As a public health dietitian, one of my career and business goals is to engage with consumers on where their food comes from. I have witnessed the look on a child’s face when they realize food grows outside (mostly), or when they take their first bite of a new fruit and vegetable. I laughed, and cringed a little, when my mom told me the story of an elementary school child calling her avocado a black egg. To enlighten consumers of all ages, I am thrilled to share a few of my experiences on farms and where my food comes from. First, is a farm that I have visited many times, but have never taken the opportunity to explore its history or operations. It was a fantastic experience and I’m so excited to share it with you.
On July 10th and 11th, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee met for their second public meeting in Washington, DC. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) are a set of guidelines published jointly by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). You’re probably wondering so why should the average consumer care about these guidelines? How in the world do these scientific recommendations affect me and my family? Well, quite a bit actually!
In June 2016, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a non-profit law organization that aims to protect the rights and advance the interests of animals through the legal system, filed a lawsuit alleging that Hormel was misleading consumers through its “Natural Choice” product line of lunch meats and bacon. They filed the suit stating that it was in violation of the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The basis of the lawsuit was that the ALDF alleged that Hormel used the “natural” food label claim although the products contain additives, hormones, antibiotics, and artificial preservatives.
Surveys and research conducted over the last few years have found one thing in common: consumers don’t understand what “natural” means when they see this claim on food labels and packaging. In 2014, a survey conducted by Consumer Reports of over 1,000 people found that 66% think they term “natural” means the food item has no artificial ingredients, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms. In addition to the Consumer Reports survey, research has also shown that 47% of American consumers actively look for natural products and 65% consider natural products as “better.” Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but natural doesn’t mean the product is better, and it doesn’t mean that the product is pesticide or GMO-free.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it plans to overhaul regulations for the $50 billion a year dietary supplement industry. The FDA is planning much needed updates to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) which passed in 1994. Alongside this announcement, the FDA sent advisory and warning letters to supplement companies that were selling products with illegal claims or that contained unapproved drugs. Some companies that received the advisory and warning letters were claiming that their products prevented, treated or cured Alzheimer’s disease and a number of other serious diseases and health conditions. According to the press release, “three out of every four American consumers take a dietary supplement on a regular basis”. The overhaul of the 25-year-old Act is music to this public health dietitian’s ears!
There are numerous ways to approach a healthy lifestyle when it comes to nourishment. Food is our fuel and without it, our body cannot function. As a dietitian, I've learned about so many eating patterns- yes, including those bizarre fad diets like the cabbage soup diet or the baby food diet (cringing as I type those), and what they really do to your body. I’m constantly asked the question of “what do YOU eat” or when someone sees me enjoying a baked good I get asked “aren’t you a dietitian?!”. My response is always "balance."