Friday, April 12, 2013

Ensuring Our Family's Health and Safety, Part 1

I need to start out by apologizing to Jessica Brown Wilson. 
Jessica's one of my old classmates who knew me when I had permed hair, braces, and overly-large glasses. She was always significantly more stylish than I was, to say the least. She grew up to be a mother of two beautiful daughters and a successful lawyer. And she's still significantly more stylish than I am.

I jumped down her throat via Facebook the other day for re-posting something. Something that pushed one of my buttons, villainizing the pharmaceutical industry. (That's a topic for another post someday). The re-post was about using diet choices to keep us healthy and fight cancer vs. relying on traditional cancer treatments. It described current cancer treatments as "barbaric". It's actually correct. BestestHusband spends the vast majority of his waking hours trying to figure out a way to improve upon our current cancer therapeutics. He has described the treatments as "barbaric" before. The re-post offhandedly referred to the providers of current cancer treatments as "parasites". That's the part I jumped down her throat about. I hear it too often. But I should have known better to think that she would aim that arrow herself.

So I apologize for publicly jumping down your throat, Jessica. You feel strongly about finding ways to provide for the health and safety of your family. I do too. I think most of us do. And it's just so hard these days.

There's a lot of information out there, but there's also a lot of bad information. I laughed when I heard a dietician friend say that she liked Dr. Oz for job security. She had a lifetime of work ahead of her, correcting the misinformation he spewed to her clients every afternoon on network television. A fellow mom told about her PhD boss being pressured by the Dr. Oz show to promote one diet over another, even when the data did NOT support it. There are hundreds of websites devoted to special diets to improve health. You could fill dozens of bookshelves with the writings of "authorities" on the topic. But how do you separate the help from the hype?

There's a lot of chatter on my online mommy forum about different things to look for and avoid.

  • Look for a wide variety of fresh produce to provide a wide range of nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Avoid imported produce, because the fuel used to ship them pollutes the environment, and they have inferior nutrients in them.
  • Look for locally-grown produce to support local farmers.
  • Avoid produce grown in soil containing lead. (ahem, that's most of New England, thanks to years of inhabitants painting their homes with lead paint)
  • Avoid simple carbohydrates, they cause sugar spikes that leave you hungry shortly after you eat. 
  • Look for whole grains instead, as they provide fiber and satiety.
  • Avoid grains, because gluten is bad for you.
  • Avoid grains, because our Neanderthal ancestors didn't eat them.
  • Look for meats, because our Neanderthal ancestors thrived on them.
  • Avoid red meats, because they're bad for your heart. 
  • Look for low-fat dairy products for protein and calcium.
  • Avoid low-fat dairy, it's full of other additives.
  • Look for full-fat dairy, it promotes longer satiety.
  • Avoid all dairy. We're the only species that drinks mild past infanthood.

Hmmm... So I asked my online mommy forum to give their resources (preferably evidence-based) to support the diets that they choose for their families. The people who were typically the most vocal about diet were oddly silent, and one even admitted to choosing her family's diet based on word-of-mouth (ie. fads and trends). The ones that did speak up all referred to the same websites:


I haven't had the chance to really pore through the websites and read all of the research links. But at first glance, the info is similar to what my dietitian friends told me when I quizzed them on the topic:  eat a wide variety of foods. But my dietitians added another thing:  eat together as a family.

This last item calls to mind an article written by a former raw diet evangelist. She and her husband were local promoters of a raw diet as part of a healthy lifestyle. Until she noticed that her 15 month old twins were developmentally behind their peers. She immediately began providing cooked foods for her infants and other children. In addition to her infants (who started to toddle once they could actually ABSORB the nutrients from their food with their still-developing digestive systems) catching up developmentally, she observed another type of "catching up":  her family began eating meals together. And meals became an important social part of their day, bonding them together as a family. 

Where is this ramble going? Good question. Food and diet is such a complex thing. We don't yet fully understand everything about the foods we put in our body. There's little evidence that one food, ingested or avoided, will make-or-break our health. But there is a lot of evidence that a variety of foods, especially whole foods (single ingredient items, not PopTarts), combine well for our health. And importantly, sharing good food with friends and family can be good for our psychological and emotional health.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I ramble about other reasons that providing for the health and safety of our families is difficult. 

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