Monday, June 1, 2009


hi guys...

I think I may have figured out why Americans do not make better food choices. I think people are completely confused. Heck, I get confused and I work in food, study food and research the effects of food on health. I am considered an expert (whatever that means…) and if I get confused, I can only imagine what the rest of the country…who just wants to live their lives and eat dinner…feels.

And I know why we are confused. The latest addition of Men’s Health magazine arrived the other day, the ‘Life in Balance’ issue and it kicked off with a great…and I mean great editorial by David Zinzenko, author of ‘Eat This, Not That’ and editor in chief. In the essay, he talks about Michael Pollan and eating real food, skipping drive-through and junk food; he speaks of whole unprocessed food versus the ‘edible foodlike substances’ we have come to rely on in our diets. He waxed poetic about ‘pulling off the packaging and examining what’s really on the end of our fork.’ He goes on that our modern food culture has pulled us away from the reality of food with slick graphics, cartoons and healthy-sounding words like ‘lite.’

Well, you can imagine my excitement as I prepared to steal my husband’s magazine and pore over every word of this balance issue. I could not wait to read the exposes, the scathing indictments of processed foods. Sure enough, I turn the page and there is an ad for ‘Silk’ soymilk. Cool. But wait…what’s this? Can it be? An item in the Table of Contents called ‘Soy’s Dark Secret’? (I’d bet ‘Silk’ knew nothing about this article before they bought into the ad space.)

The magazine goes on blathering about the ‘bad rap’ burgers have gotten, citing some obscure U.K. study on LDL (bad cholesterol) and how meat doesn’t contribute to those levels rising. Then they go on to cite a test tube study in Canada to make the case that eating fried eggs can reduce hypertension. Seriously? Are we so attached to our childish ways of eating, so attached to the very foods that every expert under the sun (okay, except some Brits and the test tube guy in Canada) say are slowly making us fat and unhealthy…and speeding up our appearance at the Pearly Gates that we can’t look at the truth?

But the real killer, the real icing on the cake of the ‘Life in Balance’ issue came in the form of their ‘Weight Loss Bulletin’ page. Here’s the scene set in the photo. On the left, a more than hefty man in a trucker’s cap, napkin tucked into his shirt front, looking ready to have sex with the huge mountain of fried chicken on his plate. Next to him, a slender Asian man in a tie and dress shirt, glancing sidelong at the chicken as he delicately prepares to eat a salad. The blurb was about ‘pumping up the protein’ and talks about a study that found that people who ate more protein than carbohydrates were more likely to stick with their diet for a year than those who ate less protein. That may be true, but what has that to do with fried chicken and the obvious results of eating it…obesity? One look at the photo and the truth was obvious. I’ll take the slender salad eater, thanks.

The magazine went on with its usual stuff…the 15-minute workout, how to get (and lay) the girl…how to lose belly fat…ads for ‘The End of Overeating’ to Kentucky Grilled Chicken (don’t get me started…again…). From ‘The Perfect Day of Weight Loss’ to how to cook with Guinness, the magazine is a study in contrasts. On one page, an expose on fast food and how they fool us with marketing…then an ad for grilled chicken dinners from KFC. Then an article on ‘The Capitols of Cancer’ rating cities around the country for their cancer risk and incidence based on exercise and consumption of alcohol…and fruits and veggies. That article was followed by ‘Eat Like a Man,’ with lots of advice on how to cook meat…to ‘The 125 Best Foods for Men.’ Topping the list? Post Spoon-Sized Shredded Wheat. And last? Nitrean Vanilla Protein Powder (not even a food the last time I looked). In between, there was a plethora of products, from beverages to foodlike substances. Wow, no wonder we can’t decide what to eat.

And then I got to the meat of the magazine (pun intended…seriously…), ‘Soy’s Dark Secret.’ With a dramatic photo of a single soybean, the headline read…‘Is This the Most Dangerous Food for Men?’ Yikes! The article begins with the heart-wrenching story of a retired US army intelligence officer who had developed breasts, lost body hair and his sex drive. After all other options were ruled out, it was discovered that his body carried estrogen levels eight times higher than the average woman. Cancer tests came back negative, so one doctor placed the focus on his diet. Turns out, our retired solider was drinking more than three quarts of soymilk a day. Now, that’s a lot, but that would be a lot of any kind of milk.

The article goes on to cite comment after comment from men enduring soy based meals prepared by the women in their lives because it’s ‘healthy’ for them, but the message was clear. They’d rather have all their fingernails pulled out and any man worth his chest hair would feel the same.

And then the science followed. Talk of genistein and daidzein, compounds in soy that make up the famous ‘phytoestrogens’ in the plant ensued. The article goes on about feeding kids too much soy in formula (I agree with that one…). Studies on mice showed that when significant amounts of soy were consumed, the thymus gland shrunk. But they could not say if this result occurred in human infants who drank formula…only mice. The next study cited said that men who ate 15 different soy foods showed a decrease of 32% in sperm count. But again, the conclusion was that it’s too early and inconclusive in the research to tell men to avoid soy to increase fertility. H-h-h-m-m-m-m…this is interesting. After a terrifying story about older Indonesians being studied for dementia risk and how the people who ate very high amounts of tofu showed more memory loss than those who ‘ate a moderate amount,’ they concluded that phytoestrogens may not be all that marketing has cracked them up to be, but that they aren’t bad either…for most people, they lie somewhere in the middle for men’s health. Huh? What happened to deadliest food for men?

The story concludes with our hero, now drinking lactose-free milk in place of the soymilk he was over-consuming. He started using Ensure, which contains soy protein and sure enough, his symptoms returned with a vengeance. Acknowledging an obvious super sensitivity to soy, the retired soldier’s doctor…and the other experts in the article…came to this conclusion…‘Soy protein today is an ubiquitous, profitable and often buried ingredient in a bewildering number of packaged foods’ and it’s best to monitor how much of it men are eating. Well, duh! Soy protein found in packaged and processed foods has been bastardized in the unhealthiest way possible…not unlike high fructose corn syrup. It’s not a food men…or women and children…want to consume at all.

But if you’re going to seduce me into an article with dramatic headlines about ‘dark secrets’ and ‘deadliest food for men,’ you had best give me some hard and cold facts, not some mamby-pamby inconclusive studies that may or may not support the ideas put forth in the headlines.

Look, there is compromised soy protein out there and yes, as a modern culture, we may very well be eating too much soy for our own good…but you could say that we eat too much of everything for our own good.

In the end, the real discussion that needs to be had is about the effects of the hormones fed to the animals we eat in such large quantity. Is the real problem we face the phytoestrogens in soybeans or the hormones and steroids in the burgers this same magazine so proudly and confidently supports as real food for men?

Think about it…



Gweithgar said...

Sounds like "balanced" here means equal amounts of crepe on both sides of the fulcrum. And I admit to also feeling confused about what to eat, since the media seems to change the rules every couple of days. I'm feeling pretty good, these days, as a whole-food vegan; although apparently I'm over-eating again, since my weight is creeping up. (Blast!) I think that one of the problems is that we want to find a clearly marked, easy path to a healthy way of that won't make us think too much. And I don't really think there is any such path. Healthy eating requires thought, study, and experimenting with your food. Even if you are following a whole food and vegan path, you still have to do the work.

christea said...

Great post Christina! Confusion about food & health ... friend & allie to Madison Avenue marketing. I attend a free cooking class at a local market and it amazes how people gasp in horror at the mention of tofu, or salt, or other ingredients yet "blank stare" and ambivalence about GMO's, conventional farming and why go organic. General consensus from the group is that if you wash your fruits and veggies you rid yourself of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides. Boneless/skinless chicken breasts are the Godsend to them .. "so healthy". There is virtually no knowledge that "all salt is not created equal" and that kosher salt is a good thing while sea salt just clumps. I'm on my rant with them about "it's all about the soil" and healthy plants make healthy people. Baby steps ... not sure if I am getting through to anyone or just talking to the clock on the wall. Can't wait for Food, Inc. to be released. Keep up the good work and deciphering all the madness for us laypeople.

christea said...

PS.. Thanks to a former episode in one of your older series, I was inspired to plantorganic strawberry plants in my garden this year. Plants came from a USDA certified organic grower. You taught me how important it is eat only organic berries. You also inspired me to do more organic container gardening and replace perennials with organic edible landscaping. Today, I just finished planting 2.5 pounds of organic yukon gold potatoes in two bales of straw. Thank you for being so informative and inspirational!

Luke said...

I like the feeling of KFC chicken grease running down my chin.

Kathy said...

Thank you SO much for writing this post! My husband and both of my sons can't have dairy, and our entire family is even slowly becoming meat free (getting "indoctrinated" [as my husband says] by your newest book, "This Crazy Vegan Life", as I'm sure you're happy to hear!) thanks to you!

Anyway, I had read so many scary things about soy and its effect in men that I switched the kiddos over to brown rice milk instead. I use almond milk in all of my cooking (thanks for that tip!). I think that it's proven to be a good decision for them and for us. I don't know that it's necessarily as bad as some of these articles say it is (or say it isn't or say it might not be, but maybe so, like these people say, but not quite... as the Men's Health article seems to have said, clearing it all up for us!) but I feel a bit more comfy with them having soy only occasionally now.

Oh, and I'd like to say that I've had quinoa with broccoli for breakfast for the past three days now (it's easy and I just haven't felt like trying something else yet) and I feel fantastic. I'm not even hungry until lunch time, and I used to feel starving every morning around 10:30, and the daily binges would begin! You were right! Grains and veggies for breakfast, it is!

Barbara Allen Moore said...

Thank you for this article. I also have come across the "bad soy" foods articles. Having a blood cancer I've researched many types of eating. What should i do or not do? What will help me? and so on...One article said to yes eat soy while another said no don't do that cancer cells love to grow from soy then another said only estrogen based cancers like breast cancer should avoid soy. Confused dosen't even cover it! I live in Nebraksa, my state is an agribusiness state. Our politicians cater to farming while hustling votes. My state poisoned me or as my doctor said I have leukemia because I live here. Now whats happening in farming in this country? One report sited in an article by Mary Jane Butters, an organic farmer, states that the amount of farms being bought by women rose 58% between 1997 and 2002. What are these women doing? Going organic and making sustanable farms for their families future. Little farms like 5 acres some even less. Is soy part of that picture, yes it is. The small farmers are learning to make their own Miso and soy products. They are looking at other ways to preserve foods that will sustain their families better and more healthfully than our grandparents. Thanks all of you commentors you have laid the pro's and con's out so well. I never cared for cow's milk and as one article said cow's milk is made specifically for baby cow's like human milk is for human babies. I have had a year to try and like soy products. I won't change that because as Gweithgar says I studied and experimented and found another way.

Barb the carmelized tofu did on stir fry veg with squash and brown rice.

Susan said...

My husband's doctor ask him to be vegan because his blood sugars were out of this world. He did and now the doctor is reducing his medication. Does that sound like this lifestyle hurts men health.
It is hard to not get enough protein. My grandparents were heard working farmers and did not have meat every day. They lived into their late 80's. My grandfather died of a rattlesnake bite mot bad health.I hope to live a long life meat has not added to my health. Being a Gluten Free vegan makes it a lot harder but but cooking from scratch goes with being Gluten Free so the whole food way is for me.