Monthly Archives: November 2011

Pizza Is A Vegetable!!!

Hooray! Thank goodness for this news. I must admit that when I saw this piece of news, I was excited.  I have always wanted to be able to eat pizza guilt free. And now I can, right!?

Congress is now saying that pizza can be classified as a vegetable in school lunches.  Earlier this year the Agriculture Department proposed new regulations that were supposed to limit the amount of potatoes and change other foods that were allowed into school lunches.  A final revision of the bill has removed these limits and has included allowing 2 tablespoons of tomato paste to be counted as a vegetable.  Originally, the bill wanted to include 1/2 a cup of tomato paste as a serving of vegetables, but this is too much to be on a single serving of pizza.

Companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes (surprise, surprise).  Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.

Specifically, the revisions in the bill are listed below.

  • Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which some schools serve daily.
  • Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.
  • Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.
  • Require USDA to define “whole grains” before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains.

It baffles me that limiting starchy vegetables is a point of contention.  First of all, they shouldn’t be classified as vegetables.  It gives them credit as health food where no credit is due.  Secondly, corn is not a vegetable! It is a grain.  Period.  Thirdly, it is a proven fact that high levels of starch in the diet lead to poor health outcomes.  It has been linked to everything from heart disease to Alzheimer’s.  Why are we continuing to allow it in our school lunches?

The answer is short and political.  It has everything to do with money and lobbying power and nothing to do with what is actually in the best interests of  the health of the children in this country.

By allowing tomato paste to be classified as a vegetable it essentially makes pizza a vegetable.  Where else are children going to get tomato paste in their school lunch? Pizza is already too prevalent in school lunches.  I remember when I was in school pizza was served everyday as an alternative to the planned meal available AND it was the main meal served every Friday.

Below is a quote from the American Frozen Food Institute:

“This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,” said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

‘Healthy meals such as pizza and pasta!?’ Did I read that correctly? Obviously the American Frozen Food Institute is not in the business of trying to help people be healthy, but I can’t believe Mr. Naasz could write that statement with a straight face. He might as well have said the sky is green! That would have been just as true as his statement on healthy foods.

The lobby power of big industry groups like the one above is too great and their interests are only in preserving their share of the market to make money. I wish people in Congress would take some initiative and vote for what they believe is right for this country and not based on a powerful lobby group that only has their interests at heart.

Whose interest does the American Frozen Food Institute have a heart? Perhaps a quick perusal of their current Board of Directors will provide some insight:

Michael Allen
 – Kellogg Co.
Paul Bakus
 – Nestle Pizza
Larry Cope
 – Clear Springs Foods Inc.
Paul A. DiGenova
 – Pinnacle Foods
Greg Evans
 – McCain Foods Ltd.
Brian Folkerts
 – Kraft Foods
James E. Matthews, Jr. – 
H.J. Heinz Co.
Paul L. Palmby
 – Seneca Foods Corporation
Joan Menke-Schaenzer
 – ConAgra Foods Inc.
Jeff Varcoe
 – The Schwan Food Company
Robert E. Ashmun
 – National Frozen Foods Corp.
Peter Cokinos – 
Little Lady Foods, Inc.
Andy Dahlen
 – General Mills, Inc.
Wesley Eubanks 
- The Pictsweet Co.
Stan Firestone
 – Firestone Pacific Foods Inc.
Steve Lezman – Tropicana Products Inc.
David E. Moore
 – Superior Foods
Bobby D. Ray
 – Haliburton International Foods
Joe Pacinelli
 – Better Baked Foods, Inc.
Steven R. Windh
 – Windsor Foods
Dave J. Yanda
 – Lakeside Foods, Inc.

Now are we really surprised they would lobby to have healthy foods removed from school lunches? Above are members of the largest junk food companies in the world. It’s criminal that we let our government be run by special interest groups like this.

Another part of the problem is that some will read the above statement by the America Frozen Food Institute and actually believe pizza and pasta are wholesome, nutritious meals when nothing could be further from the truth. We need better education on what is healthy and what is not.  Until then, special interest groups like the American Frozen Food Institute, the grain industry and the potato industry will continue to guide what we feed our children in schools.  You can bet they won’t be asking to include more vegetables anytime soon.



Filed under Diet, Public Health

Do Supplements Kill?

Nutritional supplements

Supplement Aisle

A study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine has concluded that taking multi vitamins and several other supplements was actually associated with an increased risk of mortality (or death).  We’ve seen these studies before and I have several thoughts on them.

First, I do not believe supplements will increase your risk of death.  Supplements are exceptionally safe.  They are so safe, in fact, that they are all sold over-the-counter.  However, supplements are also very effective in helping people with a wide variety of conditions.  With that power can come potential for unwanted side effects.  We must understand that if something has the power to do good it also has the power to do bad.  Let’s break down the study and see how the authors came to the conclusion that they did.

They assessed the use of vitamin and mineral supplements in relation to total mortality in 38,772 older women in the Iowa Women’s Health Study; mean age was 61.6 years at baseline in 1986.  Supplement use was self-reported in 1986, 1997, and 2004.  Their conclusion to the study was as follows:

“In older women, several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality risk; this association is strongest with supplemental iron. In contrast to the findings of many studies, calcium is associated with decreased risk.”

I have several problems with this study. The first is that use of supplements was self-reported.  And the time frame with which they reported was years apart. This is a problem because you are asking people to remember what they are taking.  I do this every day in my practice and many of my patients can’t remember what they’re taking day-to-day and I see them on a monthly basis.

The study also only shows an association, not cause and effect.  This is dangerous because studies like this get huge headlines and inevitably the headlines shout about how dangerous supplements are when, in fact, they are very safe.

To show you just how flimsy an association link in a study may be here is a good example. Say you wanted to study breast cancer and you wanted to look at what is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. You might conclude that wearing make-up is associated with a much higher rate of breast cancer than not wearing make-up.  You came to this conclusion because you noticed that people who wear make-up get breast cancer at much higher rates that people who do not.  This sounds legitimate of the surface.  Perhaps there is something in the make-up that is carcinogenic.  Or perhaps people who wear make-up are much more likely to get breast cancer than people who do not for another reason. We know that breast cancer is far more common in women and they also happen to wear the most make-up.  An association can easily be shown between people who wear make-up and breast cancer, but it likely not for the right reasons.

Another shortcoming of the study is that the researchers did not know whether the women were taking the supplements for a specific health condition.  People often begin taking supplements because they do not feel well.  They may be experiencing sleep problems, low energy,  head aches or worse.  These symptoms may be signs of deeper problems. We cannot be sure these women did not die from the very condition they were trying to treat and not the supplements.

Thirdly, the increase in mortality was exceptionally small and likely is not clinically significant. What that means is that the results were so minuscule they have almost no observable effect.  It was also noted that the women who used the supplements were almost twice a likely to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) while going through menopause.  HRT is known to increase the rates of many cancers.

The researchers did take hormone therapy into account in their analysis, along with several other potentially mitigating factors (including age, educational attainment, body mass index, diet, and physical activity).  What I don’t see on this list is prescription drug use.  This must be known for this study to hold any water! Drugs are obtained via prescription for one reason and one reason only – they are dangerous!  They are a leading cause of death in the United States!  If they did not consider drug use then how can they possibly conclude it was the supplements that increased mortality rates?  They can’t!

While I don’t agree with the conclusion of the study, I agree that men and women should seek the advice of someone trained in nutrition and skilled at building a personalized program for each individual.  I never recommend going to the health food store and picking up one of everything and beginning to take them.  As a matter of fact, I rarely recommend multi vitamins.  Not everyone needs more of everything.  Targeted nutrition should be your goal.

Remember, supplements are extremely safe and just because one study concludes that there is an association between supplements and mortality does not mean you should stop taking them, especially if they’ve benefited you.


Filed under Diet, Public Health