By: Al Danenberg, DDS
This guest post is written by Al Danenberg. Al is a periodontist, certified functional medicine practitioner, ADAPT trained health professional and certified primal health coach.
Emily sent me an email with this question, “What can I do to get my teeth really white, really fast?”
My quick answer was, “Emily, you might want to consider an in-office, teeth-whitening procedure that uses a peroxide gel and a proprietary blue light to quickly and effectively whiten your teeth.”
But, if Emily wrote, “What do you think of teeth-whitening, and should I do it?”, I would have a whole lot more to say.
Why Whiten Your Teeth?
Teeth have a natural color. Chalk-white, which is the goal of some people, is not a natural tooth color. But, some people have teeth that are naturally darker than other’s teeth. Also, teeth can stain for a variety of reasons. Most “darker” teeth can be lightened with “teeth-whitening” techniques. So, why do you want your teeth whiter?
Certainly, if a person wants to get a “brighter and whiter smile” for a special occasion like a wedding picture, then (for all the right reasons) have your teeth whitened with an in-office, teeth-whitening procedure that will produce a beautiful result relatively quickly. (Your mouth should be examined by a dentist to be sure it is healthy before this procedure is done.) If you just want a brighter smile than you currently have, teeth-whitening also may be for you.
However, these bleaching procedures will only lighten natural teeth. They will not change the color of existing filings, crowns, or veneers. So, after you lightened your natural teeth with a bleaching procedure, any “artificial” surfaces on your teeth would look “darker” compared to the natural teeth.
If you want a “brighter and whiter smile” all the time for your natural teeth, you may need to repeatedly “touch up” your newly-created white smile possibly with bleaching trays & gels or bleaching strips. I will discuss a potential problem with frequently repeated “touch up” measures later in this article.
Natural Ways to Whiten Teeth
There are some natural ways to whiten teeth. Baking soda made into a paste with filtered water could be used with a toothbrush. The paste should be applied to the enamel of the teeth and scrubbed with your toothbrush for a few minutes and then rinsed off with water. The baking soda is salty-tasting and slightly abrasive. It could be used a couple times a week. It will remove some stain on the surface of the enamel, but it will not get the teeth as white as a chemical procedure done in a dental office or with at-home chemical whiteners. Be aware: if you aggressively brushed this baking soda paste into the gum surface or exposed root surface, it could be too abrasive and cause irritation to the gums and sensitivity to the root surface.
Another method would be to mash one strawberry into a small bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Use this paste as I described in the previous directions for the baking soda paste technique. Strawberries contain malic acid, which has stain-removing qualities. This paste also could cause irritation and sensitivity as I described above.
There have been anecdotal reports using activated charcoal. However, activated charcoal is a “binding agent”, which has been shown to attach to various beneficial nutrients and interfere with their absorption into your body. Also, there is no clinical research to substantiate the broad claims made by companies marketing charcoal toothpastes. So, I would not recommend activated charcoal on a daily basis.
Teeth-Whitening is Not Permanent
Any whitening procedure will not last. Natural foods that have staining capabilities like tea, coffee, red wine, blueberries, and the like will continue to stain the enamel of the teeth. So, if these stains cannot be removed by normal brushing or the natural teeth-whitening methods I described above, then additional “teeth-whitening” chemical procedures may need to be repeated indefinitely.
Potential Harm to Teeth & Gums
Peroxides used in the chemical whitening procedures could weaken the enamel. However, eating nutrient-dense foods will allow natural remineralization of any damaged enamel surface. It is possible that peroxides could cause significant gum irritation or root sensitivity. Most of these uncomfortable side effects will resolve in a short period of time. Rarely, these side effects could last a long time.
Potential Harm to Overall Body Health
Peroxides may be a problem. A recent medical article was published in the Australian Dental Journal in March 2017. This is the first research study that investigated the systemic effects of 9% peroxide whitening gels placed into bleaching trays and then inserted on the upper and lower teeth in the experimental group. The trays were worn by 23 subjects in this study as I described for 30 minutes each night for 14 consecutive days. Blood samples were taken before the study began and then after the 14-day trial. The blood tests showed a significant increase in three specific biomarkers for systemic oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is a chronic process in the body that could contribute to disease in virtually every organ. Excessive oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation, which can lead to many various chronic diseases over time. The cause of the observed oxidative stress in this study was probably due to peroxide that was either (1) swallowed and then entered the gut or (2) permeated through the gum tissues and then entered the systemic circulation.
Here is my concern: Frequent and long-term use of at-home bleaching protocols using peroxides might eventually lead to chronic diseases as a result of oxidative stress created by peroxide. Like most things in life, moderation may be the critical key.
There is no health benefit to whitening teeth. This is a purely cosmetic procedure that creates a purely cosmetic result. However, this result is highly beneficial to a person’s self-esteem, which is essential. But a few caveats remain:
Check out Dr. Danenberg's new book: Crazy Good Living! on Amazon
Every few months, we'll bring you guys up to date with what books and other things that we've been reading lately.
Andrew - Unconventional Medicine by Chris Kresser
As a full-time graduate student, the concept of “pleasure reading” falls along the same lines as the concepts “disposable income,” “free time” and “stress-free”–it doesn’t happen that often! So anytime that I get the chance to kick back and read something simply because I want to and not because it is an assigned reading is always something I look forward to.
Over this past winter break, I created a goal for myself to read at least 3 books. Between catching up with old friends, holiday obligations and stuntin in Miami for New Years, I ended up with 2 out of 3, which I will consider a success. Of the 2 that I did read, one that that really stuck out to me was a book titled “Unconventional Medicine: Join the Revolution to Reinvent Healthcare, Reverse Chronic Disease, and Create a Practice You Love” by functional medicine doctor Chris Kresser. While the book is geared mainly towards doctors, it does a great job of painting the picture of our current HC crisis and ways that we can fix it. Full disclosure, this is a Chris Kresser household. I have been following Kresser’s work ever since I became interested in the ancestral health movement back in 2011, and he is one of the main people that I use to guide my health behaviors. So needless to say, I was pretty hyped when he decided to finally drop his book last December.
Anyway, the overarching premise of the book is that our current model of healthcare in the United States is extremely flawed, and unless wholesale changes are implemented, will crumble under its own weight in less than 50 years. One of Kresser’s main arguments is that our current system is antiquated. He discusses how our HC paradigm first evolved during a time when acute diseases were prominent (typhoid, tuberculosis, pneumonia). However, today our HC landscape has shifted dramatically, where 7 of the top 10 causes of death are now chronic conditions (CVD, cancer, lung disease). And unlike acute problems, chronic diseases are more difficult to manage, expensive to treat and usually last a lifetime. In other words, they don’t lend themselves to the “one-problem, one-treatment” framework that we had in the past. Additionally, most patients today now have more than 1 condition, see more than 1 doctor and have more than one 1 treatment that often go on for decades. Overarching, Kresser argues that our current model is outdated and needs to be brought up to date. Some eyepopping statistics from the book:
Kresser suggests that our current HC system is destined to fail for 3 main reasons: misalignment between our genes and environment; wrong medical paradigm for chronic disease; current HC model doesn’t support preventing or reversing disease.
#1. Misalignment between our genes and environment – Kresser notes that before farms and factories took over, most of human history was lived eating a hunter-gather diet and lifestyle. Our modern diet has little resemblance to what our ancient ancestors ate, and he suggests that our genes have not been able to adjust to these changes. For example, for most of human history, humans ate mostly meat and fish, wild fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some starchy plants and tubers. Nothing was processed and nothing came in a box. Today, the top 6 foods in our diet are: grain-based desserts, bread, sugar-sweetened beverages, pizza, alcohol and chicken–mostly fried. Kresser argues that this sudden shift has resulted in a diet that is pro-inflammatory, low in nutrients and a main reason for our modern diseases.
In terms of lifestyle and behaviors, Kresser argues that those are out of whack too. For example, our increased exposure to artificial light (being indoors, on our phones during bedtime, etc.) has severely thrown off our circadian rhythms and contributed to elevated chronic cortisol levels, which has shown to be responsible for some pretty harmful conditions long-term. Here, Kresser also argues that we are hard-wired to seek out calorically dense rewarding foods, because back in the day, it would have been considered an advantage. Then, those calories would have prevented us from starving, as our brains were set up to live in an environment of food scarcity. Now, with McDonald’s and Starbucks on every corner, we are still programmed to eat this way, hence the strong misalignment between our behaviors and genetics.
#2 Wrong medical paradigm – Kresser argues that our current HC system is based more on managing symptoms rather than treating root causes and reversing diseases. As I mentioned earlier, when our medical paradigm first came about, the most prevalent diseases were acute. Now that most people are dealing with chronic diseases (and sometimes 2 or more diseases), our system is not equipped to handle the complexity and thus the inefficient model of care. For example, in today’s system, someone will go into a doctor’s with a number of issues related to diet (e.g. diabetes, obesity), and leave with drugs for insulin and lowering blood sugar. While these drugs will treat the problem in the short term, they will not fix the problem. And since one chronic condition often leads to others, you end up creating more problems because you haven’t addressed the root cause to begin with. In essence, you are simply rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic, you’re still going to go down at the end of the day!
#3 Our current model doesn’t support preventing and reversing diseases – Our current HC system is simply not set up to help with the complexities of our health. For one, the quality of care sucks! The average visit in the US is just 12 minutes, with newer doctors typically only spending around 8 minutes. Such brief engagements don’t allow enough time to really examine important diet, lifestyle and behavioral issues that are causing our symptoms. Today’s doctors aren’t trained to work collaboratively with their patients. And even if a doctor does make a suggestion, recent research is showing that simply having knowledge and education is not enough, real behavior change relies on social support and networks–those of which the doctor is usually not a part of.
So how do we fix this mess? For his solution, Kresser proposes the ADAPT framework. This model consists of 3 axioms: 1. a functional medicine approach, which is focused on preventing and reversing, rather than simply managing chronic disease; 2. an ancestral diet and lifestyle, which recognizes the fact that we out of line with our genetics and environment, and that environment is a primary cause for chronic disease and; 3. a collaborative practice model, which offers doctors a structure that better supports delivering an ancestral diet and lifestyle intervention to their patients. He spends the rest of the book going into detail with the ADAPT framework and offers up solutions of how we implement it on a larger scale.
My thoughts on the book:
I think that Kresser is spot on with everything here. As a current public health student, and someone who is soon going to be intimately involved with trying to solve these issues, I’m already seeing the implications firsthand. One of the most shocking things that I noticed working with HC practitioners and other professionals is how in the dark most of them are when it comes to the solutions that Kresser is proposing. Because our system is based primarily on Western ideals of biomedicine (one which privileges systematic processes and an assembly line approach to treating conditions), there is not a lot of space for critical thinking and innovative mindsets to flourish and come up with different solutions. The system has become so specialized and isolated that practitioners only focus on their own sector of medicine, and thus the entire human organism (mind, body spirit) does not get examined holistically. So when one axiom (say, the mind) affects another (say, the body), there is not a system set up to address it.
The problem has gotten so bad that I think if we really want to create sustainable, long-term change, we have to completely blow up our current system and retool what we think a HC system should look like to begin with.
Over the past few elections, there has been more of a push to get Americans access to affordable HC. With Obamacare initially starting the conversation and now Trumpcare emerging as one of the country’s most debated political topics, everyone is up in arms about how to create more widespread coverage. Although in my opinion we are screwed either way, as arguing for more care is simply a political move that doesn’t address the real problem at hand–the system itself. Giving people more access to a system that is antiquated and broken does more damage than good. That would be like giving someone with a hangover more access to alcohol to temporarily solve the problem (e.g. think mimosas at Sunday brunch to treat Saturday night’s transgressions) instead of prescribing rehydration and rest.
Ultimately, I would like to see us take our money and resources that we allocate towards HC coverage and see it spent elsewhere. Current costs are already ridiculous and quickly getting unmanageable. For example, HC insurance premiums alone have risen 26% since 2009 and in 2016, U.S. HC spending rose 6%, its largest since 2007. Additionally, we continue to waste billions annually on mis-diagnosed treatments, over-prescribed medications and other bureaucratic inefficiencies. I think that we have to start looking upstream more, and tackle health problems before then even get to the “treatment” stage to begin with.
Similar to Kresser’s model, I think that we have to bite the bullet and pay extra for preventative care up front. Off the top of my head, here are my quick and dirty solutions to solving the problems:
What’s your take on our current HC system? Is there hope, or are we doomed as Kresser says? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Jared - A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
When it comes to learning new things or reading new books, I seldom will read a book from cover to cover. Since becoming a dad, running my business and wanting to spend as much time as I can moving outdoors I have become very intentional about what I read and watch. Right now I’m taking a break from reading and focusing more on being. I tried listening to Unconventional Truth by Chris Kresser but it completely put me to sleep, so I have switched to reading A NEW EARTH by Ekhart Tolle and it’s exactly what I need right now. We always have things to do, places to go and we never take the time to just be. We are consumed with doing. I see in most of my professional circles there is an insatiable hunger for knowledge. People keep filling up their brain or book shelves with content. It's everywhere but content doesn't become wisdom without experience. When you learn something new its important to take time and let it integrate.
It's crazy to me that people run around all day long and never take time to connect with themselves. It’s almost as if we are scared to be with ourselves. We quickly switch on the Instagram, Facebook or tinder looking to be filled up and It only creates more dissatisfaction. Since reading Ekhart I’ve spent more time being still or focusing on my breathing, or connecting to nature. I can’t tell you how transformative it has been. I’m more calm, I have more creative ideas and I am finding I enjoy the simple things. Sometimes learning is important, but other times it can create more clutter. The phrase paralysis by analysis comes to mind. I prefer to be a minimalist in all things.
Try and take 5 minutes everyday to do what your dog does and do nothing. Embrace it and see how it makes you feel.
Hey guys! Last week on the podcast I talked about how my mind is going crazy because my workouts have been so different, and you know what? I love it.
I use to train in the gym doing gymnastics or kettlebell training and my schedule looked like this:
Monday - upper body
Tuesday - lower body / core
Wednesday - Handstand
Thursday Upper body
Friday - lower body
Saturday - Handstand
I was getting pretty strong doing it but because I have a son and a business my time is precious. There are so many other things I enjoy doing that being in gym started to not sound so fun.
I wanted to learn parkour, and surf, and climb and play basketball. How can you fit all that in? You can’t.
So Julie Angel challenged my belief about going outside and completely training differently. It’s awesome. My training is pretty much only outside, it’s challenging and fun. I am doing things I never thought I would do. My training now looks like this:
Monday : Barefoot running
Tuesday : crawling variations
Wednesday : climbing outdoor
Thursday : safety Rolls
Friday : balance work on the rails
Saturday : Lift heavy stuff
Sunday : Go Surf
Most of my workouts are designed to be about 30 Min but because I end up having so much fun I stay longer. I love the variety and I’m finally taking all the strength I’ve built in the gym and trying to use it in the real world. I know not everyone wants to be a parkour guy or gal but it is amazing how gym strength doesn’t really carry outside. This is a fun journey and I challenge you to break out of your norm.
Check out this article:
In last week's blog post, I talked about the importance of knowing what labels mean as it relates to making informed health decisions and taking back your own health. In today's post, I provide a comprehensive look and give my take on common food labels and marketing terms to help clear up confusion and minimize ambiguity.
Food Marketing Terms/Processing Methods: Organic, All-Natural, Grass-Fed
Arguably the biggest buzzword in the food industry in the last decade, this term has catapulted in popularity and become ubiquitous in health food stores. Unless you never physically go grocery shopping, it is hard not to run into organic something–it’s on everything: laundry detergent, candy, toothpaste, cooking oils, you name it. But what does it mean?
According to Allen and Albala (2011), organic refers to, “food produced without using the conventional inputs of modern industrial agriculture; pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, irradiation, or additives” (p. 865). For this reason, organic food is generally safer to eat than conventionally produced food. In the food industry, the term has become almost synonymous with good health, and because of this companies are trying any way possible to slap the term on as many products as possible to justify a raise in prices (organic products are typically more expensive because of increased production costs). Just the other day I walked into Costco, and in the front of the store right as you walk in they have a whole section dedicated to organic products.
However, just because a product is labeled organic does not guarantee it is 100% organic. There are three major organic certification labels in the United States: 1. 100% organic – made entirely with organic ingredients (USDA label) 2. Organic – made with at least 95% organic ingredients (USDA label) 3. “Made with organic ingredients” – made with at least 70% organic ingredients (no USDA label). Food products that are made with less than 70% percent organic ingredients cannot be advertised as organic, but can list specific organic ingredients.
There is much debate over the nutritional content of organic foods. While the USDA states that there is inconclusive evidence that food grown via organic farming techniques has superior nutrition content than that of conventional farming techniques (Lester, 296), independent research shows different. In the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, a study by Worthington (2001) compared the nutrient content of organic versus conventional crops. The results found, “organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops. There were also better quality and higher content of nutritionally significant minerals with lower amounts of some heavy metals in organic crops compared to conventional ones” (Worthington, 2001, p. 161).
My Critique with the Term
All in all, I don’t have a lot of issues with the term itself. As long as you know what labels mean (USDA label means at least 95% organic, anything that isn’t labeled with the USDA label is 70% or below), you shouldn’t get tricked too easily. My main concern with consumers is that they equate “organic” with “healthy” and that is definitely not always the case. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods and seen “organic” fruit snacks or “organic” agave nectar marketed as healthy. Remember, at the end of the day, candy is still candy and sugar is still sugar!
When at the store, I think that you should contextualize the term organic in terms of what it doesn’t have, not what it does. When you buy organic, know that you are not getting added pesticides, genetically-modified ingredients or any of the other poisonous stuff that they add to products (which I see as a plus, and always encourage people to buy organic for this reason). But you are NOT getting a magically healthy version of whatever it is you are buying just because it has that little green USDA logo. Use caution here!
Another term that has become buzz-worthy within the food and health industries is the phrase “all-natural.” The term applies by and large to foods that are minimally processed and free of synthetic preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and other artificial additives; such as growth hormones, antibiotics, hydrogenated oils, stabilizers and emulsifiers (FMI). In addition, foods labeled all-natural are required by the USDA to explain what natural ingredients were used. Along with “organic,” food companies also use this term to try to market to health-conscious consumers.
My Critique with the Term
The problem with the term is that there is a lot of vagueness in terms of what constitutes as “all-natural,” as its definition takes on different connotations within different contexts. For example, when looking at all-natural meats, specifically beef and pork, companies will often advertise: “no nitrates or nitrites used.” These are chemical compounds used to enhance color and preserve the meat. Based on current science, in small quantities, consumption of these are not harmful to human health, therefore, in this case, “all-natural” is not necessarily all that important. On the other hand, when looking at all-natural peanut butter, the term refers to no added hydrogenated oil or trans fat. In peanut butter containing these additives, there is an increase in cholesterol and risk of heart disease, thus “all-natural” in this instance takes on significant meaning. Essentially, depending on the product, all-natural can be meaningful or not. Unlike the term “organic” that deals with the farming techniques of food and is regulated by the government, there is not a true standard of what “all-natural” entails. The fact that all food is processed in some way, either chemically or by temperature, there will always be a sense of ambiguity in determining what kinds of foods are “all-natural” (Welch and Mitchell, 2000, p.4). Proceed with caution when assessing foods that claim to be all-natural, and always check your labels for hidden culprits!
A term that has gained popularity lately not necessarily among the general public, but more among health-conscious circles is the term “grass-fed.” According to McCluskey et al. (2006), “grass-fed refers to beef from cattle that have been fed only on grasses rather than fed in a feedlot” (p. 2). According to the USDA, for cattle to be considered grass fed, their diet must be derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state (USDA, 2007). This must be the feed source for the lifetime of the cattle, with the only exception being milk consumed prior to weaning (USDA, 2007).
The distinction of this label is actually one of the more significant ones as far as the nutrition values it carries versus that of its grain-fed counterpart. To begin with, grass-fed beef is much lower in fat than grain-fed beef. In addition, the fat that it does carry is compromised of mostly healthier fats. There is a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in grass fed beef. In humans, if omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats exceed 4:1, health issues can arise, like inflammation which can lead to heart disease. This is important because grain fed beef can have ratios that are over 20:1, while grass fed beef is usually around 3:1. In addition, grass fed beef contains CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, which is also a healthy fat that helps with things like insulin regulation, better immune system health, and the prevention of cancer. CLA also is ideal for body composition because it promotes fat loss and helps to maintain muscle tissue. Grass fed beef has four times the CLA content than grain fed beef.
My Critique with the Term
Grass-fed products are tricky because there are a ton of third party companies that have a seal or logo for grass-fed that is not government regulated. Similar to “all-natural,” there is a lot of vagueness and gray area when determining what foods are officially grass-fed versus others. Since 2016, there is no official grass-fed certification in the U.S. with the rescinding of the USDA AMS standards for grass-fed and the “USDA Process Verified" logo. Currently, the third-party verification label “American Grassfed” is the most credible label to date, with experts from various fields working together to guarantee that the meat comes from animals on a 100% forage diet, but again, not federally regulated. My take is proceed with caution when buying products claiming to be grass-fed, particularly if you are buying inexpensive grocery store grass-fed. Often times, these animals were either imported or supplemented with some form of grain. If you are really concerned with obtaining quality grass-fed beef, your best bet is to build relationships with your local purveyors and farmers and ask them a ton of questions.
Food Labels: Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Naturally Grown, Farm Fresh, Look for Whole Grains
Non-GMO Project Verified
The “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal is one of the newer labels to come on the food marketing scene. The Non-GMO Project began in 2005 out of a movement in Berkeley, CA, where consumers began to question the amount of GMO in their products. The program initially materialized out of the “People Want to Know Campaign,” a letter-writing initiative which rallied over 161 grocery stores to protest current legislation. Fast forward to today, and what once began as a grassroots movement has become the authority in the testing of GMO foods. The label has become common in stores and markets, as it is affixed to a bevy of items, ranging from vitamins and supplements, to packaged/frozen goods, to pet products. The label is sought after by consumers looking to make verified Non-GMO choices.
The label has importance for us because, as it stands today, federal law does not require manufacturers to disclose the amount of GMO in their products. As a non-profit, the Non-GMO Project is currently North America’s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products. And on the whole, the project has had quite an impact on the marketplace. According to the project website, there are currently over 20,000 Non-GMO Project Verified products from 2,200 brands, representing well over $7 billion in annual sales.
My Critique with this Label:
All things considered, I definitely respect the guidelines and standards of this label. There are clearly defined protocols that each product must go through, and because the project is non-profit, there is not as much conflict of interest with big business. However, there are still inconsistencies, as ambiguities remain. To begin, there is vagueness as to what constitutes GMO-free. According to the Non-GMO Project website, “GMO free” and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology. Therefore, the Non-GMO Project’s verification seal is not a “GMO free” claim, it is what they consider verification for products made according to best practices for GMO avoidance. While they do maintain an "Action Threshold" of 0.9%, (where any product containing more than 0.9% GMO must be labeled), monitoring is done independently as there is no federal guidelines.
Among industry circles, the main critique points to logistical issues (not so much as it relates to this label per-se, but more about the larger movement). From a broad perspective, there is a growing consensus of people who find the growing “GMO-Free” trend to have serious implications for both the manufacturer and consumer. For major food companies, transitioning to GMO-free products requires a complete change to their infrastructure, resulting in higher costs and logistical issues in securing enough non-GMO sources. Particularly as it relates to traditionally heavy sprayed crops, such as soy and corn, securing non-GMO varietals is a challenge because the majority of these crops in the U.S. have some level on contamination in them. In fact, according to a Reuters (2014) report, more than 90% of the corn and soybeans that are grown in the U.S. are GMO strains. This has turned the non-GMO commodity supply chain into a big business of its own. Almost definitely, this will have a trickle-down effect on us the consumer, as companies will be forced to raise food prices to offset the production costs.
However, as it relates to the label, I think that the costs justify the action. Right now the Non-GMO Project is really all we have to help fight against the production of genetically engineered foods. In addition, their sound certification guidelines and track record as a trustworthy source make this label one to pick up whenever possible.
Certified Naturally Grown
The Certified Naturally Grown label has come into popularity recently in many specialty health food stores and local food operations as a marker for quality organic foods. As the increased public awareness and interest in organic production methods continues to skyrocket, this label is increasingly being sought after by the health-savvy consumer looking to make healthier and more ethical food choices. The label is commonly found on many meat, fruit and vegetable products. According to Greener Choices (2014), the Certified Naturally Grown label means that “the farm where the food is grown uses the same farming methods as certified organic farms, but is not independently verified by a USDA-accredited certification agency and not subject to the legal enforcement of the USDA.”
The reason this certification came to fruition was out of a response to the costly and often politicized nature of the USDA Organic certification process. There were many farmers who did not want to or could not afford to participate in the USDA certification program, and wanted an alternative certification system that was cheaper and had fewer requirements. Essentially, the CNG program was designed for small farmers, such as distributors for farmer’s markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture projects to be able to attain organic certification of their products. As it has garnered momentum, it has come to be recognized as the grassroots alternative to the USDA system. However, the main difference here is that instead of annual inspections by a USDA accredited certifying agency, they police themselves, with CNG farms being inspected by other CNG farms.
While not USDA approved, the label is actually pretty significant in that there are clearly defined standards and procedures that have to be followed. Along with their precise certification guidelines, CNG farms are lauded for their transparency, collaboration and community involvement, as all participating farms completed applications and scorecards are available online to the public, and any prospective farms interested in becoming CNG certified can download registration information off of their website (CNG, 2014). In addition, all CNG farms are subject to random inspection (CNG, 2014).
My Critique with this Label
Overarching, I really don't have a whole lot of criticism with this label. As far as ambiguity, this label is definitely one of the more valid ones. The main critique that I have noted with CNG farms and their labeling program is that they pose the risk of a conflict of interest. Due to the framework of the CNG certification system, which relies heavily on peer-reviewed inspections, there remains the possibility of unethical favors and benefits being exchanged or cutting corners by participating farms. Although with that being said, the CNG program does try to mitigate this by not allowing farmers to “trade” inspections – meaning that a farmer cannot inspect the farm of the individual who inspected his/her farm, however because the program is reliant on a trust system, the possibility remains.
Another common critique of the Certified Naturally Grown label is that it is not federally regulated. The program merely acts as a third-party verification agency, and although this may be unsettling for some consumers, the research that I have seen has uncovered overwhelmingly positive reviews of the program. Therefore, as it pertains to food labels, CNG appears to be one of the more sought after right behind the USDA Organic label. This label is definitely worth paying attention to!
The Farm Fresh label (or its many variations) is a label that is seen predominately on egg products and is meant to delineate the freshness of a particular product. The label has gained popularity as of late due to the success of farmer’s markets and the local food movement. A lot of people connect local farming with the term “farm fresh” and thus look for it at the supermarket. Due to this, food manufacturers try to slap the term on as many products as possible in an attempt to generate hype and boost purported health benefits.
My Critique with this Label
EVERYTHING. Of all of the labels on this list, the “farm fresh” label is definitely the most ambiguous. All this label really means is that the eggs were “freshly picked” after the hen lays the egg. Although “freshly picked” is highly ambiguous as well, as there is no regulation on how soon the farmer has to pick them (how fresh is fresh?). And even then, although the eggs are technically fresh when they are hatched, unless you are buying local, they most likely have been sitting in crates for days on end and shipped all over the country. However, the more pressing concern is that the label means absolutely nothing as it pertains to the welfare of the animal (in fact, most of the chickens that lay farm fresh eggs are raised inhumanely). These inhumane conditions include ones where hens are raised in battery cages and confined in extremely small spaces where they are unable to spread their wings (according to the Humane Society, each caged laying hen is afforded only 67 square inches of cage space—less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper on which to live her entire life). On top of that, because these eggs are not considered organic, hens are fed GMO-based chicken feed. Definitely not very appetizing… And definitely not “farm fresh.”
Essentially, this label is just a clever marketing term by companies to get you to buy their product. So you can feel free to disregard this label at the supermarket, because it means nothing.
Look for Whole Grains
For those of you that eat grains, you are probably familiar with the “Look for Whole Grains” stamp. The label has become increasingly popular in supermarkets and health food stores over the past decade. You typically find it affixed to mostly grain products, including: bread, pasta, cereal, etc. and its purpose is to delineate products that are whole grain (meaning that they have all parts of the grain, including the bran and germ). The program was instituted by the Whole Grains Council, and consists of 2 labels, 1) the 100% Stamp – which assures you that a food contains a full serving or more of whole grain in each labeled serving and that ALL the grain is whole grain, and 2) the basic Whole Grain Stamp – which appears on products containing at least half a serving of whole grain per labeled serving. The “Look for Whole Grains” stamp has garnered widespread usage, as of October 2014, the label is on over 10,000 products in over 42 countries.
My Critique with this Label
As far as the label itself, the language is pretty straightforward in that it is not misleading. Overall, it serves its purpose by informing the amount of whole grains in a particular product. However, where I think we tend to miss the boat as a consumer is by associating the whole grains label with the overall healthiness of the product. We think that just because a product is listed as whole grain, it must be good for us. However, research shows that may not necessarily be the case. For example, Mozaffarian et al. (2013) conducted an study on products containing the “Look for Whole Grains” label, and found that while WG-stamped products in fact contained higher fiber and lower trans-fat totals, they were also higher in sugars and calories when compared to products without the stamp.
Although I think that the larger problem with the regulating of “whole grains” in our food products is that there are no federal guidelines. As it stands, there is no single standard for defining a product “whole grain,” as the “Look for Whole Grains” Stamp is a third-party verification agency and not federally regulated. As a result, you can walk into your local Ralph’s and find a box of Lucky Charm’s with the “Look for Whole Grains” logo proudly affixed on the right hand corner. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get my fiber from sweet potatoes and broccoli, not ‘me’ Lucky Charms.
Additionally, there is a lot of ambiguity in how manufacturers label wheat. From the standard whole wheat classification, you have your multigrain, 7 grain, stoneground, semolina, durum wheat, and enriched flour just to name a few. Technically, some of these are considered “whole” and some aren’t (to decipher would take an entire separate blog post). Furthermore, unless you are buying organic, you can go ahead and assume that you are eating GMO grains. That is why personally I choose to refrain from wheat and grains altogether to prevent this madness! But if you must consume grains, opt for the sprouted variety that you can find at most health food stores and always go organic. You can use the “Look for Whole Grains” stamp as a guide, but be sure to check food labels for other possible ingredients.
I know what you are thinking: buying food shouldn’t be this damn difficult! And I agree, but unfortunately that is the reality that we now live in. What stinks is that things are only getting worse. With the current farming landscape in this country, experts are predicting an even bigger increase in contaminated products as we move ahead. However, it is important to remember that you hold all of the power in what you choose to buy. By being a more educated buyer, you can make better informed decisions about the food you purchase.
Overarching, as a consumer, you must always be looking to exercise your power to help combat these unsavory conditions. As bad as things have gotten, it’s now on us now to take action. Along with doing your part individually, look to start up some local CSAs in your community, work with your local legislation to bring more Farmer’s markets and local food to your neighborhood, or even grow your own food!! Because as it stands now, the food industry has no plans of slowing down, and they definitely don't have our best interest at hand.
In the face of so much noise and conflicting advice, how do you go about making sound health choices? Below we offer some strategies and tips that we use to help us stay on track (Jared's post is more geared towards general health and Andrew's is more specific to nutrition).
Jared - Last week's interview with John Lyne really made me question this idea of who do you trust when you are searching for health and nutrition advice? After talking to John it became clear to me that science can be a great way to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Science in its purest form is non-biased. The problems are the people running experiments and the agenda they have. This article is a perfect example of what I am talking about: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html?referer=https://www.google.com/.
Health professionals will cherry-pick studies as evidence to back up whatever claim they are trying to defend. Now, more than ever because of big business’s influence on a multi billion dollar a year health industry it is just as important to check who funded the study as well as the results. So, if a pharmaceutical company backs a study, more than likely it will be in favor of whatever agenda they are trying to push. Buyer Beware!!!
When it comes to following advice from a health practitioner who is on the internet I have a few guidelines that I check for:
If in order to get better you have to take out a loan for all the supplements you need, then that is not balanced. A perfect example for me is Robb Wolf. Robb is a former research biochemist, health expert and author. He is most well known for being a strong advocate for the paleo diet. He’s not selling any products, he’s level headed, he has a solid background and education and has helped many people. Also what I like about him is that he is not stuck in his own dogma of paleo. A once strong paleo advocate, Robb has done more research, experimented, and found a better solution. To me It’s ok to be wrong. It’s not ok to continue to tell people the wrong thing because you don’t want to look wrong. After you find someone you value, it’s important to know that their advice might not work for you. So even if Robb said in order to fix my gut I had to eat Twinkies and whole fat milk, if I experimented with that and felt terrible, I wouldn’t keep doing it. How I feel is what matters most.
There are a couple things that I always think about when hearing somebody’s point of view: is it simple, if I were alive 300 years ago or living in nature would that be possible and does it make sense to me. I think if you follow most of those guidelines, you will keep yourself out of harms way from crazy snake-oil salesmen. The great part about it though, is that as long as you aren’t chugging anti-freeze, even if you start on the path doing something that isn’t the best for you, eventually you will learn more, read more and find your way. You will also know what doesn’t work. Keep an open mind and be skeptical about everything.
Andrew - I'm really interested in this phenomenon of questionable evidence in nutrition science. Especially when you consider how sound science has proven to be in other areas. The same establishment that is responsible for predicting the solar eclipse down to the actual second last year and curing many of society's life-threatening diseases is completely in the dark when it comes to providing sound nutrition advice. You mean to tell me that we can come up with various theories and algorithms to launch a space shuttle into the atmosphere but we can't say for certain whether or not gluten is bad for us? It doesn't make any sense! Obviously I am simplifying a bit, as there are thousands of factors when it comes to understanding nutritional outcomes, such as social determinants of health (e.g. physical environment, education level, SES, social support networks, etc.), epigenetics and hereditary dispositions, individual risk factors and general lifestyle habits, but it is still frustrating as hell that we are so far behind the 8-ball when it comes to nutrition science.
Either way, in lieu of all of the uncertainty, I still think that there are some strategies that people can employ to make the best decisions possible when it comes to navigating their nutrition journey. Below are some of the things that I try to consider when making informed nutrition decisions.
Know What Labels Mean
In the era of questionable science, alternative facts and fake news, deciphering what nutrition information is plausible can almost be impossible. Making matters worse is the oversaturated media climate we are in, where we are constantly inundated with an overabundance of health-related messages (think gurus on Instagram, influencers on Twitter) with no checks or balances to govern them, the noise becomes too great to filter out. On top of that, food marketing companies are literally playing with us by coming up with vague terms and flashy packaging (think earth tones, animals grazing, etc.) just to get us to buy their products (in 2013, the food industry sold almost $41 billion of food labeled "natural," which is an ambiguous term that has no federal regulation by the USDA).
So how do we maneuver in a climate like this? While you will never truly know exactly how products are processed or manufactured, by taking the time to educate yourself about what certain labels and certifications mean can give you some type of orientation when it comes to navigating your personal nutrition (look for our in-depth critique on food labels in the weeks to come). What is the difference between cage-free versus farm-fresh eggs; USDA Organic versus NON-GMO Project Verified; why are some labels federally regulated and others not; what labels are worth paying more for? Having a basic knowledge of what to look for can give you a baseline to start from.
Get Empowered! Take an Individualized Approach
While you may not always be able to trust science, you can always count on yourself! By taking an individualized approach to understanding your own nutrition, you will get more effective and easier implemented solutions. While we would never suggest completely abandoning science or expert-level advice (always consult with your doctor before doing anything), we are suggesting that these sources should be used as an entry point rather than the end-all-be-all and taken as gospel. Find out from your doctor what are healthy levels for your blood sugar to be at, and then YOU regulate it by seeing what foods work best for you by using a glucometer to test pre and post mealtime (there are some simple tutorials about how to do blood glucose testing online). Run to Costco or Target and pick up a blood pressure cuff to keep daily tabs of your BP numbers based on your activity and stress levels. Download a sleep app on your phone to help you better track and get better quality sleep (Sleep Cycle, Sleep Better and Calm are all free apps). There are always new technologies coming out that can you use yourself to better chart your progress. For example, PrimalHRV is an app that allows you to measure the variation in beat-to-beat intervals in your heart, which is important for seeing where you lie on the scale of "rest and digest" to "fight or flight" throughout the day. With the ease of access to information nowadays, there is no excuse why you can't be equipped to take back your own health. Educate yourself, have a plan and execute!
Know What to Look for in Studies
For those of you that have ever gone online to look up research studies or abstracts on a certain diet or food, you know how confusing the process can be. Let's face it, trying to interpret scientific studies on your own can be downright intimidating and leave you feeling like you are reading a foreign language. But if you are equipped with knowing what to look for, it can simplify the process. This is important because many reports or articles that you read in magazines or online will often cherry-pick findings to make their argument, and they are relying on the fact that you the consumer are clueless and will not push back to make whatever claims that they want. The key here is to know what buzzwords to look for.
In science-based research, there are all types of study designs, including meta-analyses, systematic reviews (lit reviews), case-control studies, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), cohort studies, cross-sectional studies, among others. Of all of these, the randomized controlled trial (RCT) is the gold standard. This is where researchers take two groups, give one of them the intervention (food, drug, etc.) and chart the outcomes of both. This is the only way to truly understand cause and effect between a food and its effects on the body. Unfortunately the majority of major nutrition science findings over the past 40 years are not aimed at measuring causation, but rather correlation.
Anytime you are reading Muscle & Fitness or Women's Health and they cite studies that are "observational," "population," "cohort," or "epidemiological," know that they are trying to establish a correlation between a certain health outcome across a specific population, but they do not establish cause and effect. A simplified example of this would be "every time that I don't sleep I get a headache," with the correlation being made between lack of sleep and getting headaches. But there could be a million other factors why someone might have a headache (stress, dehydration, etc.). The same goes with nutrition. Just because there is a correlation that red meat causes cancer doesn't mean that red meat actually causes cancer (I always want to ask those researchers what else were participants doing besides eating red meat and how were they eating it–like say, grass-fed steak or with a bun, french fries and Coke?). So anytime you see these terms when describing a study, be skeptical and don't take it as gospel🙌.
Starting Jan. 1, we both started the Whole30 Diet Reset Program.
Below are our experiences so far.
Andrew - For me, there honestly hasn't been that many challenges. Because I normally try to stay pretty disciplined with my diet (I use paleo as my template, adding and removing things based on what I've found works with my body and metabolism over the years), I really have only had to modify a few options. My only true hiccup during the experience so far was during the holidays when I was in Miami with family friends, and it was a situation where they were all excited to get me to try some of their traditional cuisine (i.e. Dominican food) and it would have been downright disrespectful to turn down food that wasn't compliant with Whole30. Which got me thinking more broadly about the role of food across different cultures and how we as Americans tend to see food as separate from us and moralize certain items as "good" or "bad" (which the Whole30 definitely plays into), but that is an entirely separate post altogether. But other than that, the transition has been pretty seamless and an overall positive experience. Some of my preliminary thoughts so far:
Jared - Screw you Whole 30, Screw you!!!! I somehow coaxed Andrew and 20 other friends and clients into not eating any sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, processed foods, or preservatives for 30 days. Doing the whole 30 for me has been pretty eye opening in terms of seeing how I justify some not so good habits and how bad my addiction to sweets is, especially after dinner. My diet leading up to this was pretty good, mostly paleo but I would leave room for dairy free ice cream, paleo pancakes and dark chocolate. I’ve been a trainer and health coach for nearly 20 years and have tried almost every diet you can imagine. I always feel best on a paleo type diet. I never eat gluten that I know of or dairy or caffeine and would occasionally consume some alcohol in the form of cider or Kombucha beer, so I really did not think that the whole 30 would be that difficult for me as whole; however, I have felt some withdrawal symptoms like wanting to punch people in the throat for no reason that would say otherwise. I mean seriously I wanted to punch somebody!!! I also found myself on days taking naps or not wanting to do anything. My biggest challenge was going from dinner to bed without having something to satisfy that craving that would have normally made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It took a few days for me to get past this relying on willpower and eating extra big portions. Once I did, I was home free, and that feels good. This got me thinking about how we have lost the taste for bitter foods which is medicinal so important for our digestion and elimination and have just sweetened the crap out of everything. For example if you pick and eat dandelion greens you will notice a very strong bitter flavor. Now instead of eating this superfood and tasting its true form we consume green powders that are loaded with sweeteners cover the flavor and trick our tastebuds into liking it. I believe that nature is always in balance and knows best. Whenever humans try getting in the way of that, we usually get into trouble and I wonder if this will cause some issues down the road and mess with our physiology.. It also made me reflect on my addiction to sugar as a kid where I’d put ketchup on everything. Overall, in the last 15 days I’ve been able to better understand my relationship to food and How I use it for entertainment and comfort. In order to really get the most of the program for me, I am having to watch my tendencies and even though things might be allowed, I will not do them. For example, I love to have something sweet at the end of my meals. On whole 30, Tessa Mae ketchup is allowed. I will not use it, and I will eat sweet potatoes or fruit at the beginning of the meal so I don’t use that as my substitute dessert. Also things like Rx bars are allowed and I know if I have one, That might start the sugar train so I just don’t do it. I stopped drinking kombucha because even though it is “healthy” its really just sugar and caffeine. I have noticed that my energy is better through the day as the program continues and I can go a very long time without eating if I need to. This is liberating because when I was eating lots of carbs and counting macronutrient, I was already thinking of the next meal before I finished the one I was on. I am also sleeping better at night and wake up feeling ready to go. The last thing for me, is eating out. Now I have to be fair and say that, you know the guy who is like, “is that grass fed? gluten free? What’s in your sauce? at a restaurant?” Well I am that guy already. It was surprising to go to an organic food establishment I visit occasionally and find they put agave in the sweet potatoes and use canola oil both which I would advise my clients not to. It is annoying that you have to be so meticulous about asking what ingredients restaurants use. I have 15 days left and even though I have had to make some adjustments and create new habits, I feel really good about continuing this in some form indefinitely.