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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cheers to the Proposed Richmond Soda Tax

While reviewing an online article about the foods you should eat for younger skin, I chuckled when I thought, “Well, you certainly wouldn’t find soda on that list." The beneficial foods listed were: salmon, carrots, milk, almonds, safflower/sunflower oil, broccoli berries, spices, watermelon and, my favorite, dark chocolate – but no soda.

Then I thought about those forward-thinking members of the Richmond, CA, City Council. Last week, they voted 5-2 to put a soda tax measure on the ballot in November.

The sponsor of this soda tax, Councilman Jeff Ritterman, also happens to be a doctor. He points to soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks as the main cause of childhood obesity in Richmond. In fact, he point-blank said soda “is a major killer, and it will kill these young children unless we do something.”

If the voters get behind the soda tax, Richmond could become the first city in the nation to implement a tax on soda and other sugary beverages. And the projected $2-8 million in funds collected from the proposed tax would go to fight childhood obesity. They would be used for after-school sports programs, school gardens, health care for children with diabetes and healthier school meals -- all admirable and much-needed programs.

Of course, the American Beverage Association and grocers who would lose a bit of income and soda drinkers who would have to pay the penny-per-ounce tax are grousing about the unfairness of such a tax, calling it a tax on poor people. I would beg to differ. This is a tax to help poor people. First off, maybe someone with limited income would think twice about drinking all those sodas and switch to water. And can you imagine all the good the money from sodas could do for the youth of Richmond?

Let’s hope the people of Richmond will follow the lead of their City Council and vote to enact a soda tax to benefit the youth of their city. And then let’s hope that this is the beginning of a domino effect on the rest of the Bay Area.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Where have all the vitamins and minerals in our produce gone?

I remember a few months back when I heard for the first time about how fruits and vegetables today have markedly less nutrients than they did just 50 years ago. As someone who is very interested in healthy eating and getting my nutrients naturally, rather than in pill form, that nugget of information definitely caught my attention. So imagine my surprise when I opened up the latest issue of Cooking Light to see an article claiming that less nutritious produce isn’t “necessarily bad news.” Now that definitely caught my attention.

According to the article, “The Truth About Fruits and Veggies,” a 2004 University of Texas study evaluated 43 different types of produce and found that what we eat today has 5 to 40 percent less nutrients than produce did in the 1950s. For example, today’s typical watermelon contains 38 percent less vitamin A. How exactly is this not “necessarily bad news?”

So what’s happened to fruits and vegetables over the last 50 years? According to Gene Lester, a USDA plant physiologist, American agriculture has undergone a dramatic transformation since the 1950s. Back then, fifty percent of Americans lived on farms and fed the rest of the country. Now, with much less acreage devoted farming, only 1 to 2 percent of the population feeds the other 99 percent. With a lot more people to feed and the need to ship produce longer distances, seed developers have focused on increased yield, disease resistance and shelf life, and ease of transport. Nutrient concentrations fell to the bottom of the list. So again, how exactly is this not “necessarily bad news?”

Well, the good news is that seed developers may be close to reversing the trend of declining concentrations of nutrients. Big companies and small-time producers alike are realizing that it is possible to crossbreed for more than one quality at a time. One such project has resulted in broccoli that has two to three times the level of the phytonutrient glucoraphanin compared to ordinary broccoli.

So while professional seed developers are working on remedying this issue, there are some things you and I can do to get more nutrition from fruits and vegetables:

- Choose vegetables that haven’t changed much since the 1950s, such as dark leafy greens.

- Buy locally. Since produce loses nutrients after it has been harvested, the less time it takes to get to your table the better.

- Choose heirloom fruits and vegetables which often have higher nutrient levels than varieties that have been developed since the 1950s.

- Eat more fruits and vegetables in general. Oftentimes it’s not the nutrient levels in produce that’s the problem, it’s that many people aren't eating them in the first place. 

~ Nicole

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bare Breasts Don’t Make Perfect Moms

The Time cover showing a mom breastfeeding her 3-year-old hit the newsstands today, and it boldly asks “Are You Mom Enough?” next to a provocative photo. As a professional in the journalism field, I thought the magazine went too far in covering the topic of attachment parenting, which is personal and, quite frankly, old news. But many will say that it’s a success because it provoked people into talking about attachment parenting. Yes and no. Those who care will talk about the issue but those who don’t just want to talk about the cover. There’s a difference.

I am a mother of two and nursed both of my children until they were 14 months, give or take a month since each child was so different. I weaned them when I thought my body and the child was ready to stop. When I decided to re-enter the workforce, the decision was easier. Why am I sharing this? Because I believe parenting is personal, and I often feel as if I’m being fed study after study on what women should do as a mom. We begin to compare and size each other up based on our perceive beliefs of how a mom should be. It sets us – moms – up for disappointments, and the feeling of failure and inadequacy.  With the pressure to “do the right thing” as a mom, more women are stressed and worried that they’re doing enough. I know I am.

So what was it that made me cringe when I saw the cover? Is it the slim figure of a woman baring her breast? Am I jealous of not having her figure? Would I look like her if I nursed my children until four? See, I’m comparing, aren’t I? But alas, no. It is the photo of the child looking at the camera. This photograph is sensationalism and not journalism.

Then I asked myself, am I mom enough? This morning while getting ready for work, I discovered a scorpion in my closet and almost picked it up, thinking it was one of my son’s Lego pieces. After announcing what I found at breakfast, I caught the scorpion all by myself! Honestly, I thought I was going to faint. With shaky hands and a calm smile, I proudly showed my eager children my captive in a glass jar. They thought it was so cool that my 6th grade daughter asked if she could take it to school. So yeah, I think I AM mom enough. And if you’re a mom, I think you are, too.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Do We Americans Have Bad Eating Habits?

Anyone for Haggis?
Note the small serving size.
I just got back from a three-week trip to Great Britain with my wife Michele. We had a great time as we ate our way around the island enjoying the likes of meat pasties, fish and chips and haggis.
It was a bus tour so some of our stops were at roadside rest stops that also happened to feature some American fast-food joints like McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway. (I just had to try the lamb burger at Burger King).  
Anyway, I noticed that their portion sizes were smaller (especially the fries and sodas with no free refills) and that to super-size an order was also considerably more expensive than here in the U.S. at over double the cost. I asked an Australian we were touring with if they super-sized in Australia. He said they did but it wasn’t very popular and some chains had stopped the practice.   
So why do we Americans seem to demand more, to the point that it is detrimental to our health?  I’m sure the fast-food giants are putting the same pressures to buy more on our overseas cousins, yet they seem to be able to resist the urge. Meanwhile, here in America our portion sizes continue to get larger along with our waist lines.
I don’t have the answer, but it was just an interesting observation that I wanted to share. If you have any ideas on why we seem to be different, I’d love to hear them.