Action Phase Podcast Episode 25

allyson kramer headshotI kick off the first week of "Teagan Goes Vegan" with Allyson Kramer, vegan and gluten-free cookbook author and blogger. She talks with me about nasty blog comments about vegetable oil, the privilege inherent in deciding to be vegan, and how paleo diets are surprisingly similar to vegan ones.

Action Phase is on iTunes. Subscribe so you never miss an episode. Ratings help other people find the show and have the added benefit of giving me a little ego boost!

You can also stream the episode here.

https://ia902504.us.archive.org/7/items/25-AllysonKramer-ActionPhasePodcast/25-AllysonKramer-ActionPhasePodcast.mp3

Teagan Goes Vegan

Or, Why a burger-loving lady is going to learn how to grill tempeh  

This will be my vegan bible.

I love food. I love cooking, I love eating, I love entertaining. I grew up around chefs and servers and sometimes made cookies in professional kitchens just for fun. In college, I majored in Religion and created a course just about Judaism and Food. Before I started my MPH, I worked as a catering cook and personal chef. Preparing and eating food has been, and likely will continue to be, an integral part of my happiness.

 

And I’ve always been a voracious meat eater. In elementary school, my mom would make chicken in lemon sauce and I would eat my whole plate before she even sat down. Burgers are my #1 favorite entrée to order in restaurants. Just last week, I declared that the only thing that would fix my bad mood was a Wawa meatball hoagie.

 

But morally, I’m evolving. As my college friends can attest, I had an awakening when I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. After a brief corn obsession, I turned my attention to factory farms. I became vegetarian. I loved it—I felt like I was making a good choice not only for myself, but also for animals and the environment. However, I fell back into eating meat after a series of family crises, moving halfway across the country, and starting a new job. I was unstable in just about every way, and being vegetarian seemed like too much work.

 

Now, I feel solid. I’m about to graduate with my MPH and have a job lined up already. I’m getting married in September. I’m managing anxiety and learning healthy boundaries. I am strong, and now that I am strong, I want to be compassionate and responsible for my impact on the world.

 

Raising animals for food has significant public health implications. Infectious diseases like MRSA and influenza thrive in factory farms and are easily transmitted to humans. Antibiotics are used as prevention rather than treatment because the animals easily fall ill, and this indiscriminant use is the major contributor to antibiotic resistance. The massive amounts of waste produced in these Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) contaminate water, air, and soil.

 

The animals on factory farms are treated as commodities rather than living beings. A quick Google search will lead to graphic videos and images of slaughterhouses (euphemistically called “processing plants”) that will haunt you. The abuse inflicted upon these animals is outrageous.

vegan_farms

I had believed that ethically sourced meat was the best option for me, since I really like eating meat but have trouble with the ways in which it is produced. But alas, a student budget does not allow for pasture-raised steaks and farmer’s market eggs. I found myself eating way more meat than I wanted to be, and it was all from factory farms.

 

So I’ve decided to do an experiment. From yesterday, May 6, through June 3, I am going to eat a vegan diet. I plan to keep the blog updated about my experiences. Maybe I’ll throw in a recipe or two if I make something really tasty. I am tracking my food intake so I can share what I learn about balancing macronutrients and calorie consumption while eating vegan. I hope to have a series of guests on the podcast who can talk about the public health and ethical issues around this topic. The first episode, with Allyson Kramer, vegan and gluten free cookbook author, will be up tomorrow.

 

I hope you’ll come along on this adventure with me. It should be fun, it will probably be difficult, and it will hopefully be interesting.

Friday Five: Transplant ethics, Planned Parenthood, Hepatitis C, immigrants, Google

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Child in dire need of lung transplants starts a debate on ethics

Ten year old Sarah Murnaghan has been waiting for lung transplants for 18 months due to her cystic fibrosis and related lung failure. Doctors say she is not likely to live past the weekend without a transplant, so the severity of her illness placed her at the top of the pediatric list. However, Sarah is on very bottom of the adult list, meaning that any adults in need of lungs will be offered the organs before her, regardless of whether or not their need is as pressing as hers. Since 2005, organs are supposed to be distributed based on need, but that rule applies only to patients over age 12. Sarah’s parents have petitioned Kathleen Sebelius to change the rules to allow pediatric transplants of adult organs based not on age but on medical necessity. Hopefully, Sarah’s dire situation will ignite a conversation on organ donation and the ethics of treating children as if they are adults. (Okay, so this is six sentences but I think it’s worth it.)

Planned Parenthood case will not be heard by the Supreme Court

Indiana tried—and failed—to refuse Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. The Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal on behalf of the state to allow Indiana to withhold money from Planned Parenthood because it offers abortion services, even though federal law prohibits Medicaid dollars from being spent on abortion. Hopefully, this development will stall other attacks on low-income women’s right to choose their health care providers. However, the wily anti-choice movement is probably cooking up other ways to deny services to women—Indiana already has a law in place requiring facilities that offer non-surgical abortions to meet the same standards as facilities that perform surgical abortions. The Supreme Court’s choice not to hear the appeal is important, but as usual, fighting against restrictions on this legal medical procedure is a constant battle.

Is the “war on drugs” to blame for millions of Hepatitis C cases?

The Global Commission on Drug Policy called for an end on “the war on drugs,” in part because criminalization of injection drugs has lead to a quiet epidemic of Hepatitis C. The Commission estimates that of the 16 million injecting drug users (IDUs), 10 million are living with Hepatitis C; China, the Russian Federation, and the USA have the highest rates of Hepatitis C among IDUs. Arguing that harsh drug laws dissuade IDUs away from public health efforts such as needle exchanges, the Commission recommends reforming existing drug laws and focusing on health rather than incarceration and forced treatment. While I doubt many countries will decriminalize heroin and other injectable drugs, I’m pleased the Commission is drawing attention to the broader health concerns of IDUs. Regardless of drug use or dependence, a person has a right to access public health initiatives without fearing arrest and imprisonment.

Immigrants subsidize Medicare

A study published in June’s Health Affairs showed that in 2009 naturalized and non-citizen immigrants contributed $33 billion to the Medicare trust fund and received $19 billion in expenditures, creating a surplus of $14 billion. American-born citizens, on the other hand, contributed $192 billion and used $223 billion, creating a deficit of $31 billion. There are a few reasons why immigrants’ contributions lead to surplus: there are 6.5 working immigrants for every one retired immigrant and the cost of care for immigrants is less than the cost of care for the American-born. In a time when immigration and a path to citizenship are pressing issues, focusing on the positive contributions of new residents and citizens can only help decision makers to make choices to encourage new immigration. This study reminds us that immigration is crucial to the success and longevity of the United States, and treating all immigrants with respect and dignity is non-negotiable.

Google nutrition facts and get a clear answer

This coming week, Google is launching a new search feature: type a question about nutrition facts, and it provide you with a precise answer. The screen shots look much like the results when Googling conversions from cups to liters or the definition of a word. The feature is rolling out in the United States over the next ten days, but it shown up yet in Philadelphia so I haven’t been able to give it a try myself. Having the ability to ask direct questions about the nutrient content of food helps demystify some of the complicated information about healthy eating. This is health communication done right!

If you're looking to change up your workout routine this weekend, may I suggest Prancercise?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-50GjySwew

The Friday Five: Angelina, E. coli, Tetanus, Cloning, Sodium

This is the first week of my new feature: The Friday Five! Each Friday, I’ll use fewer than five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Here we go! Angelina Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy

The lovely actor-turned-humanitarian published an op-ed explaining her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy (and probably an oophorectomy in the future). Angelina even allowed—encouraged? Demanded?—her doctor to publish her pre- and post-op treatment plan. The Internet unsurprisingly buzzes with commentary: some support her, some worry her privilege sets an unattainable standard of care, and some are concerned she lopped off two of her most attractive assets. I’m impressed with her openness. While most of us do our best to keep medical information offline, Angelina willingly shared hers, hoping her candor would help other women.

Swimming pools teem with E. Coli

A study conducted last summer in Atlanta area pools showed swimmers were cooling off in more than just water.  E. coli was found in 59% of the pools, and as the CDC says, E. coli is a “fecal indicator.” Uh oh, seems like we need a refresher course in pool hygiene. The CDC gives a good finger wagging, reminding us all to take a soapy shower before swimming and to avoid the pool altogether if we’ve been suffering from diarrhea. Pool staff also should remain vigilant about chemical levels and health departments must enforce regulations.

Newborn tetanus mortality declines dramatically thanks to UNICEF

When women give birth in less than ideal conditions, and non-sterile instruments are used during delivery and to cut the umbilical cord, both the mother and child are at risk of contracting Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus if the mother has not been vaccinated. In the early 1990s, tetanus was identified as one of the most common causes of death for infants. In response, UNICEF partnered with national governments, The Gates Foundation, and many others in order to vaccinate 118 million women. The problem has been eliminated in 31 countries, but the programs in 28 countries are still vulnerable to financial cuts and shifts in political support.

Human embryonic stem cells successfully cloned

Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University implanted donated eggs with a baby’s skin cells and for the first time, the resulting embryos lived long enough that researchers were able to extract usable stem cells. This development inspires hope that we are on the path toward creating genetically matched replacement organs for those in need and treating patients with rare diseases of the mitochondria. However, the usual suspects (mostly Catholic leaders) have moral objections and call for the elimination of all stem cell research, even though researchers are not creating viable embryos. The promise of healthy lives for children and adults will outweigh these concerns. To paraphrase Jurassic Park: science will find a way.

Questions surface about healthy sodium levels

Federal healthy eating guidelines and the American Heart Association have long encouraged us to keep sodium consumption under 2,300 mg/day and under 1,500 mg/day for anyone who is over 51, African American, or has diabetes, heart, or kidney disease. A new report questions this claim. The link between sodium, blood pressure, and heart disease may be more tenuous than most of us thought. A low sodium diet may have unintended health consequences and may not, in fact, reduce risk of heart attack or stroke. This challenge to nutritional orthodoxy shows that investing in nutrition research is vital to population health and reducing illness and death linked to diet.

I leave you with the song that plays in my head every Friday at 6:00 pm. Have a great weekend!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOfgVKVulQk]

Baby junk food

Because I don’t have children of my own and don’t personally know any babies, I rarely spend time looking at kid-specific food. However, the frozen section of my grocery store shares an aisle with baby food. And that’s where I found this:

Cheese doodles for little kids. Really little kids. Kids who are still learning how to pick things up and shove them in their mouths. This is baby junk food, pure and simple.

I didn’t want to believe parents would actually feed these to their kids, so I checked the source of the most candid reviews I know—Amazon. Turns out mild cheddar isn’t the only flavor. There’s also vegetable dip, ranch, and cinnamon maple, among others. The 88 reviewers love them all. 70% of reviewers gave them five out of five stars. I’ve chosen a few of my favorite remarks:

They are nutritious, and there may be better snacks out there, but for right now these are awesome.

It’s hard to keep him off of these—I have to literally hide the canister to control his intake LOL.

If I would let him, he’d probably eat the whole container! He whines and complains until he gets another one.

I call them baby Cheetos.

In the words of my Yiddish-speaking forbears: Oy vey.

I’m not a dietitian so I can’t make pronouncements about the relative healthiness of these snacks over others. But I did snap a photo of the nutrition label and ingredients list. The nutrient content seems fairly inoffensive, though light on vitamins and minerals. And get a load of that list!

crunchies2

Cheese seasoning is not an important part of your growing child’s diet, that’s for sure. Even those of us without an RD know that.

More troubling to me is that some of the parents who purchased Lil Crunchies chose the snack because it reminded them of Cheetos. Americans consume an alarming amount of junk food, and we have the obesity rates to prove it. In turn, as parents decide what to feed their children, Gerber is there with a can of cheesy snacks formulated just for baby.

I don’t blame parents for choosing this or any other snack food. Parents feed their children the best way they know how. They peruse the aisles, picking out the foods they think will be best for their child, nutritionally or just because it tastes good.

The real problem is that these products exist at all. Gerber’s website shows a seven page list of crackers and dips, cookies, fruit snacks, and freeze-dried yogurt. (To their credit, Gerber includes two lightly processed vegetable snacks called “Veggie Pick-ups” made of carrots and green beans.) These sweet and salty snacks set today’s kids up for a lifetime of choosing the adult versions of these foods. The snacks teach children that they should choose only foods that provide a kick of salt or sugar with every bite.

Illustration by Nathan Kuruna nathankuruna.com

So what should we do? I’m actually hopeful about this. We are working hard to fight obesity by encouraging Americans to make healthy choices. As more people start making changes, they will teach their children good habits. Letting go of the bag of chips takes time, though, and there’s a lot more work to be done. But I’m optimistic that if we continue to invest resources in nutrition education, we will see the benefits for generations.

 

Also, check me out today over at #PubHT talking about organ donation!

New meat names help us eat healthier

When I shop for meat, I look for the leanest cuts. I go armed with a list of options so I’m ready to tackle the daunting selection of cuts, sizes, and shapes. Despite my preparation, I sometimes turn to Google to see if the “London Broil” on sale is the same thing as the “extra lean top round” on my list (it is!). Image from sillypants.net

The confusion is about to come to an end. The National Pork Board and the Beef Checkoff Program is rolling out a new consumer-friendly naming system. Now, instead of “pork loin top loin chop,” labels will read “Porterhouse chop.” Rather than “beef shoulder top blade steak, boneless,” we’ll see “flatiron steak.” Retailers can either stick with the old, confusing system or upgrade to the new one. Because uniform names are anticipated to help with meat sales, this system will likely catch on quickly.

The new labels include the simplified name, species, characteristics, and preparation suggestions. (Image from independentmail.com)

Healthy eating advocates* must seize this opportunity. By simplifying the names, the beef and pork industries help nutrition activists clearly communicate which options are best for health. Unambiguous naming across retailers will allow the very lean pork tenderloin to sport the same label in most stores. The fatty New York Strip steak won’t be masquerading as Boneless Top Loin steak. Once shoppers learn the names of the few best options, they’ll be able to trust their knowledge and feel confident they’re choosing the lean cuts.

As soon as the new list is announced, advocates should publicize the names of the leanest options, lobby grocery stores to include the new names on their meat case signs and update their websites and materials to reflect the changes. If we are able to effectively explain that the new labeling system empowers shoppers to make consistent and confident choices each time they approach the meat case, we’ll go a long way to promote lean meat as a good option. Going one step further and ensuring our messaging lines up with the retail names enriches our materials and dietary recommendations.

Food industries don’t often make healthy eating easier. So let’s use this rare opportunity to facilitate sound nutrition communication and encourage wise choices.

*Though balanced vegetarian diets are the gold standard for healthy eating, consuming a light to moderate amount of meat seems to be a decent compromise for those of us who love a good steak now and then.

Updated 4/15/13: This video of Letterman playing a game called "Know Your Cuts of Meat" will be a whole lot easier now!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB5W61rGQ38