Yes, we consume a shocking amount of junk food in this country. In fairness, here's some good news about eating habits: Americans are also adding more whole grains, nuts and seeds to their diets and cutting back on sodas and sugary drinks. So says a study conducted by Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston. Over the years, Americans 20 and older reduced their intake of sugar-sweetened sodas by nearly half, according to the study.
The research is based on 24-hour dietary recall reports, elicited from a cross section of close to 34,000 American adults. Overall, the percentage of Americans with poor diets based on the American Heart Association standards dropped from 56 percent to 46 percent during the study period. The proportion of people with ideal diets remains low at about 1.5 percent. To put it in perspective, less than one-third of American adults are meeting federal guidelines for most foods.
Also troubling is the fact that racial disparity in eating habits remained throughout the study period. While the proportion of white people with poor diets declined, there was little changed among black and Hispanic adults.
"Habits often change slowly," noted Dr. Margo Denke, a Texas endocrinologist and general internist, in commenting on the report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Denke went on to say that current rational discussions about the harm poor habits create may not be effective in motivating for long-term change. Patients, their doctors, and the food industry need to work together to make meaningful dietary changes both possible and sustainable, she adds.
Public health advocates view this current report as basically a report card against which future efforts to promote nutritional improvements can be measured. News that Americans are eating more whole gains could be an indicator of an important new trend. As I noted in June, a recent study of the effects of whole grain foods in diet has shown that a diet rich in whole grains can reduce a person's risk of dying early.
Consumer interest in healthy grains has also started a revival of interest in a number of ancient grains such as quinoa and millet. Another ancient newcomer to consumers is spelt, a relative of wheat. Spelt was a popular grain in Germany until the turn of the 20th century. It reappeared in the 1970s with the organic movement when bakers and millers began to familiarize themselves with the product. Today, there's a 1 billion-euro annual spelt market in Germany and the surrounding area, growing by 5 percent each year. It now can be found in U.S. in many non-specialty grocery stores.
But any discussion of grain must begin and end with the mother of all grains, wheat.
There are many varieties of common wheat used in today's food products, from durum wheat, to hard red spring wheat, or even soft red winter wheat. All-purpose flour is essentially a blend of hard and soft wheat. Regardless of the variety, it is now becomingmore and more difficult to source and identify products which have not been sprayed, prior to harvest, with the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate). It is a situation not unlike what is happening with GMOs which are becoming virtually impossible for consumers to avoid. The food industry says about 75 to 80 percent of foods produced in this country contain genetically modified ingredients.
Farmers use glyphosate on crops such as wheat, oats, edible beans and other crops right before harvest to speed up the harvest. It is a practice that has led to recent concerns that the herbicide could be "ingrained," if you will, into our food products. Spraying glyphosate on wheat prior to harvest, which is known as "desiccating," began in Scotland in the 1980s. The practice soon spread to wheat-growing areas of North America such as the upper Midwestern U.S. and Canadian provinces such as Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Desiccation is done primarily in years where conditions are wet and the crop is slow to dry down. Normally, farmers cut their wheat and lay it in windrows to let it dry - a process known as "swathing." The wheat lies there until the kernels reach desired moisture content. Pre-harvesting with glyphosate eliminates the swathing step completely. By pre-harvesting the wheat with glyphosate, farmers are able to simply use a combine to harvest it.
This may save time and money, but glyphosate also disrupts the natural maturing process and starch development, resulting in what many food experts believe to be a lower quality product. Even farmers that use and love glyphosate have admitted that they, if given the choice, would rather not eat a loaf of bread with glyphosate residue in it.
Along with wheat and oats, glyphosate is said to be used to desiccate a wide range of other crops including lentils, peas, non-GMO soybeans, corn, flax, rye, triticale, buckwheat, millet, canola, sugar beets and potatoes. Sunflowers may also be treated pre-harvest with glyphosate, according to the National Sunflower Association.
Glyphosate residue present in grain products is emerging as a legitimate concern for us all. It is why, in response to the escalating use of glyphosate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently said it would begin testing foods for glyphosate residues on products being sent to market.
Until this issue is sorted out, the only recourse is to let the FDA know your concerns about the protection of our food supply and to buy certified organic products whenever you can.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Beau Considine