The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

When your grandmother grew up there was very little convenience food, maybe ketchup and yes, there was processed cheese and coke. There were also bread and butter.

Now we go through a large grocery store and the center of the whole store is occupied by convenience food, row after row.

What is convenience food? It is pre-cooked or processed food that sits on a shelf waiting to be bought and consumed. You may be able to just eat it the way it is (power bars, fruit yoghurt snacks, ice cream, breakfast cereals etc.) or you just have to microwave it for a minute or two (ready made meals, pizzas). Even, if you make a fresh salad, you top it with a salad dressing that has been processed and may contain chemicals that are not necessarily healthy for you.

This blog is meant to make you think and get educated as a consumer. As a physician I am guided by what is healthy for you, but at the same time food needs to be interesting and taste good and be affordable.

As fat, carbohydrates and protein are the main food groups that we eat, I will deal with each of these categories first followed by vitamins and minerals, which we also need.

Fats and oils

Many convenience foods are full of saturated fatty acids, which contribute to the overall calorie count of the package and are one of the main reasons why we gain weight and deposit fat into our arteries in preparation for a heart attack or stroke down the road. As you may know the worst form of fat is hydrogenated fat, also known as “trans fat”.

It contains free radicals from the hydrogenation process, which damage your cells and interfere with normal body metabolism. Read labels and avoid any foods that have a long shelf life as this is due to hydrogenated fats and chemicals known as food preservatives.

This food group also contains sausages and other processed meat; I wrote a separate blog about this recently.

If you eat cheese, reduce your saturated fat intake by buying cheese with only 18% fat (such as Cantenaar cheese, Jarlsberg light, skim milk mozzarella and goat cheese). Avoid the rich 45% type cheeses. The best oil in your kitchen would be an organic cold pressed olive oil. It figures prominently in Mediterranean cooking.

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

Sugar, starch and other carbohydrates

A large portion of snacks from the mid section of the grocery store contains all forms of sugar: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup etc.  You may think that a harmless fruit juice would be healthy until you see from the ingredient list on the label that it contains 5 to 6 teaspoons of sugar per cup (250 ml) of juice.

Unfortunately our body is not equipped to process all the sugar that the food industry wants us to consume and we develop insulin resistance; the liver converts the excess sugars into fat and deposits it into our arteries and as fat deposits between our guts (visceral fat) and as subcutaneous fat in the thighs, around the hips and the waist. It is no secret that a lot of obesity is related to overconsumption of sugar containing convenience foods (snacks and sugar-laden drinks).

Often low calorie alternatives contain aspartame or sucralose (Splenda). Aspartame is an excitotoxin damaging your brain cells and sucralose was developed in the 1950’s as an insecticide. We do not want to replace disease-promoting sugar with toxins as sweeteners. Safe alternatives for sugar are xylitol, mannitol, and stevia.

What is sometimes overlooked is the fact that your body digests bread, starchy foods such as potatoes, and pasta, rice and flour products like pizza or cookies within 30 minutes into sugar that is as harmful to your pancreas as plain sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The body reacts with the same overproduction of insulin converting the excess sugar into fat and depositing it in your body as described above. Much of the obesity wave we see in the past 3 decades is due to baked goods like bagels, bread, pasta and pizza. It is much better to enjoy your stevia-sweetened coffee without any bakery pieces to go along with it.

Protein in meats, dairy products and sausages

You would think that a healthy cut of meat from the grocery store would be a good source of protein for you. You probably did not think that it could be contaminated with a superbug when you bought it. This is especially true for ground meats like hamburger meat. If you bought a portion of organic meat you can be more certain that you are buying a qualitatively superior product. I discussed this whole issue of superbugs in meat and meat products in this blog recently.

We need to be aware of the agroindustry, the feedlots and what they fed the animals. I only buy organic meat and organic dairy products as my source of protein. I avoid sausages altogether because of the food additives that they contain, which are cancer causing.

The problem with prepared meats like chicken nuggets and others is that they contain breading and food preservatives and they have been deep fried, which makes these items an unhealthy choice.

What are some of the problems with dairy products? Despite the allegations that bovine growth hormone would be harmless to your health, your body thinks otherwise. Your body has hormone receptors that are very specific and bovine growth hormone can block them so your own human growth hormone from the pituitary gland cannot function properly. This is why I would recommend only organic milk products. You may have heard that in many European countries bovine growth hormone is banned for that reason.

Next the fat content of dairy products needs to be monitored: go for low-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt. While we are talking about yoghurt, stay away from fruit yoghurts that have all kinds of sugar and food additives mixed in. Add fruit of your choice and stevia, if you need a sweet taste.

Vitamins and minerals

The more foods are processed, the less natural vitamins and minerals stay behind. Particularly vitamin C and the B complex group are affected, but also magnesium, which is an important co-factor to enzymatic reactions within our cells. Often processed foods contain too much salt with sodium displacing potassium from the cells resulting in a lack of energy and high blood pressure.

Your best prevention is to stick to as little processed food as possible and to eat organic. If you eat enough organic greens and vegetables, there is an ample supply of vitamins and minerals. Prepare your own soups as canned products are high in sodium; another unwanted additive is often sodium glutamate (MSG), which comes under many disguised names. It belongs to the group of excitotoxins like aspartame and is not welcomed by your brain cells.

Public Awareness

Lately there has been more of public interest and awareness to the detrimental effects of convenience foods. Alarming reports about the increase in the obesity rates, the rise in diabetes type 2 even in children have been in the media for some time. The publications are not only North American, but also European, as can bee seen in this link.

New legislation is being introduced in many states of the US regarding school snacks and vending machines in schools.

Not all food news is bad. Recently it was reported that fish oil could protect against the effects of junk food. Omega-3-fatty acids contained in fish oil are helping to rebalance the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6-fatty acids in food, which often is disbalanced towards an overabundance of omega-6 fatty aids in processed foods. Rebalancing the omega3/omega6 ratio in food helps to normalize the metabolism of the brain and prevents hardening of arteries.

What you can do to get healthy food

It starts when you buy food. Read labels and look for calories, sugar, fat and sodium content. You may be surprised how many stores carry organic foods now. The price may not be that much more. There is a useful app for your cell phone, Buycott, that you may want to download. This way you can scan items in the store and find out what ingredients are contained in a particular food item and which company produces it.

With meats it is particularly important to buy organic (because of superbugs and also because of the aspect that feed lot animals often receive antibiotics and hormones). Stick to organics also with vegetables and greens (xenoestrogens in non-organic greens that block hormone receptors). Milk products also need to be organic because of the bovine growth hormone facts mentioned above.

When you eat out, things become more difficult unless you find an organic food restaurant. You can always prepare your own salad for lunch with organic greens and a lean protein food, which you keep refrigerated until you are ready to consume it. On weekends a portable picnic in a park can be a great way to relax and socialize, especially in summer.

More information about nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014


Go Easy On Tempra And Tylenol In Young Kids

With cold and flu season around the corner, the medicine shelf will fill up with remedies that provide symptomatic relief for those who caught a bug. Children who have an elevated temperature will very likely receive over the counter medication such as Tempra drops or Tylenol for children. These preparations have been around for decades, and parents are usually confident that they are harmless.
A Lancet article points out that there are certain risks associated with them, and the most sensitive age group are the youngest children. A study documented that the mother’s use of paracetamol (identical to acetaminophen or Tylenol) during pregnancy can be associated with the development of asthma in 6 to 7 year old children. More recently 205,487 children in the age group of 6 to 7 were included in a survey. The children were from 73 centers in 31 countries. In the analysis of data the use of paracetamol in the first year of life was checked against the risk of asthma symptoms once the children were 6 to seven years old. Paracetamol use in the first year of life also played a role in the increased risk of rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema.

Go Easy On Tempra And Tylenol In Young Kids

Go Easy On Tempra And Tylenol In Young Kids

With these results, parents should resort to the children’s’ Tylenol and Tempra drops only, if fairly aggressive intervention is necessary. Too often over the counter meds are used “just in case he or she is coming down with something”. Symptomatic home remedies in children such as lukewarm baths to bring down an elevated temperature, cool fluids bring relief, and ice packs still have their place in the control of mild febrile symptoms.

The Lancet 2008; 372:1039-1048

Last edited December 3, 2012


Boost Babies’ Health with Mom’s Diet

Prenatal supplements and good advice on proper nutrition during pregnancy have long been included in proper prenatal care. Importance has been placed on folic acid to prevent neural tube defects in the fetal development. Calcium is recommended, often in the form of dairy products, but it does not end there: just swallowing the supplement and adding some more milk may be helpful but not quite enough. Certain dietary habits have been found more beneficial, such as the eating habits in the Mediterranean countries. A research team from the University of Crete in Heraclion, Greece included women who were involved in antenatal care at all general practices in Menorca, Spain. The study took place in the time frame of 12 month starting in 1997. After six and a half years 460 children were also included in the analysis.

Dietary habits were studied and assessed by food questionnaires and the children were assessed for the development of allergies and asthma.

Boost Babies’ Health with Mom’s Diet

Boost Babies’ Health with Mom’s Diet

The children of mothers who consumed the most vegetables, fish and legumes were almost 80% less likely to have persistent wheeze and more than 40 % less likely to have allergies. The results are consistent with the fact that a high level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet during pregnancy is protective not only to the mother but also to the child.

More information about prenatal visits (where nutritional habits are checked as well): http://nethealthbook.com/womens-health-gynecology-and-obstetrics/pregnancy-labor-delivery-2/prenatal-visits/

Reference: The Medical Post, April 22, 2008, page 25

Last edited December 18, 2014


Nutritional Research Possibly Biased

Influential articles about nutritional research are widely publicized. What is not so well known to consumers is the fact that a number of the research is funded by industry, which introduces test bias into the results, which can have far reaching implications. These results influence dietary recommendations, the department of public health, or regulations by the Food and Drug administration. The articles are widely publicized and also influence consumers’ choices.
Dr. Daniel Ludwig, author and director of the Optimal Weight For Life program at the Children’s’ Hospital in Boston, which is a Harvard medical institution, looked at 206 interventional and observational studies as well as scientific reviews. All of them were related to milk, soft drinks and juices. All the material was published between 1999 and 2003. The category was chosen, because these drinks are widely consumed by children and adolescents. There has been a considerable amount of controversy about the health risks and health benefit of these drinks. The soft drink industry is large and highly profitable, and the authors concluded that in this environment scientific bias could likely occur.
Of the 206 studies only 111 submitted the source of financial sponsorship. One third of them had mixed sponsorships, half of them were not sponsored by the industry and one in five was industry sponsored. Results showed, that industry sponsored research was 4 to 8 times more likely to be in favor of the companies’ products than those where the studies had independent financial funding.

Nutritional Research Possibly Biased

Nutritional Research Possibly Biased

During the study period the researchers who declared the source of funding or a conflict of interest rose from 50 to 80 %.
Dr. Ludwig and his team suggested that there is the potential to public health harm, unless there is increased government funding available for nutritional research through a peer review process such as that at the National Institute of Health.

More information about sugar substitutes: https://www.askdrray.com/yes-there-are-healthy-sugar-substitutes/

Reference: BMJ 2007; 334:62, 13 January

Last edited November 2, 2014


Cartoons Help Kids Deal With Pain

Shots in early childhood are often approached with a sense of trepidation by parents. It means almost without fail, that there is crying and resistance. All the well meaning comments, that it is “only like a little mosquito bite” to get a shot at the clinic are of not much use.
Italian researchers were able to confirm that children feel significantly less pain from blood draws when their mother was at their side. But this study from Siena, Italy also suggests that there are additional ways to distract children from pain. Sixty-nine children aged 7-12 were observed, and the study suggests that TV cartoons have an even greater power to distract youngsters from pain. Researchers took note that children whose attention was focused on a cartoon reported only one-third of the pain reported by controls of those who did not watch a cartoon.
The practical application could be useful in labs or clinics, where children are receiving injections or may experience pain and discomfort. A funny cartoon may take some of the sting out of the dreaded shots!

Cartoons Help Kids Deal With Pain

Cartoons Help Kids Deal With Pain

The study originally appeared in the August 17 online edition of Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

More information about pain: http://nethealthbook.com/neurology-neurological-disease/pain/

Reference: National Review of Medicine, August 30,2006, page 11

Last edited November 1, 2014


Flu Shots For Young Children And Pregnant Moms

It may be summer, but next winter will be there and along with it the threat of flus.
Flu shots are offered in fall, and especially people with health problems (like asthma or diabetes, just to name a few) and seniors have been the primary target groups for public vaccination programs. U.S. health authorities now have also added young children under 2 to the program.

This step has been taken, as babies and young children are at a substantially increased risk for influenza-related hospitalizations.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has just release a new recommendation, that all women who are pregnant during the influenza season should get flu shots. Pregnant women who contract influenza frequently have an increased rate of complications, including pneumonia, tachycardia (rapid heart beat), and contractions.
Even though most pregnant women are young and healthy, their hospital admission rate during the flu season is similar to what you see in the elderly.
Statistics show that generally only 12% of women with uncomplicated pregnancies get vaccinated. With the threat of a severe strain of influenza A, which showed its aggressive and widespread activity last winter, it can be expected that there will be an increased demand for flu shots this year.

Flu Shots For Young Children And Pregnant Moms

Flu Shots For Young Children And Pregnant Moms

References: The Medical Post, May 18, 2004, pg. 8 and 9

Last edited December 8, 2012