Americans’ consumption of sugar has increased significantly in the past few decades; it is estimated that we now consume 22.2 teaspoons of sugar per day, which constitutes 17% of our daily caloric intake. This increase in consumption has been linked to rising rates of what Pollan calls “western diseases”, which include obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases. In the public’s eyes, sugar has become the “villain” in our diet. Due to the negative perception of sugar, artificial sweeteners quickly gained widespread popularity, as they are able to satisfy our cravings for sweets without increasing caloric intake. Questions have been raised regarding the safety of these sweeteners, and a few studies have shown a positive correlation between consumption of artificial sweeteners and cancer or weight gain. However, the majority of studies have found no correlation, and these sweeteners have also been thoroughly tested before garnering FDA approval. Since humans associate sweetness with caloric rewards, some scientists hypothesize that the intense, non-caloric sweetness of artificial sweeteners disrupts the body’s satiety regulation mechanisms. More studies still need to be conducted before a conclusion can be reached on this debate. Current evidence shows artificial sweeteners do not cause adverse health effects, but the switch from sugar to artificial sweeteners does not lead to long-term weight loss, unless it is accompanied by other lifestyle changes such as exercise. Sugar is also not as unhealthy as the public makes it to be; our over consumption of sugar is the cause of “western diseases”, not the substance itself. For those of us who are not diabetic or significantly overweight, sugar consumed in moderation is the best choice.
Archive for the '04-20-1500' Category
Is it a feasible task to reform the ways of fast food establishments such as McDonalds? In creating a new menu with healthier options, there are changes that could be made to in fact, create healthier meals. In a country that is obsessed with efficiency and convenience, this task can in fact be a hard one to accomplish. Though both of these two specifics are extremely important, quality and taste should be held to the same standard. To do this, we need to look into the characteristics of food culture in the European countries. There, the food culture is quality-driven with the usage of things such as fresh vegetables and ingredients to make the meals. This does require more of a time commitment but, the quality of the food is thus, increased. If we can find a way to blend the culture of the Europeans with our food culture, I think we could offer a solution that could reform some of the current practices but, not in fact reform the entire idea of how McDonalds in the United States functions.
The label has assumed a growing presence when we walk into a grocery store: USDA certified organic. But what does organic mean and why have consumers exhibited an increased preference for organic goods, despite their perennially higher costs? The incredible growth of the organic foods industry was mentioned in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, but was never really explained. My research led me to find that the most commonly cited reasons for individuals to purchase organic goods were perceived health, taste, environmental, and animal rights benefits. These beliefs are great, but to what extent do they justify the higher costs that characterize organically produced food relative to its traditionally produced counterpart? Further investigating this issue, I found that in the realm of health and animal rights, you could do no harm by deciding to purchase organic goods. Taste, on the other hand, was more difficult to find quantified evidence on. However, there are studies indicating organically produced goods are innately preferred, or perceived to taste better due to higher costs. Finally, my look into the environmental benefits of purchasing organically produced goods showed a more ambiguous result. Depending on particular factors (such as the distance the organically produced good had to travel) deciding to purchase organic as opposed to conventional could actually result in a net negative effect on the environment. In the environmental argument, you could do research or simply buy local goods to increase the chances of a net social benefit.
Considering the current federal deficit, it is imperative that government policies are evaluated to see if they are worth their costs. One such set of policies, which cost $20B yearly, are agricultural subsidies. These subsidies most commonly set price floors and award owners of historically-used farmland, but also provide insurance, aid, research grants, and sometimes incentivize conservation. In order to evaluate their worth, their effects on public health, the environment, and economics and diplomacy must be evaluated. Through the lens of public health, there is not much of an impact. Though Pollan claims that these subsidies decrease grain prices and therefore increase the consumption of cheap grain-based foods (which are usually energy-dense), causing obesity, these claims don’t hold up when quantitatively analyzed. Subsidies actually have very minimal effects on public health. Their effect on the environment is clearer; subsidies encourage overproduction which uses more resources (fossil fuels, land, etc.) than necessary. Lastly, the effects on the economy and diplomacy are mixed. Subsidies make the US a top exporter of crops, which opens up paths of diplomacy between the US and others. They also ensure that the US can compete in a world with much higher tariffs; however, we can increase our own tariffs to allow them the ability to compete, which would increase revenues instead of expenditures. Also, many claim that the overproduction subsidies encourage is preferred to underproduction; however, this ignores that for other crops, industries, and nations which do not have subsidies underproduction rarely occurs. Overall, it seems that the only potential benefit of maintaining subsidies is that they increase communication with other nations, but this doesn’t outweigh the fiscal, environmental, and economic costs.