Family gatherings are changing. I realized this after Thanksgiving when many of my patients and friends described their particular twist on the traditional Thanksgiving feast. Tofurkey replaced turkey, almond milk became a common substitute for recipes requiring dairy and stevia replaced sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
I guess I should be happy. I have, after all, like others before me, advocated for personalized diet plans, unearthing the food triggers that often lead to disease and de-sugaring the American diet. I can no longer count the number of patients that have sat before me, resistant to the suggestion to go gluten free or vegan or limit sugar, whatever their individual situation may have required. The ones that followed through often reported back with great results, months of food elimination finally paying off.
As we slide into the Holidays next week, I cannot help but wonder how we got here. Why do kids today have more food allergies than in any other era? (1) Why are Americans having more issues with food intolerances and allergies than any other country in the world? Let’s also not forget our obesity epidemic, rising rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Having a food allergy or intolerance is not a fad or a trend as some may suggest. The connection between our food and our health plays out repeatedly as a factor in every condition seen in our practice. These food allergies and intolerances are becoming responsible for everything from ADHD to cancer.
Our health today, food allergies included, is the result of a food industry that is failing us. Farming and processing practices have changed over the last 50 years. Genetically modified foods have also entered our landscape, with health implications unknown but ignored by our regulatory agencies. We are having to navigate our food like detectives, reading every label, adding up sugar grams, sodium, and preservative exposures. We have to do this because our kids are sick, our parents have cancer and for many of you, your medication list is bigger than your bank account.
I try my hardest to help moms figure out what their kids can eat, refer patients to books and meal plans that may help them to prepare food and seek the advice of nutritionists and health coaches. This ultimately helps each patient or each family but does not get to the root of where these issues may be coming from; the processing and packaging of our most basic need- FOOD. Why don’t we change the food industry? Here is my XMAS wish list for my patients this year, but I know I need more than Santa to help me this time. We need a collective movement and a unified voice to make the following possible.
- Calling all food manufacturers- Cut the sugar and sweeteners in half!
The US consumes more sugar than any other country in the world. (2) Almost 43% of this sugar is in the form of sweetened beverages; sodas, lemonade, juices and coffee drinks are a few examples. We know that sugar is linked to the obesity crisis, but is also linked to many other conditions.
The politics surrounding sugar are interesting. The US Farm Act limits the import of sugar, which is primarily produced in India and China. This makes manufacturers dependent on cane juice alternatives, like high fructose corn syrup, which is higher in caloric density than sugar.
For those of us with children, we know that sugar is a drug and it is addictive. While we try to limit our consumption of sugar, it is everywhere. Public policy should shift to lowering the sugar grams in all drinks, desserts, candy and condiments, rather than looking for sugar substitutes which have their own set of health risks.
Until that happens, this holiday season, use 1/2 the amount of sugar called for in every recipe. Dilute all sugary drinks and skip condiments like ketchup or mustard that have added sugar. Get rid of your family’s dependence on sugar but join a call to lower sugar in everything that we consume.
2. Get rid of GMOs or label all GMO foods.
With food allergies in children increasing 18% over the last 5 years and costing $25 billion dollars, there is much concern that GMO’s or genetically modified foods are to blame. (3) The research has not been able to confirm this, but it is impossible to diagnose and allergy or intolerance until a food has been eaten several times. I believe the research has not caught up to what we are seeing in practice. We know that when genetically modified foods were introduced in Canada, there was a subsequent jump in food allergies. One study found that genetically modified soy raised IGE levels, the allergy triggering antibody, and lived longer in the digestive tract, provoking an allergy response. (3)
Hawaii just recently passed anti-GMO legislation and I think every state should follow suit. We should have the right to know what foods we provide our family are genetically modified. At a minimum, genetically modified foods should be labelled as they are throughout Europe.
Although expensive, focus your holiday dollars on buying organic food, which is not genetically modified. Food should be our greatest asset and commodity. As consumers, if we want change then we will need to stop buying food that is cheap, fast or fake.
3. Stop using gluten as a filler in every food product that is made.
With the rising incidence of gluten intolerance and celiac disease, many researchers are scrambling to understand why this disease is four times more common than 50 years ago. (4) One finding is the increased use of vital gluten as a food additive to improve the texture and taste of many foods and food products. Vital gluten is also used in beer manufacturing and cosmetics. (4)
Again, as consumers of the food industry, we can stop buying packaged and processed foods loaded with vital gluten. We can continue to read labels, plan our gluten free holidays and strategize for eating out or holiday parties. I know we will all continue to do this, but can our food industry please stop adding gluten to everything? Like sugar, let’s cut the use of this additive in 1/2 and see if we can save maybe 1/2 of the $25 billion dollars now being spent on the medical care of food allergies and intolerances.
I have more on my wish list- but may have to save that for New Year’s. I have a feeling I am already asking for too much.