It’s Girl Scout cookie season again. In the Washington, DC area, millions of them are stacked in four warehouses, after shipment from Kentucky in 70 tractor-trailers. The area sales goal for 2001 is $4 million. Last year consumers in Washington and its suburbs consumed over 97 million Girl Scout cookies or about 23 cookies for every man, woman and child in the area. In what must be the best selling campaign ever devised by the food industry, youngsters sell cookies door-to-door, in shopping malls, in churches and in schools. Of course, parents also get into the act. In Florida a judge passed out Girl Scout cookie order forms to jurors. Why do consumers order Girl Scout cookies in such large numbers—enough to put in the freezers to have throughout the year, enough to serve at large weddings? Some say that there’s something different about them. “Their mint cookie is a better cookie. Their base cookie—before you put the chocolate coating on it—is a better cookie. I can’t tell you if it’s a secret ingredient or what,” says a Girl Scout official (Washington Post 2/13/01). But if you read the labels, it’s no secret that Girl Scout cookies are high in trans fatty acids . Thin mints can contain up to 4 grams of trans fat per 4-cookie serving, more than the average supermarket cookie. That’s what makes them so crisp. They are also loaded with sugar. The side of the box says, “You’d be surprised what a Girl Scout cookie can build.” The list includes “Strong Minds” and “Strong Bodies.” Yes, we’d be surprised.
Vitamin A to the Rescue…Again!
One of the most successful programs in the history of nutrition science is the global campaign to distribute high-dose vitamin A capsules to children throughout the world. Launched in 1997, the global campaign is a partnership between UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the governments of Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Japan and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Scientists now recognize what Dr. Weston Price discovered over 60 years ago—vitamin A is vital to growing children, strengthening the immune system and protecting them against childhood illnesses like diarrhea and measles. According to UNICEF, vitamin-A deficiency is widespread, primarily in Asia and Africa. The program has been particularly successful in Nepal where groups of local women known as Female Community Health Volunteers help distribute the capsules throughout the rugged terrain. This year, over 90 percent of Nepalese children have received their yearly dosage of vitamin A. Although the vitamin A distributed is not the natural form derived from fish oils, it is the animal form of vitamin A (retinol), not carotenes, which children cannot use effectively. Children six to twelve months old receive two doses of 100,000 units per year; children over 12 months receive two doses of 200,000 per year. According to Werner Schultink, head of the Nutrition Section at UNICEF headquarters in New York, infant and child mortality drops about 23 percent when vitamin A levels are adequate. The program in Nepal costs just over $2 million per year, less than $1 per child (Reuter’s 2/12/01).
We Were Wrong
Physicists have found a flaw in the theory “that has been a foundation of scientific thought for more than 30 years.” The theory, called the Standard Model of particle physics, provides the menu of atomic and subatomic particles that make up the universe and explain how they interact. New findings from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY deviate from the Standard Model’s predictions. Physicists have long looked for cracks in the Standard Model because it does not explain the force of gravity (USA Today 2/9/01). Many scientists have long looked for cracks in another theory—the Diet Heart theory that postulates cholesterol and saturated fats as the cause of heart disease. It has been the foundation of medical thought for the last 30 years, even though it fails to predict who is likely to suffer from heart disease and who is not. It’s time for the nutritionists and doctors to follow their colleagues in the physical sciences and admit, “We were wrong.”
Breast cancer will be diagnosed in about 182,000 women this year and will kill about 40,800, according to the American Cancer Society. About one in eight women can expect to get the disease. For almost a decade, women have been urged to consume lots of fruits and vegetables, in order to reduce their risk of breast cancer. A new report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and based on analysis of eight studies involving 351,825 women indicates that a diet high in fruits and vegetables doesn’t help (Washington Post 2/14/01). Nor does fiber from fruits and vegetables seem to prevent colorectal cancer. No one asked us, but we have an idea why the studies came up negative. Reason number one: most vegetables and fruits receive several applications of pesticides containing estrogen-like compounds that can initiate cancer. Reason number two: few Americans are consuming sufficient fat-soluble vitamins to make use of all the nutrients contained in plant foods. Reason number three: fruits and vegetables can’t help you if your diet still contains lots of trans fatty acids. Lesson learned: Don’t cut out fruits and vegetables but do buy organic, do eat them with plenty of butter and cream and do avoid processed foods.
It came over the internet, a slick press release on Meatout 2001, “World’s Largest Annual Grassroots Diet Education Campaign” with a bannerhead of movie stars. A nationwide “Meatout” will occur March 20 to help people “take the pledge” to “kick the meat habit.” Those involved are described as “caring” and the meatless diet as “wholesome” and “nonviolent.” According to the press release, Meatout draws “massive support” from consumers, environmentalists, animal protection advocates, public officials, health providers, educators, mass media, opinion leaders and—surprise, surprise—meatless food manufacturers and retailers. The Meatout will provide consumers with a one-day “respite” from the “relentless barrage of meat industry propaganda in schools, in the media and in the streets.” The main target, apparently, is teens who are “kicking the meat habit at a record rate.” It’s called a “grass roots” campaign but the whole slick enterprise smacks of big money. Meatless alternatives have skyrocketed 48 percent in the past two years, from $450 million to over $1 billion per year, putting them in the top ten best selling items in supermarkets, so there’s plenty of easy money to support the national Meatout campaign. Most of us are too young to remember a similar campaign back in the early 1900s, when millions of young people were encouraged to “take the pledge” to stop drinking alcohol and support prohibition. The movement found support with talcum-powdered church matrons and idealistic college students, but the bottom-line effect was to transfer the value-added of liquor production away from local communities and into the hands of gangsters. Soft drink manufacturers also benefited. Supporters of the Meatout may have good intentions but the long term effects of their campaign are likely to be different than expected—further agribusiness consolidation to the detriment of small towns and family-owned farms, and more suffering and violence due to deficiencies in vitamin B12 and other nutrients.
Soak those Grains
Two recent studies support the health benefits of traditional grain preparation methods. Japanese scientists found that rice that has been soaked for a day before it is cooked contains more fiber, minerals and vitamins than non-soaked rice. The soaked rice also contains triple the amount of lysine, an important amino acid, and ten times more gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a nutrient that benefits the kidneys. (Neutralization of strong chelating complexes such as phytic acid explains the paradoxical increase in mineral content.) A 22-hour soaking in warm water allows the rice to begin the germination process, during which there is a proliferation of nutrients to feed the growing plant. The soaked rice was easier to cook and tasted sweeter (Reuters 12/12/01). In another study, three groups of rats were fed three different sorghum porridges. One group received sorghum flour, milk solids and cane sugar cooked in water. A second group received the basic porridge inoculated with germinated grain as a source of amylase. The third group received the basic porridge inoculated with lactobacillus plantarum to generate lactic acid for 24 hours before feeding. After four weeks, the third group of rats had better growth. All groups took in the same number of calories but fermented porridge had higher protein values (Ahrens, FASEB Abstract, 1989). These studies highlight the importance of grain fermentation in countries where protein is scarce. Unfortunately, in Africa, where fermented porridge and beverages were an integral part of the diet, missionaries and health workers discouraged their use because they may have contained small amounts of alcohol. They also have a short shelf life and cannot make a profit for large corporations.
More Fermentation Benefits
Scientists at the Department of Food Science, Louisiana State University, tested the effects of monolaurin and lactic acid on Listeria monocytogenes attached to catfish fillets. Monolaurin is a product the body makes from lauric acid, found in mother’s milk and coconut oil. It has strong antibacterial and antifungal properties in the gut but it had no effect on the catfish listeria counts. But dipping the catfish fillets in a 2.55 percent lactic acid solution for 30 minutes caused a significant reduction. Now we know why lacto-fermented foods last for so long and can be consumed with the assurance of safety—lactic acid is nature’s best antibiotic (International Journal of Food Microbiology, April 1996 29(2-3):403-10).
Infant Formula for AIDS Victims
The formula industry has been soundly trumped in its efforts to promote infant formula in Asian and Africa. This is largely due to their inability to corrupt UNICEF which refuses to enter into partnership with companies that violate the International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes in any country. In a new tack, promoted by none other than the Wall Street Journal, breast milk is accused of spreading AIDS among poor Africans. “Wyeth, Nestlé Offer Free Tins to Stem Spread of AIDS; Children’s Agency Balks,” said the headlines (Wall Street Journal, 12/5/01). Wyeth-Ayerst “stand ready” to donate tons of free formula to HIV-infected women but “UNICEF remains captive to a clutch of activists who have been leading boycotts and protests against the baby formula makers since the 1970s on the highly spurious grounds that the companies trying to supply better nutrition ‘exploit’ the poor” (Wall Street Journal 12/6/01). “If the toll of African AIDS babies continues to rise,” says the Wall Street Journal, “the credibility of one of the most beloved UN agencies may sink.” Nestlé has retained Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman US vice presidential candidate to lobby UNICEF, but so far the agency is standing firm. In the US, women who have tested HIV-positive have been forced to stop breast-feeding their babies under threat of having their children taken away. Many conditions can result in false HIV-positive test results, including vaccinations, TB, Guillaume Barre syndrome, hepatitis and various other diseases associated with the kind of poverty that the formula makers want to exploit in Africa.
My Favorite Company
“My favorite company,” says investor Warren Buffet, “is one that makes a product for a penny that sells for a dollar and is addictive.” Such a company recently donated a complete set of its 20,000 television commercials to the Library of Congress. At a gala celebration, held November 29, some 400 guests cheered as 89 high school students dressed in Coca-Cola red sweaters sang “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” When two journalists, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, asked in loud voices, “Why are you using a public library to promote a junk food product?” they were tackled and dragged outside by Library of Congress police.
SFAs for MS
Most popular books on multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic and debilitating wasting of the nervous system, warn against the consumption of saturated fats. SFAs are said to interfere with anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, a statement that is not supported by research. But in two studies involving almost 200,000 women, saturated fat, animal fat and cholesterol were found to be protective. (American Journal of Epidemiology, Dec 2000 1;152(11):1056-64). High intake of omega-6 and trans fatty acids was associated with increased risk of MS. Even consumption of monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil, carried a slight increase in risk. The study did not look at the relation between consumption of excitotoxins, such as MSG and aspartame, and the risk of MS, but it’s a no-brainer to put the two factors together for a viable theory: Excitotoxins plus modern vegetable oils equals an epidemic of MS.
Not Fully Wired
Scientists have always blamed the surge of hormones at puberty for reckless adolescent behavior but neuroscientists have come up with a different explanation. Beginning around age 11, the area of the brain associated with social behavior and impulse control actually sprouts a tangle of nerve cells. After puberty, this thicket of nerve sprouts is “pruned.” About half the new nerve fibers are cut away to create an efficient network of circuits. The new wiring allows the adult to manage “executive functions” such as goal-setting, priority-setting, planning, organization and impulse inhibition (Washington Times, 1/7/2001). Now consider the fact that most American children are denied the kind of fats the brain needs when they are put on lowfat milk and margarine at the age of two. How does the brain get fed during this period of delicate rewiring? The answer is that many teenagers enter adulthood not fully wired, and unable to participate in those kinds of activities that give pleasure and a sense of meaning to adults—goal-setting, priority setting, planning, organization and the kind of patient follow-through that requires impulse inhibition.
The recently announced merger of Bestfoods with Unilever will create the world’s second-largest packaged foods company. The expanded Unilever will have total annual sales of $55.3 billion (that’s billion) in “food” items, just behind Nestlé at $64.9 billion. When it comes to total sales, including personal care and household products, Unilever actually will outsell Nestlé at $55.3 billion versus $49.4 billion. Unilever was one of the early developers of the partial hydrogenation process and the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in foods. With the acquisition of Best Foods, they will add the Hellmann’s, Skippy, Mazola, Entenmanns’s and Knorr product lines to their steadily growing collection, which already includes Lipton tea, Ragu sauces, Breyers ice cream, Country Crock margarine, Bird’s Eye frozen foods and Wish-Bone salad dressings. Earlier in the year, Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry’s and Slimfast. Nestlé and Unilever are hugely powerful companies with the clout to influence government policy in a manner that can only further erode the laws and regulations originally designed to protect the consumer from imitation and adulterated foods. There is only one way to fight against these corporate dinosaurs—don’t buy their products. These monsters are not as strong as they seem—they’re laden with debt and vulnerable to even minor changes in consumer buying habits. If just 5 percent of the American public “took the vow” to only purchase foods processed by artisans, or foods directly from the farm, the whole system of corporate food manufacture would come crashing down.