Biological Identity and Diet

Current advances in genomic technology are opening the way for a new era in which nutrient doses for individuals will be tailored to their unique biochemical requirements. Well, according to American people, the most nutritious foods in daily cuisine play very important role for their health, so it’s very important to cook them in a right way. The best method to cook food while still keeping most of their nutrition is via using the best air fryer.

Just as Shakespeare’s character Othello was described as “one that loved not wisely, but too well,” America might be characterized as a nation that eats not wisely but far too well. Nearly half the people in the United States struggle with a weight problem, or at least have the feeling that they ought to worry about their weight. Such concerns are entirely justified. Between 25 and 30 percent of us are overweight, and an additional 14.5 percent of Americans are clinically obese. Moreover, unless something changes, these percentages are likely to increase, as sedentary occupations characteristic of the “new economy” steadily replace “old economy” agricultural and manufacturing jobs that required much more in the way of manual labor.


These trends in decreasing physical activity and increasing obesity have serious medical consequences. People who are overweight have two to four times the risk of chronic heart disease compared to those whose weights are at or below optimum levels. Some 15.7 million Americans have the most common (type 2) form of diabetes mellitus, which often is triggered by obesity. Treatment of this single metabolic disorder costs an estimated $98 billion. If trends in inactivity continue in our steadily aging population, the incidence of diabetes alone is projected to increase about 60 percent by 2025. Similar statistics can be offered for coronary heart disease, which is significantly affected by levels of fat consumption. Furthermore, overweight contributes markedly to the incidence and severity of joint disorders such as osteoarthritis–which tends to reduce activity levels still further, thereby contributing to a self-reinforcing problem of weight control.

Although the processes and statistics of such degenerative diseases may not be known in detail by everyone, nearly all of us are aware that when we are overweight we don’t feel at our best. Even in the absence of clinical symptoms, we are likely to have less energy and more disabilities. Even more serious are the dangers that go unfelt and unseen: elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The former contributes to buildup of plaque deposits in arteries, while the latter pumps harder against the stiffened arterial walls–an altogether risky combination that can be ignored for years but only against increasingly rising odds of heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and more.

Conflicting diet docs

Rising levels of education have heightened general awareness of such problems, and many people seriously consider making efforts to improve both appearance and health. But even when they are motivated by serious concerns, they confront other problems, in the form of conflicting claims aboutexercise and diet programs. In the popular realm of books with diet advice, the most visible skirmishing is at the macronutrient level: fats, carbohydrates, and protein. The marketplace offers various experts giving profoundly different macronutrient intake advice.

  • The resultant confusion is so serious that in February the U.S. Department of Agriculture took the unusual step of convening a panel of experts to discuss and debate three strikingly different recommendations for diets to control body weight. The extremes were clear; one (Dean Ornish) advocated meals high in carbohydrates, while another (Robert Atkins) permitted all the meat that adherents of the diet might want to consume–but little else. In addition, Barry Sears advocated a middle position, but it seemed almost equally unconvincing in the absence of independent assessment. Unsurprisingly, given such different standpoints, no consensus was reached.

Yet nutrition involves not only the big three macronutrients but also numerous micronutrients: vitamins,minerals, trace elements, and even electrolytes. As we enter the new century, science stands at the door to a major transformation in our understanding and management of both macro- and micronutrients. For the moment, however, most research is focused on the micronutrients.

  • The key to these revolutionary developments is the demonstration that each of us is genetically unique–and therefore is almost certain to thrive on a diet tailored to our individual needs rather than merely getting along on some general regimen.

An individual or a statistic

At the recent scientific megaconference Experimental Biology 2000, an entire symposium was devoted to the topic of nutritional and metabolic diversity: understanding the basis of biological variance in the obesity/diabetes/cardiovascular disease connection. Within this symposium, which represented the most current thinking on the subject, the papers demonstrated clearly the sharp contrast between conventional and innovative approaches. Perhaps most striking was the lecture by R.M. Krauss of the University of California at Berkeley on diet-gene interactions as illustrated by the diversity in dietary effects on atherosclerosis susceptibility. His surprising but well-documented results showed that, counter to the general dietary recommendation that Americans should decrease the percentage of fats in their diets, a subset of the population has a genetic makeup that causes them to respond to lowered fat intake with a rise in the levels of low density lipoproteins (LDLs–carriers of cholesterol to the cells) in the blood.


Since the U.S. diet tends to produce an unhealthy excess of LDLs, this change would impair the management of cholesterol levels in certain individuals, a result opposite to that expected from a low-fatdiet. These results pointed up the high desirability of identifying relevant genotypes and prescribing diets tailored specifically to them–what might be termed “individualized” or “genomically tailored” nutrition.

At the same symposium, some papers presented more conventional approaches to diet, emphasizing the common needs of broad groups in the population based on such factors as age, gender, and activity levels. A prime example was a paper that outlines the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for the year 2000. Assumed here was a normal (bell- curve) distribution of nutrient needs in the population. As has been the convention for more than 50 years, nutrient levels were targeted at the broad middle range of population, then augmented with a “safety factor” that raises the recommended levels to take into account those who might have greater needs for certain nutrients: people who were very active physically, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. This strategy for prescribing dietary composition might be characterized as “statistical nutrition.”

In summary, we could say that the symposium highlighted what may be the twilight of statistical nutrition and the dawn of genomically tailored nutrition. Of course, we should acknowledge that the statistical approach to nutrition has served the U.S. population well for decades. At the same time we are called to recognize that science is beginning to offer alternatives that can serve everyone even better; that is, every one of us uniquely. One source of urgency impelling a shift to genomically tailored nutrition is the RDA convention of factoring in the augmented amounts–those “safety factors.”

Too much or not enough?

Among the many gene-based nutritional variants is hemochromatosis, an iron metabolism disorder whose symptoms include hair loss, joint pain, and persistent fatigue. Although often undiagnosed, hemochromatosis is the most common inherited illness in the United States. Because our population has diverse origins, frequencies vary widely. Among people with western European, particularly Anglo-Saxon, backgrounds, about one or two individuals per thousand have inherited the same responsible gene from both parents, that is they are homozygous for the gene. Those who have only one of the responsible genes, the heterozygous carriers, are quite common–1 in 20 to 1 in 30. Those homozygotes who suffer from hemochromatosis do not have a nutritional deficiency; rather they have too much iron in their bodies because they selectively retain this element. For such people, the RDA “safety factor” added for iron can only exacerbate their condition.

Of course, the problem of a poor fit between individual nutritional needs and standard dietary prescriptions can go in the other direction as well. For example, people with sickle cell disease require not only higher than normal doses of iron because of severe inherited anemia but also higher than normal doses of vitamin C. This is a case in which the substitution of a single nucleotide base at the DNA level creates very special nutritional requirements. An extreme example such as this can help us understand why different dietary studies might produce conflicting results.

Just recently, vitamin C–recommended in large doses by dietary gurus such as the late Linus Pauling for its antioxidant action among other properties–has been shown in one study to raise, not lower, the risk of arterial plaque formation. In the absence of a plausible mechanism of action, these results are controversial. Might differences in the composition of the subject populations be part of the explanation for differing results?

Genetic variations account for not only hemochromatosis and sickle cell anemia but a diversity of other generally rare conditions. Among these are phenylketonuria (PKU), which occurs in about 1 in 20,000 births. Affected individuals cannot digest milk or milk products because they lack the gene for making an enzyme that breaks down the common amino acid phenylalanine, which happens to be particularly concentrated in milk. Such gene-based differences in food-processing capabilities call into question the statistical nutrition assumption that a single diet could be suitable for just about everyone, because we all are relatively uniform genetically. Of course, at some informal level many people have isolated bits of information that should instead reinforce a belief in the genetic uniqueness of every person. After eating beets, for example, some people produce reddish urine while others do not. Most people can taste a family of chemical compounds, thioureas, that are widely distributed in plants of the genus Brassica, including cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas, and other common vegetables; to others of us, such compounds are tasteless.

For decades such knowledge has remained in the realm of dietary curiosity, overshadowed by official assurances that the diversity so documented is unimportant in comparison with nutritional needs that have been officially codified in the form of RDAs. The main RDA table sets levels for protein, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and electrolytes. As noted previously, different levels are recommended for infants and children, men and women, and females who are pregnant or lactating. Nonetheless, at the core of the RDA tables is a “reference woman” (between 23 and 50 years of age, 5 feet 5 inches tall, who maintains her weight of 128 pounds on 2,000 calories) and a “reference man” (5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 154 pounds, maintained on 2,700 calories). Both sleep or rest for eight hours per day, sit for seven hours, stand for five, walk for two, and participate in light physical activity for the remaining two hours. These nutrient RDA values are set on the assumption that the nutritional requirements for very nearly all people (about 95 percent of the population) will be met by them.

Pro choice (in foods)

The statistical approach to nutrition embodied in the RDA is similar to the approaches embodied in recommendations for pharmaceutical drugs, exposure to radiation, and so on–that most of any population described by a more or less normal distribution will be served relatively well and few will be harmed. In one sense these assumptions have been acceptable; after all, Americans are generally well fed (and as noted at the outset, many of us are too well fed), relatively free of disease, and so on.

But then, it could be argued that in the first several decades of the century, Americans were served very well indeed by Henry Ford’s Model T: four cylinders powering four wheels, on which rested a metal box that purchasers could have in any color as long as it was black– perhaps the ultimate embodiment of a “one size fits all” philosophy. Subsequent decades have produced not only an explosion of automotive stylistic variation but real distinctions in size, fuel economy, speed, and safety. As a result of scientific and engineering advances, we have an enormous variety of choices to match lifestyles, preferences, and pocketbooks (or usually at least some reasonable compromise among those factors).

Should we settle for less choice in our foods than in the automotive realm, when our lives and health might be better served by the recognition that nutritional needs differ more widely than traditionally accepted? Persons with LDL levels in the 5 percent tail- end of a normal curve, for example, have lower than average risk for atherosclerotic heart disease but (for reasons as yet unknown) manifest higher than average levels of risk for a variety of cancers and diseases of the lungs and gastrointestinal tract.

Persons with a related syndrome, abetalipoproteinemia (ABL), exhibit extreme limitations in absorbinglipids (dietary fats) through their intestines. They also show signs of central nervous system degeneration and tend to experience retinal damage early in life. Similarly, chylomicron retention disease resembles ABL with respect to the malabsorption of dietary fat and its consequences, although the precise nature of the molecular disorder is unknown. Given these and other inherited disorders that affect lipid uptake from the digestive tract, it is not difficult to imagine the existence of still other genetic variants with less radical effects on both lipid uptake (and hence availability of the lipids as calories) and weight gain or loss.

Saved by the chip

The rapid advance of genomic science introduces the emerging possibility of identifying these variant genes for numerous metabolic differences, just as we have already identified variant genes for other physiological differences. Research scientists at the University of Cincinnati have discovered that the substitution of a single DNA base at a genetic locus involved in regulating blood pressure can be used to predict whether a given patient with congestive heart failure would respond better to the usual drugs or require alternative therapy. Researchers have identified other such single nucleotide polymorphisms correlated with biochemical uniqueness, and diagnostic chips are being produced to test for them [see “Genes on a Chip,” The World & I, September 1997, p. 189]. These chips should be commercially available within the year.

A review of the recent literature on the contribution of genes to human metabolic and nutritional differences reveals abundant and detailed evidence along the lines of the preceding examples. Diverse genetic variants influence the metabolism of amino acids and fats, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and carbohydrates such as the sugars fructose, galactose, and glucose. Comparative genomic research also reinforces the idea that genes contribute significantly to the relationship between diet and weight control. One group of investigators has reported finding five mutant genes, located on five different chromosomes, that cause obesity in mice. Regions homologous (structurally and functionally comparable) to these mutations are also located on five human chromosomes. The different chromosomal regions associated with obesity seem to be part of complex, multigene systems, a picture that fits well with what we know about the overall interplay of heredity and environment in nutrition and growth.

Given the rapidity with which gene sequencing can be carried out, it is all but certain that during the next decade, a full or partial readout of one’s genome will become as routine and essential a part of health care as a detailed family history is now. Once this step has been taken, population-based RDA values can–and should–be supplanted by individualized prescriptions for diet and physical activity.

Recognition of biochemical uniqueness should result in a unique array of solutions to one of our most common “weighty” problems.n

Robert B. Eckhardt is professor of developmental genetics and evolutionary morphology in the Department of Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University.

Weighing in the diet options


Consumers must become knowledgeable about the claims of the promoters of weight-loss plans. The factors to consider when evaluating a program include the rate of weight loss and the success rate.

Full Text: 

If it’s Monday, it’s time for a new diet,” Cathy thought to herself. She frowned at her reflection in the mirror and wrestled with her skirt zipper.

“This time it’s going to work. This time I will lose weight. No more ice cream, no more chips. I’ll never b this fat again.”


Cathy is just one of the 65 million Americans who diet to lose weight. Each year, they spend an estimated $33 billion on liquid diets, over-the-counter appetite reducers, prepackaged foods, and support groups.

But as they continue to crowd into the growing number of diet programs, exercise classes, and weight-loss clinics, more people are starting to ask the same questions. Are these programs safe? Do they really work? Can they keep the pounds off in the long run?

These unanswered questions have even received Congressional attention. Because the weight-loss industry is largely unregulated, Democractic Congressman Ron Wyden of Oregon claims that questionable products, untrained instructors, and deceptive ads are exposing consumers to potential health risks. Rep. Wyden has proposed an industry-wide investigation, to be followed by the development of higher industry standards to protect Americans against potential weight-loss scams. Until such a program is in place, it is up to the individual to become an educated consumer.


Some Choices

Here’s the menu of weight-loss items:

  • Very-low-calorie diet (VLCD) programs. VLCDs include a 400-calorie- to 800-calorie-per-day high-protein liquid diet. Because of the severe calorie restriction, this semistarvation diet is available only through a physician’s office or a hospital; it requires a thorough health screening and constant medical monitoring. some VLCD programs will not allow anyone under the age of 18 to participate. Most VLCDs are targeted to people who are severely obese, or who are at least 30 percent above their ideal body weight.
  • Some programs also include a modified diet. Designed for people who are only 20 percent above their ideal weight, this liquid diet includes one meal per day.

Many patients in these programs lose an average of three to five pounds per week, depending on their age and the amount of weight they need to lose.

VLCD programs are expensive. They cost about $ 2,000 to $ 3,000, but some charges may be reimbursed through health insurance.

  • Diet clinics/food plans. Many of these programs are 1,000-calorie-to 1,500-calorie-per-day diets. Usually clients follow a controlled menu plan and average a one- to two-pound weight loss per week. In some cases, participants are required to buy specially packaged meals and supplements available only from the company. Many of these plans include behavior modification and nutrition classes.

Fees for these programs vary widely. The cost of reaching a targeted weight loss can range from $250 to more than $1,000. Unless prescribed by a physician, these programs are not covered by health insurance.

  • Over-the-counter products. These products range from diet pills to high-fiber cookies, diet snack bars to milkshakes. Many health experts are concerned with these dieting aids because there is no way to screen potential users, nor is professional guidance offered. Dieters of any age, weight, or health status can buy these items almost anywhere.

Some dieters can become too enthusiastic about their weight loss and put their own health at risk. If onediet pill is good, then four pills are four times better, some think. In reality, experts say that taking extradiet pills can be dangerous. As with any drug, label directions must be followed carefully.

To protect yourself, authorities recommend you ask doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist about any weight-loss product before you buy it.


Look Before You Leap

With hundreds of weight-loss programs out there, how do you find the one that’s best for you?

Nutrition experts from Tufts University have developed nine questions for you to ask when looking for a health diet:

1. Is this a diet you could live with indefinitely? If the eating choices are too restricted, the diet may not provide you with the important experience of preparing balanced meals.

2. What is the recommended rate of weight loss? Health professionals agree that you should lose no more than one to two pounds per week. Research shows that the slower you lose weight, the better chance you have of keeping it off.

3. Does the program account for individual differences when determining caloric needs? A teenager needs more calories than an adult, even on a weight-loss program.

4. Does the program contain detailed nutrition education, behavior modification, and exercise instruction? Without this information, you cannot make the permanent lifestyle changes necessary to keep the weight off.

5. Are physicians, dietitians, exercise physiologists, and psychologists part of the program? Instructors in these programs can be health professionals or they can be program-trained “graduates” of the weight-loss program itself. If the instructors are program-trained, they may not be health professionals. Make sure these instructors have professional support within the organization.

6. What percentaged of clients lose their weight and keep it off? In other words, how successful is the program? Be wary of those who do not keep track of their client’s longterm progress.

7. Does the program offer a maintenance plan once you’ve lost your weight.? For many dieters, losing weight is easy. The part they need the most help with is keeping the weight off.

8. What is the basis of their advertisements? Do they provide scientific proof that their program is legitimate, or does a celebrity claim that the product works for him or her? Remember–famous people are paid to endorse products.

9. What are the costs? Usually the costs are based on how much weight you need to lose. Make sure there are no hidden fees–the cost of extra supplements, videotapes, and other items can add up.

Why Diet Drugs Can Be Diet Dangers

Diet pills and supplements can promote weight loss, but they also can carry big health risks. Don’t be dazzled by ads promising miracles.

If you’ve ever wished you could lose a few–or many–pounds in a fast and easy way, chances are you’ve paid attention to headlines like these in advertisements seen everywhere these days. Even some serious publications run full-page ads that promise, with lots of exclamation marks, that a company’s pills, drinks, or supplements will make your extra pounds miraculously melt away.


Teens seem particularly vulnerable to such ads. They can be influenced by their own self-image–and sometimes subtly by peers, parents, and coaches–to lose weight in order to look good, perform better, or be more popular.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study of 11,631 high school students and found that more than 43 percent of the girls surveyed said they were “on a diet.” The most common dieting methods used were skipping meals, induced vomiting after eating, and taking diet pills. Diet pills can be effective in helping some people lose weight, but are they right for you?

Straight from the Supermarket

Over-the-counter weight-loss drugs such as Acutrim and Dexatrim contain phenyl-propanolamine (PPA), an appetite suppressant that affects the central nervous system. When combined with changes in eating habits and exercise, PPA can help people lose weight. However, the results are temporary and should only be used for the short term (not more than three weeks) until new eating habits are established.

Experts warn that appetite suppressants are most effective in people who are obese, meaning their weight is at least 20 percent over their ideal body weight, as indicated on the body mass index (BMI) chart on page 11. Anyone who is only slightly overweight or simply wants to improve his or her appearance should not use these drugs.

In fact, medical experts warn that teens should not take medication containing PPA unless it is ordered and supervised by a doctor. This is the opinion of Michael Weintraub, M.D., who recently served as a director of drug evaluation at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “PPA is not recommended for teens,” says Dr. Weintraub, “because they are still growing, and if they suppress their appetites, they may not get proper nutrition.” If your doctor does recommend an over-the-counter diet pill, follow his or her dose instructions precisely. PPA can cause severe high blood pressure and an irregular heart rhythm when taken in high doses.

Are Prescriptions Better?

Even diet pills that are prescribed by a doctor may not be completely safe, either. In 1997, the drugs fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine (the “fen” part of the fen-phen combination often prescribed) were taken off the market. Although these drugs were effective in curbing the appetite, they were linked to heart valve disease as well as a condition called primary pulmonary hypertension. With this condition, there is an increased resistance to blood flow through the lungs. That puts strain on the heart and can lead to heart failure. In October 1999, the company that made Pondimin and Redux (the trade names for the withdrawn drugs) agreed to pay about $4 billion to thousands of people who had evidence that their health was harmed by the drugs.

But new pills have taken their place. Meridia is one such prescription drug that is designed to increase metabolism, cause a feeling of fullness, and increase a person’s energy level. Studies show that people who took Meridia had a significant loss of weight, BMI, and waist circumference when they used it along with a low-calorie diet, exercise, and behavior modification. This drug is recommended only for people with a BMI of over 30.


Mike Myers, M.D., a physician in Los Alamitos, California, says that Meridia has its place and can assist with weight loss, but it is not a wonder drug. Meridia’s side effects include dry mouth, insomnia, constipation, increase in blood pressure, and a rapid pulse.

What About Herbals?

The latest craze in weight-loss drugs are herbal products that also can carry a risk. Metabolife, Herbal Phen-Fen, and other similar “natural herbals” contain the herbal supplement ephedra, also known as ma huang. Ephedra, chemically related to amphetamine, can have potent side effects. In one case, a 20-year-old Marine became psychotic (afflicted with a serious mental disorder in which one loses contact with reality) while using a supplement containing ephedra. Once he stopped using it, he returned to normal. Other possible side effects include sleeplessness, restlessness, irritability, headache, nausea, vomiting, urinary disorders, and rapid heartbeat. Also, these products can be very dangerous to people with existing health conditions such as high blood pressure.

Overdosing on ephedra can cause a rise in blood pressure, changes in heart rhythm, severe sweating, enlarged pupils, seizures, and fever. Between 1993 and 1997, 34 deaths and 800 medical and psychiatric complications were reported in people using ephedra. Neal Benowitz, M.D., a toxicologist and professor at the University of California at San Francisco, says, “I would prefer to see ephedra pulled off the market until adequate warnings can be developed.”

Unlike prescription drugs, herbals are considered dietary supplements, not drugs, and do not go through the FDA approval process for safety and effectiveness. At times, the herbal product doesn’t even contain the stated amounts of ingredients on the label. And the manufacturer’s claims are usually not confirmed by medical research. “People assume that if it’s natural it must be safe,” says Gail Mahady, an expert on medicinal plants at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “But ephedra is a drug.”

Herbals and prescription diet pills are designed to be used for the short term to help with lifestyle changes. Drugs alone offer only temporary solutions and, in some cases, may jeopardize your health.

Diet Claims: Fact of Fiction?

When you turn on the television, open the newspaper, or read a magazine, you most likely will find someone promoting a “miracle weight-loss product.” These ads claim that the products will help you lose all the weight you want with the least amount of effort. But do they really work, or are these products just full of hot air? Let’s look at some manufacturing claims and the truths behind them.

Claim: Lose weight while you sleep.

Fact: Losing weight requires significant changes in the type and amount of food you eat and the burning of calories through increased physical exertion such as exercise. A product that claims weight loss without any kind of sacrifice or effort is bogus.

Claim: Lose weight and keep it off for good.

Fact: Maintaining long-term weight loss requires permanent changes in diet and exercise. Be skeptical about any claim that a product will enable you to keep any weight off permanently.

Claim: John Doe lost 84 pounds in six weeks.

Fact: Just because someone pictured in an ad lost a lot of weight doesn’t mean you will, too. Don’t be misled.

Claim: Lose all the weight you want for just $99.

Fact: You may pay $99 up front, but there are usually hidden costs in the program. For example, some programs don’t publicize the fact that you also have to buy prepackaged meals at costs greater than program fees. Before you sign up for any weight-loss program, ask for all the costs in writing.

Claim: Lose 20 pounds in just three weeks.

Fact: As a rule, the faster you lose weight, the faster you gain it back. Plus, fast weight loss can harm your health. Unless you have a medical reason, don’t look for programs that promise quick weight loss.

Claim: Scientific breakthrough! Medical miracle!

Fact: Unless the miracle involves reducing your caloric intake and increasing your physical activity, ignore it. The most effective weight-loss programs encourage a modest reduction of food intake of 500 calories per day. At this rate, you will cut 3,500 calories per week, which is equal to one pound of fat. That’s a loss that you can live with long-term.


Complex carbohydrates provide the best source of calories and energy of any food. Contrary to popular myths, they are not high in fat. Most Americans need to increase their carbohydrate intake and they can do this through a vast array of foods.

Have you ever wondered what ancient peoples ate? Carbohydrates. These foods have noruished the vast majority of the world’s population for thousands of years. Seeds such as rice, wheat, corn, and beans and roots such as potatoes and cassava still provide the major source of calories for people around the world.

Only the wealthy have been able to afford large amounts of animal foods. The prosperous Western cultures, including the United States, have traditionally made meat main part of meals.

That focus is changing at last. Health experts say that Americans need to increase the amount of carbohydrates and decrease the fat in their diet. Health-conscious eaters are opting for more complex carbohydrates.


A Sweet Story

The story of carbohydrates starts with plants. By now, we all know that plants make carbohydrates by combining carbon, oxygen, and the sun’s energy in a process called photosynthesis. These green energy factories churn out stored energy in the form of sugars and starches. Only one animal food is a significant sources of carbohydrate–milk.

Carbohydrates are classified as sugars, starches, and fiber–from simple to complex. Sugars are simple carbohydrates, which can be divided into two groups: single sugars and double sugars.

Glucose (also called dextrose), fructose, and galactose are single sugars. Glucose is the most common sugar found in the leaves and stems of plants. Fructose is the sugar in fruit and honey. Galactose is found only in milk, as part of the double sugar lactose.

Two single sugars linked together make a double sugar. Sucrose or table sugar is a double sugar made from fructose and glucose.

Starch is a complex carbohydrate that serves as a time-release form of energy. It takes hundreds to thousands of single glucose units to make starch. Plants store starch in roots and seeds as a soruce of energy for the next generation of plants. This ongoing process often affects how foods taste. For example, young corn tastes sweet. It contains mostly single and double sugars. As the corn ages, the plant converts sugars to starches, causing older corn to tasty starchy.

Fruit is the exception: Fruits change starch into sugars as they ripen. For example, a green banana is 80 percent starch and 7 percent sugar. By the time it has become very ripe, it has 5 percent starch and 90 percent sugar.

Fiber is also a complex carbohydrate made up of glucose units.


Best Source of Energy

How does our body use sugars and starches? All sugars and starches are reduced to single sugars by digestive enzymes. Once the links between sugars are broken, the single sugar units of glucose, fructose, and galactose can be absorbed. Since only glucose can be used by cells for energy, fructose and galactose are changed by the liver into glucose. All carbohydrates from foods end up in the bloodstream as glucose. The glucose is then available to all the body’s cells to use as energy. Glucose not used as energy is put in long-term storage as fat or glycogen.

Our bodies maintain a small amount of stored glucose in the form of glycogen. These long, branched chains of glucose units are a form of readily available energy. Glycogen stores in the liver are used to keep the blood glucose levels normal. Glycogen in the muscles is used as fuel only for muscles during strenulous exercise.

Carbohydrates are important to anyone who participates in sports. Whether you’re in serous training or playing for fun, carbohydrates provide the fuel your muscles need to do their work. Muscle glycogen used in partice or competition must be replaced or your muscles will constantly feel tired. Researchers found that athletes who ate a high-protein/high-fat diet had not replenished their glycogen stores even after five days. The high-carbohydrate group completely replenished glycogen stores in two days. The study’s conclusions: Protein and fats don’t get stored as muscle fuel; carbohydrates are the best source of energy.

Bad Rep to Thumbs-up

For a long time carbohydrates have suffered from a bad reputation. People labeled them as fattening and blamed them for unwanted pounds. Some fad diets even eliminated carbohydrates altogether. Nutrition experts are still trying to set the record straight. Carbohydrates are not “fattening.” They provide only 4 calories per gram. Fat is more than twice that at 9 calories per gram. In fact, the “fattening” part of our diet is the fat. Studies have found that dietary fat is more likely to be stored as fat than the calories from carbohydrate and protein. It’s not the bread, potato, or macaroni that adds extra pounds; it’s the butter, sour cream, or cheese that’s on top.

At 45 percent carbohydrate, 37 percent fat, and 18 percent protein, the current American diet still has room for improvement. We need to readjust our eating pattern to 55 percent to 60 percent carbohydrate, less than 30 percent fat, and 10 percent to 15 percent protein. The Food Guide Pyramid was designed to help us reach this goal.

With breads and cereals as the base of the Food Guide Pyramid and fruits and vegetables on the next level, it’s clear that carbohydrate-rich foods should be the basis of our meals. These three food groups are also mrich sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Boost your intake of carbs by rethinking your menu. Trying building your meal around beans, rice, potatoes, or paasta, with added fruts and vegetables. A piece of lean meat, poultry, or fish (the size of a deck of cards) is all that’s needed for one meal.

–> Useful information: Easy as ABC? Why pills can’t replace food

Food For Thought: Can Good Foods Keep Your Growing Brain In Tip-Top Shape?

You are what you eat. Everybody’s heard that old saying. However, it’s easy to forget that food fuels the human mind as well as the body. The brain isn’t a big organ, but it’s a greedy one. Up to one-quarter of all the energy you consume is burned up by the gray matter inside your head. To think right, you have to eat right.

Brain Superfoods?

It’s no surprise that sugary or fatty junk foods aren’t the best sources of nutrition. They can contribute to obesity and poor health. As it turns out, they can also muddy your thinking. Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found that rats fed a junk-food diet did much worse on memory tests than did rats fed a balanced diet. And according to research described in the magazine New Scientist, kids who ate sugary breakfasts before school performed at the level of 70-year-olds on tests of memory and attention!

Fine, so you’ll skip the soft drinks and doughnuts before your next big test. What should you eat instead? Are there specific superfoods that will boost your brainpower and make you as brilliant as Einstein? “Probably not,” says Harris Lieberman, a nutrition researcher for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. “The brain needs most of the things that the rest of your body needs. A balanced diet is just that–balanced.”


Balancing Act

Plenty of vitamins and nutrients have been linked to a healthy brain (see “Brain Boosters” below). But rather than seek out specific “brain foods,” it’s smarter to aim for a well-balanced diet. So what is the proper balance? “The brain needs protein, it needs carbohydrates, it needs fats,” Lieberman told Current Health 2.

Protein is used by the body to make the chemicals that transmit signals between neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain, Lieberman says. Digesting proteins triggers the release of certain brain chemicals that make you alert, according to Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Students who eat high-protein beans and toast for breakfast do better on tests than those who eat toast alone, researchers from the University of Ulster in the United Kingdom have found.

Although a high-fat diet can be bad for the brain, so is a diet without any fats at all. The brain is about 60 percent fat. But some fats are better than others. Evidence is stacking up that one group, the omega-3 fatty acids (substances found in some fish oils), is important for good health in the body and the brain. Lab animals that don’t get enough omega-3s have problems with learning. And omega-3s appear to slow dementia, the loss of memory and mental function, in elderly people. Most researchers agree that omega-3s are important for overall health in people of all ages.

Despite all the attention that low-carb diets have been getting lately, carbohydrates are important for keeping the brain running smoothly. “The brain prefers glucose as a fuel in order to think and work its best,” Sandon says. And glucose, a simple sugar that is the main energy for the body, comes from carbohydrates. However, Sandon says, complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains) are better than simple carbs (such as sugary snacks or refined white bread). “A simple carbohydrate like sugary cereal is absorbed and used up quickly [by the body], and halfway through a test, you get tired because your energy is used up,” she says. “Whole grain or bran will stay with you a little longer.”

Break for Breakfast

Good balance is about balancing your food intake throughout the day as well as the contents of each meal. One of the most important things to do, both Sandon and Lieberman say, is to eat a healthful breakfast. In the beans-and-toast study, eating beans boosted test performance, but the plain-toast eaters still did better on the tests than those who ate no breakfast at all. “Students who eat regular breakfast perform better in school than those who don’t,” Sandon says. She suggests a breakfast that combines protein and whole-grain carbohydrates, such as whole-wheat toast with peanut butter or oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. “Kids should have a balanced breakfast,” Lieberman agrees, and should maintain a healthful balance in their meals throughout the day. If your body is hungry, so is your brain.

RELATED ARTICLE: brain fuel.

A balanced diet is the key to a healthy mind. Balanced meals include:

  • proteins, which the body uses to make the chemicals that transport messages between brain cells.
  • fats, especially good fats such as omega-3s, which are found in foods such as salmon. Fats coat the nerve cells in the brain, allowing messages to be transmitted quickly from cell to cell.
  • carbohydrates, which are the preferred fuel for the brain. Complex carbohydrates such as bran and whole grains are especially good for the mind because they are used more slowly than simple carbohydrates, so they keep everything running longer.


Brain food

Neuroscience for Kids: Nutrition and the Brain:

TeensHealth: The New Food Guide Pyramid: pyramid.html

How Your Brain Works:

How Food Works:

Brain Boosters

Many foods and nutrients help keep the gears in your
head turning smoothly. Here are a few examples.

Brain Boost Nutrients, Vitamins, Minerals Good Food Sources
Quick thinking Omega-3 fatty acids Salmon, almonds, seeds
Alertness Protein Legumes, nuts, fish, meats, chicken, eggs
Energy Carbohydrates Whole grains, cereals, pasta, breads, fruits
Souped-up memory Choline Egg yolks, liver, milk, soybeans
Overall brain health B vitamins Whole grains, cereals, meats, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, dairy, nuts
Magnesium Whole grains, legumes, nuts, green vegetables
Potassium Apricots, avocados, fish, bananas, cantaloupes, strawberries, oranges, meats
Calcium Milk, cheese, yogurt


  • How much of the energy you consume is used by the brain? (up to one-quarter)
  • Why is a well-balanced diet important for brain health? (The brain needs all types of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including protein, carbohydrates, and fats, to optimize its functioning.)
  • How do whole grains compare with simple sugars as brain food? (Whole grains take longer to break down, and they sustain energy longer.)
  • How can you change your eating habits to improve your brain’s health? (Answers will vary.)


Using the “Brain Boosters” chart as a starting point, students can research foods that are good for their brains. For homework, have them create a sample diet that would maximize the nutrients needed for brain health. Then ask them to compare their recommendations with the food served in your school’s cafeteria. Lead your students in lobbying for more brain-friendly meals and snacks.

Weir, Kirsten

–> Related Articles: What’s American Food? A Blend Of Old And New

Easy as ABC? Why pills can’t replace food

Before Reading

  • Ask students whether they think they need to take supplements.


  • Should teenagers take multivitamins? (Getting vitamins and minerals from natural sources is the best strategy, but when that isn’t possible, multivitamins can help teens stay healthy.)
  • Why don’t teens always get all the nutrients they need from their diets? (Answers will vary but may include excess consumption of junk foods, lack of access to healthy foods, lack of knowledge, lack of foresight, dieting for weight loss, eating a vegetarian diet, and so on.)

Brianna Kinney knows some smart mice. She credits vitamin with the little guys’ spike in intellect. For a science fair project, Kinney, who was a senior last year at Big Foot High School in Walworth, Wis., tested how quickly mice that were on different diets navigated a maze.

The group with no dietary supplement “sat there like bumps on a log,” taking as long as 20 minutes to complete the maze, she says. The mice on vitamin, however, performed up to 150 times faster.

Kinney, now studying at McIntire Department of Music, University of Virginia (actually she’s more into music, especially acoustic guitar and wanna become the greatest guitarist playing her best acoustic electric guitar), doesn’t take vitamins. But after her study, she wonders if she should.


–> View more: Food For Thought: Can Good Foods Keep Your Growing Brain In Tip-Top Shape?

No Substitute

Whether or not to take a multivitamin is a question without an easy answer. Our bodies need nutrients such as vitamins (from plants or animals) and minerals (from nonliving things) for growth, digestion, and other functions. But recent studies have found little proof that vitamin and mineral supplements enhance health or help prevent disease.

“A multivitamin is not really a replacement for food,” says Lindsay Reaves, a dietitian in Estherville, Iowa, who has surveyed teens about vitamin use. “They don’t help prevent against disease the way an apple would, because other chemicals in our food help keep us healthy, and [nutrients and those chemicals] need to work together.”

Certain vitamins, if taken in excess, can also cause harm. Dietitians point out that teens might already be getting enough vitamins if they consume fortified energy bars or protein drinks. “I wouldn’t say in general that teens should go out and get a multivitamin,” says Nicole Larson, a University of Minnesota researcher. “The most promising thing we know in terms of health relates to good dietary patterns and not supplements.”

Better Than Nothing?

Yet teens’ diets, in general, aren’t making the grade. Because they often skimp on fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and lean meats, many teens lack nutrients critical to growth, such as iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D. Take Joanna Kraft, a 16-year-old from Boise, Idaho. Kraft says she gets most of her vegetables at dinner and doesn’t drink milk. A bagel, juice, granola bar, sandwich, and raisins ate her main sources of nutrition during the day. Kraft’s diet, though not terrible, might lack enough calcium–dietitians recommend that teens get the equivalent of four and a half 8-ounce glasses of milk, but most teens get fewer than three.

Like 25 percent of teens, Jake Hoium, 15, believes in the power of supplements. He takes a daily multivitamin, a calcium supplement, and vitamin E, among other dietary supplements. “I take the calcium because I only drink a glass of milk a week and the multivitamin just because I think I should,” the Minneapolis teen says.

Some experts say such vitamin supplements may have value for teens who don’t get enough nutrition through their diets. “If you do the math comparing diet versus nutrient requirements and see what are not getting in terms of nutrients, it’s probably not a bad idea for them to be taking a multivitamin,” says Connie Weaver, head of Purdue University’s department of foods and nutrition in West Lafayette, Ind.

What’s your best bet? Try to get as many nutrients–especially calcium–from the foods you eat every day. If you think you’re missing anything, check with your doctor for advice.


  • American Dietetic Association
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

Calcium Calculator

To figure out your calcium intake in milligrams (mg) from food labels, add a zero after the daily value (DV) percentage. For instance, if an 8-ounce container of yogurt shows a 45 percent DV, that’s 450 mg of calcium. Aim for 130 percent of DV, since you need 1,300 mg.


Supplement Savvy Here are the top vitamins and minerals you need, the recommended

Calcium 1,300 mg daily

* Builds the bone mass that lasts for life

* Teen years are critical for getting enough.

Good sources                    Serving          mg per serving

American cheese                 2 ounces (oz)    348 mg
Fruit yogurt                    1 cup            315 mg
Milk (skim or low fat)          1 cup            300 mg
Salmon (pink, canned,
with bone)                      3 oz             181 mg

Good vegetarian/lactose-free sources

Soy milk (calcium added)        1 cup            250-300 mg
Tofu (calcium added)            1/2 cup          204 mg
Rice milk (calcium added)       1 cup            150-300 mg
Broccoli                        1 cup            90 mg

Vitamin vitals

* Consider a supplement if you can't get enough calcium through foods; should also contain vitamin D

* One calcium pill or multivitamin provides about half the daily calcium allowance.

Vitamin D 5 mcg daily

* Critical for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus

* Keeps bones strong

* Sunlight also stimulates production In the skin.

Good sources                    Serving          mcg per serving

Salmon (cooked)                 3 1/2 oz         9.0 mcg
Tuna (canned in oil)            3 oz             5.0 mcg
Milk                            1 cup            2.5 mcg
Eggs                            1 whole          0.5 mcg

Good vegetarian source
Breakfast cereal (10% daily     3/4 to 1 cup     1.0 mcg      value of vitamin D)

Sunlight (midday sun, no sunscreen, at least twice a week)

(fair skinned) 10 minutes per day *
(dark skinned) 40 minutes leer day *

* If in the sun longer, use sunscreen.

Vitamin vitals

* Follow recommendations for calcium.


11-15 mg daily

* Builds cartilage, ligaments,
tendons, bones, and teeth

* Low levels can cause a low red-blood-cell count

* Best absorbed from protein sources

* Vegetarians: Pair iron-containing and iron-boosting
foods (rich in vitamin C, such as tomatoes).

Good sources                    Serving          mg per serving

Liver                           3 oz             5.8 mg
Sirloin beef                    3 oz             2.9 mg
Turkey (dark meat)              3 oz             2.0 mg

Good vegetarian sources

Breakfast cereal (25%           3/4 cup          4.5 mg
daily value of iron)
Lentils                         1/2 cup          3.3 mg
Spinach (boiled)                1/2 cup          3.2 mg
Almonds (unblanched)            1/2 cup          3.1 mg

Mineral maybes

* You may need an iron supplement or a multivitamin if
you are a vegetarian or have been ill.

* Don't take iron supplements without a doctor's OK:
Too much iron is toxic (max for teens is 45 mg/day).


9-14 mg daily

* Boosts the immune system

* Helps form enzymes, proteins,
and cells

* Best absorbed through meat;
vegetarians need twice the recommended amount
from plant foods.

Good sources                    Serving          mg per serving

Oysters (battered/fried)        6 medium         16.0 mg
Beef (pot roast)                3 oz              7.4 mg
Pork (tenderloin)               3 oz              2.5 mg

Good vegetarian sources

Breakfast cereal (100%
daily value of zinc)            3/4 cup          15.0 mg
Baked beans                     1/2 cup           1.7 mg
Cashews (dry roasted)           1 oz              1.6 mg

Mineral maybes

* Zinc lozenges haven't been proved effective against colds.

* Ask your doctor before taking a zinc supplement;
too much can harm immune response and cholesterol levels (max for teens is 34 mg/day).

What’s American Food? A Blend Of Old And New

American cuisine is a blend of regional foods. New England tradition combined Puritan fare and the foods of new immigrants. Southern dishes are based on corn, pork and African foods. Dishes from Europe produced Midwest cuisine. Native Americans were a strong influence in the Southwest.

Say “American food” to almost anyone, and they will probably say hot dogs and hamburgers. But, true American food is best represented by traditional regional foods. Regional cuisine grew out of the necessity to adapt to what was locally available. The Native Americans introduced immigrants to many new, unfamiliar foods, and taught them how to grow, prepare, and preserve them. However, the many immigrant groups brought old traditions they didn’t want to give up. And the regional cuisines are a result of the blending of the old and new, creating dishes we now identify with different parts of the country.


New England–“The Three Sisters”

The first English settlers, finding no beef or wheat in the new world, nearly starved. Luckily, the Native Americans taught them how to grow and prepare the foods they called the “three sisters”–beans, corn, and squash. Finding an abundance of fish, game, and other local foods, the English colonists learned to adapt to their new environment. They soon were using new foods in old recipes. For example, corn (a new food to them) was included in a pudding (an old recipe) to make Indian pudding.

The Puritan no-nonsense approach to life was also applied to their foods. New England cooking became known for its simple and direct flavors. Boiled lobster, fish chowder, New England boiled dinner (corned beef and root vegetables) are tasty, easy-to-prepare dishes. The strict Puritan rule of no work on the Sabbath led to the development of slow-cooking recipes such as baked beans and brown bread. These meals were cooked in an earthenware pot over Saturday night so they were ready by noon on Sunday.

New England’s role as an international trading center brought in supplies from around the world. Spices, molasses, and chocolate were among the ingredients available to the colonial cook. Combined with local foods, the colonists created pumpkin pie, cranberry raisin tart, and gingerbread.

In the mid-1800s an influx of immigrants from Ireland, French Canada, Portugal, Italy, Poland, and Finland brought new traditions, tastes, and foods. New England foods gained diversity that continues even today with the newer immigrants from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The South–Grits and Cornbread

European settlers in the South ate, for the most part, what the natives ate–corn, beans, squash, deer, turkey, fish. They soon added pork to their diet, which had a significant effect on how foods were cooked. None of the pork was wasted; all parts were used in one way or another. Lard, or pork fat, was used to flavor foods and for frying.

Corn, the principal food crop, was prepared as a vegetable, roasted, boiled, ground, fried, and made into hominy grits. Native Americans taught early settlers to make hominy. When the hulled kernels of corn are dried and coarsely ground, they become grits. Grits are usually cooked into a thick, hot cereal and served for breakfast.

Grits and cornbread are strongly identified with the South. A traditional Southern breakfast always includes grits, and every family has a favorite cornbread recipe. Other popular corn dishes are spoonbread, hush puppies, and hoecakes or corncakes.

African food traditions made a significant contribution to Southern cuisine. Okra, sweet potatoes, peanuts, black-eyed peas, watermelon, and collards originally came from Africa. Slaves who cooked for plantation owners further developed the unique qualities of Southern cuisine by blending African, European, and Native American foods. Gumbo, a thick soup with vegetables, gets its name from the Bantu word for okra.

Slave ships often stopped in the West Indies and South America on their way to the Southern colonies. There, chilies, potatoes, and tomatoes were added to the cargo. These foods were added to the mix of the developing Southern cuisine. The ships also brought another important import: the method of slow-roasting meat, called barbecue.

In the early South, there were two different cooking styles, the sumptuous meals of the plantation owners and the country-style or “soul” foods of the poor whites and black slaves. Over the years these have merged to become the Southern cooking we know today.

The Midwest–Cheese and Pizza

Unlike the Native Americans in other parts of the country, the early inhabitants of the Great Lakes region depended on wild rice rather than corn. Wild rice is an aquatic grass with a taste and texture quite different from rice. Usually cooked as a gruel and seasoned with maple sugar, berries, or animal fat, wild rice was also used in soups and stews.

The first European immigrants to homestead in the Great Lakes region were Germans. Their contribution to Midwest cuisine includes bratwurst (a sausage made from pork, veal, and eggs), potatoes (used in dumplings, pancakes, warm potato salad), and noodles.

Soon to follow were the Scandinavians, who brought rye bread, Swedish meatballs, herring salad, and Danish pastries. With the influx of Europeans in the mid- to late 1800s, many ethnic groups found themselves living together in the cities and towns of the Midwest. Their cultures converged to create what we now think of as Midwestern fare: pot roast, stuffed pork chops, sausage and kraut, Wisconsin cheese, deepdish pizza, apple strudel, hot German potato salad.


The Southwest–Corn, Beans, and Chilies

The strongest influence of Native American cooking is in the cuisine of the Southwest. The native inhabitants of this region grew many different varieties of corn, beans, squash, and chilies, long before the Spanish arrived. More than 200 varieties of corn were developed by Native Americans. Various colors of corn were created to represent the cardinal points of the universe: blue (west), white (east), yellow (north), red (south), multicolored (zenith), and black (nadir). Blue corn is still identified with the Southwest.

A wide range of beans were also grown. As with corn, they were hybridized to produce different colors. Certain varieties were also best suited for local growing conditions. Beans were used in soups, stew, and cakes, added to salads, and ground to make flour.

Spanish explorers traded cattle, pork, fruits, and vegetables for beans, corn, and squash. Although the roots of Southwestern cuisine lie mainly in Native American cooking, it has evolved as a mixture of Hispanic and Anglo-American styles as well. Basic ingredients are still chilies, corn, beans, and spices. Corn tortillas are served in small roadside cafes as well as the upscale restaurants. Regional specialties that reflect the blend of cultures include: posole, a stew made with pork, hominy corn, and chilies; and blue corn-black bean rellenos. As you can see, American food is much more than hamburgers and hot dogs. It offers you a wide variety of tastes that blend the old with the new.

RELATED ARTICLE: Cornmeal Pancakes

1/2 c cornmeal 1 1/2 c flour 2 1/2 tsp baking powder 3/4 tsp baking soda 1/4 tsp salt 3 Tbsp sugar 2 eggs, beaten 3 Tbsp vegetable oil 2 c buttermilk

Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat egg and add buttermilk and oil. All liquids to flour mixture and stir only blended; there should still be some lumps. On hot, lightly greased griddle, pour 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Turn pancakes when they are golden brown. Serve with syrup or fresh fruit, such as strawberries or blueberries.


1 Tbsp vegetable oil 1/2 c chopped onion 1 clove garlic, minced 1 lb extra lean ground beef 1 14 1/2 oz can dized tomatoes in juice,

undrained 2 15 oz cans kidney, pinto,

or black beans, drained and rinsed 1 6 oz can tomato paste 1 1/2 cups water 2 tsp chili powder 1/2 tsp salt

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, saute onion and garlic in vegetable oil. Add ground beef and stir to break up into large pieces. Cook until meat is browned. Stir in tomatoes, beans, tomato paste, water, chili powder, and salt. Cover and simmer 15 to 30 minutes. Serve with tortillas, crackers, or cornbread, or over cooked spaghetti or rice. Make 6 to 8 servings.



It might seem easy to find agreement on the joys of good food that is lovingly prepared, nutritious, delicious and enjoyed in the company of friends and family. Yet ensuring universal access to good food is more complex and challenging than nostalgia for a home-cooked meal.

Power, inequality and privilege are interlarded within struggles for good food. Despite our best intentions, Canadians face serious food-related pathologies: greater food insecurity, growing numbers of food banks, rising obesity statistics, breathtaking rates of eating disorders, and an unsustainable mode of agro-industrial production that sheds farmers as quickly as it degrades topsoil.

Is it viable to expect these issues–particularly the social/equity concerns of the “reds” and the ecological agenda of the “greens”–to coalesce in a single food-security movement? FoodShare, a Toronto-based community., food-security organization, answers this question with a resounding yes, insisting that food can inspire social action against ecological and social injustice.

Community Food Security through FoodShare

Community food security (CFS) unites ecology and social justice almost by definition; these approaches define themselves as attempts to build locally based systems of production and consumption that support justice, democracy and sustainability. Yet uniting red and green issues on paper is easier than reconciling ecological concerns and social justice within an organization–let alone in a larger food movement. The CFS approach is not without its critics. Most significantly, it been charged with having a middleclass bias and for developing an inadequate response to the severity of food insecurity in neoliberal welfare states. School snack programs don’t solve the problems of student nutrition, community gardens have not stemmed the steady growth of food banks, and community kitchens don’t eliminate the food insecurity, of low-income families.


The FoodShare mandate explicitly endorses CFS goals, promoting universal access to culturally, acceptable, nutritionally adequate sustainable food through non-emergency channels. Like a food bank, FoodShare is concerned about hunger. Unlike a conventional food bank, however, FoodShare works on a smaller scale and within a longer time frame to develop more sustainable food links from field to table. FoodShare’s programs include community gardens, training and employment for youth at risk, roof-top gardening, public education campaigns, baby-food-making classes, an incubator kitchen project and catering company, and a Good Food Box program that anchors the organization in the Field to Table warehouse in the east end of downtown Toronto.

The initial FoodShare vision was not particularly green or radical. When it was created in 1985, FoodShare was originally envisaged by Art Eggleton, then mayor, as a way to coordinate access to the emergency food sector, and as a self-promotion tool for his reelection campaign. FoodShare still runs a hotline that refers callers to food banks, but the “Hunger Hotline” was renamed “FoodLink,” and now also contains information on community gardens, farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture. This change in name embodies a more general shift toward community development programs and sustainable food provisioning, and away from a charity-based model of immediate hunger relief.

The Good Food Box Program

FoodShare’s move towards a community development approach has not been easy, automatic, or uncontroversial. Simultaneously balancing environmental goals with income redistribution is an exceptionally difficult, often contradictory, task. Delivering an organic produce box that is accessible to low-income consumers is a near impossibility, since paying small farmers fairly means produce prices above those at Price Chopper. At least half of the patrons of the regular Good Food Box program are low-income Torontonians, yet the program is still unable to reach the poorest and most marginalized populations relying on food banks. The Good Food Box program supports local agriculture and feeds at least 5,000 people every month, yet these substantial achievements are dwarfed by an emergency-food sector that feeds at least 160,000 people monthly, and an equally large population that is food-insecure but does not access the city’s food banks.

CFS programs can be quite successful at the micro-level, but seem more limited in scope when the macro-picture of food insecurity and poverty is considered. They have not stemmed the rising tide of food insecurity in Canada, nor have they forced greater state accountability for meeting citizens’ basic needs. As social-assistance provisions shrink, large numbers of people continue to rely on the emergency food system, while the majority of consumers buy industrially processed food sent across thousands of miles through corporate distribution channels.

Mass mobilization for food and income security does not yet exist, yet it is desperately required to pressure the state to subsidize sustainable food production and fulfil basic rights of citizenship. At minimum, this includes guaranteeing a basic income that fulfils shelter and food needs, building infrastructure for sustainable agriculture, channelling surplus food away from landfills, and subsidizing projects that connect local eaters and growers and shorten food links.

The history of social movements suggests that none of these things will be provided voluntarily by governments. Massive social pressure is required, directed through well run organizations and popular social movements. Where will such a mass movement come from, and what role could CFS organizations like FoodShare play in its development?

Building a Red-Green Fend Movement

No singular CFS organization or approach can single-handedly solve the problem of hunger. Yet, despite the limited scope of micro-projects, collectively these approaches are an important part of the ongoing struggle to develop a mass-based food movement that connects ecological concerns with social justice. This can happen in at least two ways: through social modeling and state pressure, and through the politicization of food issues.

1. Social Modeling

CFS projects are important not only for their direct effects on participants, but because they provide models of more sustainable and socially just ways of growing and eating food–as well as a sense of hope that alternatives are possible. Innovation occurs through processes of experimentation that find novel “third sector” solutions outside pure market models or alienating bureaucratic channels.

Partially inspired by the success of FoodShare’s programs and the publication of several how-to manuals, food-box programs are sprouting up throughout the country at just the same time a national network of community gardeners is also emerging. Student-nutrition programs may not solve the problem of student hunger, but they do feed thousands of kids and mobilize popular energy behind the need for a universal school-lunch program. Community kitchens do not eliminate the problem of inadequate income, but they can break the social isolation of low-income women struggling to make ends meet. These innovations often blur the line between the emergency food sector and community development approaches, as food gleaners experiment with community kitchens utilizing surplus food, and as food banks develop programs to provide multicultural food staples and community-garden space.

Food provisioning in the non-profit sector has clearly been used as a material and ideological cushion to compensate for the withdrawal of the welfare state under neoliberalism. But minimizing these grassroots achievements encourages defeatism and plays into a neoliberal logic that insists that there are no alternatives. These approaches cannot and do not single-handedly “solve” problems of hunger or ecological degradation–no single solution can–but they do provide inspiration, create networks of food activists embedded in communities, and provide living examples of alternative modes of food production and consumption.


2. Engaging in Struggles with the State

While community-level innovation and modeling is important, they should not obscure the importance of the state as a critical resource regulating communal resources and guaranteeing rights of citizenship–an emphasis lost in much of the CFS literature, with its focus on community empowerment and individual opportunity. Yet not all CFS organizations are apolitical, or refuse to engage in struggles with the state. Developing a relationship with the relatively accessible scale of municipal government has been a particularly important part of FoodShare’s success. City Council was responsible for FoodShare’s inception in 1984, and the original version of the Field-to-Table program was developed through the Toronto Food Policy Council.

Not all cities have supportive municipal structures, however, particularly since the neoliberal process has downloaded responsibilities onto municipalities without offering compensatory resources. Yet support at the provincial and federal levels is required to broaden access to affordable, sustainable food within Toronto and across the country. Federal agricultural policy, for example, currently supports the expansion of chemical- and energy-intensive industrial agriculture, which favours corporate ownership. A different kind of federal support might not only provide financial incentives for ecological stewardship on family farms, but could also connect low-income consumers with small farmers through expanded good-food-box programs, food stamps, or electronic cards used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, or through subsidized meals at community-managed popular restaurants.

A variety of exciting alternatives are available for meeting basic food needs, but accessing state support requires the construction of broad coalitions to lobby the state at multiple levels. This process is exhausting and conflictual, but also recognized as vitally important by at least some CFS organizations. While FoodShare staff devotes much of its energies to roof-top gardening and packing food boxes, it reserves staff time and resources to build food-security coalitions through participation in structures like the Toronto Food Policy Council, the Toronto Food Justice Coalition and World Social Forum events. FoodShare has also emphasized the need to develop a national food-security network, and sponsored a national food-security conference that brought together nutritionists, anti-poverty activists, sustainable agriculture advocates and green entrepreneurs, among others. Disagreement, tension and debates are common at such gatherings, but so is a sense of common struggle.

Politicizing Food

While the goal of mass participation remains a serious challenge to a potential food movement, a greater consciousness of food politics is emerging in the Canadian public sphere. This is exemplified by heightened interest in food issues in youth subcultures, the anti-globalization movement and the rise of forms of cultural resistance like Slow Food chapters. Changes in public consciousness are required to build social movements and involve long-term processes of politicization. Food politicization occurs when actors reveal the power relations involved in eating (and not eating), and destabilize popular understanding of issues previously thought to be obvious and self-evident.

Eating an imported strawberry in January loses its innocence when issues of bioregionalism, transportation costs, labour rights and pesticide contamination are exposed. Politicization processes also expose the contradictions of rising food-bank usage when juxtaposed against the withdrawal of the social-safety net, an increase in corporate tax breaks and heightened income inequality.

Ecological politicization demonstrates how growing your own tomatos is a radical gesture against global food chains; at the same time, poverty activists politicize the class privileges built into gardening and organic-food consumption. Politicization of food raises tough questions for CFS activists–like whether poor people should be expected to access food staples through community gardens and collective kitchens, while middle-class folks garden as a hobby and shop for food staples at Loblaw’s.

Food politicization makes for difficult dinner conversation, particularly between the red and green camps that continue to divide social activists. Yet debate and disagreement are necessary to change consciousness about food, and for building a mass-supported movement that connects social justice to sustainability.

Social movements must expose the exploitation involved in global commodity chains, but they must also provide practical alternatives and models for feeding ourselves in less exploitative ways–through food co-ops, fair-trade practices, good-food boxes, roof-top gardens and local barter systems. It is here that CFS approaches excel, even though the small may not always seem beautiful to those demanding a singular big solution to hunger in our appallingly polarized social world.

Josee Johnston researches issues of food security and globalization at the Monk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, and recently joined the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of British Columbia. She sustains hope that university research can be both intellectually meaningful and dedicated to social and ecological justice.

Johnston, Josee

–> Read more: The trick to making adult booze-sicles

The school lunch debate

Susan, Erica, and Ann Marie sat on one side of large room behind a rectangular table. A banner with the words “The Pros” hung in front of them. Josh, Greg, and Jake sat across the room. They were “The Cons.” Each team huddled in a tight circle whispering to each other until Mrs. Otto, the debate coach, came into the room.

“Your time for discussion is up, teams,” she said. “Remember, this is just a practice round, but I want you to think of this as the real thing.” She cleared her throat before continuing.

“As I said before, you will be debating how to eat a healthy school lunch. Each team has 5 minutes to state its side of the issue. Then both teams will have 5 minutes to ask questions. The team that can get the other side to agree to its point of view will be the winning team. Any questions?”

Mrs. Otto looked up from her notepad. When she didn’t see any hands raised, she said, “Pros, you may begin now.”

It Must Be Balanced

Susan spoke first. “I think more kids should eat school lunches. The hot lunch program started in 1946, when military doctors noticed that young men recruited for World War II were undernourished. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) wanted to make sure that kids ate at least one balanced meal a day. Toddy, food-service managers must follow nutrition guidelines from the USDA when planning their meals. Lunch menus have to include foods from all the groups in the Food Guide Pyramid so they are nutritious.”

Erica added, “School lunch menus used to be pretty high in fat. The USDA figured out that wasn’t so great, so they made some changes. Now the fat content is limited to 30 percent or less of the lunch’s calories over an average week. Menus must have plenty of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. Schools offer the meals free or at a reduced price to kids who can’t afford to pay for them.”

Ann Marie continued, “Schools have made a lot of changes over the years–so that we want to eat the food they serve. Creative menus with everything from meat and potatoes to fast foods like burgers, subs, and pizza help cut down on food waste. Some schools even contract with chains such as Taco Bell, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Inc., and Arby’s to offer favorite foods.”

“Thank you, Pros,” Mrs. Otto said, and turned toward the Cons. “It’s your turn now.”

It’s Fast

Josh went first. “When I ate school lunch a few years ago, I went away from the table hungry. I playfootball and need a lot of food. I don’t get filled up with the hot lunch, but I do with the a-la-carte stuff. You know, pizza, fries, and a sports drink are just fine with me.”

Jake nodded at Josh and said, “I don’t have time to eat lunch. After I stand in line to get my food, I have less than 10 minutes to eat. Then there’s no time to talk to my friends. It’s just easier to grab something out of the vending machines, like a bag of chips and a soda.”

“Yeah,” agreed Greg, “anything is better than school lunch. I head to the snack bar for french fries and a bagel with cream cheese.”

Mrs. Otto interrupted. “Time’s up, Cons. Now, each team may ask the other team questions. We will start with the Pros.”

The Face-Off

“Josh,” Susan began, “you say you get filled up on your i-la-carte lunch, but how much energy do you have for football practice?”

“Well,” Josh said sheepishly, “not a whole lot. I get tired really fast, but I eat some candy and I feel better.”

Jake asked the next question. “Susan, how nutritious can school lunch really be if they are serving fast foods?”

Susan thought for a minute. Then she said, “Even the fast: foods served have to fit into the nutrition guidelines set by the USDA. Some schools don’t allow i-la-carte foods to be sold, so everyone gets the same balanced meal.”

“Jake,” Erica asked, “we learn all about good nutrition in school. How do chips and soda fit into a balanced diet?”

Jake looked at his team-mates. “I think nutrition is important. I just don’t have time to sit down and eat a meal in the cafeteria.”

Making a Healthy Choice

“Is there any way you could eat a balanced meal at school?” Ann Marie asked.

The Cons huddled together to talk about their answer. Josh said, “We decided that we could probably’ make better choices at school. We want speed and convenience and you want balanced nutrition. To compromise, I could order fresh fruits and vegetables, a sandwich, and a juice box from the a-la-carte line.”

“I could talk my friends into eating school lunch with me,” Jake said. “It would be less expensive than the vending machines, and I’d still get to talk to them.”

Everyone looked expectantly at Greg.

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “I’m not giving up the snack bar.” Then he looked at the floor and muttered, “But I suppose I could order a fruit smoothie with my bagel instead of the fries.”

Mrs. Otto cut in, “We’re out of time. Both teams did a good job of researching and deciding how to eat a healthy lunch at school. You have discussed lots of options, but you all seem to be convinced that a healthy, balanced meal is important. That means you all win.”

Be a Menu Planner

When food-service directors develop school lunch menus, they choose at least one food from each of the groups in the Food Guide Pyramid: grains/breads, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat/fish/poultry/nuts/dry beans. The USDA requires this in order to keep the menus nutritionally balanced. If you were the food-service director at your school, what foods would you pick for the hot lunch menu?

Write menus for a week that are nutritionally balanced and tasty. Use foods that teens will want to eat. Then share ideas with students in class and vote on the best menus of the week.

Truth and Consequences

In a recent study in California, researchers looked at the blood vessels of 249 high school students. They discovered that some teen’s eating habits are causing a problem. To find out what the problem is, answer the following questions, and put the numbered letters in the spaces at the bottom.

1. What favorite ballgame food has over 1 tablespoon of fat?

-- -- --   -- -- --
1     5    6

2. A can of cola has around 7 teaspoons of -- -- -- -- --.
                                           8        3  4
3. Pepperoni pizza is high in -- -- --.

4. Fruits and -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
                 2     9                 11
are often lacking in teens' diets.

5. School lunches sometimes serve this sweet treat.

-- -- -- -- -- --
            7 12


-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10    11 12

Answers: 1. hot dog, 2. sugar, 3. fat, 4. vegetables, 5. cookie.
Problem heart disease

The trick to making adult booze-sicles

THE DECADE-LONG CULINARY game of rejigging the comfort foods of youth to better reflect adult tastes is now so well entrenched that it can be divided into periods and subtrends. First came gentrification (think hamburger and seared foie gras getting together in the same bun). Then there was vulgarization ($2,500 pizza scattered with gold leaf). And now hard times have returned some good sense to the picture in the form of alcoholization–and specifically, as it applies to that venerable childhood favourite, the ice cream truck.

So far as I can tell we have fun-loving Miami to thank for this one. For it was there, last year, that after losing her marketing job, Felecia Hatcher decided to have a go at the ultra-popular gourmet food truckbusiness that was overtaking Los Angeles and New York. But instead of serving hot savoury food, she went with cold and sweet. “Our newschool twist on the childhood ice cream truck allows you to experience ice cream like never before!” she promised on her website, back when she launched her company, Feverish Ice Cream.

If she was guilty of overpromising at the time, let it be said that this spring, Feverish delivered. Order up one of her rum raisin popsicles nowadays and it means the usualspiked with a frozen shot of Wray & Nephew “100 proof.” Other booze-sicle flavours run to strawberry mojito, cosmo, peach bourbon, salted margarita and mai tai. And better yet, Feverish is not alone. “Lately I’ve seen a lot of my competitors starting to experiment with booze. It’s fun-and at the same time, it’s tricky,” Hatcher explained from Miami.

Naturally, I was keen to know what she meant, so I ran off and went out to buy a nice array of vibrantly coloured, freshly squeezed juices, lots of liquor, and one Zoku Quick Pop Maker.

You could of course get by with a dollar-store ice cube tray and some toothpicks. But if you are hosting a lakeside or pool party and not a frat party, the Zoku will help provide some finesse in shape and uniformity. It also contributes speed-for the cocktails poured into its moulds will freeze solid in five minutes flat, and then you can pop them out and get on with the next uniform batch.

Actually, the box says “juice,” not cocktail, and my first attempt at freezing the latter confirmed that this was no accident. As Hatcher was obviously alluding to when she referenced booze-sicle manufacture being tricky, alcohol is reluctant to freeze-unless you get the ratio right. For example, as appealing as the notion may be of a hot sunny afternoon, a poolside deck chair and an ice-cold licking-martini frozen solid on a stick, anyone who keeps a bottle of vodka in the freezer knows that this is a pipe dream. But then, everyone who has ever had a winechilling emergency and then forgotten the bottle in the freezer can tell you that something with only 15 per cent alcohol will freeze solid all too eagerly.

So, after cleaning out my first failed batch of strong and stubbornly liquid tequila-and-blood-orange-juice popsicles, I weakened the mix and everything began working out beautifully. With a 1:4 booze-to-mix ratio, vodka and orange and greyhounds work brilliantly. Gaining confidence, I next concocted a triple-layered seasonal freezie for Canada, wherein two red layers (tequila-blood orange and vodka-cranberry) were separated by a white layer of gin and tonic. Cheered by the result, I did a July 4 American number with some white rum and blueberry in place of the vodka-cranberry. On which note, if you try this at home and get carried away, for the next day I recommend my frozen twist on a Bloody Mary, made with clear tomato water.

The possibilities are fabulously unlimited. Which brings us sadly to the story of the recent convergence of vulgarization and alcoholization and the popsicle as it played out this spring at the Marquis Los Cabos hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where they began offering a popsicle made from Clase Azul Ultra tequila, soda, sugar, and gold flakes for, er, $1,000 a pop. Strangely, no one has yet bought one.