Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Food, Farmers and Factories



When I offer suggestions on foods for newly diagnosed type 2 diabetics on various forums such as the ADA forum or the dLife forum I am occasionally accused of concentrating far too much on blood glucose levels and ignoring other aspects of nutrition. That is not true because I am very aware that our bodies need a wide range of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals for good health. I may post at some future time on that subject in general. I mention it in passing in several past posts such as Analysis of a Day's Meals and Cinnamon, Spices, Herbs and Similar. However, I agree that to me the first priority is to get those blood glucose levels under control. After that has been achieved is the time to fine tune the resulting way of eating for other aspects of good nutrition.

Today I want to look at another aspect of the foods we eat: processing, chemicals and sources.

When they go to the market or, more likely, the supermarket to buy food and groceries most new type 2 diabetics learn fairly quickly to read the nutrition labels to check on the carbohydrate, fat, and protein content of the portions they intend eating. However, I’ve noticed that very few go beyond that label to look at the actual ingredients list.

When you start doing that, it becomes clear that many of the foods in the packets on our shelves have a lot more in them than the foods mentioned on the front of the package.

The first one that stands out to me is trans-fats. Because many countries allow manufacturers to ignore an ingredient below a minimum threshold on the nutrition table you will often find "0 gms" listed for trans-fats but “partially hydrogenated oils” listed on the ingredients list. That means the product contains trans-fats, just less than that threshold for labelling laws. So my first suggestion is to avoid all products which do that. I know of no safe minimum level for trans-fats.

On other ingredients, I have slowly formed the opinion that simpler is better. Every day we see a new scare story on a food additive that is harming us, and every other day we see a refutation of past scare stories and find that foods we thought were harmful are not. It gets confusing, doesn’t it? What is a simple guy to believe?

I am not a chemist, just a type 2 diabetic struggling to find a reasonable way of eating that not only helps manage my blood glucose levels but does not jeopardise my health in other ways. Because I am not a chemist, I err on the side of simplicity. I am a firm believer in applying KISS (keep it simple, stupid) to my food choices.

Allied to that I have absorbed some basic principles from various writers on nutrition, particularly my friend Quentin Grady who is the author of Nutrition For Blokes. Probably the most important one is that there are many different foods, especially certain vegetables, which can provide some important specific benefits; too many to list here. My way of applying that information is to include as wide a variety of fresh vegetables and protein sources in my menu as I reasonably can, with an emphasis on local seasonal produce.

When I started reading the labels on packets more closely I found that I needed a degree in Chemistry to even start to understand some of them. Here are a few examples. As a simple guy I thought the breakfast sandwich I bought on the AMTRAK from DC to NYC was a small bun, with a slice of odd-looking bacon and an egg. Later, with nothing better to do on the train, I read the fine print on the wrapper:

Bacon, Egg & Cheese On A Biscuit
INGREDIENTS:
BISCUIT:
BLEACHED ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (MAY CONTAIN MALTED BARLEY FLOUR AND ENZYMES, CONTAINS NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), WATER, VEGETABLE SHORTENING (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OILS, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, BETA CAROTENE [COLOR]), DRY BUTTERMILK, DEXTROSE, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF THE FOLLOWING: SODIUM BICARBONATE, SODIUM ALUMINUM PHOSPHATE, SALT, VITAL WHEAT GLUTEN, SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE, PRESERVATIVES (CALCIUM PROPIONATE, POTASSIUM SORBATE, SORBIC ACID), XANTHAN GUM.

PRECOOKED EGG PATTY:
WHOLE EGGS, WATER, SOYBEAN OIL, NONFAT DRY MILK, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, SALT, XANTHAN GUM, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL BUTTER FLAVOR (BUTTER [CREAM, MILK], PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN AND COTTONSEED OIL, SOYBEAN OIL, LIPOLYZED BUTTER OIL, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS), CITRIC ACID. PASTEURIZED PROCESS

AMERICAN CHEESE:
AMERICAN CHEESE (CULTURED MILK, SALT, ENZYMES, ARTIFICIAL COLOR), WATER, CREAM, SODIUM CITRATE, SALT, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SORBIC ACID (PRESERVATIVE), LACTIC ACID, SOY LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL COLOR.

BACON CURED WITH:
WATER, SALT, SUGAR, SMOKE FLAVORING, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ERYTHORBATE, SODIUM NITRITE. CONTAINS EGG, MILK, SOY AND WHEAT

How did they get all that in that little biscuit? Incidentally, the nutrition table notes 3 gms trans-fat per serve.

Or are you one of the lucky diabetics who can still eat cereal for breakfast? Special K Protein Plus looks good, right? Here is the ingredients list, from the Special K web-site:

Ingredients
WHEAT BRAN, SOY GRITS, RICE, WHEAT GLUTEN, SOYBEAN OIL, WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, SUGAR, SALT, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, MALT FLAVOR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), SUCRALOSE, ALPHA TOCOPHEROL ACETATE (VITAMIN E), REDUCED IRON, NIACINAMIDE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), VITAMIN A PALMITATE, FOLIC ACID AND VITAMIN B12, TO MAINTAIN QUALITY, BHT HAS BEEN ADDED TO PACKAGING.

But I’m being a bit unfair, just looking at breakfasts. How about a simple, healthy, dinner from Lean Cuisine? I looked for a random example, Balsamic Glazed Chicken looked tasty:

Ingredients:
Blanched Enriched Orzo Pasta (Semolina, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Green Beans, Cooked Chicken Tenderloin (Chicken Tenderloins, Water, Seasoning (Modified Food Starch, Sugar, Potassium Chloride, Yeast Extract, Dextrose, Spice, Onion Powder, Paprika), Isolated Soy Protein, Salt, Sodium Phosphates), Water, Spinach, Onions, Red Peppers, Yellow Peppers, Dark Sweet Cherry Juice Concentrate, Parmesan Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Almonds, Dark Balsamic Vinegar, Modified Cornstarch, Balsamic Vinegar (Grapes, Invert Sugar), Soybean Oil, Butterfat, Sugar, Garlic Puree, Asiago Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Salt, Brown Sugar Syrup, Enzyme Modified Parmesan Cheese (Cultured Milk, Water, Salt, Enzymes), Whey Protein Concentrate, Spices.


I am not saying any of those ingredients are bad for you. The point is that I am not qualified to know and I don’t want to discover ten years from now that I should not have been eating one of them when I get diagnosed with something nasty.

Here is just one example of late discoveries. Note in those lists that all of them include wheat and soy in one form or another. Now read Jenny Ruhl’s recent blog on that subject: Wheat May Be Sparking Autoimmune Type 1 Thanks to Soy in Our Diets

Do a little research and look up your own examples. Better still read the labels on the packets in your pantry. You will get some surprises.

Over the years I have developed a few general basic principles that I apply when choosing the foods I eat. I don’t get obsessive or religious about it, but when it is reasonably possible I apply these criteria when I am shopping:

1. I choose foods that owe more to the farmer than to the factory for their production.

2. I choose as wide a variety as I can of local seasonal vegetables, when possible, and fresh vegetables over frozen (there are exceptions).

3. I take the time (and my glasses) to read labels in detail. If I don’t know what an ingredient is, I don’t buy that product until I’ve looked it up. Usually I don’t bother to look it up, so that product isn’t bought.

4. For meat, fish and eggs, I choose range-fed over feed-lot, free-range over caged birds, wild fish over farmed.

5. I cook and eat at home more often than out.

6. When eating out I choose restaurants that cook from basics rather than restaurants that re-heat from the freezer.

Those are just the basics, obviously I include other factors such as carb content.

What criteria do you use?

Cheers, Alan
Everything in Moderation - Except Laughter.

8 comments:

Rishara said...

I'm with you. If I don't know what it is, I don't (very often) eat it. I find it challenging enough just to find a prepackaged product that doesn't have added sugar in some form or another. You start finding sugar in the strangest places. Once you add in all the trans-fats and other strange chemicals, there are few prepackaged foods that are edible. As much as I hate having to cook all my meals, that's what I end up having to do most of the time. I'm going to be sad when our local farmer's market ends in a couple of weeks!

Bob Fenton said...

I had hoped to find my little book of food additives, but after the move, it has eluded our search. I had wanted to give some specific examples of both the good and harmful ingredients you listed. Yes, many of the items listed have no harmful effects, but a few are not good for our bodies and for varying reasons and I do have to wonder about some of the combinations and their effects. While I am inclined to believe Janet's blog because of the refining process our foods go through, I do have to wonder what the Chinese are doing so well with the soy foods they eat so abundantly. Hopefully, it is the lack of processing that make the difference.

trinkwasser said...

I've become far more radical over the years, reading the various Primal and similar dietary blogs - AND emulating what the healthy fit octagenarians around these parts eat. Mostly fresh meat and fish with yummy saturated fat and Omega 3s and local vegetables, and I avoid anything with small print.

Processed foodlike substances all seem to be based on the triumvirate of Omega 6 processed oils, sugar (including fructose) and starch (including wheat) all of which appear to be implicated in the "diseases of civilisation" let alone all the other additions.

Lisa Gualtieri said...

Thank you for the insights about food labels. I saw your blog after reading some of your responses to a question in the ADA forum - http://community.diabetes.org/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=1&nav=messages&webtag=adanewdiagnose&tid=6400 - I wondered what motivated you to take the time to answer people's questions in the forum, and what your motivation is to blog about diabetes.

Alan said...

Hello Lisa

My motivation is complex, these are just some of the factors.

My diagnosis and early learning story is here: http://loraldiabetes.blogspot.com/2008/11/turning-points.html

As I slowly learned from others on usenet about how to manage my own diabetes better I found I was answering questions from newly diagnosed people on those same forums, passing on the baton.

Over time I became passionate about the bad advice, especially on diet, being provided by mainstream authorities. You will see one of my earlier letters on that recorded here: http://loraldiabetes.blogspot.com/2006/11/diabetes-authorities.html . I wrote the original in 2004 if I recall correctly. I'm retired and slowly my passion became my normal morning routine.

I then joined other web forums and started talking to the new people on those. I expand on how the blog developed here: http://loraldiabetes.blogspot.com/2009/06/testimonials.html

People started sending me emails and letters saying thanks; that also gave me encouragement to continue.

It also helps that I am retired; in a way my affliction became my hobby.

Cheers, Alan

Jane said...

I found some holiday recipes that are supposed to be diabetic-friendly - http://www.thebeehive.org/health/health-matters-coach/manage-your-diabetes/live-well-take-action/diabetic-s-healthy-holiday-p/festive-meal-plan-li.

What's your take - are they good for me?

Alan said...

Hello Jane
I'll accept your request as genuine.

One of the problems I have discovered lately is the increasing number of people wanting to promote their web-sites by using the comments section of my blog. I get several each day and reject them all.

However, you asked for my opinion. That specific page provides the following list of recipes as being "so good and good-for-you that you could make it whether you’re trying to follow a diabetic diet or not!". I added the carb counts myself. Note that all of the counts in the high-carb recipes are based on very small portion sizes.

Appetizers
Potato Carrot Soup 33 gms carb
Sweet Potato Bread 26 gms carb

Main Dish
Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Vegetables 3 gms carb
Green Peppers Stuffed with Black-Eyed Peas and Smoked Turkey 29 gms carb

Side Dishes
Wild Rice with Broccoli 28 gms carb
Corn Pudding 61 gms carb
String Bean Salad 9 gms carb
Kale with Smoked Turkey 5 gms carb

Drinks and Dessert
Golden Party Punch 24 gms carb (Per 8-Ounce Serving!)
Banana Pudding 35 gms carb

The only dishes on that menu I would consider acceptable are the Stuffed Pork Tenderloin, the String Bean Salad and the Kale. The rest would send my blood glucose sky-high. The corn pudding is simply ridiculous.

So I had a look at the rest of the web-site.

I was saddened but unsurprised to find that it is yet another mish-mash of out-dated advice from the past century, especially when it came to dietary advice. For excample, this is from their "Eat to Live" page:

Step 2: Change Your Eating Habits

To control your blood sugar level and lose necessary weight, the food on your plate will have to change. Don’t think of it as a diet, but a healthier way to eat
* Know what to eat, when to eat and why you should eat it.

o Learn the Basics of Eating
o Focus on Fruits
o Vitamin-Filled Vegetables
o Go Lean with Protein
o Calcium-Rich Foods
o Whole-Grain Goodness

Focus on fruits? Whole grain goodness? Yeah, right. In my opinion the site is a cobbled together mish-mash of generalised advice and most of that is bad advice when it is dealing with diabetes and diet.

Cheers, Alan

Andrew said...

Bob

Thanks for the information here. I am looking to lower the blood sugar as my levels are border line at this time and this helps.