Health

 

Pam Popper PhD

Pam Popper PhD

Posted May 25, 2011

Published in Health

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Let's Have the Right Discussion About Diet for a Change

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I read with interest the story in The New York Times entitled Foods With Benefits, or So They Say, about functional foods and the regulatory issues surrounding how they are labeled and marketed to the public. 

Americans are sicker than they’ve ever been, and if they believe the claims made by food companies, their health issues can be helped by eating fortified crackers, sugar-laden cereals made with whole grains, or drinking certain fruit juices. In response to growing interest in diet and health, food companies have become more aggressive in promoting functional foods as having health-promoting properties.  This strategy has paid off - these foods generate tens of billions of dollars of sales annually.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration are charged with regulating advertising and health claims for foods, and these agencies spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually policing the activities of food manufacturing companies.  Their collective mission is to review research and authorize health claims, and to insure that food companies stay within published guidelines.  I’ll assume that the regulators are well intentioned, but their efforts are misdirected and divert attention from the discussion about diet that we should be having.

Americans are sick because they are eating a diet based on animal foods and processed foods.  There is no evidence that people can overcome the ill effects of consuming this poor diet by eating fortified/functional foods, taking vitamins, or adding or eliminating one or two foods from the daily fare. 

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that a more comprehensive approach, a whole-foods, plant-based diet, can not only prevent, but can also stop and even reverse common degenerative diseases.  My colleagues and I have been successfully teaching people how to change their health outcomes using this diet for many years, and public interest in it is growing.  In fact, a new film called Forks Over Knives is being shown in theaters throughout the U.S. today and chronicles the work of two researchers, Dr T. Colin Campbell at Cornell University, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic, who have proven that this diet successfully addresses the major diseases that plague our society today.  The film presents the scientific evidence supporting this claim, includes interviews with doctors and other nutrition experts, and features reality patients who actually reverse their diseases as a result of adopting a plant-based diet. 

Many Americans are trying to improve their diets, but the results have generally been disappointing.  The reason is that Americans are trying to make minor changes, such as incorporating functional foods, and this approach simply does not work.  Dietary change that results in improved health outcomes works just like a combination lock – if it takes four numbers to open the lock and you only dial three, you do not get 75% of the results – you get nothing.  You must get all four numbers right, and in the right order, to get results.  And so it is with diet.  There is a right dietary pattern and a wrong dietary pattern, and there are good and bad foods.  Our federal authorities don’t like to talk about this because it means telling Americans to eat more of some foods, less of some foods, and to eliminate some foods.  These directives may be detrimental to some food companies and agricultural organizations, but are imperative in order to improve the health of Americans.

I know that some people find it hard to believe that the solution to our expensive and negatively life-altering health problems could be so simple.  Americans have been trained to think that effective medical care involves expensive equipment, tests, drugs, and procedures.  But mangoes and broccoli are far more powerful than these high-tech tools will ever be for chronic health conditions. 

Because we live in a free country, companies should be allowed to manufacture, market, and sell junk foods.  We simply must prohibit these companies from making health claims about these foods, regardless of how much they are altered or what is added to them.  The federal government, starting with the USDA, should start promoting the diet that has been proven prevent and cure disease – a whole-foods, plant-based diet – regardless of the effect this advice might have on food companies and agricultural groups.  We are sacrificing the health of hundreds of millions of people in order to protect the financial interests of a few thousand companies and farming groups.  I find this unacceptable and so should you.


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