Isn’t that sweet?

I’m not sure why, but over the past few years I’ve become more interested in food and nutrition (you might recall an earlier post I made questioning the need for genetically modified food). I don’t think it’s something that can be contributed to one factor… it’s something that has developed gradually due to external influences. Hanging out with vegetarian friends; discovering the True Food booth at a local concert; being introduced to Alton Brown’s Food Network show Good Eats; having books like Fast Food Nation, How To Read A French Fry, and What Einstein Told His Cook fall into my hands; and having a good friend be diagnosed with type II diabetes have all had an effect on me. This last item is the focus of today’s post.Unsatisfied with the advice given to him by his doctors, my friend with diabetes Ed Posnak has started to put together a web site related to the disease. His goal is to provide a resource that presents information about the disease as objectively as possible. In doing his research, he has uncovered a number articles presenting evidence that suggests that many of the dietary guidelines decreed from on high and most of us take for granted are not true. In fact, he has uncovered a number of nutritional conspiracy theories that have made me sit up and take notice.First of all, there is the whole “fat is bad for you” mantra. This idea has been drilled into our heads so strongly that even I have a hard time thinking any differently, even after learning that it may not be true. Not only was this guideline not based on any scientific evidence, but a number of studies have shown that too little fat is actually bad for you. Nonetheless, a whole industry has risen to meet the demand for reduced-fat foods. As Ed has pointed out to me, the reduced-fat foods can actually be worse for you than the normal version.Secondly, there is a plant called Stevia that has been used as a sweetener all over the world for over 1500 years, yet it has been deemed unsafe for human consumption by the FDA. In fact, they have taken steps to remove as many references to it as possible within the US. Indeed, I had never even heard of it until now, yet I think most of us are familiar with an artificial sweetener called Aspartame (also known as Equal? and NutraSweet?), which has actually been shown to cause numerous health problems (formaldahyde in the blood stream, seizures in airplanes, cancer, and memory loss, anyone?) and has been the largest source of complaints submitted to the FDA by far. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the NutraSweet company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Monsanto, the same fine corporation that has sued a farmer in Canada for having crops contaminated with Monsanto bio-engineered DNA.So what exactly is going on here? Shouldn’t the FDA be looking out for the nation’s best interest when it comes to health? I think there is another force at work here, namely capitalism. Grains are relatively cheap to raise when compared to meat and large profits can be made. Corn is an especially abundant crop in the US due to the ample land suitable for sustaining crops. In fact, corn syrup is often used as the primary sweetner in many foods because it can be purchased much cheaper than refined sugar, much of which is imported. Grains are America’s cash crop, literally and figuratively. What happens when large corporations are able to 1) create a way to produce a lot of grain efficiently 2) increase demand for them by making the general population think fat is bad and grains are healthy and 3) prevent competition from uncontrollable sources? They make lots of money, that’s what happens. What happens when the population becomes ill and obese from eating an unhealthy diet? A boon for a health care industry set up to treat symptoms rather than promote cures. But that’s a conspiracy theory for another time…

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