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Chicago Public School Bans Bagged Lunch

Taken by Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune

It appears some schools aren’t just banning peanut butter from the lunchroom. Little Village Academy, a public school in Chicago, recently announced its decision to ban kids from bringing bagged lunches to school altogether.

The Principal of the school, Elsa Carmona, told the Chicago Tribune that her intentions were to get students to eat healthier.

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Carmona said. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.”

I was unable to get in touch with anyone from the Little Village Academy or the Chicago Public School Nutrition Prgoram, and seeing as though I’ve never been there firsthand, I can’t make any concrete statements on the quality of the food being served. But I know from my own experience in grade school, the lunches being served were not what I would consider healthy. And yes, milk is the standard for school lunches, rather than soda, but is sugar-jacked flavored milk really that much healthier? (More than 70% of the milk distributed in school cafeterias is flavored, according to the Milk Processor Education Program.)

Continue reading…

Walmart’s Healthy Moves For the Consumer or the Company?

Walmart, announced a new healthy foods-based initiative last week alongside First Lady Obama in Washington. The five-year plan calls for reducing levels of sugar and salt, as well as eliminating trans fats in packaged foods.

By 2015, Walmart wishes to reduce sodium levels by at least 25% and added sugars by 10%, helping to reduce some of the nutritional downsides of hundreds of packaged foods. The company intends to work directly with food suppliers to make these changes happen.

How satisfactorily these companies will comply with Walmart’s initiative still remains to be seen. The plan also begs the question of whether healthifying packaged foods should really be the main priority right now. As Marion Nestle puts it, “I’ll say it again: a better-for-you processed food is not necessarily a good choice.”

Walmart plans to drive down the prices of healthier processed foods, and also intends to place stores in areas considered food deserts in order to help low-income individuals. Thirty to forty smaller-format stores are being proposed for creation in urban areas by the beginning of next year. The world’s largest retail chain also intends to reduce the prices of fruits and veggies by creating its own produce supply chain, a goal that I find much more beneficial than decreasing prices on processed foods. (I don’t believe “healthy” and “processed” should hang out in the same sentence, again why I don’t think it should be the top priority.) Company officials say they intend to save consumers a total of $1 billion globally on fruits and veggies. However, there are negatives to consider even with this part of the initiative, such as how it will affect local and small-time farmers.

Walmart is also in the works of creating a self-designed nutritional seal of approval to be placed on what the company identifies as healthier products by the end of this year. It aims to have 25% of its product-line meet the created nutritional standards, which will include a focus on fat, sugar, salt, and whole grains.

But once again, there is criticism of this endeavor, with many believing the company-created nutritional seal is simply a ploy to avoid stricter, (more truthful), potential FDA-regulated seals.

Walmart’s healthy initiative proves to be a contentious issue. It has called for praise and criticism from all angles. Is the company really looking out for the health of its consumers? Or is it simply trying to raise its own status and drive up its shares? By how much will the changes actually help consumers make healthier choices? It’s hard for anyone to fully be against an initiative that has at least some aim towards promoting healthier eating. But many claim Walmart isn’t doing enough and that the changes are insignificant, intended only to improve the face of the company.

What are your thoughts on Walmart’s new healthy initiative?

Child Nutrition Bill Approved by Congress

Let's hope the new lunches don't look like this...


After much lobbying from Michelle Obama, a child nutrition bill that includes an expansion of the school lunch program is finally on its way to be signed by the president. The bill was passed by congress yesterday. Hopefully this will mean saying goodbye to grease-dripping pizza and substandard chicken nuggets (and the repulsive crunch of little pieces of cartilage that all too often make their way into the nuggets).

The bill sets new standards to improve the quality of school meals, with more fruits and vegetables, according to the New York Times. With national school lunch programs feeding over 31 million kids a day, this is undoubtedly good news.

Which leads me to a statement that struck me absolutely the wrong way:  “This bill is not about child nutrition. It’s not about healthy kids. It’s about an expansion of the federal government, more and more control from Washington, borrowing more money at and putting our children in greater debt,” says Representative Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia.

Did I actually read that correctly? That’s one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve heard in awhile. You think the government would turn to a neglected school lunch program with the prime intention to expand federal power? I guess the fact that nearly one out of every three American children are obese should just be thrown out the window. There’s no way that Michelle Obama and the majority of everyone else who lobbied and/or voted for the bill were looking out for the current and future health of our nation.  That’d just be absurd, right?

I don’t usually get too political on here, and yes I think the American nutrition system and much of politics, in particular that related to the food industry, is backwards, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the intentions behind this bill are positive. The school lunch program has needed a fixing up for far too long, and will probably continue to need additional healthy boosts of legislation in the future. But let’s be happy that something in relation to childhood nutrition finally got passed, and not use it as a target to call the government out for trying to expand their power. Would you rather our childhood obesity statistics keep climbing as kids keep getting shoved cheeseburgers on their trays, or would you rather the government take action to help counteract this negative trend? The answer is clear to me. (If the gov. can use their power to support the brainwashing dairy industry by only offering milk with school lunch meals, they can certainly use the power to take positive, health-conscious actions as well.)

Sure, the $4.5 billion bill could be financed in a better way. (A future cut in food stamps is helping to slash the bill). But Obama says he’ll make efforts to find other ways to pay for the new legislation.

It’s about time the government does something to actually put healthy food into the mouths of the future of our country. Anyone else with me on that?


Dr. Esselstyn Helps Bill Clinton and Many Others Reverse Heart Disease

If you haven’t heard by now, Bill Clinton adapted a nearly vegan diet several months back. By doing so, Clinton dropped 24 pounds, nearly returning him to the weight he was in high school. Clinton wanted to shed weight to shape up for daughter Chelsea’s wedding, but two heart stents he had to have put in earlier this year are what primarily prompted him to make the diet change.

“Since 1986, several hundred people who have tried essentially a plant-based diet, not ingesting any cholesterol from any source, has seen their bodies start to heal themselves — break up the arterial blockage, break up the calcium deposits around the heart. Eighty-two percent of the people who have done this have had this result, so I want to see if I can be one of them,” said Clinton in an interview with CNN.

Clinton, who says he feels great, credits his current state of good health to a movement led by Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr.  Dr. Esselstyn promotes essentially a vegan diet, although you won’t ever hear the word vegan coming from his mouth.

“I don’t ever use the ‘V-word.’ When you use the ‘V-word’ your audience gets nervous,” says Dr. Esselstyn, who instead uses the term plant-based nutrition. His diet plan—which not only eliminates meat and dairy, but also removes all forms of oil, nuts and avocados— has reversed heart disease in many of his patients.  Within just 10-14 days on the diet, some patients have even found anginal chest pains to completely disappear.  Dr. Esselstyn has followed the plant-based diet, along with his wife, since 1984.

Dr. Esselstyn was drawn to the diet twenty-six years ago, while working as chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Breast Cancer Task Force. Frustrated with the way he and his colleagues were using pills and conventional procedures to handle cancer and heart disease, Dr. Esselstyn began looking for alternative ways to not only treat, but also prevent heart disease. After examining other countries where heart disease was nonexistent, it became clear to Dr. Esselstyn that the fatty American diet was the likely culprit of heart disease and many Western cancers.

“If you are a heart surgeon and you go to the central highlands of New Guinea, central Africa, Parts of China, or into Northern Mexico, forget it. You better plan on selling pencils instead,” says Dr. Esselstyn.

So Dr. Esselstyn began creating a plan for his patients that would entirely eliminate excess fats from the diet in which he states the body is not built to handle.

“All the fat that you really need is in the foods you can eat on this diet,” explains Dr. Esselstyn. “Every food has fat in it. Lettuce has fat in it, beans have fat, potatoes have fat, grains have fat.”
Despite what seems impossible, neither he nor his wife ever cheat on the diet. In terms of cooking, he claims all you need is a good non-stick pan, and promises that with a little liquid you can go way beyond just steaming, and continue to bake, broil, grill, and sauté your food. This Thanksgiving, he and his family will of course be filling up on a ton of greens and veggies, but you may also see one of their favorites, a whole baked pumpkin filled with stuffing, resting on their table.

Curious about what other foods he eats?  To see some of his top pics among foods, check out the “This or That” I did with Dr. Esselstyn for Philly Mag’s Be Well.

Fast Food Companies Still Targeting Children

Image obtained from

While efforts in San Francisco have gone underway to ban toys in most of McDonald’s Happy Meals, fast food marketing targeting kids around the rest of the country continues to be on the rise.  According to a recently released study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, children as young as two-years-old are viewing fast food ads across a variety of medias more than ever before.

Since 2003, the average preschooler is seeing 21% more fast food-related ads, according to the report.

Yale’s Rudd Center looked at the marketing efforts and nutrition info. from 12 of the largest fast food companies in the country.  Of the 3,000 examined fast food meals targeted towards kids, a measly 12 met the nutritional guidelines for preschool-aged kids.  Furthermore, of these 12 meals was Burger King’s macaroni and cheese meal with apple slices and fat-free milk.  Just like the relatively poor nutritional standards that San Francisco has set for McDonald’s Happy Meals, I don’t care how low-cal that mac & cheese meal is (285 calories), in any other context than its comparison to other fast food meals, I certainly wouldn’t consider that to be a “healthy” meal combination.

Additionally, the study revealed that a majority of the side dishes and drink options for children’s meals are unhealthy.  And it’s the chips, french fries, and sodas that end up on kids trays or in their grease-absorbing paper bags, not the sliced apples or baby carrots.  The other healthier options are rarely just given out unless the parent specifically asks for these items. Which begs the question, why don’t we mandate that these items become the default side dishes and require parents to specially request the french fries if they want to allow their kids to consume junk?

According to the report, fast food meals purchased by those 13-17 years old typically contain between 800 and 1,100 calories per one meal.  Nearly a third of those calories come from sugar and fat, and virtually all of the meals are heavy-laden with salt.  Sip of soda please to counteract that salty dilemma?

The report also revealed that the fast food industry spent over $4.2 billion on marketing and advertising during last year alone.  Kids seen an average of 3-5 fast food ads per day, depending on the age group.  Sadly, research shows that this excessive marketing is working.  According to the report, 40% of children ages 2-11 ask their parents to go to McDonald’s at least once a week, and 15% of preschoolers ask to go every day.  Even worse, 84% of parents reported taking their child ages 2-11 to a fast food restaurant at least once in the past week.

The dreary fast food industry is ominous, especially to health advocates like me.  While healthy choices are being offered in many of the chain restaurants, they still have a long way to go.  Unfortunately, it’s going to be the dedicated parent that will ultimately need to stand in and steer their child away from fast food.  Soon (and already in many cities), calorie counts will be listed on chain restaurants across the country, just one factor that can help parents in making healthier choices.  But the best option:  Steer clear of fast food restaurants all together, even if it means hearing a mouthful of angry kid complaints.  They’re really not worth the few minutes you’d save from preparing a superior option, and eventually kids will learn to stop asking… At least, that’s how we dealt with the fast food dilemma in my household.