April Fools? Or Has the World Gone Mad?

by Jessica Hochstadt

As spring begins, the flowers bloom, baby birds learn to fly, and the sounds of laughter permeate the air. The latter, of course, is due to April Fools’ Day, dedicated entirely to practical jokes. As a science, the field of nutrition leaves very little space for said pranks (unless you count labeling the sugar container as salt). However, recent activity within the field raises the question we all ask when a professor announces a pop quiz: Is this a joke? The following is a short list of nutrition-related issues that could all pass for an April Fools’ Day hoax but are, unfortunately, real.

1) FDA Increases Serving Size: On February 5th 2010, the New York Times reported that the FDA is attempting to change the standard serving sizes that are currently on all packaged foods (NY Times article).  Their justification for this is that the serving sizes “puzzle even the experts”. In particular, the serving sizes do not represent the amount of food that the average person eats in one sitting. For example, one serving (150 kcal) of Kellogg’s® Frosted Flakes® is 3/4 of a cup. However, most people eat at least 2 cups in one sitting.

Why is the serving size set so small? When serving sizes were first introduced in the 1990s, the FDA set them to represent the amount of food that American’s typically ate in one sitting. This information reflects eating habits from the 1970s and 1980s. If you’ve seen any of the CDC’s obesity maps (CDC maps) of the United States between 1980 and today, you’ll know that eating habits have changed slightly since the 1970s.

But does that mean that serving sizes have to change? Or that our eating habits should? If the serving size begins to reflect what Americans currently eat, it is likely that people will think that the amount in a new serving is appropriate and might even justify eating more. Obese will become the new overweight. Overweight will become the new healthy. And heart attacks will become the new rite of passage!

2) High Fructose Corn Syrup Ads: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a cheap sugar substitute that is comprised mostly of fructose and is used in the making of most processed foods (like Hostess’ Ho-Hos® and Ding-Dongs®, and sodas).  In recent years, our understanding of HFCS and its effects on the human body has waxed and waned from “poisonous toxin” to “just like sucrose”.

One issue that cannot be debated is the effect that HFCS has on the environment. Corn is the number one crop being grown in the United States, and one of its primary uses is HFCS. Because the crop is not rotated when it is grown, the soil’s nutrients are depleted and require more pesticides and fertilizers. Fertilizer runoff starves the soil of oxygen, thus rendering it useless. The result—a non-harvestable wasteland.

However, the Corn Refiners Association ignores these effects and continues to promote its products in a series of print and televised ads (www.SweetSurprise.com). The common theme surrounding these ads is that people think HFCS is bad for you, but in reality, it is “made from corn, natural, similar to sugar, and fine in moderation”. Upon hearing this, the newly informed party then happily devours the HFCS-laden food (popsicle, sugary drink or cereal). None of the actors ever mentions what the production of HFCS is doing to the environment.

How can a big company promote a product that is bad for the environment? Surely, this must be a first! (Review the history of Monsanto… and don’t call me Shirley.)

3)  This Is Why You’re Fat: In browsing through a local Barnes and Noble, I came across a book whose cover depicted a hamburger patty nestled between cinnamon buns. The book, This Is Why You’re Fat (click www.thisiswhyyourefat.com for the online version), is a celebration of the noxious foods that people eat. The foods range from fried Mars® bars to bacon chocolate chip cookies. Some of the more intricate of the recipes include the “flatline burger” (a deep fried double bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter, garnished with two sides of chipotle mayo) and the “cowboy café barnyard” (two half-pound beef patties, barbequed pulled pork, bacon, two slices of cheddar cheese, and a fried egg between a hamburger bun).

I will not bore you with what we know about the health effects of eating these foods. Instead, I will say this: as long as the cowboy café barnyard stays on the menu… I’ll always have a job. So, pig out, piggies! (And then call me. I’d like to help you.)

4) Quick Trim®: As the winter months come to an end and the sun begins to shine, we begin the process of shedding our winter weight. For many, this is not an easy task. It requires calorie restriction, physical activity, and careful attention to calories consumed versus calories burned. Others turn to a simpler, and according to Kim Kardashian (a woman whose claim to fame is fame itself), more effective method—Quick Trim®!

According to their television advertisements, Quick Trim® is a dietary supplement that actually blocks ingested food from ever getting absorbed! A MIRACLE! It’s like your intestines don’t exist!

I searched the website (www.getquicktrim.com) to better understand how the product works. Quick Trim® comes in both pill and beverage form and “helps cleanse and detoxify”, “jump starts weight loss”, and “reduces belly bloating”. The doctor who supports this drug is not listed. Neither are the magic ingredients. In fact, the bottom of the webpage clearly states that the FDA has not evaluated this product. But Kim Kardashian says it’s good for you. So…

Knock knock… this isn’t a joke!

Ultimately, these are real, current issues in nutrition. Luckily for the world, there are people like us to guide policy in the right direction, disprove myths, inform others on healthy eating, and steer people away from quackery. When you see these things, take a moment to first laugh. Then kick your Friedman nutritionist butt into gear—we have our work cut out for us.

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