July 11

Starting the day in Ornish country

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We’re staying in the Corte Madera Inn while at the conference. Corte Madera is in Marin County, which is Dean Ornish country. In Dean Ornish country one expects a healthy, low-fat breakfast, and in Dean Ornish country, one isn’t disappointed.
The Corte Madera Inn, which has one of the nicest, most pleasant, most helpful front offices staffs I’ve ever encountered in a motor-inn type of hotel, offers a “Continental Breakfast Basket” delivered to each room. You’ve only to ask before 11 PM the night before. We gave it a try.
The next morning we were delivered a basket and a tray containing a giant muffin of indeterminate kind (it was pumpkin, I think), a banana, a glass of orange juice, and a granola bar. Apparently folks like to start off their day in Ornish country with a major infusion of carbohydrate. We didn’t use a calculator, but MD’s keen eye for the carb guy parsed them out as follows:
Muffin 50 grams
Banana 25 grams
Orange Juice 20 grams
Granola bar (from the label) 21 grams
All totaled up to about 120 grams of sugar and sugar equivalents, which is a little over a half cup of sugar. A HALF CUP OF SUGAR!
Now, considering that a normal blood sugar (somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 mg/dl) represents about 1 teaspoon of sugar dissolved in the entire 5 quarts of blood volume, what happens when a HALF CUP OF SUGAR is added to the mix. Many, many things have to happen. All the body’s metabolic systems go into overdrive to deal with this huge onslaught of sugar, beginning primarily with an enormous surge of insulin. But it still takes a while for the body to deal with that much sugar, and while it’s doing so, the blood sugar rises. And elevated blood sugar is not a good thing, even for a little while. Excess glucose is toxic to cells, stimulates a number of reactions that would be better off left unstimulated, and ends up creating and throwing off a horde of free radicals. What a great way to start the day!
But wait—as they say in the Ginsu knife commercials—it gets even better.
I looked at the label of the Nature Valley brand Chewy Granola Bar and found the following:

Granola [rolled oats, wheat flakes, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil (canola and/or soybean and/or cottonseed), honey, molasses, whey, whey protein concentrate, lactose, salt, and natural flavor], glucose, crisp rice (milled rice, sugar, salt, malt), raisins, partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed and/or canola oil, glycerin, whey, sugar, honey, sorbitol, almond pieces, cinnamon, natural flavor, soy lecithin, malt syrup, molasses, sunflower meal, peanut flour, pecan flour.

At first glance, this bar looks pretty healthful. I mean it starts off with granola as the first ingredient, and the granola—at least according to this label—is mainly rolled oats and wheat flakes, which sounds sort of like those whole grains that we’re always exhorted to eat. But a closer look reveals why this label is totally bogus, and why the food manufacturers are in a panic over the new labeling requirements mandated to start on Jan 1, 2006. We all know that ingredients are listed on a label in order of their relative amount in the product. In other words, the main ingredient is listed first, the second most common ingredient is listed second, and so on. And since more and more people are reading labels these days, food manufacturers have developed cunning ways to manipulate the labels to make their products appear more healthful than they really are. The Nature Valley Chewy Granola Bar is a case in point. Let’s look at the label with all the sugar items in bold:

Granola [rolled oats, wheat flakes, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil (canola and/or soybean and/or cottonseed), honey, molasses, whey, whey protein concentrate, lactose, salt, and natural flavor], glucose, crisp rice (milled rice, sugar, salt, malt), raisins, partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed and/or canola oil, glycerin, whey, sugar, honey, sorbitol, almond pieces, cinnamon, natural flavor, soy lecithin, malt syrup, molasses, sunflower meal, peanut flour, pecan flour.

Amazing, ain’t it? And did you notice the trans fats, the ones listed as hydrogenated vegetable oil and partially hydrogenated oil, when added together would be near the front of the list of ingredients?
If this product were labeled correctly, the first two ingredients would doubtless be sugar and trans fats.
How many people eat this kind of a breakfast, not just in Ornish country, but everywhere, and think they’re getting a healthful start to their day? Is it any wonder obesity and diabetes are at epidemic proportions?


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  1. Why do you associate the described unhealthy breakfast with Ornish?
    Hi Tom–
    Because we were staying in Marin County just north of San Francisco, which is where Dean Ornish’s operation is centered. Besides, it’s almost exactly a breakfast Dr. Ornish would recommend.
    Best–
    MRE

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