Thursday, August 27, 2015

Food Purchases and a Right to Know

Some while back, I listened to an interview of Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, on the Diane Rhem Show. During the conversation, he said something about consumers having a right to full information when they were making a purchasing decision, whether that was an appliance, house or a loan. I made a note to myself to go back and find the transcript when time allowed, because what he was saying also made sense as an argument for why we should disclose information about the foods we purchase, even if  - or especially if - they are completely prepared by a third party. I do not focus on vaguely defined terms like All Natural or Organic, and though I don't think a product with GMO (genetically modified organisms) is bad simply because it contains GMOs, I do concede to my friends who insist the products be labeled as such.

Instead, my labeling interests are about ingredients (and their amounts) and caloric content - at the very least calorie amounts, because that seems to be the best place to start with regard to weight control. I did find the recording and transcript of the interview, you can view both here, and I believe it is this excerpt that caught my attention back in July.
  • For consumers, the ability to understand more clearly what the costs and risks are that they face as they make choices, I have great confidence in consumers' ability to make decisions for themselves. Nobody can stand in their shoes and understand their circumstances as well as they do themselves. But at the same time, there are things they need to know about what the choices really are and whether the choice that's being presented to them is the deal that they will actually be able to live with next year or the years after or whether it will have changed in ways that are not clear to them in the fine print.These are all ways in which consumers, if they have their eyes open and if they can clearly see the futures, will make pretty good choices for themselves. But if the future is obscured, if they're being tricked and if there's deceptive marketing, as was often the case, then they will make bad decisions and they'll regret them and none of us wants to see that and consumers most of all. 

  • A lot of what Mr. Cordray discusses has to do with loans - its a great interview regarding financial protection and regulation. I encourage you to listen.

    But if you think about all the decisions we make regarding food - every day - the same message applies. Do we know what will happen to our future selves if we eat, for example, meals with very high calorie, sugar or salt content? And if we do know what will happen - for example, that we might gain weight or our blood pressure become dangerously high - shouldn't we be able to make an informed choice? A choice made by easily identifying the foods and beverages that are high or low in those things? It is our future 1) to understand and 2) to protect.

    Full disclosure is a purchasers legal right.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2015

    Calorie Awareness While Traveling

    I recently spent a week at a Residence Inn in Alabama. I attended a research methods workshop for obesity prevention and treatment. On several occasions, I was aware of the 'conspicuous' absence of calorie disclosures. The biggest one... the hotel 'free breakfast.' Except for the cartons of yogurt and milk, nothing was labeled. Considering that a slice of bread can have as little as 40 calories (if you search hard) and as many as 100+, that's a big deal. I imagine the range for the available muffins, bagels and waffles make them equally hard to 'estimate.' Sure a day or two of incidental over consumption should't have lasting effects on your health, but if you travel  - and eat away from home - often, the information will come in handy. 
    When I travel, attend workshops, meetings and just go to work, I try to keep within the bounds of what is healthy for me. That is another observation I had while at the workshop. It is not enough for the planners to serve 'healthy' food, because healthy, especially these days, is a relevant term and a moving target. Healthy for me mostly meets with the updated recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: 
    The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat;i and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. Vegetables and fruit are the only characteristics of the diet that were consistently identified in every conclusion statement across the health outcomes.
    *The fruits and vegetables are highlighted as being prepared with spices and without adding salt and saturated fat. See the full report here.

    So for me, healthy is not about organic or 'all natural,' and healthy doesn't mean no artificial sweeteners, but that is exactly how some others might define healthy for themselves. My healthy diet includes mostly whole foods, minimally processed; no meats, lots of vegetables, soy based lean protein, fish, almond milk and no or low fat dairy (yogurt, cheese, ice cream), fruit, coffee, plenty of whole grains, like popcorn!, fiber and yup, alcohol and diet soda. So to eat the way I like, I usually bring my own food, and in Alabama, though I ate out a few nights, I went to the grocery store and prepared my lunch and dinner in the nice hotel room kitchen.  (The reason the workshop lunches weren't 'healthy' to me is because they were often sandwiches, pasta, or meat based. I did enjoy the fruit and diet soda though!)
    Interestingly, my friends and I were out walking one evening and one or two got very excited when we passed the Insomnia Cookies store. (remember this was an obesity prevention workshop, and cookies can be part of a calorie controlled diet). So, my friend was more than a little excited as she went into the store - there was quite a line at the counter - but she came right back out, with a brochure (for me) and disgust. WHY? THEY POSTED THE CALORIE CONTENT!  HAHAHAHA, she said that seeing the calories took all the fun out of it. Hilarious. (BTW, we have one of these Insomnia Cookie food trucks at Temple University, and the shop in Alabama was within a mile of the UAB campus. Sense a theme?)

    Notice the ranges, also on the right is ice cream