Is a Detox Diet Right for You?

With the New Year upon us, people are scrambling for diet resolutions and looking to detox.

With all of the buzz about detox diets, you may have started to wonder if you should start one too?

detox-dietsWhat are Toxins?

Toxins are defined as substances that have entered the body through smoking, pollution, pesticides, or additives found in the food we eat.

Detox diets claim to help rid the body of toxins, provide more energy and help kick start weight loss; however, there is little scientific evidence to support that detox diets actually rid the body of toxins. There is also no way to measure if you are “toxic”, or to justify if you even need to detox!

If You’re Gonna Detox…Do it Right!

Here are few detox tips that are good to know:

  • Your body has a built in system to remove harmful substances: your liver, lungs, kidneys, and GI tract are always in a natural state of cleansing
  • People with medical conditions such as diabetes or certain types of cancer as well as children, older adults and pregnant women should avoid detox diets as they may be nutritionally inadequate or inappropriate
  • Detox diets do have side effects: moodiness, irritability, depression, fatigue, and constipation (from a lack of fiber and other nutrients) may occur
  • Quick fix diets only provide short-term results; most people gain lost weight back…and then some.

The healthiest way to utilize a detox diet – if at all – is for a very short period of time. Most nutrition experts agree that if a “detox diet” is kept to 1-2 days, it can serve as an important psychological break between a period of unhealthy eating (the holidays?) and a new healthier period in the New Year.

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Jenny Legrand for her contributions to this post.

Can Humans Survive on Food Made in a Beaker?

For most of us, food represents not only a necessity but one of life’s simple pleasures. It provides us with energy and the essential nutrients we need to maintain health and fight disease. But what if you could make food in beaker from the basic chemicals that sustain life and never have to worry again about how to obtain and prepare food on a daily basis? For some busy folks, or for those who don’t like to cook, this probably sounds appealing. If you did this though, how would you ensure that all the necessary ingredients were included? This would surely not be possible unless one had extensive knowledge in human nutrition, right?

Not so fast. This is exactly what has done by entrepreneur, Rob Rinehart, developer of a food substitute called Soylent (Soylent Web Site). But amazingly, Mr. Rinehart has a background in electrical engineering and computer science. How, you might ask, could someone with this background make such a product that would actually sustain human health? That’s an excellent question. So, let’s explore this product and consider its’ possible benefits and drawbacks.

Mr. Rinehart developed Soylent with venture capital investment he raised and tested the product himself and on a select group of others. He learned about human nutrition by reading various sources and came up with a list of all chemical ingredients contained in foods that sustain life. He then ordered these chemicals from various suppliers, mixed them together in his kitchen and started consuming the product 3 times daily. Through trial and error, he apparently modified the product to supposedly contain all the necessary ingredients to support human life and health.

When one reviews the Soylent ingredient list, it seems that most, if not all, essential nutrients are present. If one, however, has knowledge of the discovery of the essential nutrients for humans, there is cause for concern. 75 years ago, the list of essential dietary nutrients for humans looked substantially different from today. What will it look like in the future? No one knows at this point, but amongst nutrition scientists there is constant chatter about other potential essential nutrients. It’s conceivable that long term consumption of a product like Soylent will ultimately lead us to discover additional essential nutrients for humans. After all, many essential nutrients were discovered unintentionally, for example, when individuals were given total parenteral nutrition (intravenous nutrition) formulas that lacked certain critical dietary components.

For many of us, giving up the delicious and nutritious foods that we enjoy cooking and eating every day is not an attractive thought. Meal time for many families is a time to relax, and get caught up on everyone’s busy lives. If you just had to slug down a glass of tan-colored goop, this would all be lost. For others however, these are probably not important considerations. If that’s you, are you willing to be a human guinea pig and have 3 squares of Soylent a day? How long might you be willing to go? Adverse effects could take months or years to develop and could be irreversible. Those with in-depth knowledge of human nutrition would advise caution, and recommend that you stay “on foods”.

(Written with the creative assistance of Brittany Evans, a University of Florida undergraduate student)

World hunger vs. food sovereignty

February 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Malnutrition

Of the approximately seven billion people inhabiting our planet today, 842 million live in (or die of) hunger every day (United Nations World Food Programme). This, despite the fact that there is more than enough food to go around. What gives?

It’s not about production

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there are 2700 calories available worldwide per person per day. To put that in perspective, the average American consumes approximately 2500 calories per day (Centers for Disease Control). Therefore, the problem of world hunger is not a shortage of food production. We already produce enough food. The problem of world hunger is inadequate food distribution… Or is it?

It’s not about distribution

Before we attempt to solve world hunger by producing even more food or shipping food long distances at great expense to the environment, it would be a good idea take a step back and a holistic look forward. Case in point: the United States. Here in a country with notable rates of obesity and a strong food distribution infrastructure, six percent of the population experiences “very low food security”. Meaning that roughly seven million households go hungry every day (Feeding America). This goes to show that hunger – nationwide or worldwide – is not simply about food production or distribution. It’s about a multitude of factors, including economics, education, compassion, empowerment, and, ultimately, food sovereignty.

It’s about food sovereignty

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” If you understand the basis of this quote then you understand, in part, the concept of food sovereignty. As defined by the 2007 Declaration of Nyéléni, food sovereignty is the right of all people to “healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”

Though complex, food sovereignty has several basic premises. It focuses on food for people by putting the right to sufficient, healthy, and culturally appropriate food for all at the center of food and agriculture policies. It values food providers by respecting all those who grow, harvest, and process food. It localizes food systems by bringing food providers and consumers closer together so they can make joint decisions on that benefit and protect all. It respects the right of food providers to have control over their land, seeds, and water and rejects the privatization of natural resources. It builds knowledge and skills by sharing local knowledge and skills that have been passed down over generations. Lastly, food sovereignty works with nature by focusing on production and harvesting methods that add to environmental health rather than detract from it. For more information, visit the website of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance.

Food for thought

World hunger is not due to a simple shortage of food production or inadequate distribution. It’s due to a lack of food sovereignty. Can you think of any additional factors not mentioned in the previous paragraph that contribute to food sovereignty? More importantly, what steps do you think need to be taken – at both a local and global level – to achieve a more food sovereign world?

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Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/diet.htm

Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/hunger-and-poverty-statistics.aspx

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Agriculture and Food Security: http://www.fao.org/docrep/x0262e/x0262e05.htm

United Nations World Food Programme: http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats

United States Food Sovereignty Alliance: http://usfoodsovereigntyalliance.org/

Happy World Food Day!

October 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Malnutrition

What? You didn’t know today was World Food Day? Let’s celebrate! But first, let’s learn.

Today marks the 68th anniversary of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an international effort to eliminate world hunger and malnutrition. The purpose of World Food Day is to raise awareness about the FAO and aspects of food that many of us take for granted, like access to healthy food and sustainable agricultural systems.

Even though access to healthy food is a basic human right, many people go without. In America alone 17.6 million people (14.5% of households) are food insecure (USDA 2012), meaning that they lack access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food.  In other words, they are hungry. Every day. Worldwide, the number of people living with chronic hunger is 842 million (FAO 2013).

Keep in mind that the goal of the FAO is not simply to produce enough calories to feed every man, woman, and child on the face of the planet (we do that already), but to do so sustainably and equitably. That means food production with a focus on environmental and social justice. That means treating the land with respect, educating and paying agricultural workers appropriately, and distributing safe and healthy food to those in need.

Significant progress has been made in the past few decades, but a changing climate and a growing world population will continue to be a challenge. Please give some thought to the FAO, and the issues and the people they are fighting for. You can access the FAO’s latest report, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013”, here: http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en.

Food for thought:

  • What can you do to address hunger in your community?
  • Are you familiar with agriculture and food production in your community? In the United States?
  • Do you grow any of your own food? Why or why not?

If you missed celebrating World Food Day (October 16th), don’t worry — October 24th is Food Day in the United States!

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1. United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2012.  Accessed at http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx

2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013. Accessed at: http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/