Still demonizing fats – fair enough to ban?

The FDA looking to ban trans fats? Really?

On one hand, the news is music to my ears. But when I really stop to think about it … I feel like it’s like opening Pandora’s Box.

Trans fats are dangerous, we know that. For decades, we’ve been artificially altering the chemical makeup of foods for taste and shelf-life sale-ability. Health was never a consideration. Studies were never done on the potential hazards, and how the body would even respond to such foreign chemically composed “foods” (or “food-like products,” as journalist and author Michael Pollan likes to say). And it’s in EVERYTHING – even foods that say ‘no trans fats.’ Troublesome, but true.

And whenever a societal pressure regarding an unhealthy food product reaches government ears, their reaction tends to be the same. DECLARE WAR on said unhealthy product, and BAN, BAN, BAN! Remember the soda ban in New York City? That didn’t get very far. And there is a very clear reason: People feel they have a right to choose, and pick their own poisons.

My suggestion? Education. It is key in every situation like this. Yes, the cigarette industry is still going strong, but persistent education on the dangers has made the American public hyper-aware of the risks of smoking. In fact so much so, that it’s become socially acceptable to “bully” friends and family to stop smoking. I know, because I did it with my grandmother when I was 13, by stealing her cigarette packs and throwing them away. After a few angry phone calls and a good amount of wasted money later, she allowed herself to listen to my pleas. Today, laws have been enacted to keep smoke away from doors to establishments. And you just don’t see “smoking sections” in restaurants today. Amazing what a little knowledge can do. Yes, people still smoke. But it’s their choice to do so. Our job is simply to inform them.

But the education on nutrition – I haven’t found that to be as public as it needs to be. It is only starting to surface in the American consciousness that being overweight or obese is dangerous to both personal health and the country’s economic stability and healthcare industry.

In the above linked article by Alexandra Sifferlin, in “7 foods that won’t be the same if trans fats are banned,” she mentions some of the possible replacements for trans fats in highly processed foods such as doughnuts, creamers, etc. Soybean, canola, and vegetable oils top the list. While on the surface, the idea of throwing out trans fats and using oils low in saturated fats sounds like a winning combo, it won’t in the long run. And I won’t even get into the GMO issue presented by these alternatives.

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Okay, here I will go as far as saying: The problem ISN’T trans fats! *gasp!* Before you start pointing out the failure in my logic, hear me out. The problem today is that the very things humans find savory – fats, salts, and sugars – are far too prevalent in today’s processed foods. What we are missing is the know-how to make informed choices between the foods and food-like products, both in restaurant establishments and at the supermarket.

And statistics back me up.

“Solid fats contribute an average of 19 percent of the total calories in American diets, but few essential nutrients Picture 3and no dietary fiber,” it says in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Males consume 2,475 calories daily and  females consume  1,833 calories. Men and women eat an average of 33 percent fat. While that is within range of fat recommendations (20-35%, or 400-700 calories/45-75 grams of fat), that 20-35% of recommended fat refers only to the healthier unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The majority of fat calories consumed today by American men and women are primarily from  saturated fat. The American Heart Association puts a cap of saturated fat intake at 7 percent of total daily calories, or 140 calories/16 grams a day. Trans fat is recommended at less than one percent.

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So my recommendation is not cutting out all the bad stuff in food. I am a nutritionist, and I still eat French fries, cookies, crackers – but on occasion. It’s about learning how to eat in moderation! Knowing what is bad for us, and why goes a long way in making healthier choices. We eat these foods filled with less than healthy things, because we enjoy them. Frankly, they taste good! We should still allow the American public to enjoy them – but teach them how to view them as treats, and not an everyday, go-to food-like product. As a coach, I work with people to add healthy things into their diet, rather than take away things they take pleasure in (because taking that away, even figuratively, makes a person covet the off-limits food even more).

Shouldn’t the FDA think about doing the same? Maybe regulation and bans are not the answer.

A narrative aside: Colliding of two worlds

Changing careers is like living a double life.

As you can see, I find it difficult to find time to update this blog regularly. This is because I don’t like to blog while sitting at my desk at work (just seems like a conflict of interest, and I try not to mix any of these elements). And when sitting at my desk at home, homework assignments dominate most of my time. After spending a day writing for a profession at a computer all day – when I get home, the idea of pumping out a researched blog hardly tempts me.

A busy journalist
This is me a few years ago, working hard at my day job as a small town newspaper editor. Now I can say I have at last breached the wall between my burgeoning nutrition career and my writing career as a food and nutrition journalist!

Despite this, I know I am a decent writer, and thoroughly enjoy it. I have been writing fiction since I was 6-years-old, which has slowed down dramatically since entering my current profession. I have been a journalist for going on eight years, and have been editor of a small town newspaper for six of those eight. I know the business. I know how to write. I know what makes a good story, and pretty much have free reign to write what I want.

So, as I’ve tiptoed into the realm of nutrition and health, I knew I had no other choice in life: I knew I would find a way to incorporate writing into my next career incarnation, however that would develop. Although I thought I’d be teaching creative writing by now at the college level, fate had something better in store for me. I have acquired a great amount of interest in teaching through information, and learning how to use social media to disseminate that information has become a fun passion. I am poised to take my new career to those arenas.

For some reason, though, I never felt comfortable enough to bring the little bit of education I’d garnered into the professional realm I am currently in. I kept my musings to blogs with a limited following, gathering up my courage. I dreamed of landing a ready-made health or nutrition writing position in some magazine or online news media outlet, employing three of my biggest passions: Food and nutrition, writing, and teaching/informing the public. I thought once that happened, I could finally stand proud and say, ‘Ah, at last. Someone has deemed me a nutrition writer.’ Days, weeks, months went by, and I was still caged to blogs.

And then, one day – it happened.

Last month, an opportunity came up to write a food or nutrition-related article for a local magazine my company puts out quarterly. As a favor to a coworker, I threw together an article about something I had become familiar with recently: Gluten-free diets.

Under the unexpected and tight deadline, I still pumped out a decently informative piece. And I felt for the first time that I was writing from the head, and not out of a book as I have done for so many homeworkKeep your eyes peeled in Arizona for this publication where my debut as a nutrition journalist has appeared.

Keep your eyes peeled in Arizona for this publication where my debut piece as a nutrition journalist has appeared.

assignments and blogs in the past. I knew what I was talking about, and could quote facts and statistics.

When the article came out in print, I had to read it. In fact, I read it a few times. This was a milestone. That fear of branching out into print – honest to goodness ink and paper publication – had finally been broken.

As I near graduation from the holistic nutrition coaching program at Southwest Institute of the Healing Arts, I feel much more at home discussing and broaching nutrition topics. I have an amazing treasure trove of books and resources to draw from, and am gearing up for starting an on-the-side nutrition coaching practice while I finish the dietician technician program at Central Arizona College.

In the interim, I have become unstoppable and my writing worlds have officially blurred. With confidence up, I continue to sharpen my nutrition writing skills and reaching the small audience I have here by continuing to print articles on subjects that I feel are vitally important for the health of my readership. I have continued to brave the publication world by starting a three-part series for the newspaper I head, in conjunction with Cancer Control Month. Subjects I’ve covered are cancer prevention, and current and pending allopathic treatments. The first article was published last week. Another one or two are planned relating to holistic treatments, and the effect of cancer on rural areas like the town I work in.

You’re looking at a food and nutrition journalist on fire, now. But the balance now is – to blog or to publish? I hope you stay with me as I stumble through the next couple of years, trying to keep all of my chain-saws in the air!

So I guess the moral of the story is: No one is going to pick you out of a crowd and wave a magic want to tell you that you’ve made it. You have to make things happen for yourself.