Thursday, September 11, 2008

soapbox 2: food poisoning

One of the choices that I am really glad we've made as a family is to completely eliminate the consumption of partially hydrogenated oils in our home. Why? Because partially hydrogenated oils are one of the main dietary sources of trans fats. Generally, PH oils are used to prolong the shelf life of food products--they keep the chips crispy and the cookies soft. They're also the equivalent for your arteries of pouring bacon grease down a sink.

Let me share with you a few facts about trans fats (gleaned from Wikipedia):
  • Between 30,000 and 100,000 cardiac deaths in the US each year may be attributed to trans fat consumption
  • trans fats increase your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol
  • recent studies are suggesting that trans fat consumption may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer (75%!), type 2 diabetes, fat deposits on the abdomen, liver disfunction, and infertility (each 2% increase in trans fat vs. carb consumption correlates with a 73% increase in risk of ovulatory infertility)
  • The National Academy of Sciences has concluded there is no safe level of trans fat consumption (however, as it occurs naturally in animal products, they have not recommended entire removal from your diet. Keep in mind, however, that trans fats from PH oils may contain 45% trans fat to total fat ratio, whereas butter is only 4%).
  • and for you nursing mothers: trans fat consumption by the mother is directly related to the levels of trans fats in the breastmilk. Something to keep in mind, even if your 6-month-old isn't devouring Crisco.
  • foods can be labeled as "trans fat free" if they contain less than .5 gram per serving. A better bet is to check the contents label (especially if the serving size is something ridiculously small).
  • always check the contents label, period. Often foods that are labeled "low fat" or "fat free" have way more added crud, so you're actually worse off, plus it tastes nasty. Go ahead and eat your butter!

In other words, trans fats are NOT good for you. They will make you sick. And probably fat along with it.

Another thing we don't eat in our house: high fructose corn syrup. This isn't as obviously awful as trans fats and doesn't get as much media attention, but it's not a safe bet either. What's really frustrating about HFCS is it is in just about everything, especially the generic forms of name-brand foods. For instance, it's in the obvious things like soda pop, but it's also in ketchup, tomato soup, bread, Wheat Thins, graham crackers. As the Wikipedia article notes, the US tends to use a lot of HFCS because of import restrictions on sugar. No studies have conclusively linked HFCS to obesity, but many suggest correlating rises in the incidence of obesity and the increased use of HFCS (although this may be due to the fact that it is present in many foods that are already unhealthy).

Here's what we do eat in our house: foods that are as close to their original form as possible. With short ingredients lists. Organic ketchup. Double-churned ice cream. Butter, not margaine or Crisco. Homemade salsa. We bake our own bread or buy the heavy thick stuff. We eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Our kids snack on Goldfish and Triscuits (free from both HFCS and PH oils). We don't eat a lot of meat, and we try to boost our omega-3 intake with flaxseeds in our berry smoothies or wild-caught coldwater fish like salmon (farm-raised generally has contamination from mercury, etc.) The best thing about avoiding HFCS and PH oils is that we don't even bother with a lot of foods that we know are bad for us anyway, like potato chips (although we do occasionally eat trans fat-free Lays!) or soda or store-bought cookies, so we eat more healthily without consciously denying ourselves things like that, because we know that if it has "yuckies" in it, we just don't buy it.

Bottom line: we love food around here. We don't deprive ourselves. We NEVER diet. There's plenty of cookie-baking and ice cream-devouring going on around here. But we do think twice about what we're eating and what's gone into it. The trade-off, of course, is less convenience foods and more time spent in the kitchen. For our family, it's worth it (and it helps that I love cooking). But if you don't have a ton of time and you prefer ready-to-go meals, it's still easy to find healthier options--you may just have to branch out from your usual brands.

We're healthier than we were when we started this in January, and we feel really good about the choices we're making--especially because the choices we make affect not only ourselves, but also shore up the health of our children. One of the things that makes me feel like I'm really doing a good job mothering is knowing that the food I give to my children is good for them, will make them stronger, and is laying a strong healthy foundation for the rest of their lives.

Your thoughts??!


Meghan said...

Where do you buy wild-caught salmon? And isn't it expensive? Do you use oil in cookie recipes, and if so, how do you get the chocolate chips to stick in the cookie dough?

Rachael said...

You can get it anywhere--we had some last week from Walmart. Just check to make sure it's wild-caught rather than farm-raised.

And I've tried oil, but I still prefer butter for chocolate chip cookies, which is why we don't have them incredibly often. But I'll often substitute oil or even applesauce in other cookie recipes.

Rachael said...

Oh, and the salmon I bought last week was 4.48/lb for wild-caught. So definitely more expensive than chicken, or even beef, but we just don't eat much meat anymore so I can justify paying a bit extra for fish.

Kilerkki said...

How about Mom's biscuits? Has anyone thought of an alternative to Crisco? Because I think I would make them a lot more often if they didn't involve half a cup of Crisco...

Crapos said...

I totally hate high-fructose corn syrup! And it's so hard to buy bread w/o it. I miss Utah cause Macey's inhouse bakery bread was whole wheat, syrup free, and cheap! Now there's nothing to be found in the desert. I've been toying with making our own bread permanently for awhile but I won't eat bread once it starts drying out and my kids don't allow me much time in the kitchen. Woe is me.
We, too, are eating more veggies/less meat these days. Even then, I never used as much beef or chicken as recipes called for. Usually 1/4 as much. And I've started weaning my kids from crackers to goldfish. Not that it's difficult since they only got whole wheat ritz before and whole wheat goldfish are so much more fun.
where do you do your grocery shopping? Surely you don't get organic ketchup at Wal-Mart? The nearest health store is an hour away. I need dough enhancer for yet another bread recipe and can't get it.
Oh, and I'm reading Affluenza which I highly recommend and it's making me think about all these ridiculous things we eat too.
Ok, that's enough random comments from me.

Rachael said...

Ashley, I try to shop at Walmart as little as possible, so nope, no ketchup from there. I shop at the local version of Smith's/Kroger. Here it's called Pay Less, which unfortunately, it isn't really, but's comparable in prices to Smith's. They have a brand called "Private Selection" that has some of the nicer versions of things, so that's how I get organic ketchup at my local grocery store, and it's only about $1 more than the regular stuff.

danielle said...

You know this is so interesting. These are things I have kind of known my whole life, but have started thinking about way more now that I have a baby. I am more worried about what I put in her body than my own...sad, but whatever it takes. Anyway, I just wanted to mention that there is a difference between Trans-fats and saturated fats. Butter doesn't actually have any Trans fats from what I understand, while margarine (or anything with partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil) does. Butter has plenty of saturated fat (and cholesterol), but no trans-fats. And the difference has to do with the actual physical structure of the fats ( turns out Organic chemistry is actually useful for something) and the way they stick to your arteries. So still not a great idea to eat tons of butter, but I'd take it over margarine any day. I think like you said, the key is moderation and eating more of the good things like whole grains and veggies etc. I think one of the biggest problems with most people's diets today is that they don't actually cook much. I know so many people who don't know how to make food from actual food (as opposed to from a box or mix). I feel lucky that my mom taught me how to cook things from scratch. As for HFCS...we just watched such an interesting documentary about it called King of Corn. Basically most of the corn grown in this country is used for HFCS. And there is so much money tied up in it that I think it will be hard to change that. That is one reason I make home-made Jam though...I couldn't find jam without HFCS.

Sorry this is the longest comment ever...but one more thing. I just wanted also mention that it is really important for babies and toddlers to get enough fat for proper brain and nervous system development. I have heard of over-zealous (and well intended) parents cutting back total fat intake of their children to dangerous levels. I know that is not at all what you are are right on with eating things like fish etc. I just didn't want someone else to infer that since some fat is bad, then all fat is bad. You know what I mean;)

Rachael said...

danielle, what great points you make! and you're absolutely right--our bodies NEED healthy fats for proper development. Avocadoes, olives, nuts, fish, etc--all GREAT things to eat.

And living in the corn belt, it's definitely interesting to see all the corn grown here going somewhere else to be refined into something totally unrecognizable. I read something the other day talking about how something like of the 45 ingredients in chicken nuggest were corn derivatives. crazy!!

and thank you so much for your great and detailed comment. isn't it interesting to see how much more important all these things suddenly become when you're thinking about what you're feeding your sweet little baby?

rachel said...

This is such a great post! I like your soapboxes. They are motivating me to move more and eat better. (I've always loved doing both, but I've had a hard time "finding the time" post-baby). Although I am way more careful about food now with a baby, as you say.

I grew up with a vegetarian mom who was also a great cook. So fortunately, I grew up with really healthy food--close to the source food--and it's that food that I like eating/making best. Josh is also vegetarian, so that helps too.

The bad news is I just never caught the cooking bug and never took the time to learn from my mom.

But I've recently become more and more interested in cooking. Josh has already done most of the cooking around our house, but he's been too busy these days and with the garden, food co-op, and a baby I would like to be able to make yummy things out of good-for-us ingredients.

So, I've started trying recipes here and there. The hardest part for me is figuring out what to get at the grocery store--how to cook without buying a million different things for each recipe.

Anyway, I'm proposing that you do a food week (maybe you've already done one). You could do it on your food blog and keep track of what you cook and eat for a week. I'd be really interested to see what a good cook like you makes on a regular basis (and when you have leftovers or whatever). And post more recipes, please! I'm really starting to troll blogs for good, practical recipes.

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Andrea said...

My sister-in-law majored in she had been educating our family for years on all of this. It is suddenly a craze for so many people. We try to do the same--I think you think about it a little more when you have kids. I try not to be anal about it; you have to live--but it's good to be educated to make good choices. I noticed the other day that the cheapo vanilla ice cream we've always bought has high fructose corn syrup in it...there's lots to pay attention to. I'll have to look next time I buy ice cream!

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