How much does Marketing influence our Health?

A recent study about teens believing sports drinks are healthy really got me thinking. How much of our food choices are made because of clever marketing, especially marketing that would make us falsely believe something is healthy. And we are no different from teens.

It is surprising how much we take the food companies word for it. For example, I was reading a nutrition label for a multigrain cracker that was in our company’s break room. The first ingredient was whole wheat, which is a whole grain. A good start. But to find the next grain (not wheat) I had to skim to the fourth ingredient. To find the next real grain, not just a grain byproduct, I had to go 9 ingredients past the 2% or less ingredients. Literally they are sprinkling other grains over the top and claiming multigrain.

I wouldn’t have been so upset about the whole issue except they had this picture of a big wooden scoop with all these different grains pouring out of it. Great, now I’m all upset about it again. Give me just a second…

I guess it never ceases to amaze me to see all the tactics that are used to try and trick us into eating food that is not healthy, and by my personal standards, not even real food. These tactics are regularly being exposed, but before we figure out what tactics they are using they are already on to the next one. Some marketing tactics are here today and gone tomorrow, but some can linger on for years, even decades.

A great example is margarine. Most people can remember when margarine was not only promoted as healthier than butter, but they were so good at their message some people would have considered it a health food. Sometimes the issue is not only good marketing, but in this case the government backed the promotion of margarine. We now know that the partially hydrogenated oils that made up margarine are the most unhealthy oils you can put into your body. They are especially bad for heart disease, increasing bad cholesterol and decreasing good.

So if the junk food and fast food industries are pumping 10s of billions of dollars into marketing and sometimes getting government support to promote their unhealthy food than what are we to do? How can we possibly overcome such a huge deficit of misinformation. The answer is actually easier than you would think. We need to learn how to buy and eat real food.
The most basic step you can take is start reading labels. Stop believing the commercials and the marketing jargon on the front of the label. Go straight to the back of the label and read the ingredients. Avoid processed oils, grains, and sugars, as well as food additives and preservatives.
If you need a refresher on what real food is here is a fairly comprehensive list: beans (legumes), whole grains, nuts, seeds, whole fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy. If you spot one of these ingredients on your label than you have found something that contains real food. The question is how much of these real food ingredients are in there?

The only way to overcome false marketing is understand true ingredients. If you can’t understand the label, probably because the food companies don’t want you to, than you should just leave that food alone. Breaking free from sly marketing tactics will not happen overnight, but if you start to look to the source of truth- the ingredients label- than you are well on your way.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_103746.html

Whatever You Focus on Expands

As I continued to scour the news and research last week I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of negative news I saw about prescription medications.  I was highlighting many of the articles I found on twitter and when I looked back over the week I was surprised to see all the negative articles about prescription meds.  I even found that I was really having a negative spirit about the whole medical field the last couple of days.

I don’t want to become cynical so I had to check myself and see what do I really believe about health and where does the medical system fit.  Matt is always telling me that whatever we focus on expands.  The negative effects of medication had taken up much of my view over the last week.  It had started out as a head issue but it was starting to creep into my heart.  Since I need to guard my heart it was time to truly evaluate what I believe about the current medical system and where medications fit.

I have realized over the past couple years that I can’t blame the medical system for my bad health.  I have more recently come to believe that in the same turn I can’t ultimately trust them with my health.  We have built the medical system on capitalism and, for better or worse, it is designed to make money for the people that provide us with medical care.  Building a medical system on capitalism has its benefits like providing monetary motivation for advances in medicine.

But is this the right motivation when health is on the line.  Does the money influence advancement more than the motivation to see people healthier?  I’ve noticed that the money that goes into advertising prescription drugs has increased our focus on prescription drugs, and in turn this has expanded the view of these drugs in medicine.  At times it can seem like the only thing that gets attention in the medical field is medications.

I think this is why sometimes I focus so much on the side effects of medications, because at times these seem to be under-emphasized.  I guess just because meds have occupied almost the complete view of the medical system doesn’t mean I should let them expand to completely take over my view.  Especially as I think about the the role that drugs play in truly being healthier they should severely shrink in my view.

Well I guess until our country stops direct to consumer marketing of drugs and the saturation of the medical system by drug companies I will continue to keep people informed.  I will work this week on focusing on that which improves our health as opposed to that which is robbing our health.  After all, in my view I want health to expand and disease to shrink.

Prescription Fish Oil?

Matt walks in my office today and asks “Did you see the new commercial for the prescription fish oil.”  I had been on this companies website recently but until he came in I had forgotten all about it.  Our conversation got me thinking about the concept of a prescription fish oil.  For me it is a fairly mind-blowing concept.

So Why Prescription Fish Oil

You typically only see synthetic chemicals try to get approval as a prescription drug.  The main reason being that you can own a patent on a synthetic chemical.  It is expensive to get approval as a drug and you want to make sure you fully own the goods before spending all that money.   Your end product will have to be sold at astronomical margins to make back the original investment into the drug process.

For natural ingredients you can own the patent on processing but not on the ingredients.  That’s because you can’t patent something that is natural and already existed (that is of course unless you are Monsanto trying to get a monopoly on seed).  This is where it gets sticky.  If you don’t own the patent on the ingredient, other people can have that ingredient and boast similar properties to your now expensive raw material. 

This brings us back to our prescription fish oil.  Most of the research done on fish oil is for non pharmaceutical, regular old fish oil.  So if any one can sell fish oil and carry the same active ingredients as the ones found in the studies, then why all the work to become a pharmaceutical fish oil. 

Off-Label Prescriptions and Inflated Pricing

Two advantages I see for a company to do this: insurance coverage and doctor recommendations.  

When drugs are covered by pharmaceutical companies the real cost of the drug is hidden from most consumers.  I believe this is one reason why medical insurance rates and medical cost in general are through the roof.  We don’t pay when we get the prescription, but we pay plenty every month when we get our insurance bill.

The fact that it will be recommended by doctors could be a positive thing in some ways.  It is long past due for most doctors to recommend fish oil to their patients.  Only one problem here.  The prescription fish oil is only indicated for those with very high triglyceride levels.  That means most people that would benefit from fish oil aren’t really recommended to be prescribed this fish oil.

As a side note here I think there will be much confusion about when this fish oil should be prescribed.  Considering fish oil studies done on mood, brain function, healthy skin, joint health, and eye health did not use the prescription fish oil, it will be a stretch to recommend this form.  All of these uses would be considered off-label uses of the prescription fish oil.

Are There Any Advantages

So the last question you may have about prescription fish oil is the quality.  After all, purity and consistency are the main focus of most pharmaceutical companies.  The only problem here is when you are dealing with natural ingredients some of the procedures used to purify and concentrate may also destroy some of the beneficial properties.

Maybe I am just to grass roots or frugal but I am going to stick with good old health food store brands.  You can find a pure product without the pharmaceutical mark up.

You’ll Find This Ironic

One interesting final note.  The prescription fish oil Lovaza sold by GlaxoSmithKline was shown to increase LDL (bad) cholesterol 10%-46% from two separate studies.  The placebo group in both studies actually decreased LDL cholesterol.

PubMed Article

Think Beyond the Grocery Store

America has a very diverse food system.  There are a million and one ways to obtain your food.  There are your run-of-the-mill grocery stores.  Many of these offer some healthy choices and generally have a decent selection of produce.  But they aren’t the only way to get your food!  Here are some other great options for hunting down healthy foods throughout different times of the year:

Farmers Markets. I love these.  They’re one of my favorite things about summer time, and they’re growing in popularity.  You can find an abundance of quality local produce (and often other things!) at a fairly reasonable price.  Every major city has at least one, and most rural areas have a few to pick from.  Illinois is well-known for it’s sweet corn, which is one of my favorite farmer market treats.  I’ve also bought pasture-raised pork, fresh flowers, and amazing vegetables as our local market!

Natural Foods Stores. These run a big more expensive than markets (sometimes) but there are many options for being cost-effective here.  Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are great options that are fairly populous.  It isn’t hard to find them.  There are, of course, smaller chains or even just local or regional places.  There’s a place in the Chicago suburbs that I happened on accidentally once.  I don’t even remember the name, but it was all whole foods.  Nuts, vegetables, even their desserts were about as whole as you can get.  (Chocolate covered nuts and espresso beans?  Yes please!)

Go to the Source! I love farmers.  I love farmers of all sorts.  I especially love farmers that I can go straight to for my food.  Have you ever been to a berry farm?  Have you ever collected your own eggs?  I love places like that, and I love fostering a relationship with the people that grow our food.  I’ve had the joy of picking my own peaches, apples, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries on farms.  I’ve also gotten to visit the locations where my beef, pork, and rabbit meat have been raised in the past.  There’s nothing like being able to see your food from start to finish!

The paths you can follow to obtain your food are numerous!  There’s nothing wrong with your standard grocery stores.  It’s just valuable to note freshness of food, and its origin.  There’s definitely some merit to understanding the history of your food, and trying alternate paths can really open doors to that!  So, explore your options.  These are not, by any means, the only ways to get directly to your food.  However, I hope this post encourages you to explore your options!  Food is all around us.  It’s up to us to find the right choices.

From Grain to Glucan

Food.  We all eat it.  We all love it.  It’s a vital part of our well-being, and in many ways, it is a part of identity and culture.  Food is important.  Food can even influence mood and outlook.  Food also usually has a story.  It may not sound exciting or interesting, but food has an adventure of its own, from its start to finish.  Nutrim takes a long journey from a little oat seed to a fine powder in a can or a chewable capsule.

It may be hard to understand, but the same powder that can help lower cholesterol, started in a field just like any other crop.

We strongly promote whole foods, those foods that are as class to their natural state as possible.  We suggest you use fresh garlic, rather than garlic salts and powders.  Try some real tarragon, rather than “Italian seasoning-flavored” mixes.  Use the real thing.  I’m sure this raises confusion as to Nutrim, and what it is.

Nutrim® is the easy way to supplement your diet with the Power of Oats.  It’s 100% oats.  It’s just cooked and ground down according to a USDA process.  And you won’t find another oat bran as pure and rich in oat beta glucan fiber as Nutrim.

So, next time you drink your 100% pure orange juice, think about the fact that several people worked long and hard to get that juice to you as safe, secure, and nutritional food.  Origin of food is an interesting topic, one that I love talking about.  Do you every stop to think about the fact that your whole wheat bread used to be a grain on a plant in a field somewhere?  Or the fact that your favorite soup comprises of several different products that had to be produced?

Part of the benefit of farmer’s markets is the face-to-face contact that buyers have with the people that worked directly with the product.  That’s an underestimated benefit in a fast-paced world like ours.

Food comes a long way from start to finish.  Are you well-versed in your food’s journey?  Check it out, you may end up finding out some useful information.

Another Twist in the Low Fat Low Carb Debate

For those of you invested in this long-standing debate there seems to be no end to the twists and turns. For those who have not been following the low fat/low carb debate it would be impossible to bring you up to speed, but let me give you a little history.

Low Fat
Over 50 years ago Dr. Pritikin suggests that a diet low in fat can help with weight management and also likely help with heart disease risk reduction. This fit nicely into the message that was being promoted during the time that fat was bad, especially saturated fat, and we should decrease levels at all cost. The food companies said, “why not” and began creating foods that were low in fat. To this day the grocery aisles are loaded with low-fat anything you can think of.

Low Carb
Not so long after came Dr. Atkins with the idea that a low carb diet will help people lose weight. People really missed their steak and eggs, so this diet had no problem coming to the forefront of diet trends. It wasn’t long until restaurants offered low carb menu items. So now we have access to low carb or low fat anything, but still today the CDC comes out with a report that says we are still gaining weight and there seems to be no end in sight.

A High Fat Diet Helps the Heart?
The one interesting twist in today’s research showed that the low carb, and therefore high fat, diet may actually have some benefits for heart health. The low carb diet shows significant benefits for increasing HDL cholesterol, which is the cholesterol that helps protect the heart. The effects seen on HDL cholesterol during a low carb diet are similar to that of a drug.

By this time you are completely confused, but let me try to bring some clarity to this picture. I will start with heart disease.

We reported in a recent blog about how red meat was not shown to increase risk of heart disease, whereas processed meat was shown to increase heart disease. We saw similar news launched this year about how saturated fat intake was not necessarily associated with increased risk for heart disease, whereas trans fats found in margarine were.

This shoots some big holes in the arguement that fat, especially saturated fat, increases heart disease risk. At the same time we find out that certain processed foods that are high in fat are likely to increased heart disease. So what we find is a high fat diet, sans the processed food, may actually benefit heart disease.

But Which Diet is Better for Weight Loss
As far as weight management, there does not seem to be a significant difference between the low fat or the low carb diet. The interesting point of both of these diets, and their founders, is that both highly advocate the eating of whole foods. If you read the initial works of both doctors you will find both diet plans are packed full with unprocessed, healthy whole foods. So is the fact that the diet is low fat or low carb have anything to do with it, I don’t think so. Does it have everything to do with eating whole foods… I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Resources:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/health/nutrition/04fat.html
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100802/ap_on_he_me/us_med_dueling_diets/print

The Downward Spiral of Stress Eating

Emotional eating.  I’m sure we’ve all done it.  Or, maybe we’ve done the opposite, and abstained from eating because of an emotional situation.  This is probably one of my greatest weaknesses; I have a stress-craving trigger that would test most people’s will-power and a caffeine addiction that I’ve “beaten” about twelve different times now.  It’s easy to take good care of ourselves when life is going our way.  But, what about all those times when things seem a little out of control?

Things have been hectic lately.  Between great opportunities and stressful set-backs (such as, loved ones being in the hospital), stress has been a huge factor in my life lately.  Now, stress can be good, in moderation.  It can keep you on your feet and help you prioritize.  However, overt stress is hard on the body and mind.  It tests your self-control and tempts you into slipping back into bad habits.  As hard as I try most of the time to eat right, though, sometimes it just seems like such a good idea to have that Mountain Dew or sneak some McDonald’s instead of that healthier option I’d been planning on.

Stress eating.  It’s a horrible cycle.  Usually, there’s guilt.  In fact, in many ways, a stress-triggered craving can be tied to some serious health problems, such as eating disorders.  Often, emotional eating leads to feelings of guilt or regret, similar to what some people would experience after a bulimic binge.  While the self-induced harm isn’t quite as significant as that in a full-blown eating disorder, it’s hard on both the body and the mind.  You eat to get rid of the negative feelings, to “feel” better…and often end up feeling worse in the end.

I think it’s valuable to note that most Americans know that they eat wrong.  They understand that they should try harder.  But emotional eating is a hard cycle to break.  It’s a tough monster to beat.  Understanding just how hard it can be might make it easier to beat, though.  And every person who understands the downfalls of emotional eating, has the tools to beat it.

So, next time you’re feeling fried and that chocolate cake, that sugar-loaded soda, or that huge plate of nachos is giving you “the eye,” consider your options.  You can stress eat, feel better for a few minutes, and feel badly about it afterward, or…you can take the high road, remember your well-being, and feel accomplished later.  You may want that triple-chocolate fudge brownie, but I’m sure you’ll be happier you didn’t give in later on.

A Synthetic Reality

This past week I was watching a reality TV show with high anticipation.  I normally don’t like reality TV but I knew one of the contestants.  I have previously viewed reality TV with a skeptical eye but what I learned this week has blown my previous conceptions of reality TV out of the water.

Since I was skeptical I was quickly turned off by what I saw on this “live” show.  It was hard to identify what it was about the show that made me think the reality was fabricated, but I got the impression that something was not right.  As the week progressed I heard bits and pieces of the story of what really happened from people who were there at the “live” show.  Everything I was hearing confirmed my initial thoughts about the show.

My wife was frustrated that I no longer wanted to watch the show because I really thought it was fake.  Even as she heard some of the stories from those that had been there, she was still interested in watching the show.  That was until someone shattered her perception of the show with one fact, the judges on the show received cue cards before the next act even took the stage.   This point was more shocking to her than when she heard that the judges were reading from a teleprompter.  When she watched one of the judges checkout a cue card to give the current performer a critique, she was disgusted.

How could they know how to critique a live act before they even watched them perform?  All of the details I continue to learn about the show reinforce for me that the producers are creating a synthetic reality.  They create stories that connect with our souls by taking parts of the most genuine pieces of our human nature, and everything we enjoy, and recreating it on stage.  Just like in a chemistry lab, different components are mixed together to give the desired outcome.  What you are left with looks and feels just like the real thing.

Now I am not against someone weaving a good tale when you know it is fiction.  I do take offense to someone who would decieve you into believing that what they created is something real.  Just as I was about to step off the roller-coaster of frustration I was experiencing about the show, I realized that the same exact thing was happening to our food.  It is hard to identify the issue by looking at the surface, but when you look behind the scenes it becomes obvious.

If you have a skeptical eye you may have already seen some subtle changes happening in our food, butter flavored food with no butter and guacamole with less than 2% avocado.  What can be seen on the surface only starts you down the rabbit hole of fake food, skepticism will only get you to part of the story.  To learn the full the full story you will need to dig, and dig deep.  Those creating this alternative reality are good at what they do.  They are working all the angles to give you a feel like you are experiencing the real thing, only to sell you a package with a false reality inside.  In some ways it is not unlike a good magic show.  You have to pay close attention to catch the trick and reveal the full reality of what you are actually seeing.

To overcome this false reality we will need to stop accepting foods “made with whole grain” and “made with extra virgin olive oil”, and actually start eating whole grains and extra virgin olive oil.  It takes just a little bit of training to start identifying the added colors that deceive the eye, added flavors that deceive the pallet, and marketing talk that convinces our minds that processed foods are beneficial for our bodies.

So as I need to step off of this roller-coaster for now, I leave you with one last question.  What is the next aspect of reality to be synthesized?  If we are not careful we will end up being offered something that tastes, looks, and feels like life…with only 1% real life added.

Breaking Free from Processed Food

Over the last couple months our company has given a lot of thought to our core beliefs and what are we trying to communicate.  An article that I found today really highlights what is at the core of what we try to represent as a company.

There is one fact I have known for a long time but have been unable to put it into words until now.  It is at the core of what we profess everyday as we talk in the office, meet in the conference rooms, and even think about when we are away from work.  As we observe a country who struggles with obesity, heart disease and cancer we have come to realize that food is not our problem but it is processed food that is the issue.

The article I saw today really puts a big exclamation point on that statement.  For half a century now we have been told that the consumption of red meat is one of the main culprit responsible for heart disease.  If there has been one nutritional fact we could stand, if all other food advice failed, we knew we could fall back on red meat as one of the causes of heart disease.

A group of researchers reviewed the literature to find out the relationship between meat and heart disease.  Their findings were published in the AHA journal in a  review that included 20 studies and over 1 million people.   After looking at all the data the research team found that when you separate the information on processed meat, like deli meat and hot dogs, out from information about meat with nothing added you find out some incredible information.  Red meat is not found to increase the risk of heart disease where processed meat was found to increase the risk of heart disease by a whopping 42%.

Since I am constantly looking over the research I am constantly presented with these two opposing facts, real food increases health and processed food destroys health.  Whether its nuts and beans decreasing heart disease or the “high carb” whole grains associated with a lower risk of diabetes it is always the same.  Eat real food and experience health, eat food imposters and suffer the consequences.

Even though disease management cost continue through the roof and the debilitation of disease is highly inconvenient, processed food will continue to be our cost effective and convenient choice.  If we continue to live for convenience today we will have to pay for it at some point.

Now I don’t want to minimize the struggle that we have today trying to break free from cheap and convenient processed food.  We all live in the same place and are face with the same tempation to choose the cheaper and more convenient choices.  We have to ask ourselves if I am saving time and money on food today, what I am saving it for?  Am I saving it for a time when my health has failed and I would pay anything and trade in my long, painful days to have my health back?

We want to be a company that is there with you on the journey to better health and help you to enjoy the adventure of rediscovering real food.  As we return to real food we will find that it offers a greater variety and tastes and experiences that we could never enjoy with heavily processed foods.

Resources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20479151

Inspire Health

Your health is a big thing to think about. Sometimes doing the right thing can seem daunting. However, with proper care and motivation, your health can be a fun and easy thing to manage! A good support system can also work wonders. So, Oathealth.com wants you to inspire health, with your personal story!

On our Facebook page, we’re running a new contest, which we’re calling Inspire Health. This contest is meant to help our community see each other’s motivation. Here’s the idea:  post a picture of what motivates you on our Facebook fan page wall. Include an in-depth explanation. After all, your picture must have a story attached to it!  Is it a competition with your sibling? Is it your a pet? Your significant other? Your children? Your grandchildren? Share with us and the rest of the Oathealth community.

Originality and creativity matter.  At a currently-undetermined date in the next few weeks, the Oathealth staff will vote on the entry we think deserves to win.  A 1st place winner will receive 6 free cans of Nutrim.  A 2nd place winner will receive 3 free cans.

Everyone has a story, and we want to hear the story of what keeps your heart health goals on track.  Share with us.  Join us on our Facebook page.  Help us inspire health!

To learn more about this contest, visit our Facebook page and be sure to read all of the information on the “Inspire Health” tab at the top of the page.  See our Facebook page here.

UPDATE:

The Facebook issues that had previously been putting Inspire Health on hold have been resolved.  Anyone who has a Facebook profile can go to our page, “Like” it, then post on our wall to enter the contest.  Be sure to read the rules on the “Inspire Health” tab and good luck!