The Power of the Plate

The Power the PlateResearchers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on medications and other medical interventions for diseases that your body is already fighting every single day. To quote from one of my favorite Ted Talks, William Li, “Can we eat to starve cancer?“:”Autopsy studies from people who died in car accidents have shown that about 40 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 50 actually have microscopic cancers in their breasts, about 50 percent of men in their 50s and 60s have microscopic prostate cancers, and virtually 100 percent of us, by the time we reach our 70s, will have microscopic cancers growing in our thyroid. Yet, without a blood supply, most of these cancers will never become dangerous. Dr. Judah Folkman, who was my mentor and who was the pioneer of the angiogenesis field, once called this ‘cancer without disease.'”

For the most part, our bodies can handle foreign invaders and internal threats, as long as:

1. They are identifiable as an invader – meaning they aren’t some new bacteria/virus/compound that the body can’t identify, or to which it hasn’t developed a response. This is why new chemicals, GMOs, and such have the potential to be so problematic.

2. The body isn’t already so compromised from dealing with known invaders, injuries, etc. that it is too taxed to fight back. This is why it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including clean foods, regular exercise, stress management, etc.

Right this very minute, probably the best thing you can do to support – and thank! – the amazing systems that keep your body healthy is to go find the darkest, greenest, leafiest organic vegetable around, and eat it. Then in an hour, do it again – and throw in some cooked tomatoes – and blueberries for dessert. The beautiful thing is that you have 3-4 opportunities to do this every day, and every one can be health-supporting, beautiful, and absolutely delicious!

The Petition to Amend the Standard of Identity for Milk … and the REAL Reason it Matters

Glass of milk on tablecloth
Janine Chedid / / CC BY-SA

Confused about all that you’ve been hearing about aspartame and milk?  Me too … until I did a little digging.  Now I’m not confused, I’m furious.


In 2009, the National Milk Producer’s Federation and the International Dairy Foods Association jointly submitted a petition to the FDA (you can see the information here) to allow the use of “any safe and suitable” sweetener as a flavoring ingredient for milk and 17 other dairy products … without (and this is the key) having to include prominent front-label notices that the milk is “reduced calorie” or “reduced-sugar,” and “artificially sweetened.”  Note that manufacturers already can, and do, use the artificial sweeteners with the labeling.   Also, they can and do use the unmodified “milk” label on milk with added caloric sweeteners like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as on unsweetened milk.

The FDA has just opened the petition “for public comment and data,” which is why you’re hearing about it now in the news.

Don’t be Fooled: What’s Actually at Stake

Presumably fueling the controversy is aspartame, which is surely one of the most well-known controversial ingredients around today … and I’ve written about that below.  But as is so often the case, what we’re arguing about (aspartame) is actually just a distraction to the real, FAR FAR FAR more troubling issue:  the dairy industry wants to add ingredients without clearly stating that they are there.  Following is a verbatim (bolding is mine) snippet from the Federal Register’s request for comments:

“However, IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as ‘reduced calorie’ are not attractive to children, and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims.”

REALLY??  But oh … it gets worse:

“Further, the petitioners assert that consumers do not recognize milk—including flavored milk—as necessarily containing sugar. Accordingly, the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can ‘more easily identify its overall nutritional value.'”

Let me try re-phrasing this:  ‘Consumers (particularly children) aren’t smart enough to know that flavored milk contains sugar.  It would just confuse them if we told them, and we don’t think they really want to know anyway, so we shouldn’t tell them.  Instead, we should just quietly replace it with fake sugar, which we think will be better for them.’

Apparently the Dairy Industry thinks we can’t handle the truth.

Next on this slippery slope:  ‘Consumers have an illogical fear of <rodent meat, insects, or anything else you can imagine>, unsupported by scientific evidence.  Rather than troubling them with the details, food manufacturers should be able to include this valuable protein source without calling attention to it.’

Let’s Spread the Word

How do YOU feel about this petition … about the IDFA and NMPF statements above?  PLEASE add your comments to this post, and share your thoughts with others.

Related Information

In include the following information because it is indeed related.   But please help spread the word that it’s the least of the problem with the petition currently under consideration.

The Aspartame Controversy

One side maintains that aspartame is an “excitotoxin” or “neurotoxin” that causes brain changes that lead to ADD/ADHD symptoms, impaired learning/memory, brain tumors, and worse.  I dug really hard, and while there is a lot of media noise around this, there are actually very few published reports that support this view.  Many on this side accuse the powerful food lobby of “hiding” research that shows the neurological and other ill effects.

The other side points out that despite heavy assault from internet memes and hoax emails, asparatame has consistently passed the scrutiny of scientific studies, including ones by the National Cancer Institute, and has been determined to be safe for human consumption.

Personal note:  For myself and my family, I’m sticking with molecules that have been around for long enough to understand long-term (and I mean generational) effects.  Aspartame, introduced in 1981, doesn’t make the cut.  Also, I’m negative on anything that supports further development of my sweet tooth – and at 200 times sweeter than sugar, aspartame is a taste bud bomb I don’t need.

What is Phenylalanine and how does it relate to this issue? 

It has an awkward name, but it’s actually a naturally-occurring essential amino acid (amino acids are the building blocks of protein).  It’s found in most animal products – meat, dairy, eggs, even human breast milk.  And it is one of the breakdown products of aspartame.

The reason you see warnings about it is that about 1 in 15,000 people have a condition called Phenylketonuria, which prevents them from metabolizing phenylalanine; it instead builds up in their bodies.  These warnings allow them to make safe food choices given their condition.

Eating Out Healthfully: New Research from RAND Corporation

en:User:Rdikeman / Food Photos / CC BY-SA

Based on a recent study of the top 400 Chain Restaurants (by sales) published in the Cambridge University Press, it looks like eating out healthfully (at least at the most popular chain restaurants surveyed) is still a challenge.  But even where it’s hard to find a great choice, there are still some choices that are better than others.

Key findings

  1. Appetizers had more calories, fat and sodium than all other item types.
  2. Children’s menu specialty beverages had more fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates than comparable regular menu beverages.
  3. As few as 3% of entrees were within limits for sodium, fat and saturated fat.
  4. Main entrées had significantly more calories, fat and saturated fat in family-style restaurants than in fast-food restaurants.
  5. Restaurants that made nutrition information easily accessible on websites had significantly lower energy, fat and sodium contents across menu offerings than those providing information only upon request.

Better Bets

So, the message is to skip the restaurant if it doesn’t provide nutrition information.  Skip the appetizer. DEFINITELY skip the kids drinks.  And if you’re in a family-style restaurant, choose a veggie salad or share a main entree with others.

Better yet, skip chain restaurants altogether, and patronize a restaurant that offers clean, fresh, healthy food for your family – usually local establishments with owners truly invested in the health of the community they serve.

Or, cook at home, where you have full control of the ingredients.  For less than the cost of a restaurant meal, you can buy pre-prepped veggies that can be quickly steamed or sautéed  then tossed over quinoa or other grains … give a new herb or spice a try once a week or so to keep things interesting and add a boost of health!  If you’re looking for healthy, simple recipe ideas, check out list of Vibrant Health Recipes or (if you’re really out of time) our list of Super-Quick Meals and Snacks.


Study Cited:  Helen W Wu and Roland Sturm (2013). What’s on the menu? A review of the energy and nutritional content of US chain restaurant menus. Public Health Nutrition, 16, pp 87-96. doi:10.1017/S136898001200122X.

The surprising health benefits of green tomatoes!

Green-tomatoesWith early warmth this year, a friend mentioned that she had already been able to get tomatoes started in Florida!  Her concern was that a frost may force her to pick them before they’re ready (typically a problem in fall, but here we are) and she wondered whether the nutrient value would suffer.

On the contrary – green tomatoes are remarkably healthy, and even beat red tomatoes on a few measures!  One large green tomato (about 1 cup), provides:

  • 42 calories
  • 2 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber
  • 29 mg of vitamin C, half the daily requirement for men and nearly 60 percent for women (vs. 23 for red tomatoes)
  • 16 mg calcium (vs. 6 in red)
  • 623 mcg of beta-carotene (helps your body produce vitamin A)
  • 58 mcg of vitamin A, giving you close to one-tenth of your recommended daily intake
  • 10% of your daily requirement for the B vitamins thiamin, vitamin B-6 and pantothenic acid, and just under 10% of the riboflavin and niacin you need
  • One-fifth of your recommended daily intake for vitamin K
  • 5 to 10% of your recommended daily intake for iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese
  • An important alkaloid called tomatine, which may fight breast, colon, stomach and liver cancer cells, according to research published in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” in 2009

Check out my Summer Recipes list on myList for some ideas on what to do with green tomatoes (there are much better ways than the traditional “fried” version). And for added benefit, pair green tomatoes with iron-rich foods like fish, spinach, or supplements, since the vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron more efficiently.