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VidaCura Newsletter VidaCura Newsletter: Taking Care of Ourselves: Health and Wellness Information You Can Use
Health and Wellness Information You Can Use
What to Eat makes an extrememly good case for buying locally and eating organically grown foods.
Eat smart and defensively, too!
Posted: September 24, 2008

Are you concerned about where the food you're putting on the table for your family comes from?

Do you wonder why - or how - a grocery store decides which of the 320,000-plus food items available in the US to stock on its shelves?

As you cruise the stands at the local farmers market or the aisles at the health food store, do you wonder whether locally grown or organic foods are really worth the extra bucks you'll be paying for them?

If you've answered yes to even one of these questions, What to Eat, written by Dr. Marion Nestle, an internationally-respected molecular biologist and nutritionist, is your kind of book. It gives you the information you need to shop smart and the decision-making tools you need to make critical decisions about where to shop, what to buy, what to eat, and what to serve those - whether growing teems, ailing spouse or frail parents - who depend on you.

An aisle-by-aisle tour
Chapter one explains how a typical neighborhood grocery store is laid out and how the food industry uses focus groups, marketing firms, and subtle tricks to manipulate shoppers into spending more time in the aisles so they spend more money at the check-out counter.

After that, What to Eat launches into an aisle-by-aisle tour of a hypothetical supermarket and the products you'll find in its produce bins, on its shelves, in its refrigerated cases, in its specialty departments, and at its check-out counter. Notes Nestle: Gum, candy and gossip magazines have very high profit margins.

In the chapters on frozen foods and fresh produce, Nestle explains where your fruits and veggies come from. Scary stuff this, because much of it comes from outside the US where agriculture isn't well regulated. She also explains the monetary and nutritional trade-offs you make when you choose fresh over frozen or canned products.

The chapter on organics makes an extremely good case for buying locally and having young children and older adults - whose immune system may not be strong due to their ages - eat organically grown foods instead of their conventionally-raised counterparts.

The section on meat and fish - covering how each gets from pen, pasture, or (increasingly) pond to the table - is an eye-opener. Not only does Nestle discusses which types of meat and fish are healthiest (both in terms of how they are raised and how good they are for you), she also explains how the pork, beef, chicken and seafood lobbies work, and how they have the nation's food watchdog - the United States Department of Agriculture - on a short leash. At best, she says, the USDA acts grudgingly in the public's interest if doing so might cause problems for them.

The section on beverages is a laugh-out loud read. Citing 60% profit margins and $103-a-gallon water, the chapter on bottled water skewers both the bottled water mystique and industry. It also shows readers how to get information on how healthy their local water supply is.

The chapter on caffeinated drinks - colas, coffee and tea - doesn't just explain how coffee and tea are grown and processed and why caffeine has become the nation's stimulant of choice, it also takes the nation's coffee houses to task for turning previously no- and low-cal beverages into calorie-dense, artery-clogging drinks.

The chapters covering food aimed at children are also eye-openers. The one on infant foods explains why there's no real nutritional difference in baby formulas or food brands. Says Nestle: Baby food is probably the most highly regulated segment of the food industry.

In the chapter titled "Foods Just for Kids", she explains how the food industry has all but usurped parents' ability to choose what their children eat. Says Nestle: Research by the food industry, on how to market foods to children is "simply breathtaking in its comprehensiveness, level of detail, and undisguised cynicism." And, she adds, the food industry justifies what it's doing "as an education in 'street smarts', as an expression of freedom of speech and as [being] good for the American economy."

What To Eat is an informative and entertaining read, and its charts, lists and information-at-a-glance graphics are great, but readers will hit speed-bumps every once in a while as Nestle goes off on "digressions." Most deal with the hard science behind what she's talking about in that particular chapter. If you feel like skipping them, do.

In fact, says Nestle, "skipping" through the pages of What To Eat is exactly what she had in mind when she wrote it. "It's a reference book and contains a lot of information," she says, "so I tell people to use the table of contents or index to get to the sections that are of interest."

What To Eat, Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H., 2006, North Point Press

15 Simple Words:
Says author Marion Nestle, Ph.D., the message in What To Eat can be summed up in 15 words: "Eat less. Move more. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Go easy on junk food."

More Information:
Care about food and the impact it has on your health and the health of those you love? Then you should also subscribe to Nutrition Action Newsletter. With over 900,000 subscribers, the award-winning newsletter is the largest-circulation health newsletter in North America. Published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, it covers health, nutrition, food safety and food policy.

Issue 1: September, 2008
Optimists Live Longer
Eating Smarter
Tips to Avoid Falls
Health Checklist for 50+
Compression Stockings
The Benefits of Grains
Welcome to VidaCura
Letter from the Editor
VidaCura Blog
VidaCura Main Site
AARP Health Resources
New York Times Health NPR: On Health Podcast
NPR: Health Care
What if you don't have health insurance? VidaCura Co-founder Larry Berk offers some advice. Read more>

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