Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Food Nazis

First let me acknowledge that I am an addict. I am addicted to junk food. In fact I don’t think I could survive a day without my daily dose of one or more of the following: a glazed or sugar powdered doughnut, a bag of barbecue potato chips, a couple of handfuls of cheese curls, a Hershey bar with almonds, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and a cold can of Coke.

It isn’t that I don’t eat healthier foods at all. I do. I eat vegetables and fruit and enjoy a good ‘meat and potatoes’ meal. But I never skip the potatoes. I will however admit that my diet consists of many foods that most nutritionists would frown upon.

Junk food has always been a part of my life. And yet I am not obese. Far from it. Nor is my health in any way impaired. At my age (64) I feel as a good as I ever did. Of course a lot of this is because I am fortunate enough to have inherited a good set of genes. But the secret of my relatively good health is not only genetic. It is that I do not eat to excess. I do not eat when I am not hungry and I do not over indulge at meals.

The biggest health hazard when it comes to food is overeating. That is what causes obesity. One can eat any food one wishes as long as they don’t eat more than their body uses up in expending energy. It’s all about calorie consumption. The math is really simple. If one burns 2000 calories during a typical day - one should eat 2000 calories a day to maintain their weight. If one eats less they will lose weight. If one eats more they will gain. A daily diet of 10 Hershey bars (about 2000 calories) will not gain you a single ounce if you eat nothing else!

To illustrate this point an interesting study was just completed by Kansas State University Professor of Human Nutrition Mark Haub. He lost 27 pounds in two months on the ‘Twinkie Diet’. All he ate was junk food. Here is what happened:

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.

But you might expect other indicators of health would have suffered. Not so.

Haub's "bad" cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his "good" cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent.

I’m not saying that eating junk food is the best diet nor do I advocate doing what Professor Haub did. There are other considerations like limiting salt intake, vitamin consumption, getting a proper balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, eating roughage, and various other factors that are beneficial to one’s health.

But they are not as important as one might think. I believe there is just about universal agreement that obesity is the biggest threat to one’s health – far more important than eating from any of the above mentioned food groups. In other words it’s not what you eat but how much.

The bottom line is that a good common sense well-balanced diet that consists of the basic food groups in proper proportion is what all people should seek. But that need not mean that snacks like potato chips and candy - or sugary soft drinks - should be completely eliminated.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Obesity in children (ages 6 to 19) is at an all time high.

That is bad news. I have noticed that a lot of the children that I see these days are in fact – fat. The children I most often see are Jewish and Orthodox. This is a dangerous and growing trend and needs to be dealt with. But not the way it is currently being dealt with in some of the day schools.

There has been a virtual takeover of food service in these day schools by well meaning parents who I can only term ‘Food Nazis’. They have eliminated all foods that they feel are not nutritious. So candy machines no longer contain candy bars but some tasteless health food snack. Soft drinks have been eliminated. And the lunch menu has eliminated anything that remotely tastes good. Like Pizza.

This is just plain wrong. Why should a child of normal weight be denied a snack because of an obesity problem - especially since it isn’t the snack that causes the problem? Why should a child not be able to enjoy a coke in school during recess if he is not over weight?

It is the height of arrogance to assume that one has the right to dictate to others what they may and may not eat during a long day in school. Do they think depriving a child of a snack in school will help him when he gets home where there may be snacks galore? A child may easily more than make up for the loss by eating twice as much candy when he gets home!

Obesity is not a function of what is in a school vending machine. It is about genetics and the environment in which a child is raised. If parents over-eat so too will their children. Let us make no mistake about that. The people who gain weight are not the ones who necessarily eat junk food. It is those who do not understand the concept of portion control. If anything should be banned it should be second helpings at dinner in the home.

If one keeps taking second… and third… and forth helpings of mashed potatoes and gravy at a meal after they have cleaned their plate… guess what? They are going to get fat! If parents do that, so too will their children. Shoveling food continuously into one’s mouth during a meal is the real culprit. Not the ‘potato chips and a coke’ snack a child has during recess.

This is not to say that snacks should not be limited. Of course they should. That’s what good parenting is about. But they in no way need they be eliminated and treated like poison. Forcing an entire school to abide by one’s own personal standards is immoral!

The obesity problem in society is a serious one that needs to be tackled in the right way. That means education – adult education about how to eat properly by not over-eating. Children learn by example. It is only when parents learn that lesson, that children will learn it. This should be supplemented by a good nutrition educational component incorporated into the school curriculum – perhaps in the science classroom.

It is high time parents take back their schools. If you are a parent in a school that refuses to serve snacks because of your school’s ‘Food-Nazis’- start a campaign to take back control. Although they mean well their ends do not justify their means. Nor is there any evidence that their extreme methods even help. I would go so far as to say they might even hurt by causing the children to crave junk food even more by denying it to them during the day.

Should any of those ‘Food-Nazis’ retort that its for their children’s own good because junk causes (or even a contributes to) obesity - tell them to contact Professor Mark Haub, go have a jelly doughnut, and calm down. As for me, I’m ready for my morning bag of potato chips.


1.Twinkies are not Kosher. I use this snack food in my illustration because it has become symbolic of all junk food.

2. Please, no comments about the word ‘Nazi’ in this post. It is not being used in the normal pejorative sense that is so highly objectionable and would not get by my censorship. It is used in a descriptive common usage sense about the extreme and forceful way certain – even good people with good intentions - operate.)