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STOP THE PRESSES!

Health Sciences Institute e-Alert 

April 28, 2003 

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Dear Member, 

This just in: frozen vegetables are better for you than fresh vegetables. That's right - don't waste your money or risk your health on fresh vegetables. And not only that: fruit is bad for you. Fruit, it turns out, can give you Parkinson's disease! 

And you can file all of the statements above under the heading of "don't believe everything you read." The sad thing is, all of those statements (based on bad science in one case and poor reporting in another) appeared in the mainstream press where the casual reader might easily come away with the impression that whole fresh plant foods are inferior to processed foods. 

As you'll see, there's a comical aspect to this sort of reporting. But at a time when obesity is one of the major health problems in the U.S., articles like these benefit no one but the processed food industry. 

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Knock out punch 
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"Fruit Linked to Parkinson's Disease." 

That was the headline of a recent WebMD article that appeared on the Microsoft Network. The basis for this surprising claim comes from a University of Hawaii research project that examined records from the Honolulu Heart Program, a large ongoing study that began in 1965 with 8,006 men. 

The UH research found that subjects who ate fruit or drank a fruit drink at least once each day were twice as likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease as those who consumed lesser amounts of fruit or fruit juices. But the devil is in the details. Such as the fact that fruit consumption included frozen fruits. Fresh fruit is a far cry from its frozen counterpart, which often contains sugar and coloring, added during processing. But here's my favorite detail: consumption of canned juices also counted as fruit intake - including Hawaiian Punch! 

A study that considers a glass of Hawaiian Punch a fruit serving - comparing its nutritional value to, say, an apple - is a deeply flawed study. 

In the end, the authors of the research admit that the increased risk of Parkinson's may actually be due to pesticides, herbicides, or food-borne toxins, "rather than the fruit itself." 

In other words, the more accurate headline for this article would have been: "Does Fruit Intake Cause Parkinson's? Of Course Not. That Would Be Insane." 

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The freeze out 
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Meanwhile, the BBC reported last month that a survey by the Austrian Consumers' Association found that fresh vegetables that have spent time in transit or in storage may have fewer nutrients and more harmful nitrates than frozen vegetables. The BBC headline: "Frozen Veg 'Healthier Than Fresh.'" And like the WebMD headline, this one should be followed with something like: "Not Bloody Likely!" 

Without question, the fresher the vegetable, the higher the nutrient value. Food that is shipped or stored loses some of that value daily. The fresh spinach you bought on your weekend trip to the green grocer will not have the same nutrients when you eat it on Wednesday that it had when you bought it on Saturday. Nevertheless, it's still a whole food - unprocessed and relatively untampered with. 

Also without question, freezing and processing damages nutrients. And in some cases (as with the frozen fruits) it's common to have little extras added along the way. I'll take my chances with the fresh, thank you. Especially because (as the article admits) the actual danger of the few extra nitrates they found in the fresh vegetables is probably negligible. 

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Freshen up 
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The BBC and WebMD articles have one thing in common: their logic completely falls apart under scrutiny. Maybe they were trying to come up with shocking leads that would catch the eye of the reader. Or maybe the reporters still harbor a secret grudge for the vegetables they were forced to eat as kids. 

In any case, they don't do their readers any favors when they report that the very foods that everyone should be getting more of in their diets are somehow harmful. Those who are inclined to embrace any reason to keep eating highly processed foods will find it too easy to point to those headlines and say, "Yeah, I'll have a large order of fries with that." 

...and another thing 

I recently sent you an e-Alert about the new medical privacy regulation ("Orwell Redux" 4/14/03) and received a number of e-mails in response to one particular detail. An HSI member named Carlos sent a question that, in so many words, represents the others: 

"I wanted to know if there is a specific statement within the new privacy regulation that addresses the issue of being assigned and referring to patients by a new medical ID number. My wife works for several doctors and apparently has not read or heard this." 

The same week I sent that e-Alert (and the same week that the new HIPAA regulation went into effect), I paid a visit to my doctor. I wasn't given information about the new privacy rules, and I was called in from the waiting room by my name, not by my medical identification number. And to be honest, that didn't surprise me. In the e-Alert I sent, I said, "Once you've received your new medical ID number, the receptionist may call you in from the waiting room by your number instead of your name." 

In other words, I meant to illustrate just one of the more superficial ways that protocols in doctors' offices might change. I didn't mean to imply that this was a strictly spelled out regulation that would be followed to the letter. 

Many of the new procedures called for by the medical privacy regulation won't be noticed by the average person paying a visit to their doctor - such as the requirement for encryption software that must be used for the transfer of private records. And while some of these measures will protect our privacy, many of them will simply add unnecessary constraints and paperwork that - according to government estimates - will cost healthcare providers, insurance companies, pharmacists, and hospital administrators as much as $4 billion dollars in order to comply. 

As one HSI member (an insurance agent) wrote last week, "Who needs it?" 

To Your Good Health, 

Jenny Thompson

Health Sciences Institute


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