In our efforts to improve the school lunch programs in this country, we firmly believe processed and junk foods have no place in school, let alone other environments. Why? There are many reasons.

Many “food” products claiming to be healthy are marketed to children. Children don’t perform as well mentally or physically when they consume garbage. Although this 2005 article in the U.K.’s Telegraph reports that children perform better during exams if they eat junk food, opposing research and common sense assume undeniable authority. In July 2008 Web M.D. released a survey with information listing childhood obesity as the #1 health problem in our culture. In April 2008, a CBS report shows how junk food ads on television, directed at children during Saturday morning watching hours, are having a negative effect on children’s beliefs about food and eating habits. A FOX news story reveals how children who eat junk food are slower learners. Common Sense discusses how junk food manufacturers are competing to be the forerunners in sales by using marketing tactics like supporting “green endeavors”, building playgrounds, or creating “healthier, low-fat” junk food selections targeted toward children. In other words, they are using marketing strategies such as replacing sugar with ingredients like Stevia to make consumers believe their products are now healthy to consume.

So what is considered junk food? One individual claims that the term ‘junk food’ is subjective. It is certainly true that depending on who you ask, one person’s junk is another person’s health food. But does that mean if someone says something isn’t junk food that it’s true? Sandy Szwarc, BSN, RN, CCP maintains a web site called Junkfood Science, and believes there exists a type of a “junkfood hoax”  where news and media present skewed information to the public about junk food being unhealthy to consume. For example, this article titled Weekend food for thought: mythology of health food and junk food tells us that the body doesn’t distinguish between the protein in a sirloin steak with fancy-cut potatoes and a hamburger and fries, or a prosciutto-filled panini and ham on white bread – that it’s basically all the same.

The distinction that must be made of course, is 1) the ingredients used to make these foods and 2) the preparation methods used. I think it goes without saying that anything which is not a whole food is unhealthy to consume, no matter who proclaims it to be a ‘gourmet’ selection or not. Although natural and organic foods are generally priced higher, just because a food is more expensive does not make it a healthy food.  If we don’t ask the following questions we are not really getting to the heart of the issues, such as: what is the origin of the meat? Is the meat organically-grown and pasture-raised, or is it factory farmed? Is the food being injected with unhealthy vegetable oils and deep fried, or is it broiled, seasoned, and topped with a healthy fat like grapeseed oil or organic butter? Unfortunately, these important points are continually muddled by corporations, political agendas, and government entities who capitalize on poor lifestyle habits of consumers by playing on their fears with emotional tactics and persuasive marketing strategies designed to make more profits and make people unhealthier. These are the critical questions that must be asked, and often are completely overlooked.

Ms. Szwarc claims, “In sorting out what ‘junk food’ and ‘health food’ mean, we find that there are no definitions in nutritional science because such ideas are largely political and social constructs. Contemporary, feel-good ideas, rather than rational science. Our bodies are smarter than we are and they really don’t care where they get the nutrients they need. They will break down foods, regardless of their source, to their same basic nutritional elements. Elemental sugars from table sugar or all-natural honey or fruits, for example, are the same thing.”

Basically what is being said is that it doesn’t matter where you get your vitamins and nutrients from, synthetically produced and artificially added back in or not; if you eat a piece of chocolate cake, you are consuming something healthy because the cake is made from “grains”, eggs, milk, sugars, and fruits. No mention is made about the fact that chocolate cake is full of sugar and baked at high temperatures – even if the ingredients used are “all natural” or “organic”. Anything containing such a high amount of carbohydrates and cooked at high temperatures will be rendered almost completely devoid of any nutritional value. It is inconceivable that anyone would try to argue chocolate cake is not unhealthy to eat and that no matter where you get your nutrients from, it’s all the same.

This article on Junkfood Science also discusses attempts made by the media, health industries, and government to dissuade children from eating fat and calories by encouraging them to eat low-fat and non-fat foods. In the battle of childhood obesity, a mother from South Jordan, Utah was awarded $1000 by the The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale for creating a program called “A+ Lunches”:

“It is typical of the menus increasingly being recommended by anti-“childhood obesity” activists. The lunch includes no sweets, no meat and no “fattening” foods, only foods believed to be “healthy”: carrot and celery sticks, a few apple wedges and berries, a small dollop of peanut butter between flower-shaped pieces of bread, and skim milk. The mother tested it on her four-year old. A brief nutritional analysis of this lunch menu revealed that it supplies less than 20% of the energy needs (calories), dietary fats and iron recommended even by the government’s Dietary Guidelines for a typical four-year old, let alone an older school child,” commented Ms. Szwarc.

AS won’t argue with the fact that a diet such as the one described above cannot possibly provide proper nutrition to a preschooler, let alone children of other ages. But when terms like “obesity epidemic” are used to talk about eating healthy diets, many people start to look for dietary sources of disease. To a degree, it is certainly true that the media and health communities alike have succeeded to in creating fear in consumers — because consumers are lied to about what foods are healthy to eat and what foods are not. People are scared to death to eat foods with fat in them. But the issues are being misconstrued. For example, mainstream food and health industries consistently report that foods with excess fat and cholesterol and foods with saturated fats are unhealthy to consume. Then corporations create processed foods and label them with terms such as “low-fat” or “contains no trans-fats” or “no cholesterol” to make consumers think these foods are health foods. Never mind all the chemicals, preservatives, and the manner in which the foods are produced which grossly detracts from its nutritional content. What these entities fail to mention is the fact that what types of foods are being eaten is the real issue.

Children need healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and calories with which to function and perform at optimal levels each day. This means, literally, that they need whole foods – those that are directly from nature with as little processing or tampering as possible. And yes, they need saturated fats and cholesterol — but not just any. The right types are critical. Fats and cholesterol from genetically modified, chemically injected, hormone-laden, factory farm sources simply won’t do our bodies good. If that’s what the medical and health communities are referring to, then they are absolutely correct. But we need to stop appling negative labels to all meats and dairy, as one example.

So, according to what we’ve heard from Junkfood Science, does that mean a hot dog or hamburger with tater tots and oreo cookies is a healthy lunch? What about naturally-raised meat with roasted potatoes, and organic fruit and salad with oil and vinegar? Why or why not? And why are these concepts so difficult to get across to industries and organizations in charge of making changes for children’s diets and health? Why do people persist in thinking that low-fat options are healthy for anyone – especially growing children who need nutrients for brain and physical function and growth and development?

On the same side of the argument, do packaged foods which claim to be healthy because they are “organic” and loaded with Omega 3s (a new hot selling point for foods), vitamins and minerals, and contain “higher levels” of protein than “other leading brands” fall into the category of health food? In most cases, definitely not. These foods are junk food through and through. Just think about it — any food that has had vitamins and minerals removed through processing (such as pasteurized dairy) and then added back in, or has to be enriched in order to make it “nutritious” (such as orange juice with added calcium or breads, cereals, and crackers) should immediately be suspect. Then ask yourself: do you want your children eating “fortified”  artificial foods, or real, whole foods?

Unfortunately, there is an overload of information available about what is healthy to eat and what is not, and making sense of it all is often very difficult. The best rule of thumb to follow when trying to decipher all the jargon and rhetoric about healthy eating is that processed foods will always be processed foods. Simply nothing can replace the nutritional value of whole, unprocessed, natural, organic foods.

We believe that in order to fulfill our goal of servant leadership to our children, we must really serve them. To do this, we must decide to make children the priority. If children cannot perform in school due to nutritional deficiencies, then let’s provide them with the nutrition they need. We can make changes to school lunch menus in ways that do not require raising taxes, but by reallocating current funds. And let’s not stop there — let’s keep going. Everywhere you look there are opportunities for improving the way children eat and perceive their bodies and food. Take the food challenge and help our kids by doing the following:

  • Avoid buying processed foods and replace with whole, real foods.
  • Support local agricultural efforts that use sustainable methods in farming.
  • Get active in your community and spread the word — be a voice for change about an issue that really matters.
  • Cut out refined sugars as much as possible from your family’s diets — and think, really think about whether you are continuing to purchase products that have refined sugars in them. Some are not as obvious as others. Be a food sleuth!

To make a donation to the school lunch initiative in Boise, Idaho where we are bringing Two Angry Moms to our city, please see our contact information on the main page of this site under Upcoming Events. We need your support to fund our film event efforts and to take us beyond to reaching our goal of making our children’s health a priority!

In honor of our school lunch initiative, go and take a look at this menu for one month of school lunches in the Boise School District. After looking at this menu, ask yourself whether the food falls under the category of healthy or junk.

For more information on eating whole foods, visit The Natural Path.

For a discussion about ancient wisdom concerning children’s health, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation web site.

Suggested reading: Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon, Mary G. Enig.

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