March 2, 2011

Natural Foodie: The good, the bad and the ugly from the food world

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

With its vibrant health food scene, robust organic farming sector and tradition of self-sufficiency, Maine can easily be viewed as an oasis of natural eats.

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About one-third of foods we eat depends on bee pollination, so news of colony collapse disorder devastating bees around the world is a serious concern for farmers and beekeepers.

Press Herald file

However, the wider world does creep into our local affairs, meaning it never hurts to occasionally take a peek at the latest national and international food happenings. So, in the spirit of "think globally, act locally," today I examine three recent food-related news items and explore what, if any, effect they'll have in the Pine Tree State.

 

THE GOOD: LATEST DIETARY GUIDELINES

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services release a set of dietary guidelines. The latest document (clocking in at a hefty 112 pages) came out in January and talks bluntly about the toll a poor diet is taking on the country in the form of obesity and its associated diseases.

"Americans currently consume too much sodium and too many calories from solid fats, added sugars, and refined grains," the report says.

It goes on to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables (particularly leafy greens, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas), more whole grains, fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and fewer trans fats.

Somewhat surprisingly, the new guidelines also take a few jabs at processed foods. The guidelines never advise people to avoid these foods, but they do say things such as "consume more fresh foods and fewer processed foods that are high in sodium."

"I'm definitely impressed overall," said Kendall Scott of Kendall Scott Wellness, a health and nutrition coaching business in Durham. "It's a little bit more holistic (than past guidelines)."

For the first time, the guidelines include vegetarian and vegan versions of its recommendations and state clearly that people who follow plant-based diets tend to have better health.

Scott said the guidelines are likely to have little impact on professionals in the health and nutrition fields. But she said we may see school lunch programs adding more whole grains and reducing the amount of meat they serve.

"I think the focus should really be on whole foods no matter what," Scott said. "Stay away from the foods that come in a box, and get most of your food from plants. And the guidelines are doing a good job at that."

 

THE BAD: BAYER PESTICIDES AND COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER

Roughly one-third of the foods we eat depend on bee pollination, which makes the news of colony collapse disorder devastating bees around the world a serious concern for farmers and beekeepers.

The disappearance of bees has spawned many theories to explain the mystery, including viruses, parasitic mites and lack of food. But the most prevalent theory has centered on pesticide exposure.

In recent months, the pesticide theory received added credence. First, a leaked Environmental Protection Agency memo turned up in December expressing concerns about the affects of Bayer CropScience's pesticide clothianidin on bees.

The next month, the United Kingdom's Independent newspaper reported on a soon-to-be-published report from Jeffrey Pettis, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's lead bee researcher, linking another Bayer pesticide, this time imidacloprid, to colony collapse disorder. His research shows that bees' immune systems are weakened and they become more susceptible to disease when exposed to even miniscule amounts of imidacloprid.

Both imidacloprid and clothianidin are part of the neonicotinoid class of chemicals, which are neurotoxins with a structure similar to nicotine.

(Continued on page 2)

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