Acai – Amazon Wonder Berry or Just Another Craze?

Harvesting the acai berry. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

If you listen to the hype, you may begin to think that the acai (pronounced a-sigh-EE) berry is the wonder food for everything that could possibly ail you. The ads are all over the Internet, in magazines, on television. They lure you in with questionable (if not outright fabricated) celebrity endorsements, “free” sample offers, and broad claims of almost mythical proportions.

Although acai is most commonly advertised as a weight-loss product, marketers also claim that it provides increased energy levels, improved sexual performance, improved digestion, detoxification, high fiber content, high antioxidant content, improved skin appearance, improved heart health, improved sleep, and reduction of cholesterol levels.

The acai berry has been touted as one of the most highly beneficial dietary supplements on the market. And WalletPop named it the #1 hottest product of 2008, after marketers dubbed the berry a “super food.”

But despite all the hype, groups are challenging acai’s health and weight-loss claims, and warning consumers to beware of acai berry scams. With so much conflicting information, it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction.

What It Is

The acai berry grows in Central and South America on eight different varieties of palm trees, primarily in swamps and floodplains — areas with heavy rainfall or standing water. The berries are small, round and black-purple in color. You might find them similar in appearance to a blueberry, but with a large, inedible seed in the center. Acai palm trees are tall and slender, reaching between 50 to 100 feet. Due to recent demand for their berries, acai palm trees are currently cultivated primarily for their fruit; but their fronds can also be made into hats, mats, baskets, and brooms.

Unripened acai berries and acai palm fronds. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

Unripened acai berries and acai palm fronds. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

Acai is commercially available in a number of forms, including juice, pulp, powder, and capsules. It has been marketed as an antioxidant, an anti-inflammatory, and an antibacterial. It’s also said to contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential to human health.

Acai’s other chemical contents are impressive, too:

  • A concentration of 10 times more antioxidants than red grapes, and 10 to 30 times the anthocyanins of red wine, which helps combat premature aging
  • Monounsaturated (healthy) fats, dietary fiber, and phytosterols to help promote cardiovascular and digestive health
  • Anthocyanins and flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants that help prevent free radicals from forming in the body and starting chain reactions that damage cells
  • Amino acids and trace minerals that are vital to proper muscle contraction and regeneration

Amazon Wonder Berry?

Although some people say they have more energy and feel healthier after taking acai dietary supplements, these claims are not supported by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the medical community does agree that — like the cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and blueberry — the acai berry, carries antioxidants.

Acai berries can be blended and mixed with granola. Photo: iStockphoto/Brasil2

Claims of weight loss from acai are unfounded, however, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “There’s no evidence whatsoever to suggest that acai pills will help shed pounds, flatten tummies, cleanse colons, enhance sexual desire, or perform any of the other commonly advertised functions,” according to a press release from CSPI.

Kristina Conner, a licensed naturopathic physician and Assistant Professor of Naturopathic Medicine at National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois, said naturopaths sometimes work with the acai berry, because it is a natural substance. But she agrees that the berry is not a one-stop, quick fix for weight loss or any of the other ailments the companies are claiming the berry can improve.

“It is important to address lifestyle things first. So supplements including something like the acai would be considered beneficial on top of making healthy lifestyle changes — like a good diet, sleep, exercise, all of that stuff. Relying on just one agent like [the acai berry], no matter what it is, is not the wisest course. If you look at things like weight loss or cardiovascular disease, it is never one cause, so it should never be one fix,” Conner said.

According to Conner, the acai berry is a reasonable alternative to drinking red wine, because the two products are both preventive substances. Because many people do not incorporate the acai berry into their normal diets, some people can see positive results where others may not.

“There is probably going to be a percentage of people who do [an acai] diet and are going to respond really well to it, but then there is a larger percentage who probably aren’t. They need to make sure they are not throwing out common sense when they try a new diet or a new product,” Conner said.

A Pricey Alternative

Mark Stibich, a physician specializing in health behavior, has expressed concerns about the sudden and tremendous fame of the acai berry. “A week’s supply of acai berry juice will cost you about $40 (over $2,000 a year). For that much money, there are a lot of more proven things you can do to increase your health.” Yet Stibich said that the fruit did hold at least some promise, commenting, “It is true that the acai berry has about 10 times the antioxidants of grapes and twice the antioxidants of blueberries, but that’s not enough nutritional punch for all the claims.”

Even nutritionists are weary of the numerous health benefit claims associated with the acai berry. I spoke with 10 nutritionists and dieticians, all of whom said they were unfamiliar with the real benefits of the acai berry. None said they would recommend any acai products until they themselves became more familiar with the fruit.

Cancer Fighters?

Although other research studies are reportedly in progress, a recent study by the University of Florida is the only research that has been completed to investigate the benefits of the acai berry. Researchers at the University of Florida found that in a laboratory setting, acai berry extract caused a significant decrease in cultured cancer cells. During the testing, various concentrations of acai extract were applied to the cells. After a period of 24 hours, the results varied from 35 percent to 86 percent of the cancer cells dying. The acai berry stands up well in a lab setting, but this claim has yet to be tested and proven in humans.

“A lot of claims are being made, but most of them haven’t been tested scientifically,” Assistant Professor at the University of Florida Stephen Talcott said in a press release. “We are just beginning to understand the complexity of the acai berry and its health-promoting effects.”

The acai berry has just recently become popular, so not all of the claims have been researched. But with time, Talcott said that more nutritional information will be revealed.

“One reason so little is known about acai berries is that they’re perishable and are traditionally used immediately after picking. Products made with processed acai berries have only been available for about five years, so researchers in many parts of the world have had little or no opportunity to study them,” Talcott said.

Beware of Scams

Since the berry’s popularity has exploded in the past few months, offers for free acai berry trials are becoming ubiquitous online.

But remember how your parents told you, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”? That warning is certainly applicable to any company claiming it will send you acai products for free. Free trial offers for acai berry supplements are rarely — if ever — free.

The CSPI and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said companies offering free trials of diet pills made with the acai berries have tricked thousands of consumers using fake celebrity endorsements and blogs to lure customers into buying the acai products.

According to the Better Business Bureau, FWM Laboratories, Advanced Wellness Research, AcaiBurn, FX Supplements, and SFL Nutrition all received an F rating, which is the BBB’s lowest rating. The BBB evaluates companies on numerous categories before assigning a grade, such as the number of customer complaints and a company’s ability to adequately resolve issues.

Purchasing acai products like this sauce can be pricey. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

Purchasing acai products like this sauce can be pricey. Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Brasil2

Central Coast Nutraceuticals, FX Supplements, FWM Laboratories and Advanced Wellness Research are just some of the businesses accused of scamming customers into accepting “free” trials. These companies reportedly hook consumers by advertising a “free” bottle of acai pills, for example, and by claiming that the customer only has to pay for shipping and handling. Many customers neglect to read the terms and conditions pages, which often specify that the total price for the bottle of pills will be charged to the credit card used to pay the shipping and handling fee. Often, the companies will sign consumers up for a monthly subscription of the product and charge them for more bottles of the pills that the customers unwittingly “consented” to receiving each month when agreeing with the fine print. Each of these bottles costs approximately $80 and will be billed to a credit card every month until the customer calls and cancels the subscription.

I signed up for a “free” trial of Acai Berry Edge in order to test the scam claims. For this product, the terms and conditions specified that the customer would “Get two bottles of Acai Berry Edge free for 21 days during the trial period. You invest $3.97 s&h today then $39.95 per bottle at day 21 only if you are satisfied.” I sent both bottles back within the 21 day time frame, yet was still charged $79.90. Upon calling the company, a representative said that they had not received the bottles. Yet I intentionally sent the bottles back with a delivery confirmation receipt from the U.S. Postal Service. With the delivery confirmation number, the representatives could not dispute that the bottles had been returned. Even if you do read the fine print and return the bottles, make sure to send the product back with a confirmation number from the postal service or an express carrier. Those few extra quarters could end up saving you $80 — or more — in the long run.

Connor said people can ask the company for objective information about the product or studies published about the product to determine whether or not any health claims made about products are true. She also recommended asking a health care practitioner who knows about natural products and cautioned consumers to always be skeptical.

“If people find that it is one company offering a particular type of product no one else offers, or if it seems very expensive — more expensive than other products on the market that are like it — that always raises my suspicion level,” she said.

The Jury’s Still Out

Much is still unknown about the acai berry. And, with studies still in progress, health care professionals are understandably cautious about judging the berry’s merits as a “super food.” Nutritionists say that, for most people, taking moderate amounts of acai supplements won’t negatively impact your physical health. But it just might hurt the health of your wallet.

Sabrina Potirala

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Healthy Kids – Yours, Mine, Ours

I’ve been called diminutive, and I guess I am, at 5’2” and kinda thin. So when I walk anywhere with my son, who’s 6’4”, 330 lbs., no one believes I’m his mom. In fact, when he was little, people thought I was his nanny — he was so big compared to me even then.

Chef Helen Sandler with a spread of all natural foods. Photo courtesy of Helen Sandler

Chef Helen Sandler with a spread of all natural foods. Photo courtesy of Helen Sandler

His high school football team had a good laugh when I walked onto the field with him during Mom’s Day. His dream was to be an NFL defensive lineman, and although his workout routine still, at 24, equals NFL stats, he changed his direction to pursue another lifelong dream unrelated to sports. Most of his friends are athletes, and most of them stayed with us at one point or another. And they all came to know and really appreciate the food he was brought up on — whole grains, greens, beans, and sugars all as organic as I could find and cooked at home from scratch. Before their next visit, they’d phone in their orders to me or through him. Feeding a football team, if you’ve never done it, even for a few days, can be daunting. But surprise of surprise, they finished it all and wanted more.

DOC APPLAUDS OUR LIFESTYLE

My son ate his first beef burger at age 12 or 13, inadvertently, and never really did develop that much of a taste for it. True story: During a football game in high school, he banged bodies with an offensive lineman, also big. What a hit! What a horrible sound! It was a clash of the titans. And they were both carted off to the hospital. The orthopedic surgeon reported to us that the other kid came away with a broken shin bone, I’m sorry to say. However, he was incredulous at my son’s injury, a slight bone bruise. With taped leg and crutches he went back to the sidelines to cheer his team on.

“Whatever you’re feeding him, keep doing it. I’ve never seen bones that size or that dense in a kid before!” Those were his exact words. That was an extraordinary feeling to have our lifestyle applauded, though not the way I would have chosen.

A LIVING ANSWER TO QUESTIONS

He’s still my trophy and my testament to natural foods for kids, especially when he visits my cooking classes. People just don’t believe it. True, you’re thinking there must be some big genes somewhere in the family, and yes there are, but it’s not the size, it’s the quality. He’s a walking testimonial to a lifetime of natural foods, with a presence that answers their questions: “Will my child get enough calcium?” “Will they grow?” “Won’t they get sick more?” “Can they grow up healthy without all the protein and vitamins from meat and dairy?……… Yes, yes, no, and yes. Absolutely. Here. Look. And in he walks.

I’ve had non natural foods kids raiding my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator forever. One 10-year-old made a B-line for seaweed whenever he came. Didn’t bother him at all what it was. He just wanted it. Loved the taste, and he said it made him feel good. You can’t argue with that.

KIDS KNOW

Like that 10-year-old. They want to be shown, but also to be allowed to experiment.  I have another true story here: I was asked to make two dishes for a grand opening for a holistic heath center last year in Coronado, CA. One of the dishes was an Asian style tofu appetizer (go to my website, www.chewbite.com, and click on Asian Style Tofu Wrap-Around — the very same one). A 13-year-old boy (difficult to please at that age regardless, unless…) came by in the line and wouldn’t try it (Tofu, yuk!) until I told him he could spit it out in front of me if he didn’t like it. No pressure. That intrigued him enough to try it. Guaranteed, he liked the idea of spitting it out in front of me.

I was distracted by other people asking questions and didn’t see his reaction or his leaving. About ten minutes later, he returned with a few friends. They didn’t say a word, but they did polish off the entire platter and left. Maybe they had a new regard for tofu after that. I like to think so. Kids want to know you care by giving them options, challenging them, and respecting their opinions. And what better place to start than in your own kitchen, where your daily soul replenishment for the five senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and feeling all come together to create the ultimate sense of well being from food. “Home (and hearth) is where the heart is.”

PRIDE OF CREATIVE OWNERSHIP

Make it a game, interesting, fun. Dress it up. Make it all natural and as organic as you can. Make it look like what they’re used to, but the ingredients can either mimic or be completely different. Season it and spice it up with a familiar aroma, appearance, and mouth feel. But whatever it is, it’s got to taste great! Another thing about them, which you probably already know, they don’t spare your feelings. They tell you the truth. So ask them what the dish needs, and get them involved in the kitchen and the preparation by letting them fix it the way they want.

Let them make it their own. For you, it’s hands off unless asked. Whatever the mess, whatever their tastes, whatever their additions or deletions, it’s theirs and not only deserves, but requires, your respect. My son is getting to be one incredible chef, choosing food and spice combinations I would never think of in a million years. He astounds not only me, but his friends, with his choices and complexities of taste, while still sticking to organic whole grains, veggies, even meat, chicken, and wild fish. Allow them the gratification of astounding you. Their tastes are often so different from ours. There’s no age limit or requirement, by the way. So much more fun than going to formerly frozen formula Chili’s or McDonald’s or wherever, and their memories are priceless. Oh yeah! And invest in a bread machine. Let them invent variations on their staple. So easy.

PARENTAL GUIDANCE REQUIRED

Prenatal to post natal to pre-school to post college, they need and want guidance from mom and dad. Their culinary creativity being rewarded early with applause and respect will give them the confidence to continue natural foods in their lives and to teach their friends and their own children. Give them their jump start by changing to whole grains and veggies during pregnancy. When nursing, they’re already used to the foods. And when you start introducing solid foods, they intuitively know them already. Even seaweeds. Really. Yup, even seaweeds can be luscious. It all depends on your creativity and that intangible ingredient that makes it all a hit, your LOVE.

My son once observed to us from a boarding school he attended for one year for football before going to college, that he thought he was the only person there who loved his parents. Wow! Now that blew us away. He realized that we always inspired him to achieve and create, to have his own opinions, and respected his choices. Experiment. That was the year he started cooking for himself and starting teaching me. Very gratifying. He’s still teaching me.

SOME ANSWERS REALLY ARE THAT SIMPLE

With the meteoric rise of childhood and young adult health diseases: diabetes, obesity, eating disorders, high cholesterol, asthma, high blood pressure, depression, ADD, ADHD, and the lists goes on and on… Diseases once thought to be brought on by age deterioration in adults are now epidemic, even plagues, among our children. Drugs are not the answer. One definite answer is natural foods. Too simplistic? Things in life don’t have to be that complicated. You really are what you eat.

WE SOLD OUR SOULS AND OUR HEALTH

It’s the insidious invasion of the soul snatchers in the guise of the big pharmaceutical companies and the big brand name food manufacturers all in collusion with the advertising companies and the food/chemical lobbyists in Washington, D.C. I refer to Dr. David Kessler’s (former FDA commissioner, 1990-1997) new book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. He writes about just this, not that we didn’t know it already, but a former FDA boss telling us from the “inside” about how our souls and health have been hijacked for profit is pretty frightening, along with our disastrous eating habits being engineered by those companies’ food scientists. Very scary, but not irreversible.

CREATE YOUR OWN GOOD HEALTH

Get your whole family into the kitchen. Have fun creating a lifestyle change that makes you happy and gives you the power of choice. Food becomes an exploration into a culinary world of individual tastes designed by you that changes with your whims by adding a little bit of this or a whole lot of that. And your children? They’ll love it!

Helen Sandler

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Book Review – The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

If you could interview your food, what would it say? As a journalist Michael Pollan attempts to give a voice to what we eat: That is to say, he explains what food really is, where it comes from, and what it can do for us. The Omnivore’s Dilemma expounds on fast food, big organic food, local food, and foraged food, identifying the resources, causes, and effects of each one.

Devoted to the scientific, while valuing the personal significance of food, Pollan reveals not only the corn behind our food, the government behind the corn, the corporation behind the government, but also investigates the possibilities for eating that can bring us back to earth, and everything in between. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is our fascinating predicament; written for those who care about what they eat, it presents us with an array of menus, encourages us to eat, and to eat in good conscience.

It begins with corn. Not corn on the cob, but corn in a box, or corn in a Happy Meal bag. Corn has apparently invaded our supermarket, culture, and bodies. As Pollan puts it, “How this peculiar grass, native to Central America and unknown to the Old World before 1492, came to colonize so much of our land and bodies is one of the plant world’s greatest success stories. I say the plant world’s success story because it is no longer clear that corn’s triumph is such a boon to the rest of the world, and because we should give credit where credit is due. Corn is the hero of its own story, and though we humans played a crucial supporting role in its rise to world domination, it would be wrong to suggest that we have been calling the shots…there is every reason to believe that corn has succeeded in domesticating us.”

There are a few people who benefit from the 10 billion bushels of corn produced annually in America. They are the owners of corporations that genetically engineer the corn, and who process the corn. The farmer earns only four cents on the dollar for what his corn is eventually turned into. The industrialization of our food depends on the enormous production of corn at extremely cheap market prices. Taxpayers support corn from their pockets, and pay for it with their health.

The easiest way to explain corn’s role is financially. Starting in 1972, during Nixon’s rule, secretary of agriculture Earl Butz addressed the rising cost of food by simplifying the agricultural system. Rather than encouraging farmers, government subsidies went instead to corn, paying money per bushel of corn produced rather than the size and diversity of a farm. Since then, the production of corn has skyrocketed, and the cost has plummeted. Farms have become corporate endeavors, rather than family occupations; the government has become strongly influenced by corn corporations; and the health of the population has flared into an obesity epidemic.

Today it costs $2.50 to grow a bushel of corn. The market pays $1.45 for that bushel. “The market” is primarily Cargill and ADM, that, combined, buy one third of the 10 billion bushels. The government pays the rest, though it is barely enough to sustain a farmer. Many, if not most, are in debt, and some take on second jobs. The farmers cannot be said to really benefit from the flood of subsidies — $5 billion a year for corn. Rather, it is Cargill, the biggest corporation in the world, that reaps enormous profits from the massive yearly surplus. A typical Iowa corn farmer sees only four cents on the dollar for corn sold in the supermarket.

To understand how farmers  — “the most productive humans who have ever lived” — who each raise enough food to feed 129 people, can be going broke, one has to look at what happens to corn before it enters the field, and after it leaves. Corn is especially inviting for genetic modification because of its simple reproduction patterns. Corn hybrids can be drought resistant and insect resistant, and, of course, are modified for optimum yield per acre. Natural variation is eliminated, so one cornfield contains thousands of identical plants that grow straight up to the sky. This is called monoculture, and it is effective because the soil is fertilized and sprayed annually. Although this industrial seed corn is expensive, it produces an incredible amount of corn. This is not always a boon to the farmer, however, because the more corn that is raised, the lower the selling cost.

Still, why does the farmer only get 4% of the retail value? The answer is that the buyers of corn are specialists in processing corn into an incredible range of products. The technological and industrial costs soak up a lot of the price of a $2.29 frozen dinner of corn-fed pigs and mashed potatoes (made with corn). Six billion of the ten billion bushels of corn are invested in animal rearing. Pollan visits a steer confinement, and actually purchases a cow, so he can be more connected with his study. He finds the cattle are practically all sick from the diet of corn, which they are incapable of digesting (the cow’s stomach is designed for grass). Since corn is cheap, animals that eat corn produce cheap meat.

In the end, including fertilizer, transportation, and milling, it takes an enormous amount of oil to reach a final product. As a kind of demonstration, Pollan took his family to McDonald’s. It took 1.3 gallons of oil to produce the 4,510 calories his family consumed. If the corn had been unprocessed, there would have been enough grain to fill and overflow from the trunk of his car (his calculations and estimate). You might say, “B t there’s no corn on the McDonald’s menu.” Not exactly, but scientists in food labs have discovered ways to make cheap corn into various types of “food.” The soda is 100% corn syrup. The milk shake is 78% corn. Chicken nuggets, 56%. The cheeseburger (remember the corn-fed animals), 52% corn.

This quick-and-easy meal has a hidden cost, and it is not the free meal that Pollan is looking for. In his search for a menu that gives as much back to the earth as it takes, he studies the organic food movement. His evaluation is that organic doesn’t mean what it used to. The federal standardization of the word organic doesn’t mean sustainable. One could think of it as a struggle between what he calls, “Big Organic” and “Small Organic.” Both types of producers are competing for the same market, but the Big Organic farms benefit from more relaxed standards, because they are capable of a greater output (they have more machines, more equipment for packaging, etc.).

“Could a factory farm be organic? Was an organic dairy cow entitled to graze on pasture? Did food additives and synthetic chemicals have a place in processed food? If the answers to these questions seem like no-brainers, then you too are stuck in an outdated pastoral view of organic. Big Organic won all three arguments.” The two key requirements for organic labeling are: no synthetic fertilizer, and no synthetic pesticide. Organic foods are thus more environmentally sound, but really, as the example of a bagged lettuce shows — 57 calories of oil are used in making one calorie of food — “the organic food industry finds itself in a most unexpected, uncomfortable and, yes, unsustainable position: floating on a sinking sea of petroleum.”

Pollan’s research leads to a week-long stay Polyface Farm in Virginia. Here he meets Joel Salatin, a grass farmer, whose farm is an example of local and sustainable food. The cows eat the grass, the chickens eat the worms from the cow manure, they both work to fertilize the ground, and the farm is essentially a self-sustaining meat and egg producing “factory.” The animals become producers on the farm, and seem happy to do it. Pigs are used to compost manure and clear underbrush. Reading about the farm, it seems strange that Joel’s methods aren’t implemented around the country. Government regulation might be the reason for that. “Joel is convinced ‘clean food’ could compete with supermarket food if the government would exempt farmers from the thicket of regulations that prohibit them from processing and selling meat from the farm.”

Joel calls it a “freedom of food,” the right to choose what we eat without federal standards. Indeed, such strict federal regulations wouldn’t be needed if mass-produced meat weren’t so prevalent. Sustainable food is being marginalized. It is clear that local food is threatened by government regulations. Beginning with the corn policy, that subsidizes per bushel, driving the production of corn up, the cost down, and farmer into debt, and ending with requirements like a processing plant must provide a restroom for federal inspectors (something small producers can’t reasonably afford).

Before he pursues his most ambitious meal (the foraged dinner), Pollan reflects the ethics of commonplace food. He most notably questions the eating of animal products, particularly those produced by conventional means, those the USDA supports through its policies. “This is another example of the cultural contradictions of capitalism — the tendency over time for the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society.” He becomes a vegetarian, contemplates his place on the food chain, and emails Peter Singer.

In the same way he concludes that corn has out-evolved humans, to benefit from us, he applies evolution to the modern predicament. If humans can, and are, inclined to eat meat, it is not unethical to do so, as long as the animals do not suffer when raised. This means Joel Salatin’s meat is acceptable, since he witnessed “animals” who were happy “being animals,” but supermarket cuts are not. Hunting, since the only meeting of animal and Pollan is as brief as it takes the animal to die from a bullet, is also an ethical way of obtaining meat; as he puts it “isn’t it anthropocentric of us to assume that our moral system offers an adequate guide for what should happen in nature?”

His journeys hunting mushrooms and hunting pig in California are more of a personal narrative than scientific or journalistic research. Since he is inexperienced in foraging/hunting for his own food, the narrative is a decent how-to guide, as well as a report on what the experience is like. The experience is long, stressful, and a testament to how a “free meal” is really difficult to come by. He calls it the “Omnivore’s Thanksgiving,” and, with his helpers and family around the table, the experience becomes something that can be physically shared.

The lesson is that by being connected with food, and in valuing stories of where food comes from, we can enjoy our food. He does not stress the need to change what we eat, but only to be conscious of our food. “Without a need for fast food there would be no need for slow food, and the stories we tell at such meals would lose much of their interest.” Pollan understands that wherever we’re headed, our stomachs are coming with us, and that shouldn’t make us lose our appetites.

Elias Simpson

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Book Review – Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

The following book review contains material that may be disturbing to some readers, due to references to animal cruelty that are an integral part of the book under discussion. — Publisher

Generally, I’m put off by diet books, because most seem to favor eating one food group over the other; which, commonsense-wise, doesn’t make much sense. Yet Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, was a provocative read exactly because it’s not your average diet book. This short, but extremely powerful, book may have a cheeky overtone, but at its heart you can tell the authors are passionate about what they preach. Although factory farming and animal cruelty are the driving points behind their book, no detail escapes these self-proclaimed skinny bitches. Alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, bleached flour, chemical additives like aspartame and many others, also make the no-no food list.

The authors’ philosophy is to get back to the basics — the time before artificial flavorings and harmful chemicals were incorporated into our foods. Freedman and Barnouin have devised a simple plan to help people lose weight by focusing on this traditional ideology: You are what you eat.

What does that mean exactly? To lose weight you must eat healthy. Or, in the authors’ words, “every time you put crap in your body, you are crap.” But Skinny Bitch is more about a lifestyle rather than a traditional diet, as it advocates veganism and natural foods.

If you are not already a vegan — or, at minimum, a vegetarian — chances are this book will make you want to become one. Skinny Bitch extensively explores the corruption and cruelty involved in the meat industry. You’ll read heart-wrenching testimonies from slaughterhouse workers guilty of the worst type of crimes against animals. Traditionally, so-called “humane” slaughter methods include stunning an animal by shooting a metal bolt into its skull before hanging it upside down and slitting its throat. Yet, the accounts also tell of unspeakable killings — hogs beaten to death with metal pipes or stabbed in the face with a butcher’s knife, cows raped with broomsticks by the workers, and baby chicks stomped to death. Despite the fact that I was already aware of some of the practices that go on behind closed doors at slaughterhouses, the book evoked in me an extreme sadness and anger. Certainly, this type of serial killer identity must not be true for every slaughterhouse employee, but it sure seemed so to me after reading Skinny Bitch.

The authors also bring to light new reasons to go vegan. Even though I am already a vegetarian, Freedman and Barnouin made powerful arguments about why vegetarianism is not enough, if you want to live a healthy, cruelty-free life. One part of the book that especially struck me was the description of cows’ udders being milked by metal clamps. I had always known this, but what I personally failed to consider was that no one is supervising this. The cows’ udders become sore and infected, and pus forms around the area; yet the machines keep milking, pulling dead white blood cells and pus from the udder, along with the milk. Not only is it cruel, it’s just plain gross.

Many people also know that animals are both fed and come into contact with hormones, pesticides, chemicals, and steroids throughout their lives. But what you might not know is that even unfertilized eggs contain these harmful substances. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol or uses drugs, her unborn child is affected by those substances; similarly, antibiotics and other chemicals injected into hens are found in the eggs they lay that are sold for human consumption.

Skinny Bitch also explores how health organizations, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), put business first and the health and well being of people second. One example in the book tells how milk was included in the Food Pyramid solely because milk is such a profitable market.

Freedman and Barnouin discuss how the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine claimed that the USDA Dietary Guidelines were racist for including dairy products so prominently on the Food Pyramid, since most nonwhites are lactose-intolerant. According to Johnson & Johnson, lactose intolerance affects “over 50 percent of the Hispanic population, 75 percent of Native Americans, 80 percent of African Americans, and 90 percent of Asian Americans.“ Yet, instead of advocating for alternatives, such as rice milk or soy milk, the dairy industry uses the USDA guidelines to convince consumers that milk products are an essential element in their diet. They effectively push people into buying and taking Lactaid, manufactured by McNeil Nutritionals (a Johnson & Johnson company) so they can continue consuming (i.e., purchasing) milk products. The reader learns that similar practices are all too common in the meat industry, as well.

Skinny Bitch preaches using your head to think about what you are eating, as opposed to giving in to what government agencies and the agricultural industry want you to think about their product. Above all else, Freedman and Barnouin tell you to think. Meat is simply dead, decomposing flesh. Processed foods have been stripped of their nutrition. Cow’s milk and goat’s milk were designed for offspring of their own kind. An egg is designed to be fertilized and become an embryo. When you actually do consider it, none of the food you once found appealing remains so. The authors encourage you to find alternatives. If you are accustomed to eating animals, choose another source of protein. If you like refined sugars and foods filled with artificial flavors, consider something natural and healthier, such as agave nectar. Check ingredient lists and make your own decisions about whether to trust a food that contains ingredients you can’t even pronounce. Again, use your head.

Perhaps you are considering going vegan and aren’t sure what to cook. As a bonus, the end of Skinny Bitch includes a month’s worth of vegan recipes you can easily make. If the suggestions at the end of the book aren’t enough for you, be sure to check-out the sequel, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!) to get an even more extensive step-by-step recipe guide for healthy, cruelty-free meals.

Skinny Bitch is a book everyone should read. It transcends traditional diet ideology by teaching that being healthy is more important than being skinny, and to always love the body you have. By engaging in a vegan lifestyle, you can become the person you always wanted to be, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. No longer will you feel guilty about contributing to animal rights violations or overindulging in unhealthy foods. Your body is your temple, and after reading this book, you will certainly treat it that way.

Sabrina Potirala

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts

Book Review – Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

World Peace Diet – Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony

World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony

When it comes to eating, the majority of Americans confuse complicity with simplicity. The term “meat” encompasses a vast array of products: poultry, pork, beef, all terms that mask its origin. We don’t call cabbage or celery by another name, there is a celery stalk, or celery root, or celery leaf. On the other hand, food from a pig is called bacon, pork chops, or ham. The World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony, by Will Tuttle, Ph.D., seeks to explain what meat is, and what its impact is on the environment and our bodies.

The impact is decidedly negative. If this book were to be read by everyone, and its argument accepted, the world would become vegan. Calling the vegan movement a “revolution,” Tuttle challenges the root of Western culture, taking it on as a violent and oppressive civilization, and tracing our eating habits from Homer, to the Bible, to Constantine, and then to what he calls the “military-industrial-meat-medical-media complex.” To consider veganism a revolution is idealist, but appealing, because Tuttle has a vision for a better human society. And that is why the book is worth reading.

Imagine everything that is wrong with society: drug abuse, domestic abuse, poverty, pollution, over-consumption, environmental destruction, government corruption, inequality, and depression. Imagine there is one answer to those problems. The The World Peace Diet argues that a simple change in what we eat, an easier change than most people acknowledge or accept, will eliminate all of these problems. Although it is a difficult idea to digest, there is ample evidence that our treatment of animals is replicated in how we treat humans — a theory repeatedly reinforced by the Pythagorean principle, or the Golden Rule.

What is at stake, Tuttle insists, is our spirituality, wholeness, benevolence. The depravity of humans is caused by our persistent oppression of animals, whose spirits we cognitively deny, because we deny it physically at meal times. This argument seems fallible. Looking at Native American culture, we see how omnivores existed in harmony with their environment. There is an important difference, however. Through observation of society, in the time I was reading this book, seeing chicken sandwiches in vending machines, yogurt in plastic containers, and the hollowness with which these precious products of flesh were consumed, I became aware that the disconnect that pervades society on many levels — political, intellectual, artistic — begins with what we eat.

“Looking undistractedly into the animal-derived foods produced by modern methods, we inescapably find misery, cruelty, and exploitation. We therefore avoid looking deeply at our food if it is of animal origin, and this practice of avoidance and denial, applied to eating, our most basic activity and vital ritual, carries over automatically into our entire public and private life. We know, deep down, that we cannot look anywhere, for if we do, we will have to look deeply into the enormous suffering our food choices directly cause.”

Did this chicken suffer a life of extreme abuse? Probably. Photo: J Wasson

Did this chicken suffer a life of extreme abuse? Probably. Photo: J Wasson

This statement is a challenge to anyone who considers himself capable of looking deeply. If you can look deeply, look at what you eat. Accept that animals are capable of suffering, that when you order chicken, a chicken suffers, not only death, but prior to that, a life of (often) extreme abuse. Tuttle asks that we see animals as spiritual equals, not as objects or property. It is a challenge to stop the hypocrisy of theory, and embrace practice. Veganism is a mode of thought that requires action, so while you may sin and still be Catholic, you cannot eat eggs and be vegan.

Tuttle blames the herding culture from which we are derived for instilling oppression in our habits. A true revolution, he insists, must overturn this influence, specifically what began as the domestication of animals, and spread to wars fought over grazing land. Today we are fighting a “War on Terror” that is strongly linked with oil, a resource necessary for production of animal feed in mass quantities. If we were vegan, the logic implies, we would not be a violent nation. The incredulity some express at that statement, a vehement objection, does not suggest the falseness of it, but instead the dependency on violence and oppression. America has overcome its dependence on slavery, finally recognized women’s right to vote (some 60 years ago), and there is no reason animals should not be accepted in the progression toward a liberal world.

We often call meat products by names that disguise their real origin. Photo: J Wasson

We often call meat products by names that disguise their real origin. Photo: J Wasson

“In a herding culture, nothing is more subversive to the established order of exploitation and privilege than consciously refusing to participate in buying and eating the animal foods that define our culture.” The culture he refers to is one dominated by the military-industrial-meat-medical-media complex. These industries profit from the production of meat, the book argues, at the expense of our lives. The chain of influence — from meat processors lobbying in government, to the medical industries denying the viability of a vegan diet because of the profitability of clogged arteries, to the commercials that perpetuate the societal norm that humans need meat to survive, which tells us to eat meat, but does so for selfish reasons. The destruction, personal and environmental, of these influences, can be overturned by individual decisions.

The health benefits of eating vegan are enough reason to make the switch. Granted, you must first accept that most of what you have been told about a proper diet was a lie designed to squeeze money from you. Disabilities such as heart disease; diabetes; breast, prostate, and colon cancer; gallstones; strokes; and liver and kidney disease may be caused by diets high in animal products. Vegans typically risk having insufficiencies of three vitamins/minerals. Meat eaters, however, may lack closer to seven. They may also lack sex-hormone-binding globulin, which increases testosterone in the blood and increases likelihood of aggressive-destructive behavior.


This is only a brief overview of the health problems for humans. On the opposite side of the fence is a system that exploits living animals and destroys them. This is our food, and the toxicity of animal-based food is terrific. Fish, for example, especially those living in polluted water, “absorb and intensely concentrate toxins like PCBs, dioxins, and heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic.” The same occurs for animals fed food sprayed with pesticide and grown with fertilizer, and enhanced with animal flesh from fish or any type of livestock.

There is also excrement to consider. Livestock produces 10,000 pounds of manure for every person in America. Where does it go? Some of it ends up in your stomach. The lax conditions in meat processing plants enable about any unbelievably disgusting thing you can imagine. Entrails and manure are reportedly shoveled off the floor and mixed with the meat being processed into hot dogs or bologna. If it doesn’t go into our food, it eventually ends up in the water, which helps explain the 7,000 square meter dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

The environmental costs of meat are appalling. The “Standard American Diet,” as issued by the US government, produces 1/15 as much protein per acre as a plant-based diet would. One pound of beef requires 5,200 gallons of water to produce, while a vegan meal requires 300. The waste production of livestock is 130 times greater than human waste. Methane from cows is a more important cause of pollution than carbon dioxide from cars. Natural habitats are destroyed for pastures. 521,000 square miles of US forests have been cleared to graze livestock, and that number grows by 6,000 every year.

Tuttle compares obese men to Butterball turkeys. Photo: ©Bruce Robbins-Fotolia.com

Tuttle compares obese men to Butterball turkeys. Photo: ©Bruce Robbins-Fotolia.com

The human expense of eating animal flesh, the effect on humanity, is tragic. Tuttle compares some obese men incapable of sex to Butterball turkeys. This is the justice of nature, that while we force feed the turkeys until they can barely stand, humans assume a similar posture by their consumption. I say it is tragic, because until we knowingly turn our head from the problem, we have not been made aware of a choice.

Eating animals has been a requisite of Western society for thousands of years. Reductionism, scientific and religious, are cited as causes for our oppressive habits. “The fourth-century emperor Constantine made Christianity the Roman state religion, that its earlier vegetarian emphasis was completely repressed… Constantine reportedly ordering his men to pour molten lead down the throats of any Christians who refused to eat animal flesh.”

Reductionism, Tuttle argues, permits the domination of animals through conventional, but outmoded, thought. The oversimplification of life and justification of eating flesh based on the principles our ancestors followed must be abolished. The glory and righteousness of man are more questionable the more we insist we are glorious and righteous. To accept animals as partners of the planet, we step beyond the theory of man’s goodness, overcome our depravity, and achieve the practice of goodness. On the other hand, if we choose to continue eating animal products, we reinforce ancient wrongs.

One example of the suffering we cause is the chapter, “Reviving Sophia,” the sacred feminine. The chapter discusses how dairy products destroy the respect for women, which our culture persistently searches for. With every baby calf stolen from her mother and killed, with every gallon of milk stolen from enslaved and broken mothers, with every thrust of the waking sperm gun… we kill the sacred feminine within ourselves.” This is an illustrative example, because the subject is one that is discussed more frequently; and, yet, the objectification of women continues on television, in magazines, and in relationships.

How far is cow's milk removed from its pupose?

"I think again of the yogurt in the plastic cups... and how far the cow's milk is removed from its purpose." Photo: J. Wasson

Once again, the connection might seem unlikely. After all, women have made significant progress in gaining respect, recognition, and equality. It is clear, however, especially among lower socio-economic groups, that women are subjugated to oppressive ideas of men that limit women to objects for sexual pleasure and domestic chore. I think again of the yogurt in the plastic cups, and how disconnected the food is, how far the cow’s milk is removed from its purpose. Aside from the research that suggests cow’s milk is nutritionally unhealthy for humans, the more significant idea is how dairy affects our psychology.

Since becoming vegan, barely more than a month ago, I can attest that I already feel more connected with living humans and animals, and am more involved in the life of the planet and removed from the destruction of it. Eating has become a greater pleasure than ever; my body, its cells, feel more connected to the earth; I look at my hand and see an open palm, not a fist. I am convinced that there is little to lose by refusing to eat animal products. Instead, I am proud, if not thrilled, to consider myself a part of a revolution, although I do not agree with the book’s claim that the only way for a spirit to be liberated is to not eat meat. I still do not condemn eating meat as evil, but I do see it as an unnecessary and costly act.

After reading The World Peace Diet, you will understand the excitement of eating, living, and being part of the revolution that fellow humans are beginning: to strive for greater harmony, to seek for inner peace, and to not yield to ancient and oppressive ideals. We are, I believe, on our way to a more united planet, not only for humans, but for all living creatures.

Elias Simpson

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Healthy Living: Good for You and Good for the Planet

Many of us in the “over-something” crowd are a little overweight. Maybe more than a little. We were skinny kids who played outdoors and ran and walked and bicycled. Or we were a bit on the chubby side, but worked hard to battle back that baby fat with exercise and healthy eating.

Now that we’re older, we work at desks all day and rush through breakfast, lunch, or dinner — sometimes all three — by driving through a fast-food restaurant. On the weekends, if we’ve been really good workerbees all week, we treat ourselves by driving to our favorite coffee venue for a well-earned latte or an iced mocha (Extra whip, please!). No worries. We’ll make up for the excess and the lack of exercise by drinking diet sodas the rest of the day.

Step on that scale and pay attention.

Step on that scale and pay attention.

Eventually, our less-than active lifestyle and unhealthy food choices catch up with us. Our cholesterol rises along with the numbers on that sleek digital scale (the one that looks so good in the bathroom, as long as we’re not standing on it). But we’re okay, really, and we feel almost as good as we did when we were teens — or so we tell ourselves. We talk ourselves into thinking that two-year old pair of jeans really did shrink in the wash last week, and that the spare tire around our middle is called “love handles” because it’s so sexy.

Then one day, our doctor gives us a warning. We’re bordering on obese. Or our cholesterol is out of control. Or we show signs of pre-diabetes. Or our triglycerides have shot up. Suddenly, we have to face it: We’re not kids anymore, and we’re definitely not healthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the term obese means, “having a very high amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass, or Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher.” What’s a BMI? “A measure of an adult’s weight in relation to his or her height, specifically the adult’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his or her height in meters.” We have to have some body fat. But, for most of us, a BMI of 30 or higher turns us into a ticking coronary time bomb. (BMI doesn’t directly measure the amount of body fat. According to the CDC, some athletes have high BMIs, without being fat at all.)

Picture that slim, healthy person you used to be. Imagine, like a sculpture waiting to be revealed by chipping away a block of marble, that the real you is still inside of the body you’re wearing today. Maybe you’re not  obese, but you feel like you’ve put on a heavy overcoat that won’t come off. You can do something about it. But you can’t afford to wait.

Shed extra pounds and bring your body back to health.

Picture that slim, healthy person you used to be.

It’s time to make changes to bring back your health. If you’re serious about losing weight and regaining your vitality, try the following tips. Some of them will have the added benefit of helping the planet while helping you achieve your goals.

START TODAY

Get the go-ahead and then get going. Of course, the first step in every weight-loss or exercise program is to talk with your doctor. Once you have clearance and know what diet is best for you, you can start using the tips below to work toward better health.

Calculate your BMI. The CDC provides a handy Body Mass Index calculator. All you need to know is your weight in pounds and your height in feet and inches.

Make exercise a habit. Get on the treadmill, ride a bike, or take a vigorous walk. You’ll want to keep moving (actively, now, let’s not be slackers) for at least 30 minutes nearly every day. Work out five or six times per week — more, if you want faster results.

Getting the right amount of exercise doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are some choices the CDC recommends.

walking 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
OR
jogging 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
OR
walking An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity andjogging
weight training muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
Get vigorous exercise every day.

Get vigorous exercise every day.

If you’ve been seriously inactive and are just getting back to exercising, begin with 10- or 15-minute blocks two or three times a day, and build up to your goal. Work up a sweat. Burn some calories. When you’re up to the challenge, bike or walk on short trips instead of driving a car or taking a cab. You’ll not only help your heart, you’ll help your planet by cutting down on the use of fossil fuels and the emissions they produce.

Focus on calories. There’s no getting around it. If you want to lose weight, you need to focus on calories. One pound is equal to 3,500 calories. Want to lose 1 to 2 pounds a week? Then you’ll either have to take in 500 – 1,000 fewer calories per day, or you’ll have to burn them off.

Whether you love eating out or stick to your local food producer, this useful food database from Calorie King has invaluable information about calorie counts for your favorite foods.

A word of caution. If you have diabetes, you can’t just pay attention to calories. You also must focus specifically on carbohydrates. Unfortunately a low carb diet doesn’t always translate into a low calorie diet. Cheese, bacon, ribs, and sausage are very low in carbs but have a lot of calories — not to mention a lot of saturated fat. An excellent resource for people with diabetes who use the exchange system is the Diabetic Exchange List, available for free from the Mayo Clinic.

Eat less meat. We all need protein, but we don’t need all of our protein to come from animals. If you don’t feel you can give up meat every day, try one or two meatless days a week. It’s healthier for you, and healthier for our planet, too. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization blamed livestock production for contributing 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — both from the methane the animals produce and from the use of fossil fuels to produce their feed and transport the meat.

Opt for the veggie version. Try an alternative to breakfast meats, such as those from Morningstar Farms. Egg Beaters are a good alternative to fresh eggs, and the “not really butter” spreads taste better than you might think. Veggie burgers can be tasty alternatives to hamburger and they won’t clog your arteries.

Draw a line down the middle. Want an easy way to cut back on carbs and calories? Try dividing your plate into halves. Fill one half with fruits and vegetables. That leaves just half a plate to fill with everything else.

Skip processed foods. Processed foods often contain huge amounts of sugar, fat, and calories. Excessive calories lead to excess weight around your middle. And processed foods result in “increased risk for many diseases and health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke,” according to the CDC. But that’s not all. Processing foods and packaging them requires massive amounts of energy and materials. That’s a bad combination both for your health and for the environment.

You really don’t have to clean your plate. In their day, Mom and Dad may not have agreed, but the compulsion to clean your plate easily leads to overeating. That’s not to say you should waste that extra food. If you’re at home, put it in a leftover dish and pop it in the fridge for a later meal. If you’re eating out, ask for a “people bag.” Just don’t throw good food away. It’s not only a waste of the food on your plate, it’s a waste of the energy used to grow it, transport it, and cook it. Think about all that carbon being pumped into the atmosphere for nothing!

Do your homework before eating out. If you love eating at restaurants, check their websites for nutritional information before you leave the house. Make wise choices, then stick to them. It may be easier to keep your resolve if you make your decision before you are tempted by the heaping plates that pass before you. You’ll also learn things on line that the menu may not tell you. For example, you might find that Cobb salad you love, the one that looked like it would be so good for you, has 1,600 calories and 40 carbs.

Getting healthy is good for you and the planet.

Getting healthy is good for you and the planet.

Make good choices. Men’s Health provides a handy online, “Eat This, Not That!” guide to help you make healthy food choices at 10,000+ restaurants and supermarkets. You can view a few samples for free on the site, but will be prompted to purchase full online access (current price: $9.95). Or sign up for their free email subscription for twice weekly tips about restaurants and food choices.

Keep track. Sensible weight loss requires paying attention to what, when, and where you are eating, as well as how much. Recording what you eat gives you a realistic picture of what you’re actually consuming. It’s easy to forget that soda you had at break or the extra helping of mashed potatoes — unless you write it all down.

Munch the good stuff all day long. Eat fruits and vegetables several times during the day, not just at dinner. Your snacks and lunches should include a fruit and/or a vegetable, or you’ll never get all that you need in a day.

Eat that fiber! Fiber and whole grains are important for your digestive system. Don’t skip them.

Make a fist. Here’s another tip: If you can’t live without potatoes, rice, and pasta, limit yourself to a serving the size of your fist.

It’s a journey, share it. The path to robust health is one we all must walk every day in order to achieve a healthy body and life. If we get off track, the only thing to do is to get back on. Don’t get discouraged. Any change you make is a good one. A loss of even 5 percent body fat may cut your risk of all sorts of diseases. So get yourself motivated. Motivate those around you. It’s much easier to change your lifestyle when you’re not doing it alone.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Have you had success losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, or controlling diabetes with diet and exercise? Then we want to know about it. Share your weight loss and dietary tips with other Blue Planet Green Living readers. Tell us in a comment, or send us an email. We’ll publish the best of them in future posts.

Julia Wasson and Belinda Geiger

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)