Nutrition Action Healthletter
March 2001 — U.S. Edition 
News from CSPI
Less-Than-Perfect Foods

Memo from MFJ

   “Why do you write about processed foods and supplements all the time?”

   If there’s anything that bugs Nutrition Action Healthletter readers, it’s when we review foods they don’t eat or supplements they don’t take.

   This issue is a case in point. In it we write about, among other things, artery-clogging Godiva chocolate, gut-busting restaurant food, the high-priced dietary supplement SAM-e, and a dozen or so brands of heat-and-eat pork and beef.

   Those items probably aren’t on the regular shopping lists or dining-out menus of many NAH readers (including me).

   We could restrict ourselves to writing about only the foods that are the foundation of a healthy diet: whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, fish, chicken breast, fat-free dairy foods, etc. But 99 percent of our readers already know about them (at least I hope they do).

   What’s more, many of our readers (including yours truly) use frozen dinners, store-bought kids’ foods, spaghetti sauce, canned soups, or other convenience foods. Others crave chocolate or potato chips or BLTs. Some eat out from time to time at steak houses, Chinese or Italian restaurants, or even McDonald’s. And still others take ginkgo biloba, ginseng, or other dietary supplements.

   While we’re not endorsing those foods and pills, evaluating supplements and not-so-good foods may be one of the most important things we do. After all, you can do far more damage by choosing the wrong medicinal herb, restaurant entree, or processed food than by choosing the wrong vegetable.

   For example, some may find it interesting to know that sweet potatoes are more nutritious than green beans. But it’s more important for people who eat them to know that beef with broccoli has far less fat than General Tso’s Chicken, that a York Peppermint Pattie has a quarter the saturated fat of a Toblerone bar, or that GNC’s SAM-e is far more likely than Nature’s Rx’s to give you the dose listed on the label.

   One topic in this issue that matters to almost everyone is restaurant food. Over the years, we have done our best to alert readers—and the general public—to the astronomical levels of calories, fat, sodium, and sugar that some of those foods supply. But the restaurant industry seems to be locked in a horse race to fatten up our bellies and our arteries.

   Part of the problem is simple: Portions are gargantuan, presumably to make us feel that we’re getting a bargain. But food-sellers also compete to make their offerings the most excessive.

   Why stop at a cup of coffee when you can have a triple-sized cup with syrup and whipped cream? Why stop at a simple ice cream cone when you can smother it with candy, crushed cookies, and chocolate coating? Do we need fatty french fries that are draped with melted cheese or fatty mozzarella sticks that are deep-fat fried?

   And, with no nutrition numbers on menus, restaurants can keep dreaming up super-indulgent foods without anyone knowing the downside. Except you.

   We’ll keep clueing you in to calorie, fat, salt, and sugar levels that reach the stratosphere. We’ll also keep fighting to find a way—perhaps menus that list calories as well as prices—to let others know, too.

   And we’ll keep writing about chocolate, beef, and other less-than-perfect foods and supplements because somebody’s got to go beyond their advertising fluff and PR machines.

Michael F. Jacobson
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest


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