Whether child or adult...we all like to enjoy something sweet! That doesn't mean it has to be full of added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
Despite what some commercial diet plans say, or what we have been led to believe—not all carbohydrates are "bad". Just like not all calories are created equally, carbohydrates aren’t either. They provide energy for activity and aid in the functioning of our muscles and internal organs, so we cannot live without them.
On July 2nd, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, announced that, as part of the city-wide effort to fight the obesity epidemic, the City is increasing efforts to improve access to healthy eating. For first time ever, all of city's farmers markets will make fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for low-income New Yorkers.
138 Farmers Markets throughout the five boroughs will accept Health Bucks, coupons good for $2 of fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers market, an increase of more than 100 percent from last year’s 65 participating markets. At the 125 markets that accept EBT food stamp participants are provided an extra $2 toward fruits and vegetables for every $5 spent with EBT, Overall, this is expected to amount to more than $350,000 in free fruits and vegetables for low-income New Yorkers this season.
Red Rabbit’s office has been buzzing with discussion over HBO’s most recent documentary concerning America’s obesity epidemic, The Weight of the Nation. This four part documentary series, in association with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) & the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides devastating personal stories, alarming health statistics and a look at the overall health of our country. Here is just an overview of Part One of this outstanding series, which focuses on consequences of the obesity epidemic.
Last week, we began telling you about celebrity chef, Mario Batali’s “Food Stamp Challenge” initiative. For one week, the acclaimed chef challenged Americans (and his own family) to “walk in someone else’s shoes” by eating only what they would be able to buy with food stamps. Batali, the star of ABC’s “The Chew,” partnered with the New York City Food Bank to raise awareness about potential cuts to the food stamp program, which helps feed millions of Americans. The food stamp guidelines amount to $31 per person, per week, or $1.48 per meal! Instead of filling up on fresh, organic vegetables, he’s been feeding his family more beans and starches like egg and bean tacos and lentils and rice.
What this initiative brings home to us is the need for families of all income levels to educate themselves on wellness and nutrition—as well as eating and cooking options—especially at a lower income level. Mario Batali may be giving up his $4 lattes from a specialty coffee house, but most families struggle with larger and more fundamental issues, like what to make for dinner that will be healthy, and not break the bank.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sometimes called corn sugar (this is actually just a marketing ploy by the HFCS manufacturers to trick people), has become a popular ingredient in sodas, fruit-flavored drinks, baked and packaged goods. Given how ubiquitous HFCS is, some people are concerned about possible adverse health effects. I'm sure you have already read and heard about the problems associated with sugar or HFCS sweetened products. The excess empty calories, blood sugar spike and resulting insulin surge this creates in your body may not only promote fat gain, but may also stimulate your appetite, further increasing your chances for developing chronic diseases.
For years, researchers have linked a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, gout and weight gain to increased sugar consumption. Ironically, much of the addition of added sugar in the food and beverages we consume can be linked back to the non-fat diet craze of the 1990’s. Manufacturers took out the fat, but had to replace the taste, and did so by adding sweeteners. Subsequently, the rates of obesity and chronic-related disease have INCREASED.
The average American consumes 22 to 28 teaspoons of added sugars a day – mostly from HFCS and ordinary table sugar (sucrose). That is 350 to 440 empty calories that few of us can afford. The American Heart Association recommends that American women should consume no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar from any source, and that most American men should consume no more than 150 calories a day from added sugar, with less being better. That's about 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women and 9 for men. (When you consider that a 12 ounce can of soda contains about 170 calories/7 teaspoons of sugar, it makes you realize how quickly it can add up). To figure this out on your own, use the “Nutrition Facts” panel. For the number of calories from sugar, multiply the grams of sugar on the label by 4. To figure out the number of teaspoons of sugar in a product, divide the grams of sugar by 4.
It's time to start talking about solutions, not only the problems. I believe we can have an impact on the issues facing our society regarding healthy food in schools and the obesity epidemic if we focus on both ends of the spectrum—the bottom-up local grass roots level and the top down regulatory and government level.
From the top:
We live in a country where USDA nutrition standards consider (using only a few examples here) pizza and French fries as vegetables—which means they can be served to our school-aged children every day of the week. If that is the standard that we set; if the bar is set at that low a level, then kids are far from safe. No one can re-invent the system overnight, but parents and educators need to step up and say, “this is not helping our children and it must change.”
Here is another awful oversight in our current system: refined foods. None of the school nutrition standards in place today address those at all. Until Congress changes the guidelines, large companies will not change what they serve. We all know pesticides, chemicals and preservatives are horrifically bad for us—as kids and adults. Yet, we treat all fruits and vegetables the same. Do you think peaches that were grown on a farm 50 miles away and picked yesterday have the same nutritional value as those that were picked 6 months ago, shipped half way around the world, dumped into a sugary syrup (most likely high fructose corn syrup) and canned? Take a look at the typical school lunch fare and you will find more of the latter than the former.
Studies have shown that food dyes and other additives can increase hyperactivity and cause other behavioral problems; children who ate fast food three or more times per week performed lower on standardized tests in reading and math. Today, Red Rabbit is successfully bringing healthy meals to thousands of school children across the Greater New York Area every day, with great results.
Though I think the Let's Move Campaign is a terrific first attempt at setting a good example, we need to go further and deeper into the system to make wellness, fitness and healthy food options something all kids—of all socioeconomic backgrounds—have access to.