A couple of nights ago, Travis and I sat down to watch the documentary Fed Up, exploring the childhood obesity problem in the United States. Not a dietician, doctor, or chef, I love to continue to learn—especially about food, health, and nutrition—and this film did provide me with some new insight.
First of all, I learned that juice is not what it’s cut out to be. A couple of years ago, after watching a documentary entitled Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Travis and I were inspired to have more fruit and vegetable juice in our lives. In that documentary, an overweight gentlemen got his health in check with a juice-only diet. He bought a high-quality juicer and transformed his whole produce in seconds. He did lose weight and became a healthier person all around.
I remember thinking that I could never sustain myself on liquids only, but that I would try to make freshly squeezed juices a bigger part of my diet. Travis and I bought a juicer and started drinking juice (with an approximately 70%/30% ratio of vegetables to fruits) every morning with or for breakfast. I found that this practice helped me to feel more energized throughout the day and kept me regular, too. Until we obtained a high quality blender capable of pulverizing whole fruits and vegetables to a smooth consistency, we kept juicing. Our juicer has since been collecting dust for the past couple of years.
Despite our short period of success with juicing, I have always known that eating the whole fruit or vegetable is preferable, thus leading to the switch to smoothies. Why juice an apple when you can just eat one, skin and all, whole or in a smoothie? The skin and pulp of fruits and vegetables are where the fiber is contained and of course, fiber is nutritious and essential to a healthy diet.
Even though I knew that whole foods were better, I didn’t really understand what the body did to process juice until I watched Fed Up. The example given was comparing eating an apple to drinking the equivalent in calories in soda. Because the apple contains fiber, it is processed much more slowly, preventing its sugars from turning into fat. Soda, containing no fiber, runs quickly through the digestive system and well, you know the rest.
After providing this example, the expert explained that our bodies process juice similarly to soda. Without the fiber from skin, flesh, and pulp, the sugar in juice is really no different than the sugar in soda, as far as how the body processes it. Now, if the juice contains skin, flesh, or pulp, you’re in a little better shape, but no matter what, it isn’t the same as consuming the whole food.
Nowadays, I sometimes use juice in smoothies, salad dressings, etc. While it goes through the body similarly to soda, it does still contain nutrients that soda never will. I figure if I were a regular, everyday juice drinker, then I’d have a habit to worry about.
This lesson, illustrated with fruit vs. soda, also made me realize why counting calories is a flawed system. I have never counted calories and don’t plan to start, but I have many friends that do/did. It is clear that 160 calories in apples and 160 calories in soda are not the same calories at all. It isn’t enough to decide to eat only 1,500 calories a day without conscious thought about where those calories are coming from. If you eat 1,500 calories of just soda, rather than 1,500 calories of fruits and vegetables, the body won’t use them in the same way. I have heard too many times things like, “I have 500 calories left for today, so I can eat that piece of cheesecake!” We all know where that cheesecake will end up…
The second major learning I took from Fed Up was that the legal requirements for school lunches in America are really just missing the beat. Did you know, that in the U.S., French fries are considered a vegetable and so is pizza, because of the tomato paste? I’m sorry, what?! If the fries were baked with minimal oil (check out my version!), that would be one thing. If the pizza were totally vegan (I’ve got a formula for that, too!), topped with a homemade sauce, and loaded with vegetables, that would be different, too. Ugh.
At the end of the day, it feels hard to make a difference in the childhood obesity epidemic. I can play my part by teaching Nolan how to eat healthy foods. In the grocery store today, he spotted his favorite food and went right over and picked some up to put in the cart. Was it French fries? Pizza? Nope, blueberries. An older gentlemen who was doing his shopping and had observed my son’s excitement for fresh fruit was impressed and said, “You don’t see too many kids these days excited about healthy food. Bless you for what you’re doing with your son.” Made my day. 🙂