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The dangers of processed food

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After hearing Dr Robert Lustig’s recent lecture for the Bermuda Diabetes Association about the connection between obesity and food additives, many people went home and threw out everything with high fructose corn syrup and sugar on the label.

Dr Lustig’s lecture was one of the most popular ever given for the Bermuda Diabetes Association. Over 400 people attended and the topic was discussed at length on morning talk shows. Dr Lustig alleged that over 80 percent of the food we eat has sugar added to it, which has led to a worldwide epidemic of lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure and heart disease.

If you did throw out all your food labelled high fructose corn syrup, you’re probably feeling a little hungry right now, and wondering ‘what the heck do I eat’? Nutritionist Sara McKittrick said the key to improving your diet is taking small steps at a time.

“It boils down to allowing ourselves, as often as we can, to eat real food,” said Ms McKittrick. “I saw an advertisement recently in a magazine. It said: have you ever seen a label on an avocado, apple or almond? We don’t have to interpret a label on those, because they are real food.

“The less that we bombard our bodies with processed foods, the less we have to do the math about how much sugar and how many calories are in it. How many people mid morning get up and get a box of a crackers or cookie? We have lost touch with eating an apple or a bowl of strawberries as a snack.”

And she said throwing a bunch of fruit into a blender to make a smoothie wasn’t necessarily the answer. A smoothie results in a beverage with the sugar of several servings of fruit at once, and you have also broken down the fibre content of the food. The fibre in unmaimed fruit helps to stop the sugar spikes in the blood that causes the body to produce more insulin.

“A single piece of fruit can be expensive sometimes,” said Ms McKittrick, “but a lot of times if you buy a whole bag of fruit and share it around with your friends or family it is cheaper than buying a large bag of junk food.”

She said often times people start out preparing a healthy meal with say, for example, brown rice, chicken and salad but then smother the chicken in barbecue sauce and the salad in dressing. Condiments and sauces are usually packed with sugar and salt. A little lemon juice and olive oil will do.

Dr Annabel Fountain Director of Endocrinology for the Bermuda Hospitals Board said: “The best advice is not to buy anything with added sugar and not to eat processed food.”

She admitted that with Bermuda’s climate which sees fresh food perish easily and quickly, it can be challenging. She also warned that it is not enough to throw out everything labelled high fructose corn syrup, because manufacturers use over 56 different names to disguise the sugar they are hiding in your food.

Sorbitol, maltose, evaporated cane juice, ethyl maltol, carob syrup and fruit juice concentrate are just a few of those names. According to Dr Lustig it doesn’t really matter what you call it; what it all boils down to (literally) is sugar.

“Food should be fuel,” said Dr Fountain. “It is supposed to be highly nutritive. It is supposed to be giving us vitamins and minerals and protein, roughage, fibre and some energy. We don’t need a high amount of sugar and additives in our food.”

She said packaging can be so misleading. For example, a manufactured food that has low fat on the packaging often turns out to be high in sugar.

“They add sugar because otherwise it would taste awful,” said Dr Fountain.

She said sometimes it is possible for a community to fight back against manufacturers of highly processed foods and fast food restaurant chains that provide unhealthy food. The McDonalds food chain pulled out of Bolivia several years ago because the Bolivian people were not interested in the product.

According to Dr Fountain, Bolivians put a lot of cultural emphasis on food preparation and (rightfully) didn’t trust any food that only took a few minutes to prepare. A movie has been made about McDonalds restaurant chain’s failure in Bolivia called: Por que quebro McDonald’s en Bolivia (Why did McDonald’s Bolivia go Bankrupt). (Note, that other fast food chains exist in Bolivia.)

“It is about demand,” Dr Fountain said. “If we decide we are not going to buy the product, then the manufacturers won’t sell it. Then, maybe we will get healthier foods.”

She recommended a book called “Food Rules an Eater’s Manual” by Michael Pollan. In it Mr Pollan gives some basic rules for healthy eating including don’t eat food with more than five ingredients in it, and don’t eat food with a bunch of ingredients you can not pronounce.

Dr Lustig’s book “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Processed Foods” is also available for purchase at Bermuda Diabetes Resource Centre at 2 Beacon Street in Hamilton and at the Bermuda Hospitals Board Diabetes Centre at the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute in Devonshire.

Proper food: Apples and avocados don't need labels
Dr Robert Lustig

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Published June 21, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 20, 2013 at 7:49 pm)

The dangers of processed food

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