3 Political Food Developments to Be Thankful For
For most of us in the U.S., we don’t have to worry about getting enough food. Quite the opposite actually; holidays like Thanksgiving can be anxiety-inducing for anyone trying to lose or keep off excess weight. But so long as you take care to have a healthy diet for most of the year, there’s no harm in a little indulgence to celebrate hard work and blessings well-deserved. So, in addition to great food, family, and friends, here are a few food-related things I am thankful for.
BPA-lined canned goods: As my colleague Angela Logomasini noted, “BPA—which is short for bisphenol A—is a chemical manufactures have used for 60 or so years to make hard plastics and resins used in food packaging without ever being traced back to any actual health problems.” That, of course, hasn’t stopped the peddlers of fear from sounding the alarm and making claims that BPA is responsible for cancer, fetal development issues, and infertility, among other ills and trying to have the substance banned. The good news is, despite the fact that BPA is banned in France (and banned for use in baby products throughout the EU) the European Food Safety Authority re-evaluated bisphenol A earlier this year and declared that it poses no health risk for consumers of any age.
And in all the hullabaloo of the possible risks, people are forgetting why we started lining cans with BPA in the first place. As Angela said, “This Thanksgiving, I am going to be happy that the cans my cranberry sauce came in were lined with a resin made with bisphenol-A because it greatly reduces the chance that those cranberries will have been contaminated with botulism or some other dangerous organisms. It also keeps my food free from rust, which would otherwise detract from the fruit flavors.”
The beginning of the end for the “Food Babe”: There’s a lot that can be said about the Food Babe (aka Vani Hari), the food blogger who takes credit for pressuring Subway into changing their bread recipe, getting Kraft to remove yellow dyes from their macaroni and cheese, and forcing Starbucks to add pumpkin to its pumpkin spice lattes. You could say she’s not a doctor, she’s not a dietician, she thinks you shouldn’t eat anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce, she’s afraid of “chemicals,” and all of that would be true. But she’s also a very savvy business woman who turned her pet project into an empire. Not only does the photogenic former computer science major have a best-selling book, an $18 per month food plan she sells to some of the 52 million visitors her site gets each year (according to her), and paid speaking gigs around the nation, but she also receives an undisclosed amount of money from the food companies that benefit from people being scared away from conventional foods—companies that sell organic and GMO-free products. Hari engages in “affiliate marketing” in which she mentions or has an ad for a company on her website and she receives referral bonuses each time a visitor clicks the link or makes a purchase.
Luckily, it’s not just people like Vani Hari making a money in the industry of fear. Others, like Yvette d'Entremont (aka the SciBabe) make a living debunking food myths and paranoia dreamed up and peddled by the likes of Hari (she even gets write headlines like “The Food Babe Blogger is full of shit.” Writers Kavin Senapathy, Marc Draco, and Mark Alsip co-authored The Fear Babe, a book which Skeptoid described “as researched and readable a takedown of any scientific charlatan as I've ever read.”
Even more gratifying, scientists are starting to stand up to speak out against Hari’s quackery. One, Steve Novella, a neuroscientist at Yale and “prominent pseudoscience warrior,” titled Hari the “Jenny McCarthy of food.” Ouch. But it is absolutely necessary for those in the scientific community to stand up for reason and evidence-based nutrition. And it’s up to all of us to be diligently skeptical when someone comes around calling themselves an “advocate” and tries to sell us their version of reality.
Cholesterol myth finally dropped by the government: The official U.S. dietary guidelines will no longer recommend Americans limit their intake of dietary cholesterol from foods like eggs and shrimp. It only took them three decades or so to recognize that there was never solid evidence for the recommendations in the first place.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is a 15-member panel that meets every five years to update the official government recommendations for a healthy diet. This year, many were shocked to find that the panel had dropped the recommendations about reducing dietary cholesterol. “For many years, the cholesterol recommendation has been carried forward, but the data just doesn’t support it,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, the vice chairwoman of the advisory panel and a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. Equally as surprising, the panel revised its position on dietary fat. In their report, they note that “reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower [cardiovascular disease] risk,” and that “dietary advice should put the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fat and not reducing total fat.”
This is all great news because a causal link between dietary cholesterol and fat and heart disease has never been scientifically proven. That didn’t stop the government from adopting it as gospel and telling Americans to load up on carbs—kick-starting the low-fat/non-fat movement that had us eating less fat, but tons more sugar and likely worsening the obesity crisis. Better late than never, I guess. So, enjoy your turkey and gravy. Have that second glass of wine and that slice of pie without guilt. Who knows, maybe next year the government will tell us that pumpkin pie reduces cancer risk.