Level Up Your Health

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When it comes to your family’s food, do you know who’s on your team?

What are your goals for feeding yourself and your family? Like pretty much everyone around the world, you probably want a few simple things:

  1. For the food to taste goodshopping
  2. For the food to fit within your budget
  3. For the food to be able to be prepared in a convenient amount of time
  4. For the food to provide the necessary nutrients to support good health

So, anyone else who wants those things is automatically on your team. (I would like to say right now, for the record, I am definitely on your team.) When I ask people about what keeps them from eating a healthy diet, a few misconceptions come up over and over again.

  1. Healthy food doesn’t taste goodfood_marketing_undermines_parental_authority2
  2. Healthy food is expensive
  3. I don’t have time to make healthy food
  4. I eat a pretty regular diet, I’m doing fine. (while at the same time struggling with headaches, digestive problems, afternoon slump blood sugar crashes, mood swings, skin problems, and frequent colds)

All of these misconceptions are repeated ad infinitum in advertisements for food. These ads show burgers dripping with cheese and glistening with bacon grease; they show slender women orgasmically eating yogurts (that contain more sugar than a bowl of lucky charms). They show perplexed women fumbling with their wallets at the grocery checkout, bowled over by the price of their groceries. These ads show tired moms, busy working people, kids who are starving for a snack the second they run in the door, and athletes who need a little pick-me-up to finish the game. They show Olympic athletes eating Taco Bell and McDonalds; they show people bouncing down the sidewalk, buoyed by their Dunkin’ Donuts coffee drink. Over and over again, you are being systematically and deliberately programmed to believe the statements everyone makes to me when they tell me why they don’t eat a healthy diet. To make these ads even more insidious, a tremendous number of them are aimed at children. Here’s the crux of the biscuit: food companies are not on your team. Their goals are:

  1. Maximize their profits
  2. Minimize their costs
  3. Get you to keep buying their food

You may have noticed, there is no overlap in your goals and their goals. In a recent article in the New York Times, they spoke with the inventor of Lunchables about being a food marketer, and gave this excerpt from a presentation about the field that he now gives to med students:

“Discover what consumers want to buy and give it to them with both barrels. Sell more, keep your job! How do marketers often translate these ‘rules’ into action on food? Our limbic brains love sugar, fat, salt. . . . So formulate products to deliver these. Perhaps add low-cost ingredients to boost profit margins. Then ‘supersize’ to sell more. . . . And advertise/promote to lock in ‘heavy users.’ Plenty of guilt to go around here!”

I repeat, these people are not on your team. When faced by scientists insisting the industry had to take responsibility for its role in childhood obesity, the CEOs essentially said “No way! We aren’t changing what works!”

In my class on being a savvy food consumer, we recently conducted an experiment. We made potatoes au gratin

The mouse on the left has MSG induced obesity.

The mouse on the left has MSG induced obesity.

from a package, and from scratch, and compared them in the categories of time, taste and cost. The potatoes from scratch won on all accounts. The women were shocked, especially regarding the time component. While we were waiting for the potatoes to cook, we talked about a couple of the ingredients in the packaged version of potatoes.

  • Monosodium Glutamate, better known as MSG, which is used in lab experiments to cause obesity in mice. It is used in human food to create umami, which makes foods taste more savory and pleasing without the addition of more costly food ingredients with natural umami.
  • Cellulose, used as filler in many foods to replicate the mouth-feel of real food with less of those ingredients, and is essentially the same thing as wood pulp or cardboard. It’s fairly innocuous, but provides no benefits as humans can’t digest it. Cellulose can be found in organic food as well as conventional.

Why are these ingredients in your food? They help meet the above criteria of maximizing profits, minimizing cost, and getting you to keep buying the food. They provide cheap filler and addictive qualities. These are only the beginning of what is added to your food that has nothing to do with your best interest- contaminated water, ammonia and antibiotics in your meat, fertilizer byproducts in lots of processed foods, and colors that may or may not cause cancer are among the almost endless list. It’s up to you as a consumer to know what’s in your food, how it will effect you, and what it’s real costs are.

So who is on your team?

  1. Nutrition labels
  2. Whole foods
  3. Local farmers
  4. Your nutritionist
  5. Blogs like this one

There is a lot of misinformation out there, and at Level Up we strive to only present science-based claims about saladinjarfood and exercise. There are a ton of other resources out there about how to make whole foods quickly and inexpensively- I love the recent salad-in-a-jar fad– it’s a great way to save time, money and your health while you’re at work! Once you put in some work de-programming the messages you’ve absorbed from advertisers about how the average person doesn’t have time or money to eat healthy food, you’ll start to find you are saving money, and once you get a system in place, saving time!

If you are eating a diet with tons of salt, sugar and fat and processed foods it will take some time your palate to adjust, but if you cut them out for a few weeks and then go back and try something loaded with sugar or salt it won’t taste right anymore!

Americans need to readjust their diets back to foods that are grown instead of engineered, and accept the real risks of junk food, or continue to face the highest rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, gout, high blood pressure, and other diet related ailments that the world has ever known. So remember who is on your team, and put your dollars toward real food, not fillers and foods engineered to ensnare you.

If you’re in the Burlington, Vermont area and want help being a savvy food consumer, send me a message to set up a grocery shopping tutorial and cooking lesson!

2 comments on “When it comes to your family’s food, do you know who’s on your team?

  1. Shannon Rose Kilpatrick
    February 22, 2014

    I was shocked to see Michael Phelps in an add for Taco Bell. I do understand that being a pot smoker he might get the munchies, however being an 18 time Olympic Gold Medalist I thought that he would be more conscientious in his decision making especially since nutrition and having a balanced diet were probably a large part of his success.

    • Shannon Rose Kilpatrick
      February 22, 2014

      He also has a foundation whose goals are to grow the sport of swimming and promote a healthier lifestyle.

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