Health

Evidence is Piling Up: Marijuana Could Be a Weight Loss Aid

 

image via Cosmopolitan

image via Cosmopolitan

 

“The prevalence of obesity was significantly lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.”
                                       American Journal of Epidemiology, Oxford University Press, August, 2011

So concluded researchers from the first large-scale study of marijuana use and obesity. They analyzed data from 50,000 U.S. adults, controlled for participants’ sociodemographic characteristics (age, education, ethnicity, etc.), and found a marked difference in obesity rates: less than 17% among cannabis users versus 25% among nonusers, and the most frequent smokers (3X per week or more) were the slimmest of them all.

The study pretty much turns on its ear everything you thought you knew about the munchies. And there have been others:

  • a 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the American Journal of Medicine shows that pot smokers, on average, have smaller waists and higher levels of ‘good’ cholesterol than non-pot smokers. Again, the biggest winners were the heaviest users.
  • The research journal Obesity published a study this year linking lower body mass index and lower insulin levels, both markers for diabetes, with cannabis use.
  • The British Medical Journal reports that current abstainers who merely have a history of marijuana use are at a lower risk of contracting type 2 diabetes than those with no history of cannabis consumption.

Can you think of a more counterintuitive diet aid than marijuana?

The munchies are a well-documented phenomenon. Rigorous, double-blind, controlled studies only confirm what generations of stoners and chemotherapy patients know: smoking weed makes you hungry. And not regular hungry but craving food of the sweet, salty, or fatty variety. Marijuana perks up the taste and hunger receptors in your brain and body; flavors are heightened on the tongue as happy-making mood compounds course through your body, and your brain craves more, more, more. It’s why even brownies made from a boxed mix will taste so damn good when you’re stoned.

Actually, marijuana isn’t all that far-fetched as a diet aid.

For starters, obesity researchers know that a diet of foods laden with concentrated sugars and refined starches can act on the brain in much the same way. Chronic overeaters are essentially looking to stimulate the same reward centers as marijuana smokers. Basically, cannabis users are less inclined to overindulge in food in that way because they already have their own high.

An easy benefit to understand is the impact of body temperature on weight regulation. Cannabis elevates the body’s core temperature and increases blood flow. The effect on the metabolism is similar to what happens during exercise—metabolic processes speed up and burn off more calories, and continue to do so for an hour or two after smoking—seemingly enough to counteract the munchies and then some. Less is understood about marijuana’s role in regulating the body’s blood sugar levels and insulin, but trial data has many in the medical community convinced that a marijuana derivative will someday be part of the everyday health regimen for people with diabetes.

Marijuana just might be the antidote to the national obesity epidemic. 
Researchers from San Diego State University and Cornell University, publishing in last month’s journal of Health Economics, found that when a state passes a medical marijuana law, the probability of obesity drops by 2 to 6 percent and generates savings in obesity-related medical costs of $58 to $115 per citizen, per year. As compelling as the evidence might be, it’s nearly impossible to fund and conduct research and drug trials as long as marijuana remains an illegal substance on the national level.

 

Posted in diet, Health, health + diet | 1 Comment

We’ll Choose a Dirty Restaurant Over a Clean One, as Long as We Think It’s Authentic

image via The Health Inspector's  Notebook

image via The Health Inspector’s Notebook

 

Authenticity is the value of the moment.
Much more than a buzzword, it shapes our attitudes and our ideals. It rolls off the tongue when we speak of everything from politicians to blue jeans.
Why would we let a little thing like hygiene get in the way of the pursuit of authentic dining experiences?

Studies like Dirty, Authentic…Delicious and Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: On How Hygiene and Authenticity Shape Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants have looked at diners’ Yelp reviews and correlated them to inspection data from local departments of public health. The findings consistently demonstrate that authenticity trumps cleanliness when consumers choose and evaluate their dining experiences.

Some diners even extoll the virtues of shaky sanitation.
When they see line cooks ankle-deep in bok choi trimmings and unrefrigerated ducks strung up by their necks they double down on the Yelp review, lavishly praising the unvarnished authenticity of the meal. In cities where health inspectors assign letter grades, it’s common to joke that ‘A’ is for ‘Americanized;’ a grade that’s only earned by restaurants that pay too much attention to superficial attributes and not enough to the food.

Let’s be clear, for a variety of reasons we are primarily talking about non-European ethnic restaurants.
First, these are the establishments that are most scrutinized for their bona fides by the self-styled urban adventurers who dominate online opinion and ratings sites. These are also the restaurants that are most challenged by differences in language and cultural norms, two significant obstacles to successful health inspections. And finally, the old clichés are borne out by statisticsimmigrant-owned ethnic restaurants, especially small and family-run businesses, fare poorly in health inspections when compared with similar businesses owned by native-born restaurateurs.

Go ahead and try that grubby little hole-in-the-wall.
And don’t worry; authenticity doesn’t correlate to food poisoning. A look at food-borne diseases by the Centers for Disease Control found that the inspection grades of restaurants with verified food poisoning outbreaks were no lower than those without.

 

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Eating Your Way to a Good Night’s Sleep

 

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Forget that glass of warm milk at bedtime.
It might feel as cozy as a tuck-in from Mom, but it’s doing more harm than good when it comes to falling asleep.

The right foods before bed can contribute to restful sleep. Sleep-friendly foods are rich in tryptophan, the notorious nap-inducer found in Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner. The wrong foods have amino acids that keep the tryptophan from crossing into the brain where it’s converted into the sedatives serotonin and melatonin.
A glass of warm milk is one of those wrong foods.

Ideally you’ll start a good sleep diet hours before bedtime. 
The best begins as soon as you wake up in the morning when a little protein in your breakfast kickstarts your blood sugar levels, hormones, and neurotransmitters. Regular meals throughout the day, each including some more protein, keep things on an even keel and have you reaching less often for afternoon pick-me-ups like coffee and candy, which can have lingering stimulative effects up to 12 hours later.

When nighttime rolls around, a well-chosen bedtime snack can help you get a restful, restorative night’s sleep. According to the sleep specialists at the Mayo Clinic, you want to avoid garlicky, spicy, fatty foods before bed. Here are the three most highly recommended bedtime snacks:

  • Popcorn, preferably air-popped, washed down with cherry juice
  • Oatmeal with sliced banana and just a splash of nonfat milk
  • Low- or nonfat yogurt with a sprinkle of almonds or sesame seeds

The meal of your dreams:
Monastrell Restaurante in southern Spain serves a special “sleep menu” that is purported to cure insomnia. The chef claims knowledge of a secret ingredient prized during the Roman empire for its soporific qualities. Courses include grilled octopus, pumpkin lasagne, turbot with lemon calamari, lemon sponge cake, and olive oil sorbet.

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Regulating junk food will make the tobacco battle look like a walk in the park.

via US Department of Health & Human Services

via US Department of Health & Human Services

Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed.

–from  the opening address of the sixty-seventh session of The World Health Organization’s AssemblyGeneva, Switzerland, May 2014.

Tobacco and junk food—here’s how they’re the same:
We all know that both are bad. It’s a universally-accepted truth that tobacco and junk food are implicated among the leading causes of premature death and chronic disease.
Both are incredibly addictive. Last year the American Medical Association officially classified food addiction as a disease. Eating junk food triggers physiological changes and neural responses; in the food -addicted (estimated to be one of us in twenty) the brain’s response is virtually indistinguishable from that of smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice.

Here’s why junk food is more perilous:
Tobacco is sabotage, and every smoker knows it, but food is supposed to be good for us.
Tobacco is a binary choice—to smoke or not to smoke. Eating is not a discretionary activity; food is sustenance. While cigarettes can be avoided, food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. How long do you think abstinence would last if former smokers were offered a pack of cigarettes at every meal?

You can argue that junk food is a choice, but is it really?
There’s no scientific or nutritional standard to separate the junky stuff from the healthy foods. Junk food has no official classification or designation in the food industry, the medical community, or governmental agencies. Some say that if you have to ask it’s probably junk. Or they’ll point to the classic pornography definition that relies on prevailing standards: you know it when you see it. Until there’s an acid test or even basic agreement on a simple definition, we can’t be sure of our choices, and more importantly, there’s no way to regulate it.

It’s not as simple as avoiding the unholy trinity of salt, sugar, and fat.
You can’t just draw a line in the sand. Pixie Stix and Doritos are easy, but most foods–even those with a surfeit of the reviled ingredients–have some redeeming nutritional value. Rarely are calories truly empty. There are also plenty of foods–think of nuts, olives, and dark chocolate–that could qualify as junk food for their salt, sugar, or fat levels but are decidedly healthy. Truly dangerous ingredients and additives like artificial trans fats, nitrites, and food dyes should be banned, but mostly we just need to know what’s in our food; we don’t want to be told what we can eat.

The World Health Organization gets it right when it argues for the highest level of global agreement and collective action in dealing with junk food.
It’s also right that there are lessons to be learned from the world-wide effort to reduce smoking like warning labels, stringent advertising guidelines, and limited access to child-oriented media. Like tobacco, taxes should be hiked on unhealthy food products with the revenue funding healthcare and health education, and agricultural subsidies should be distributed to align with our nutritional goals: cheap broccoli and pricey high-fructose corn syrup.

Where the WHO gets it wrong is comparing junk food to cigarettes. Junk food is so much worse.

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, Health | 1 Comment

Just in Time for Halloween: More Good News About Chocolate

halloween-chocolate-11286965161ciXm

 

Forget the fruit rollups and goldfish crackers. Chocolate is the healthy Halloween treat.
The list of health benefits from chocolate keeps getting longer.

Ounce for ounce, dark chocolate and cocoa contain more antioxidants than such good-for-you foods as green tea and blueberries. Antioxidants work by neutralizing unstable molecules that can trigger changes in the structure of normally healthy cells. Antioxidants in chocolate can lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. They can decrease complications in pregnant women, reduce the risk of stroke, cancer, and heart disease, and mitigate the brain’s response to pain.

The good news just keeps getting better.
Food scientists have recently developed a cocoa-processing method that retains more flavenols. Flavenols are a class of antioxidant that increases blood flow to the brain. The improved flow seems to have the most impact on the mathematical parts of the brain: drinking two cups of cocoa a day has been found to significantly improve fluency with basic computational problems as well as complex math problems, and test subjects report less mental exhaustion. Flavenols also slow the decline of memory and protect the brain from other age-related deteriorations.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to eat chocolate.
Just because it’s a wonder food, you don’t want to indulge indiscriminately.

The darker the chocolate, the better
Dark chocolate is much richer in antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa (most quality chocolates are labeled with this information) the greater the health benefits.

Avoid the high calorie extras
Caramel, marshmallow, nonpareils— not a lot of antioxidants; stick with plain, dark chocolate, or maybe chocolate with fruit or nuts.

Skip the milk
Milk consumed with chocolate interferes with the antioxidants. It’s a shame. They do taste good together.

Eat moderately
Always sound advice. Especially with a high-calorie food like chocolate where health benefits can be quickly outweighed by over-indulgence.

 

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Ebola: Can You Get it from Food?

 

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Facts about Ebola in the U.S. via Centers for Disease Control

Facts about Ebola in the U.S. via Centers for Disease Control

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The internet is churning with misinformation and fear-mongering about the Ebola virus.
One theory making the rounds is that the food supply could be an entry point for the spread of the virus in this country. Newsweek bolstered the speculation with an inflammatory cover story: A Back Door For Ebola. Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark a U.S. Epidemic. 

The World Health Organization classifies Ebola as a foodborne disease.
The official U.S. position, voiced by both the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General, is that you can’t get it from food. The truth comes down to your diet.

Researchers haven’t absolutely pinned it down but there’s general agreement that the virus probably originated with African bats.
Bats are notoriously adept at hosting parasites and pathogens and spreading diseases to other animals. The really nasty viruses like SARS, Ebola, and Marburg all happen to be of the zoonotic variety, meaning they can be passed between animals and humans.

Bats and their animal neighbors in the wild are a common food source in the Ebola zone.
Hunting, butchering, cooking, and eating infected animals creates contact with blood, organs, and bodily fluids—the known paths of transmission. But no African meat, raw or processed, bush or otherwise, is allowed to enter the U.S. The FDA bans it from every country on the African continent, and the CDC, the Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have policing authority, with each violation carrying a $250,000 fine. That’s not to say that it’s not here; illegal, smuggled bushmeat has always found its way into immigrant communities whose residents hunger for a taste of home.

From the global perspective of the World Health Organization, Ebola is indeed a foodborne disease. But the Surgeon General and the CDC are also correct—it’s not a foodborne disease in this country because bushmeat isn’t a part of our food supply. With all due respect to the culture and traditions of our nation’s African immigrants, it’s unimaginable that members of their communities are continuing the risky practice in the midst of this ongoing health crisis. But to many West Africans, bushmeat is more than just a tradition; it’s an essential form of sustenance in regions where other sources of animal protein are scarce or prohibitively expensive. And that’s a situation that just continues to worsen as the Ebola epidemic sickens farmers, and quarantines disrupt food trade.

 

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Is Junk Food the New Tobacco?

via US Department of Health & Human Services

image via US Department of Health & Human Services

 

Junk food is the new tobacco: that’s the takeaway from The World Health Organization’s Assembly that’s taking place right now in Geneva. The U.N.’s Olivier De Schutter opened the summit with this statement:

Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco. Just as the world came together to regulate the risks of tobacco, a bold framework convention on adequate diets must now be agreed.

If only. Regulating junk food will make the tobacco battle look like a walk in the park.

Here’s how they’re the same:
We all know that both are bad. It’s a universally-accepted truth that tobacco and junk food are implicated among the leading causes of premature death and chronic disease.
Both are incredibly addictive. Last year the American Medical Association officially classified food addiction as a disease. Eating junk food triggers physiological changes and neural responses; in the food -addicted (estimated to be one of us in twenty) the brain’s response is virtually indistinguishable from that of smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice.

Here’s why junk food is more perilous:
Tobacco is sabotage, and every smoker knows it, but food is supposed to be good for us.
Tobacco is a binary choice—to smoke or not to smoke. Eating is not a discretionary activity; food is sustenance. While cigarettes can be avoided, food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. How long do you think abstinence would last if former smokers were offered a pack of cigarettes at every meal?

You can argue that junk food is a choice, but is it really?
There’s no scientific or nutritional standard to separate the junky stuff from the healthy foods. Junk food has no official classification or designation in the food industry, the medical community, or governmental agencies. 
Some say that if you have to ask it’s probably junk. Or they’ll point to the classic pornography definition that relies on prevailing standards: you know it when you see it. Until there’s an acid test or even basic agreement on a simple definition, we can’t be sure of our choices, and more importantly, there’s no way to regulate it.

It’s not as simple as avoiding the unholy trinity of salt, sugar and fat.
You can’t just draw a line in the sand. Pixie Stix and Doritos are easy, but most foods–even those with a surfeit of the reviled ingredients–have some redeeming nutritional value. Rarely are calories truly empty. There are also plenty of foods–think of nuts, olives, and dark chocolate–that could qualify as junk food for their salt, sugar, or fat levels but are decidedly healthy. Truly dangerous ingredients and additives like artificial trans fats, nitrites, and food dyes should be banned, but mostly we just need to know what’s in our food; we don’t want to be told what we can eat.

The World Health Organization gets it right when it argues for the highest level of global agreement and collective action in dealing with junk food.
It’s also right that there are lessons to be learned from the world-wide effort to reduce smoking like warning labels, stringent advertising guidelines, and limited access to child-oriented media. Like tobacco, taxes should be hiked on unhealthy food products with the revenue funding healthcare and health education, and agricultural subsidies should be distributed to align with our nutritional goals: cheap broccoli and pricey high-fructose corn syrup.
Where the WHO gets it wrong is comparing junk food to cigarettes. Junk food is so much worse.

 

Posted in diet, food policy, Health, snack foods | Leave a comment

The Food Avoiders

 

food-allergy

Contemporary eating habits have given rise to a whole new segment of the food market. The industry is calling them food avoiders.
These are people who read labels for the un-ingredients. They’re more interested in what’s not in their food than what’s in it.

Food avoidance is way of life for tens of millions of American consumers.
Some avoid certain foods because of allergies and sensitivities or specific health problems like celiac disease, diabetes, or lactose intolerance, but they’re in the minority. Most are opting out of certain foods and ingredients as a lifestyle choice.

Eat this! Don’t eat that!
There’s a steady barrage of nutritional advice and medical headlines, and they usually contradict earlier messages. Should we drink red wine for heart health or avoid it because of liver disease? Are eggs high quality protein or little cholesterol bombs? Are we eating butter this week? Additives, dyes, GMOs, gluten; we eye our plates warily, shunning those foods that make us most anxious.

Marketers love the food avoiders.
They get to charge a clean label premium to a larger share of the market than is medically or nutritionally justified. Take gluten-free products: less than one per cent of the population needs to avoid gluten but more than 29 per cent chooses to avoid it even though it’s estimated that a gluten-free diet can double the cost of groceries. Surveys conducted by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness show that the number one stressor for celiac patients is not the disease itself but the cost of the diet.

It’s a fine line between food avoidance and food fear.
Americans have a love/hate relationship with food based on an eating history full of pesudo-scientific trends that emphasized discipline over pleasure. Now the American Psychiatric Association is considering recognizing Selective Eating Disorder as a medical condition. A task force has been convened to study and categorize finicky eating in adults (known as the Food F.A.D. Study). Researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh have launched the first public registry of picky eaters that has already attracted thousands of respondents.

The late, great Julia Child had some advice for food avoiders:
“If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream.”

julia-child-kitchen-425tp0901092

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Kids Are Drinking Way More Coffee. So What?!

babydrinkingcoffee

A new report published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that 73% of children and young adults in the United States have a regular caffeine habit, and more than ever they’re getting their jolt from coffee. In 2000 just 10% of their caffeine came from coffee; now it’s nearly 25%.

Of course kids are drinking coffee.
What else is left? Not soda with all that nasty high fructose corn syrup, and diet soda, we’re now learning, is even worse. Sports drinks and juice boxes are not much better, and there’s too much lactose intolerance going around for milk to make a comeback. 
Coffee it is. And what’s so wrong with that?

It’s not going to stunt anyone’s growth. postum_ad
That old chestnut? Generations of children grew up hearing it but it turns out to be linked to nothing more than early 20th century pseudoscientific ads plugging Postum, a once popular coffee-alternative.
The grain-based, caffeine-free drink—still much-loved in Mormon circles where coffee is banned—achieved early mainstream success with ads touting Postum as a kid-friendly beverage while vilifying coffee with claims that “It robs children of their rosy cheek sand sparkling eyes. It lowers their vitality, lessens their resistance to disease, and hampers proper development and growth.” The message took root in the country’s cultural consciousness and persists to this day.

A few more inches might have been nice, but don’t blame your early coffee habit.
The medical community has found virtually nothing to support a link between coffee and height. The myth makes much of the fact that caffeine has an adverse effect on the body’s absorption of calcium, but that bit of ‘common knowledge’ originated with a single bone mass study of elderly people with osteoporosis whose diets were lacking in calcium. For everyone else, the impact is so negligible that a couple of cups of coffee a day can be offset by a splash of creamer or the foam on top of a cappuccino.

Of course you don’t want to be revving their little engines with caffeine.
Tolerances and responses to caffeine differ widely among individuals, and it can cause jitters and sleeplessness in children just like it can in the rest of us. But there is a growing body of evidence that coffee can actually have a calming effect on some kids. If you’re familiar with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you know that it’s typically treated with pharmaceutical stimulants—it seems counterintuitive but they work on the brain’s chemistry to calm and focus an overactive mind. New research suggests that the natural stimulants in coffee have the same effect, and findings indicate that caffeine can also work as an anti-depressant in children.

When it comes to kids and coffee, the real problem isn’t the caffeine.
It’s the vanilla syrup, the caramel drizzle, and the whipped cream. It’s all the sugary, frozen, and blended concoctions that masquerade as coffee, some that hover in burger-and-fries territory in terms of fat and calories. For a child, that can add up to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a single to-go cup, and there aren’t many kids who take it black.
And then there’s the cost: at four bucks a pop for a fancy latté drink, unless you want to give a serious bump to your child’s weekly allowance, no one should be in a hurry to cultivate an early coffee habit.

hellokittycoffee

 

 

 

 

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What to Drink in a Polar Vortex

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

polar vortex photo via nasa.gov

 

That nice hot cup of tea could actually be making you colder.
Alcohol? It might feel warm going down, but it’s just about the worst thing you can drink on a cold night. And these nights are really, really cold.

The frigid air holding us in its stinging embrace is the ominously-named polar vortex that slipped away from its arctic perch. It’s shown us how woefully unprepared we are for the record cold temperatures we’re experiencing. We’re particularly misinformed when it comes to choosing winter warmup drinks. It seems to defy logic, but a cold beverage can help you hang on to body heat better than a hot one.

When you drink a hot beverage on a cold day, you feel warmer at first because the hot liquid increases blood flow to the skin, but the body’s regulating mechanisms kick in and quickly turn things around. A hot drink tells the nerve receptors in your mouth that things are getting hot in there and it automatically turns on a cooling response. Basically it makes you sweat, which is a welcome response in warm weather when the perspiration carries heat out of your body and into the atmosphere. But right now, the goal is to keep that body heat tucked away in your core.

A cold drink has the opposite effect. There’s some brief chilling while the liquid is going down, but instead of opening up the sweat glands on your skin, the cold causes blood vessels to contract and your surface skin actually tightens up. Less blood flows through the constricted outer layers of skin, which leaves more to circulate through critical core areas. You might get shivery from the surface chill, but that’s not a bad thing; it just means your muscles are trying to balance the cold surface by creating even more core heat.

If constricted blood vessels protect your body’s core temperature, it follows that beverages that can dilate blood vessels are a bad idea in freezing weather, which is what makes alcoholic beverages so dangerous. Drinking increases the blood flow to your skin; that’s why your cheeks are flushed and you have a warm glow inside and out. It’s deceptive though, because all of that peripheral heat comes at the expense of your vital organs. And the body has no need to shiver because the muscles near the surface are warm. If you venture outside, the shallow surface heat dissipates quickly and your core temperature, which is already lower than it should be, will continue to drop. It’s a surprisingly narrow margin between a safe core temperature (the standard 98.6°) and hypothermia (95°), and alcohol gives you a big head start. Just a few boozy minutes spent outside in polar vortex conditions can get you there.

Can a couple of billion subcontinental residents be wrong?
Remember that most of the world drinks hot tea in hot weather, and Alaska leads the nation in per capita ice cream consumption. It’s counterintuitive but true—hot drinks cool you down and cold drinks warm you up.
In the midst of a polar vortex, when you hear the clink of ice cubes in a tall glass, you know you’re about to get toasty.

 

 

 

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food knowledge, Health | 2 Comments

It’s Official: Food Addiction is a Disease

image via Health Freedoms

image via Health Freedoms

 

The American Medical Association has officially classified food addiction as a disease.
This summer’s designation was championed in certain clinical quarters but derided in just as many. One thing is clear on both sides of the debate: in this era of fat taxes, soda bans, and school lunch reform, obesity is high in the consciousness of both the public and the medical community.

Most researchers rely on the Yale Food Addiction Scale to separate the addicts from run-of-the-mill foodies.
One particularly revealing study from Yale University measured the brain activity of subjects- both addicts and standard eaters- as they were tempted, and then rewarded, with a chocolate milkshake. PET scans and brain MRIs showed that for all the participants, sipping a milk shake caused a surge of neural activity in the brain’s regions that govern cravings. The response was virtually indistinguishable from the neural response of alcoholics and drug addicts when they’re given their drug of choice. But in the truly food addicted, there was a drop of brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s center for self control. It points to real, physiological reasons why some people are unable to muster the willpower to make good decisions about food and eating. The findings suggest that setting a chocolate milkshake down in front of the food addicted is just like dangling a dime bag of heroin in front of a junkie.

Nearly 1 in 20 people meet the Yale criteria for food addiction.
According to David Kessler, a biostatistician and a former commissioner of the U.S Food and Drug Administration, there are more than 70 million food-addicted adults in the U.S, and they’re sick of being a pop culture punchline. To them, willpower is not enough to just say ‘no’ to french fries; they hope the biological basis of the Yale findings will bring understanding and compassion to their plight.

Food addicts are forced to confront their demons three times a day. Every meal challenges them to resist the pathology of the brain’s reward center. They reel from the constant temptations on the calendar—Halloween candy gives way to Thanksgiving dinner followed by Christmas and New Years feasts. Just when they’ve made it through the back-to-back candy holidays of Valentines Day and Easter, the doorbell rings and it’s the Girl Scouts hawking those damn Thin Mints cookies. How long do you think sobriety would last if a glass of whiskey was placed in front of an alcoholic as often?

Then there’s the pervasiveness of foodie culture, which runs amok on dedicated cable channels, in the food porn everyone is snapping, and in countless tweets and food blogs. For too many, food appreciation has become an obsession. While some of us feel food fatigue, for the food addict it’s a constant, punishing minefield of temptation.

Foodies have created an environment in which celebrations of narcissism and gluttony are socially acceptable, blurring the line between preoccupation and pathology. Disordered, compulsive eating can be hard to spot. It rarely has the rock-bottom, aha moment of other addictions, but instead tends to be a slow, chronic creep of abuse of a substance we’ve indulged in our entire lives.

Are we all food addicts waiting to happen?
Check your own propensity with this online test of addictive behavior based on the Yale Food Addiction Scale.

 

Posted in diet, Health | 2 Comments

The Government Shutdown Diet

 

meat inspector magnet via Zazzle

meat inspector magnet via Zazzle

 

The Food and Drug Administration is closed during the government shutdown.
The furloughed employees turned in their government-issued cell phones and were told not to even check their work email until Congress passes a budget. Same for the food safety inspectors at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That leaves 85% of the nation’s food supply unmonitored and uninspected.

Here’s what’s not going on during the shutdown:

  • Lab testing of food samples—for sanitation, disease, additives, or parasites—is almost non-existent.
  • Foodborne illness outbreaks aren’t traced, tracked, or monitored. The CDC’s 80-person food pathogen staff is reduced to two, with just one lone, unfurloughed CDC employee on the salmonella, listeria, and E. coli beat for the entire country.
  • Pending actions on known outbreaks that were sickening people before the shutdown have been suspended. Yesterday’s reported outbreak of salmonella is a prime example; it had already been spotted by the USDA when the shutdown halted the investigation and reporting mechanism. It sickened 278 people in 18 states before the barebones CDC staff could pinpoint the source (Foster Farms chicken) and notify the public.
  • There are no unannounced site visits. The visits are an important tool that keeps processors ‘honest’— so far this year spot visits to slaughterhouses and other processors of meat and poultry have already caught 500 violators red-handed. With the enforcement arm of the FDA on furlough, that means that there are 500 perpetrators of meat tainted by diseased feces, illegal drug residue, and other unsanitary and unsavory conditions that are free to ply their trade.
  • Our borders are wide open to food imports. One of the FDA’s most potent weapons is the ‘red alert’ list. It allows FDA inspectors to automatically snag shipments from companies that have repeatedly violated our health and safety laws. During the shutdown, tainted, toxic, parasite-riddled, putrefying food imports are freely flowing through our ports of entry.
    If you think that sounds like an overstatement, take a look at some of the past Inspection Refusal Reports, released monthly by the Food and Drug Administration. The blue Chinese pork that had been contaminated by a phosphorescent bacteria that caused the meat to glow in the dark will have you thinking again.

What’s safe to eat on the government shutdown diet?

Eggs, meat, and poultry
I wouldn’t exactly call these safe even though USDA inspectors are still on the job. Egg farms, poultry processors, and slaughterhouses aren’t allowed to stay open without an inspector on site, and because these facilities are so important to the nation’s food supply, the inspectors are unfurloughed ‘essential’ workers. That means that the day-to-day observations are continuing, but the suspension of spot inspections, laboratory testing, and import oversight are putting us at risk.

Fruits and vegetables
This category is just a free-for-all. Fruits and vegetables, both domestic and imported, fall under the FDA’s domain. State agricultural agencies provide some oversight for produce grown within their borders, but on a national level it’s being produced and shipped without scrutiny. About 50% of our fruit and 20% of vegetables are imported, and those are flowing in unchecked for parasites, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, fungicides, hormones, and a long list of banned substances that have shown up in previous shipments.

Canned, boxed, and packaged groceries
Inspections for these products fall under the purview of the idled workers at the Food and Drug Administration. While most food-borne illness is spread by perishable foods, pantry foods can pose threats of their own. The FDA has previously encountered risky and unsavory additives like lead-laced candy, industrial resins in rice, canned meats infected with mad cow disease, and a food processor who reused cooking oil salvaged from sewer drains. Some of the pre-shutdown findings that haven’t been supported by FDA alerts, withdrawals, and recalls include metal fragments in both Turkey Hill ice cream and Justin’s nut butters, plastic particles in Pillsbury cinnamon buns, and ingredients like nuts and shellfish– potentially deadly allergens– that are undeclared on package labeling in dozens of products like Safeway cake mixes, See’s candies, and P.F. Chang’s frozen dumplings.

Fish and shellfish
Seafood safety is a crapshoot, but that’s true even when the government is up and running. We import more than 90% of our seafood but have the resources to inspect less than 10%, with a tiny fraction of that portion going on to lab testing for abnormalities, pathogens, and illegal substances. There is little scrutiny despite the fact that most is farmed in developing nations with unsanitary conditions and lax regulations, where untreated animal manure and human waste can be used as feed, and antibiotics, pesticides, and fungicides are liberally applied to battle the rampant bacteria and disease. Salmonella and excrement are so routinely found in imported seafood that entire nations are on the FDA’s ‘red alert’ list so that every one of their shipments can be flagged at the border—at least they would be if the FDA were open for business. These days it’s all waved through and sent on to the nation’s supermarkets.

Even when the government is fully operational, our nation’s food safety monitoring is over-burdened and under-funded. Our fragmented collection of responsible agencies and their archaic food safety laws have never caught up with the complex, globalized system of food production. In a ‘normal’ year we see 3,000 deaths and millions of cases of food-borne illness caused by pathogen-tainted foods. This year, with uninspected shipments moving through the food supply for months to come, you can expect to see a lot more

 

 

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Psychoactive and Highly Addictive: It’s Your Morning Cup of Coffee

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The American Psychiatric Association recently classified caffeine withdrawal as a mental disorder.
If you’re scratching your head over this one, you must not be a coffee drinker.

Withdrawal symptoms kick in on the very first morning without coffee.
You’re draggy, achy, and irritable. Your brain feels swampy, but soon the underwater feeling is replaced by a throbbing headache. Nausea and fatigue will have you wondering if maybe you have the flu; but no, it’s your brain and adrenal glands going haywire without their caffeine fix. If you can tough it out with herbal tea for a week or two your body will rediscover its natural, caffeine-less equilibrium. But along the way there will be some seriously rocky days.

A true coffee addict’s brain is physically and chemically different.
When a casual drinker has a cup of coffee, the caffeine crosses the blood–brain barrier and physically enters the brain. It’s not a direct stimulant but instead it blocks the receptors for adenosine, a sleep-producing substance. The brain is alert and energized because it didn’t receive its dose of adenosine, and all the free-floating sleepy adenosine will cue the brain to produce even more of its own natural stimulants like adrenaline and dopamine. The block stays in place for the four to six hours it takes for the body to metabolize the caffeine.

The physical characteristics of the caffeine addict’s brain is altered by the constant tinkering with its chemistry. Over time the brain will try to balance out the routine bouts of over-stimulation by growing more adenosine receptors, and it will shed some of its stimulant receptors. Caffeine addicts constantly need to increase their coffee consumption to feel the buzz. This also means that when their brains are deprived of caffeine, they crash harder than the rest of us.

Nobody would confuse the true caffeine addict’s withdrawal with the morning fog the rest of us experience when we go without coffee.
The headache pain and general misery are extreme enough to be medically categorized as ‘clinically significant distress,’ and brain functions are impaired to the point that work, home life, and socializing are seriously compromised.

About 30% of coffee drinkers are probably addicts, although most don’t know it until they try to go without.
The addiction rate for caffeine is a little higher than it is for heroin users but less than for nicotine. 
The good news is that compared to those other substances, withdrawal is relatively quick. If the coffee junkie can get through a week or two without caffeine, the receptors in the brain will reset to their normal levels and the spell of addiction is broken.

 

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Chewing Gum: The Nasty Habit That’s Good for You

 

Chattering-Teeth

 

Etiquette experts will frown but the evidence is indisputable: you should chew gum.

It makes you smarter.
A study out of the Baylor College of Medicine shows a 3% increase in standardized math scores from students who chewed gum during homework and exams.

Eat more healthfully.
According to a report in the medical journal Appetite, gum chewers snack less and have fewer cravings for unhealthy foods.

Improve your digestion.
Chew just before or after you eat. It helps your body create more saliva and build up the acid in your stomach, which gives your digestive system a boost. Since stomach acid levels decline with age, beginning by about age 40, this can be especially beneficial for older adults.

Fight heartburn.
While gum increases stomach acids, it can actually lower acid levels in the mouth and esophagus. Chewing gum after a meal can help reduce acid reflux and heartburn symptoms and may aid in preventing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Stay sharp.
The journal Brain and Cognition suggests that chewing gum can increase blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive performance. Brain scans show gum-related activity in eight areas of the brain, and test subjects demonstrated improved alertness and motor skill reaction times that were up to 10 per cent faster than non-chewers.

Your dentists wants you to.
Sugarless gum can prevent cavities. It can neutralize plaque, whiten teeth, and even strengthen them by remineralizing tooth enamel. The American Dental Association suggests a 20 minute chew after meals to prevent tooth decay.

Unless you suffer from a jaw ailment or certain other health conditions, chewing gum can be good for you in so many ways. For the best results, stick with ADA-approved chewing gum.

Of course there’s a time and place for everything.
The Modern Manners Guy clarifies the new gum-chewing etiquette.

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The Science of Spit

image via Abracadebra

drool bib via Abracadebra

 

 

You could fill your bathtub a few times over with a typical year’s worth of saliva.
Each of us pumps out a liter or two of the stuff daily. Food photography, TV cooking shows, even the mere reading of menu descriptions can get us dribbling. 
That’s a lot of drool. 

Saliva is much more than just water.
Saliva is teeming with hormones, proteins, and enzymes. It keeps our teeth from rotting, heals wounds to our mouths and tongues, and controls the hordes of unhealthy microbes that find their way into our mouths. And it allows us to taste, swallow, and digest food.

It’s actually two different fluids. There’s a sticky, dense liquid that acts as a lubricant and turns everything we chew into a kind of paste, and a thinner, watery fluid that contains the enzyme amylase which breaks down carbohydrates and turns them into digestible sugars. Saliva contains just a trace amount of amylase, but it’s such powerful stuff that even a drop of it will break down all the starch you can throw at it. Spit into a soft, starchy food like mashed potatoes, put it aside, and in a matter of hours you’ll have a bowl of sugary liquid.

Saliva makes you think you’re hungry.
Drooling is an uncontrolled appetite response. We salivate at the sight, sound, and especially smell of tempting foods, and it triggers hunger signals from the brain and intestines, even when we’re not really hungry. It makes it harder to resist temptation, and really, it’s not likely that we’re drooling over rice cakes and celery sticks.

The key to successful dieting: control your drool.
People who struggle with diets tend to be big droolers. If they can resist temptations, eventually they’ll drool less and keep the hunger response from kicking in. Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that the toughest part of any diet is just getting started; the drool data tell us that it gets easier if a dieter can push through the early days and reprogram their hunger response.

It’s not just about food.
Are you drooling over the new iPhone? That’s not just a figure of speech; we really do salivate for material goods. The results from two recent studies published in The Journal of Consumer Research reported increased saliva flow in subjects shown photographs of shiny new sports cars, cashmere sweaters, and piles of money. By contrast, they got dry-mouthed from images of office supplies.

This is all sounding very Pavlovian. Instead of a dog and a bell, we’re salivating reflexively over everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to touch screens. But we’re not simple stimulus-response machines. We are infinitely more complex with active internal lives and the capacity to ignore, resist, choose, and change.
We’re not immune to conditioning, but we can take charge of our drool.

 

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Cats and Pork, Latex and Pickles: Cross Triggers for Food Allergies

cat-pig

 

Hay fever sufferers take note.
You might want to skip the swiss chard and sunflower seeds. You should also avoid munching on celery sticks in the shade of a birch tree.
Do you react to latex? Then skip the dill pickles.
Steer clear of tropical fruit if dust mites make you sneeze, and yes, pork and cat dander can be problematic.

Cross-allergies are on the rise.
The medical community calls it Oral Allergy Syndrome, and like the recent rise of food allergies, it’s becoming more common. About a third of seasonal allergy sufferers will cross-react to certain foods, and that number is closer to two-thirds if birch or alder pollen are your triggers.

Here’s how it works:
The same chemicals that cause hay fever and other airborne allergies can also be found in some foods. There’s a whole grocery list of reactive foods, but the culprit is usually a raw fruit or vegetable that contains the same protein as the airborne allergen. Eat the wrong food, and it sends the immune system into overdrive and triggers an allergic reaction. Instead of the sneezing and itchy eyes you get when you inhale the allergen, you’ll end up with a tingly mouth, hives, difficulty swallowing, or even anaphylaxis—all food allergy symptoms.

These are the most commonly occurring cross-allergies and their offending foods:

  • Dust/Dust Mites: mangos, shellfish, plums, melons, tomato, avocado, pawpaw, pineapple, peaches, and kiwis.
  • Latex: almonds, apples, bananas, kiwis, avocado, dill, oregano, ginger, and sage.
  • Birch/Alder Tree Pollen: celery, apples, apricots, cherries and other stone fruits, parsnips, buckwheat, caraway seeds, and coriander.
  • Hayfever (Ragweed/Grasses): cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, bananas, sunflower seeds, zucchini, cucumber, and chamomile tea.
  • Cat Dander: pork.

Some foods contain more of the troublesome proteins than others—peaches more than plums, apples more than pears. And there can be differences between varieties—Gala and Golden Delicious apples cause more allergic reactions than Braeburns, and Crenshaw melons are benign while cantaloupe and watermelon are powerful triggers.

Not every pollen produces cross-allergies; some trees like maple, oak, and poplar don’t share reaction-causing proteins with foods. Nor does having one of these allergies mean you’ll necessarily cross-react with any of the implicated foods. And, if you do react, you may not be allergic to every food on the list.

You can learn more at FAAN, the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

 

Posted in food safety, Health, health + diet | 2 Comments

Why is Mint the Flavor of Oral Hygiene?

Mint Splash • Cool Peppermint • Vanilla Mint • Wintergreen Ice • Extreme Herbal Mint • Clear Mint • Minty Fresh • Citrus Clean Mint • Green Tea Mint • Pure Peppermint Fresh • Super Action Mint • Lasting Mint

Crest toothpaste flavor lineup

Why Mint?
The Spanish are partial to anise-flavored toothpaste, Koreans flavor theirs with charcoal and bamboo salt, Indian toothpaste tastes like root beer from the addition of sarsaparilla root, and Russians prefer something called ‘Forest Balsam’ flavored with bark and pine needles. You can find mint-flavored toothpaste all around the globe, but its absolute domination is unique to the American market.

There are plenty of other flavors that freshen breath. You just need something with an astringent that shrinks bacteria combined with a pleasant scent. Oral hygiene was a homemade affair until the twentieth century, and people rinsed with vinegar or lemon juice, chewed aromatic seeds like fennel and cloves, and chewed on herbs and spices like parsley and spearmint.

Mint is a sweet smelling astringent that brings a little something extra.
Astringents tend to have a bite to them that can feel like a burn to your mouth, but mint makes the mouth feel cold. It’s just an illusion; the temperature inside your mouth doesn’t really change, but the natural menthol in mint activates temperature sensing cells that send out false signals. They fool your brain, and you sense a coolness that isn’t really there. It’s that sensation, more than the taste, that makes your mouth feel clean and fresh.

Availability tipped the scale in mint’s favor.
Runner-up cinnamon, the second most popular toothpaste flavoring, is a costly import from Asia. Mint, though not a native plant, was a well-established crop by the 1900’s, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and the regions around the Great Lakes. It was little-used as a culinary herb but had a multitude of medicinal uses, and mint oil was a valuable export. Cheap and readily available, mint insinuated itself into fledgling manufacturing, flavoring Colgate, the world’s first mass-produced jarred toothpaste in the 1870’s (collapsible paste tubes didn’t appear for another 20 years).

Today you can find novelty toothpaste flavored with everything from bacon to birthday cake, but mint still rules. See which brand tastes best in the Chow Supertaster’s Mint Toothpaste Flavor Showdown.

 

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IV Drip Vitamins: The new health cocktail

Mainline your multi
Instead of popping a multivitamin, a growing number of healthy individuals are opting for an intravenous fix.
The treatment is available to anyone looking for a little extra pep in their step, and ardent wellness fans, over-stressed executives, nightlife mavens, and elite athletes have all jumped on the trend. In Las Vegas, an anesthesiologist cruises the Strip in the custom-fitted Hangover Heaven bus offering on-the-spot infusions touted for their hangover-soothing qualities. In Los Angeles, where there are plenty of celebrity practitioners raising the treatment’s profile (Rhianna even tweeted pictures of herself with the needle in her arm), it’s become so commonplace among the beautiful people that the prodigious community of cosmetic surgeons has adopted it as a service add-on.

Not sick, just kind of meh
The patients are typically looking for a little boost to their energy. They feel run down or they’re not sleeping well or maybe they’re catching a lot of colds. The infusion can be tweaked to address their particular brand of the blahs. Florida-based DefyMedical is trying to establish a national brand and has created a menu of pre-mixed vitamin cocktails for the most common complaints, and it ships them out to be administered at medical offices and clinics around the country. Proprietary blends include an infusion that claims to improve athletic performance, the ‘Alpha’ blend (Replenish, Restore, and Revitalize), and the toxin-removing AfterParty.

Is more necessarily better?
The ‘drippers’ swear that the effects of IV vitamin therapy are vastly different from the results you get from oral supplements. They report feeling a significant sense of well-being within hours or even minutes of the infusion. The clinical evidence is less clear.

Intravenous vitamins are absorbed more quickly and fully than pills, and can kick-start energy production at a cellular level. That’s the reason that for decades the medical community has prescribed intravenous vitamins as a standard medical treatment for a variety of digestive and immune system ailments that can interfere with the body’s natural ability to absorb nutrients from food or oral compounds. But most scientists doubt that they can have much effect on a healthy system with blood nutrient levels already in a relatively normal range.

An IV vitamin treatment usually costs between $50 and $250. Some people choose to have them weekly. There’s a small chance that the cocktail can cause an electrolyte  imbalance, and as with any IV drip there is some risk of infection. All factors to consider before you elect to flood your veins with vitamins.

For a needle-free hang over cure, read Gigabiting’s Hung Over? You Need Food!

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Pet Obesity: When Dogs Look Too Much Like Their Owners

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Winners of the  ‘I Look Like My Dog’ contest from Cesar Select Dinners

Last week the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University opened the nation’s first obesity clinic for pets.
It seems that our pets, just like their human owners, are fat. About half of all dogs in American homes are overweight or obese, which can lead to very human health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and joint problems.

Dogs share their owners’ lifestyles.
A generation ago, the notion of overweight pets would have struck us as ludicrous. But today we live increasingly in yard-less apartments and we build suburban developments with no sidewalks. Dogs are couch potato companions, joining us in front of TVs and computer screens. Walks are brief, primarily for the elimination of waste, and the dogs are left behind when we get our own exercise at the gym.

We project our foodie-isms onto our dogs.
You can buy dog food in locally-sourced, seasonal, organic, vegan, and slow food varieties, like the Well Fed Dog’s Salmon and Pumpkin Dinner, which uses only organic Scottish salmon ($9.95 for a 16 oz. serving), and Succulent Chicken poached in garlic-infused lobster consommé from Petropic’s Hawaiian-themed Tiki meals ($4.29 for a 14.1 oz. can). Even Purina has its Chef Michael’s Carvery Creations line that comes in flavors like brisket and braised short ribs (99¢ for a 3 oz. can).

The fact is that dogs have a mere fraction of our taste buds, and they will pretty much eat anything—they’re known to be especially fond of socks and cat feces. But these high-protein, high-fat diets suit more than just the dog owners’ culinary sensibilities—the easily digestible foods combined with little exercise mean that there are fewer calls of nature, and walks can be less frequent.

We have also come up with pet obesity solutions that mirror our own.
Jenny Craig diet has partnered with Nestlé for a proprietary regimen, Project:Pet Slimdown, and Pfizer Pharmaceutical markets Slentrol, an FDA-approved prescription weight-loss drug for dogs. There are Jog a Dog canine treadmills and Thank Dog Boot Camp workouts. And just like human weight-loss methods, the failure rates are high.

Fat owners make fat dogs
The twin obesity epidemics are tightly entwined. Studies show that we are as indulgent with our dogs as with ourselves.
We need fewer calories in the bowl and more miles on the feet. It’s the best advice for both dogs and owners. You and your dog will still look alike, only better.

 

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Access to Healthy Food Should Be a Basic Human Right

image via Merchesico

 

Not just food, but healthy food.

Food access is a right. That one has been with us since 1948, the result of the experience of the Second World War. Vowing that the world would never again see such suffering, the international community created the United Nations and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among the various protections, guarantees, and liberties is the individual’s right to food.

Who knew from empty calories back then?
Nobody thought to specify the type of food. In 1948, the Big Mac was just a gleam in Roy Kroc’s eye, and the Colonel had yet to fry his first chicken. Who could have imagined a time when nutrition would be so divorced from food that malnutrition could go hand-in-hand with obesity?
This is the paradox of modern-day poverty.

It’s like the line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink
.
Millions of Americans are adrift in a sea of junk food. They are swimming in abundance but can’t get a decent meal. They live in our largest and wealthiest cities like Chicago and Los Angeles where stores stand empty in the grittier, inner city neighborhoods, abandoned by retailers to the surrounding poverty and urban decay. They even live in places like central Nebraska and California’s San Joaquin Valley—some of the world’s most prolific agricultural regions—where it takes a car and a tank of gas to find a head of lettuce and fresh meat.

These are the nation’s  so-called ‘food deserts’— low-income urban and rural communities where there are plenty of processed foods at convenience stores and fast food outlets but limited access to full-service supermarkets, and nearly 25 million Americans live in this landscape.

Is access to high quality food a basic human right?
The Obama Administration thinks so. In June, the Senate included a Healthy Food Financing Initiative when it passed its version of the 2012 farm bill. The HFFI  provides seed money for local collaborations between lenders and investors, philanthropic entities, grocers, food coöps, and farmers markets. It’s based on a handful of highly successful state programs, most notably Pennsylvania’s Fresh Foods initiative that leveraged a small public investment into a half a billion dollars in private investment that has brought 88 food markets to needy areas, creating and preserving 5,000 local jobs in the process.

Obama’s HFFI is a tiny little thing of just $32 million to cover all 50 states for 2012, but its future is uncertain. After bi-partisan passage in the Senate and House Agricultural Committee, the farm bill spent the summer in limbo, stalled in the Paul Ryan-chaired House Budget Committee. The clock is ticking, with the initiative set to expire on September 30th.

Congress will need to address the farm bill when its members return from their month-long recess next week.
You can track the bill’s progress, and see if the HFFI remains in the House’s version, through the non-partisan public resource OpenCongress.org. And if you believe that access to high quality food should be a basic human right, the Open Congress website has a one-click link to email your Representative.

Find out where they are: the Economic Research Service of the USDA created a Food Desert Locator based on census tract-level data.

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