So a few weeks ago the government introduced a replacement for the food pyramid, which was revised in 2005 and only seemed to confuse people (you know, the one with the vertical segments and a person running up the side of the pyramid). The new visual has moved away from a pyramid, and is now a plate, which I think makes a lot more sense to a lot more people. And while I do think the plate does make it easier for the average person to understand what they should be eating, I still think it presents outdated and incorrect thinking about proper nutrition. In my opinion the vegetables section should be larger and the fruit a bit smaller, but ultimately if people ate more fruits and vegetables in general than they do now it would be a step in the right direction. I also do not think “grains” warrants such a big part of the plate. You can get plenty of carbs and fiber from fruits and vegetables (see my chart, Who Says You Need to Eat Grains to Get Your Carbs and Fiberand many of the “grains” that are readily available are total and utter processed garbage. There is also no mention of fats on the plate…although if mentioned, it would probably also be misinformation about how saturated fat should be minimized and vegetable fats are the fat of choice (I have previously discussed the fallacy of this in Food Myths, I Can’t Believe It’s Butter!, and Soy: Health Food or Health Hazard).
But what I really want to talk about today is the provision on the plate for dairy. I am sure this is there due to the influence of the powerful Dairy Farmers of America. While I think dairy can be part of a healthy diet, much of the dairy available to us in supermarkets today doesn’t really resemble the natural product that it starts out as. Most of our dairy goes through significant processing and is filled with added sugars, preservatives and artificial colors. Here’s a quote from Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food:
To make dairy products low fat, it’s not enough to remove the fat. You then have to go to great lengths to preserve the body or creamy texture by working in all kinds of food additives. In the case of low-fat or skim milk, that usually means adding powdered milk. But powdered milk contains oxidized cholesterol, which scientists believe is much worse for your arteries than ordinary cholesterol, so food makers sometimes compensate by adding antioxidants, further complicating what had been a simple one-ingredient whole food. Also, removing the fat makes it that much harder for your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are one of the reasons to drink milk in the first place.
Here is the ingredient list for Yoplait Strawberry yogurt: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Lowfat Fat Milk, Sugar, Strawberries, Modified Cornstarch, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Nonfat Milk, Kosher Gelatin, Citric Acid, Tricalcium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Pectin, Colored With Carmine, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.
Hmmm….sugar is the second ingredient, we have two corn products in there (see King Corn for more information about why this is not a good thing), we have more sugar (high fructose corn syrup), citric acid (preservative), tricalcium phosphate (anti-caking), pectin (gelling agent) and then coloring and added vitamins. 108 of this products 170 calories comes from…sugar! While some of it would come from the lactose (in the milk) and the strawberries, I would guess that a significant percentage of those calories come from the added sugar (especially since it is the second ingredient) and the HFCS.
Also be aware that our dairy products are all pasteurized and homogenized. Homogenization is generally a two-step process that breaks down the fat in the milk into such small pieces that the fat will no longer separate and rise to the top. Like pasteurization, the milk is heated as part of this process, acting almost like a second pasteurization. There is also some evidence that the process of homogenization, which makes chemical alterations to the milk, increases the allergic properties of the resulting product. Pasteurization is a process of heating the milk to destroy potentially bad bacteria which could be present in the milk. However:
Numerous studies have shown, however, that bad bugs are not the only thing destroyed by the heat: delicate proteins, enzymes, immune factors, hormones, vitamins, mineral availability all undergo definite changes during the heating process. No one seriously disputes this fact.
What is not clear though, due to conflicting science and belief systems, is to what extent the food value of the milk is actually impacted. When man-made nutrients (often inferior to their natural form) must be added back in to replace those destroyed by heat, there is no argument. The quality of the milk has suffered.
While raw milk (basically milk in its original form, without pasteurization or homogenization) is becoming more available (see Where Can I Find Real Milk if interested), there are risks associated with drinking unpasteurized milk. A compromise would be to look for milk and other dairy products that are “minimally pasteurized” or at least not “ultra-pasteurized.” I do most of my food shopping at Whole Foods where I buy either Organic Valley milk (pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized) or on occasion, Maine’s Own, which is minimally pasteurized (and organic). Be aware that as you sacrifice some pasteurization, you also sacrifice shelf life (which is, in fact, the reason I don’t always buy Maine’s Own because the expiration date is usually within a week). However, the other day I needed to stop and get milk, and I ran into Stop-n-Shop. I found three organic sources of milk, every single one of them ultra-pasteurized. I desperately needed milk, so I bought the Stonyfield milk. Expiration date of August 4th! This is a “natural” product that we have so completely changed that it can last 7 weeks…there is truly something wrong with that.
Anyway, that is my rant for the day on dairy. Dairy can be a great, healthy food choice, but start reading labels…make sure it is as close to it’s original state as possible.