Natural . . .or as the French would say, Naturel

The first time I had caprese salad was in Paris, at a sidewalk café in St. Germain. I wasn’t thinking if it were ‘natural’ or not. I certainly noticed that it was fabulous. In France, the term ‘naturel’ has been governed by a law dating from 1978.

 It is one of the few countries that have defined its use. But even so, modern marketing techniques have required their Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and Fighting Fraud (DGCCRF) to refine their guidance. Natural should only be used on food products that come from nature and are sold with no or only mechanical changes made to them, such as peeling, slicing, drying or pressing. For produce that has undergone some process of cooking or other stabilization process, it is recommended that the term ‘d’origine naturel’ be used (‘of natural origin’). Most importantly, the DGCCRF said it is important to avoid misleading consumers into thinking that one product is natural over others in the same category, when in fact they all have the same stake to the word. As an example, one could not say that ‘XYZ brand olive oil is natural’, but would need to say that ‘olive oil is a natural product’.  So, when questions about what can be called ‘natural’ arise, keep the French in mind. This may be a harbinger of things to come elsewhere in the world.
I now find that the best caprese salad is the one I make from the tomatoes and basil I grow in my garden. Yes, I’m The Lazy Cook, and am also a lazy gardener, but the results are sooo worth the little extra work.

The Government’s Advice to Prevent Obesity? We’re in BIG Trouble

If this is the government’s advice to prevent obesity—we’re in BIG trouble!

Part 2 of 2

This is a continuation of my commentary (rant) about the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of strategies for communities to follow to prevent obesity. These are the opinions of the sometimes cynical author and not a reflection of the position of her employer.

  • Increase support for breastfeeding.
Right on! Since my mother was discouraged from breastfeeding by her physician, she had no expertise to pass along to her daughters. The La Leche League was my savior, and I, in turn, helped guide my sister. Contrary to any motherhood myths that might exist, breastfeeding comfortably is not necessarily instinctive. Data supports that breastfed babies grow up to have healthier weights.
  • Require physical education in schools. Amen.
  • Increase the amount of physical activity in physical education programs in schools. Increase opportunities for extracurricular physical activity. Hallelujah, Amen.
  • Reduce screen time in public service venues.
 What the CDC means here is to reduce screen time in child care and school settings. But it comes across as a suggestion to close down movie theatres and video arcades. Could this possibly be the harbinger of a ban on text messaging in public parks?  Most screen time occurs in the home, why not focus there?
  • Improve access to outdoor recreational facilities. That is a good use of public money.
  • Enhance infrastructure supporting bicycling.
I’m a huge fan of running errands on my bicycle—which where I live is only about 4 months per year due to weather. But I refuse to share the same pavement with cars and trucks since I don’t have a death wish. Give us our own paths, like they have in Amsterdam.
  • Enhance infrastructure supporting walking.
Ever try to go for a walk in Orlando? A superhighway mecca, there are virtually no sidewalks. Poor urban planning, especially where there’s a climate so conducive to bicycling and walking. In some places, when people walk without a dog in the suburbs, some think they are would-be burglars checking out the neighborhood. Walking as the preferred mode of transportation should be encouraged, not just for health, but also because it is better for the environment.
  • Support locating schools within easy walking distance of residential areas. Duh!
  • Improve access to public transportation. And make it a pleasant experience, clean, with breathable air. My favorite public transport system is the MTR in Hong Kong. They even play soothing music in the stations during rush hour.
  • Enhance personal safety in areas where persons are or could be physically active.  A no brainer.
  • Enhance traffic safety in areas where persons are or could be physically active. Ditto
In developing their recommendations, the CDC acknowledges that not all are evidence-based, but, rather, from expert opinion. Due to perceived conflicts, experts in food production, processing and delivery are seldom requested for their expert opinion. Without recommendations based on a better understanding of where food comes from, and how the success of the industry brought us from undernutrition to abundance, true progress in changing public health is unlikely.

If This is the Government’s Advice to Prevent Obesity …

Part 1 of 2

Obesity is arguably the largest (no pun intended) global public health issue today. Governments, non-governmental organizations, academicians and the for-profit sector are all struggling with finding ways to be part of the solution. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a list of strategies that communities can follow to prevent obesity. It is an interesting hodge-podge of food and fitness related recommendations, some are science-based and some are, well, not. Here are some of the CDC’s strategies with editorial comment (which is the opinion of the cynical author and does not reflect the position of her employer).

Increase availability of healthier food and beverage choices in public service venues.

What is a public service venue? Does this mean restaurants and school food service, but not in the home? If yes, then why not just say food away from home? If you mean in schools, just say so. And how do you define “healthier”? Many restaurants have salad and fruit—which most will define as ‘healthy’–on the menu, so the problem is not availability. The problem is that patrons are not purchasing these items frequently.  So, the recommendation should be more like: ‘Increase vegetables and fruit as the foods of choice in most eating occasions’. The subtleties are significant. Plant based diets are supported by science, and shifting the focus to the consumer—who is the decision maker in the transaction–and not the purveyor will begin to set the stage for real change to occur.

Improve availability of affordable healthier food and beverage choices in public service venues.

Adding the word affordable does not change the misguided nature of the statement. If we assume that healthier means fruit and vegetables, canned and frozen are more affordable, but the recommendation you hear is usually eat ‘fresh’. Data supports the nutrient content of canned and frozen, which are certainly more affordable, so why aren’t they being recommended? And I know of a national chain restaurant where for $1 you can get apples, or a salad. All of which goes back to question, what will encourage people to eat these foods—certainly not just availability.

Restrict availability of less healthy foods and beverages in public service venues.

Oh, where to begin with this one—no supporting data, anti-democratic, nanny-state, a flood gate of individual definitions of healthy? This reminds me of Prohibition in the US in the 1920s and ‘30s, where alcohol was illegal. Didn’t do much to reduce consumption; it just became an opportunity for entrepreneurs (aka gangsters) to get creative.

Improve geographic availability of supermarkets in underserved areas. Provide incentives to food retailers to locate in and/or offer healthier food and beverage choices in underserved areas. 

This is a recognized issue. There are people much smarter than I trying to a find a successful economic model.

Improve availability of mechanisms for purchasing foods from farms.

 Isn’t food currently purchased from farms? Where else would we get grain, meat, fish, milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables—the basics of all our food?

Provide incentives for the production, distribution, and procurement of foods from local farms.  

Define local. What are my choices in Chicago in January? During harvest season, should we purchase fresh ‘locally’ and can, freeze, or otherwise process, so we have food through the winter? Oh, wait, isn’t that what food companies do now?

Institute smaller portion size options in public service venues.

I’ve just read some interesting research on what happens when you reduce portion size in a serving of French fries in a college cafeteria. Students take two bags. Similar results have been found with the 100 calories packs—people eat more than one. Humans tend to eat a certain volume of food, so smaller portion sizes may not necessarily have the desired effect. Believe me, if there was a way I could make money with the concept of the mini-me meal, I’d quit my day job.

Limit advertisements of less healthy foods and beverages.

This is a very contentious subject. Many food companies have already voluntarily limited advertising to children, with every company using a set a criteria, while based on authoritative statements, is adjusted to apply to their product categories. That’s because an accurate one-size-fits-all nutrient profiling system has yet to be determined, despite numerous contenders. Until nutrition scientists can agree on what constitutes ‘less healthy’ this could well become a witch hunt.

Discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

It is well known in education circles that positive versus negative messages are more empowering. This would be better phrased to say ‘Drink low or no calorie beverages when not drinking milk.’