Dr. JoAnn Yanez, Executive Director of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (right), joins KCAAs “On the Brink” hosts, Erin Brinker (left) and Tobin Brinker (middle) to discuss how to read food labels.
Full Transcript of Interview Below.
- What does “organic” mean?
- Importance of buying seasonally and locally
- What does “natural” mean?
- Portion sizes
- Benefits of pasture-raised, organic animal products
- And More…
Erin Brinker: Welcome back. I’m Erin Brinker.
Tobin Brinker: And I’m Tobin Brinker.
Erin Brinker: And we are “On the Brink,” the morning show on KCAA AM 1050, FM 106.5, and FM 102.3. So excited to welcome back to the show Dr. JoAnn Yanez. She is the Executive Director for the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges. She joins us once a month to talk about health, wellness, and naturopathic medicine as a viable career. We’re going to be talking today about reading labels and understanding them. Boy, that’s a big job. Welcome to the show, Dr. Yanez.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Good morning. How are you both?
Erin Brinker: Doing great. Trying to stay cool.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Ditto.
Erin Brinker: You travel a lot, so the rest of the country has also been under a heatwave, hasn’t it?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It has. I was in Washington, DC last week, and I’m actually in San Diego right now.
Erin Brinker: Oh, San Diego’s so beautiful.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: I’m not seeing much of it. I’m seeing boardrooms.
Erin Brinker: I guess the inside of a hotel room and the inside of a boardroom looks the same no matter where you are.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It kind of does. (laughs) We are here to talk about food labels. Why do you think reading food labels are important?
Erin Brinker: Because you have to know what you’re eating, but from what I understand, even if it says organic, that doesn’t mean what you think it means, necessarily.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It doesn’t. You know, reading food labels, you would think it was pretty straightforward, but there actually is a lot to understand in regards to the intricacies and definitions of different words that are used, and one of those is organic. Foods that are labeled organic have to follow USDA guidelines for what constitutes organic farming, and there are some provisions there for the types of herbicides/pesticides that are used or not used, for fertilizers that are used or not used, and so on, and also how the animals are kept and maintained and treated when they get sick.
There are a lot of different variations in the word “organic,” so you can have foods that are 100% organic, that means everything inside is organic. You can have foods that have been prepared with some organic products, 90% organic, etc. And then you’ve got things where there may just be one organic ingredient. All of those products could still have that word on the packaging, and so it’s up to the consumer to be savvy and read their labels and know what they’re eating.
Erin Brinker: Oh, my goodness. Just to ask a question, so you could buy, let’s just say for the sake of argument you bought macaroni and cheese that is labeled organic. It could be that there’s a part of the macaroni, the wheat was organically grown, let’s just say, but everything else could be not organically grown. Is that correct?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: That’s very possible. It really means you’ve got to read your labels, you have to know what you’re eating. In most cases, I typically will advise patients to avoid packaged foods whenever possible, so that you know what you’re consuming, and there’s less between you and your food and nature.
Erin Brinker: Yes. So shop the perimeter of the store whenever possible.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yes, exactly.
Erin Brinker: Should we then focus on farmers’ markets? Do we need to buy all of our produce at Sprouts? What do you recommend?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: You know, I think it’s really variable. Obviously, we live in Southern California, and there are a lot of options. There’s close to a year-round growing season, so some people may grow things themselves. But I think when it comes to buying produce, some of the guidelines are to try and buy seasonally, because that means that there’s going to have been less traveling of your food to get to where you are. If you’ve ever traveled to Europe, you will notice that it’s really almost impossible to try and find strawberries in the middle of winter, and the reason is they don’t grow in the middle of winter, and you’re not going to find them in stores. I think one of those keys is trying to eat locally, trying to eat the things that are in season, going to farmers’ markets, but still asking questions, knowing where your food comes from, reading those labels, understanding the impact that it has on your health.
Erin Brinker: So, one of the challenges is that every time that the consumers become aware of a new name for sugar, they name it again.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: You know, I think ultimately, one of my pet peeves on the food label is natural flavoring. The word “natural” is actually not regulated, and that’s a word that is really deceptive for people. They’ll see the word “natural,” and what do you think of? Natural, like oh, that’s got to be good for me. Natural flavoring means that it was derived at one point from something that was natural, and so natural butter flavor, it’s a chemical. Natural vanilla flavor is also a chemical. If it’s real vanilla, it’s going to say “vanilla” or “vanilla beans.” That natural flavoring is typically code for chemical.
Erin Brinker: Yikes.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Yeah.
Erin Brinker: I’m thinking of all the fruit juices and things that will say “natural flavoring.” It’s right on the front of the label.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: It is. With fruit juices, if you are going to consume fruit juices, you need to look for packages that say “100% juice” and then whatever the juice is that you’re consuming. If there’s anything less than that, assume that it has been processed, boiled down, concentrated, and then reconstituted with water and maybe some other additives. And there’s typically going to be preservatives like citric acid and things of that sort that are added for shelf life and also for coloring, because certain foods will start to oxidize after the juice has been expressed.
Erin Brinker: You know, “organic” is a buzzword, and food manufacturers are charging more for organic food. Listening to this, thinking they’re charging us more for the same thing, they’ve just repackaged it.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Sure, in some cases. You know, I think that part of the reason why the prices can be higher in organic produce is because of the restrictions, and that the farmers tend to grow smaller crops. They’re not using genetically-modified crop, they’re not using synthetic pesticides, which means that they have to resort to natural ways to inhibit pest growth, and that they may lose more of their crop because of that. And they may not have as much to start with. So there are reasons the organic farming can be more costly on the front end. It all boils down to the soil, the health of the soil and having really healthy soil to have healthy plants. But if you think of it as kind of a macrocosm of our microcosm, you are what you eat, and if the soil the plants are growing in isn’t healthy and hasn’t been tended to and taken care of, the plant isn’t going to be as healthy. There’s been data showing that organic produce can tend to have higher nutrient content in it, higher mineral content.
Erin Brinker: I know that … I years ago lived in Europe, and I know in the winter, you can’t get any citrus at all, and that was one thing that people really looked forward to when spring would come around again, that they would have access to Spanish citrus, and what a treat that was.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Folks’ Christmas baskets used to have like one orange in it, and that was considered a really special Christmas present.
Erin Brinker: And here we’re like, yeah, they’re everywhere.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: They’re everywhere. But you know, I think the main point is, try whenever you can, and I know that it’s not easy for everybody, and some folks live in areas where … they’re called food deserts, where fresh produce is not as easy to come by. And so you do your best. There are farmers that will deliver fresh baskets of food, food co-ops and things of that sort and farm shares. So there are ways of getting produce that are more cost-effective, and I think in Southern California here we have the benefit of folks can grow things, and so looking online and seeing if there are co-ops of people in your neighborhood maybe, even who have gardens who are willing to share part of what they have if you share what you’ve got.
I think there are ways. You just need to get a little creative, but again, when it comes to those labels, read them, read how much a portion is. Portion and food size is another one where that can be tricky. Years ago, soda cans used to actually be labeled as two portions, and people are like, “Wait, what do you mean a soda can is two portions? Whoever drinks a half a can and saves the other half?”
Erin Brinker: Nobody.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Exactly, so I think reading those labels, reading the portion sizes, understanding what’s in your food, so you can be an educated consumer.
Erin Brinker: The other area where people, I think, feel duped and frustrated is with meats. We don’t know what antibiotics have been used. We don’t know what hormones have been used and what impact that has on the body. So how can you protect yourself when it comes to meats?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: You know, again, looking for pasture-raised meats whenever possible. Organic eggs, organic produce, the meat products boil down to the same thing. If your meat has been fed a certain diet, it changes the fat composition within that meat, so if the animal has been exposed to pesticides, pesticides are fat-soluble, and they get stored in the fat cells. If you’re consuming the fat of that animal, it’s hyper-concentrated in their fat. And so higher fat meats, pork, beef, duck, etc., you really should be looking for organic produce. Honestly, when it comes to animal products, especially dairy for me, we do all pasture-raised meat in our home. It’s expensive, and what it causes us to do is to eat less meat. We’ll have the meat as a condiment, and the vegetables will be the main show.
Erin Brinker: Which is how we used to eat many years ago.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Well, sure. If you think about farming practices, meat is expensive. It’s expensive to produce. Killing an animal was a big deal, and the whole community got involved, and everyone was involved in cleaning and dressing the animal and preparing it, and then everyone shared in the feast. I think that the convenience of being so removed from that process and just going to the store and picking up a package and throwing it in your cart has desensitized us a little bit to the detail that goes into having an animal for food. So when it comes down to animal products, try and limit those unless medically indicated. Eat them a little bit more sparingly, along with high quality produce, and go for better quality whenever possible.
Erin Brinker: This has been so informative. How do people find out more about you, about the AANMC, which is the Association for Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges, and about this topic in general?
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Well, we’ve got a blog on it on our website. You can check that out at AANMC.org, and we’re all over social media, on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc. So check us out. We will also be hosting a live event in San Diego at Bastyr University in California this Saturday for prospective students, where they get to experience a day in the life of being an ND.
Erin Brinker: Oh, how fun. I hope lots of people come out for that. I think that’s terrific that you all are doing that.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Thank you.
Erin Brinker: As always, it’s been a treat. Thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to talking to you next month. Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Have a great one.
Erin Brinker: Thank you, you too.
Dr. JoAnn Yanez: Bye-bye.
Erin Brinker: Bye-bye. All right, so it’s time for a break. I’m Erin Brinker.
Tobin Brinker: And I’m Tobin Brinker.
Erin Brinker: And we will be right back.