Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD - Eating In America: Is the usual way we shop, entertain and eat making us fat?
Nobody has to pig out, binge or compulsively overeat to be obese in America. The usual way we shop for food, the typical way we entertain, and” normal” eating patterns are enough for most of us to tip the scales. No wonder public health experts are predicting 50% of us will be obese by 2050.
Yesterday we drove across town to San Marino to visit my sister and family. We recently returned from our vacation and we were looking forward to the opportunity. Jenny hasn’t lived in America for 23 years.
We admired their new home, even though it is mostly empty. They are awaiting a container of household goods from the Netherlands. It won’t arrive for another two weeks.
In the meantime, they are sleeping on a new mattress without the accompanying bedroom furniture, and the three kids are sleeping in one room on a twin bed, the trundle and a sleeping bag on the floor. There is a single couch. They are eating off of a folding table sitting on folding chairs. This is modified camping.
Still, they are excited about the adventure ahead. Jenny is celebrating the opportunity to enjoy the casual contact with family that has been missing in her life for over 2 decades. The kids happily splashed in their pool, a welcome respite in 98 degree heat. As I scanned the patio I noticed a rapidly dwindling bowl of chips on the patio table.
STARCH, MORE STARCH AND SUGAR
A few minutes later, the bowl of Doritos was replaced by pita chips.
Standing in the kitchen I watched my sister carefully empty the last of the Doritos into the big box bag they came in. She commented she didn’t want the kids to fill up on chips. A second big box store bag—this time of pita chips–was opened and poured into the bowl and found its way to the patio table. I pause at the irony. Refined starch–even without the fat–can be problematic in the world of weight management.
The pita chips were offered with a container of hummus and a vegetable tray. The mix of refined starchy snacks coupled with vegetables and hummus look pretty innocuous. But that was just the beginning. The total amount of food and multiple opportunities to overeat refined starch and sugar at this meal can be problematic in the world of weight management.
A DELICIOUS MEAL
Later we feasted on BBQ leg of lamb with corn on the cob, basmati rice, and both a Caprese and a tossed green salad. Wine was served to the adults. Water served to the kids. It was a beautiful meal for a balmy evening.
Dessert of fresh strawberries and three quarts of three different flavors of ice cream followed. A 32 ounce bottle of chocolate sauce was giddily passed around the table.
THIS IS THE WAY WE EAT
No one would consider the day or this meal unusual. This is the way we entertain in America. This is the way we shop. This is the way we eat. This may be one of the ways we continue to gain girth in America.
It is easy to get distracted by all the fresh produce: salad greens, tomatoes, fresh ears of corn and sliced strawberries. I can already hear the critics. I should be celebrating the healthier options. This meal is better than most. I agree.
Yet the day’s food supply is still problematic. The healthy choices don’t trump the excessive opportunity to overeat refined sugar and starch.
I count at least five sources of refined starch and sugar: The tortilla chips, the pita chips, the rice, the ice cream and chocolate sauce. With easy access and abundant quantities of everything, it is easy to trigger the metabolic machinery that enhances fat stores.
We are used to celebrating abundance. Large portions of pretty cheap highly refined starch with fat, starch without fat, and sugar are the norm. This is one reason it is so easy today to become overweight and obese in America.
We are used to a very cheap food supply. We are used to buying large quantities to help us stretch our dollars. The opportunities are everywhere– even at full service supermarkets. (I often wonder why so many people believe shopping at a supermarket inherently translates into better food choices.)
WHERE WE SHOP, WHAT WE BUY
Typical supermarkets stock aisles with extra large “family packs” along with far more options in the middle aisles than the perimeter of the store. Supermarkets offer almost 50,000 products, up from about 12,000 items a few decades ago.
Child obesity tripled between the 1970’s and the year 2000. Big box stores were barely on the radar in the 1970’s, Today we purchase 18% of our groceries from big box stores. What are we buying there? I wonder if this month’s Costco coupon catalog is a clue. It advertises:
• $2.50 off a 50 count Frito Variety Pack
• $3 off a 54 count box of Rice Krispies Treats
• $2 off a 28 oz. bag of Pita Chips
• $2 off 2- 128 oz. bottles of Mott’s Apple Juice
• $2 off 2-96 oz. bottles of Welch’s grape juice
• $2 off 61.9 ounces of Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes
• $3 off a 12 pack of Nissin Noodle Bowls
• $1.75 off a 24 pack of Hansen’s Natural Soda
• $2 off a 24 pack of 12 oz. Gatorade
• $2.25 off a 32 pack of Yoplait GoGurt
• $2.25 off a 16 count pack of Nestle Ice Cream Drum Sticks
• $5 off a 24 pack of regular or low carb Monster Energy Drinks
Every one of these items contributes calories that are predominantly refined starch and sugar, mostly without the fat.
LIVING IN THE LAND OF PLENTY
What makes this list remarkable is that only 5 items in the entire catalog could be considered “real food”, as opposed to ingredients or supplements. There were coupons for deli meats, frozen fish sticks and chicken tenders, basil tomato soup and Jarlsberg sliced cheese. All but two of the offerings could be considered highly refined and excessively processed.
We are accustomed to living in a land of highly adulterated plenty. Can we survive this abundance?
Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD