The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps) provides nutrition assistance to more than 40 million Americans. But SNAP currently isn’t set up to provide the good nutrition they need. In a new op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, musician and author Moby, who received food stamps as a child, proposes a solution: “A better approach would be to focus the program on cheap, healthy foods like beans, vegetables, fruit and whole grains. This would save money and keep recipients out of the doctor’s office.”
He’s right. Last year, my colleagues and I published a series of articles on reforming SNAP in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Our findings show that focusing SNAP on healthful foods could actually save a lot of money and provide more food at the same time. With a few tweaks, the program could be just what the doctor ordered.
- Focus on healthy staples. Currently SNAP pays retailers to provide soda, string cheese, hot dogs, steak, and other products that are keeping SNAP recipients overweight, compared with nonrecipients. These unhealthful foods are part of the reason that diabetes risk is 70 percent higher among low-income Americans. Instead, the foods in SNAP should be healthful: vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains. These are the most nutritious and least expensive foods in the store, and they happen to be the very foods that are in short supply on American shelves. A focus on healthy staples would save an estimated $11 billion per year.
What kinds of meals would those healthy staples turn into? A breakfast of oatmeal topped with strawberries, or maybe blueberry pancakes or fresh cantaloupe. Lunch could be a hearty bean chili, chickpea salad, vegetable fajitas, a bean burrito, or vegetable soup. Dinner could be angel hair pasta topped with mushrooms, chunky vegetables, and tomato sauce, black beans and rice with salsa, or veggie pizza. And all of these foods—tasty as they may be—are simple and cheap.
Harvard University researchers developed a nutrition rating system, called the Alternative Healthy Eating Index. With that rating system, economically disadvantaged people in the United States currently have average score of 33 out of a possible 110. Those in the highest socioeconomic category have a current score of 41. But a program focusing on healthy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes would score 75. In other words, we could improve participants’ nutrition and health, and save money at the same time.
- Integrate with WIC. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is already focused on a simple list of foods that women and children need. It is continually updated with health in mind and does not include steak, pork chops, chicken, sodas, energy drinks, candy, or the other less-than-healthful products that are still in SNAP. Why have two programs? Merge them.
Some mean-spirited critics hold that poor people will insist on junk food and will complain if the government does not provide it. That is insulting. I would ask these critics simply to look at WIC. The WIC program does not include junk food, and no one complains. When people need help, healthful food is a blessing. And getting the junk food out of SNAP and the healthy staples in—that’s just what the doctor ordered.
Today, Major League Baseball teams are celebrating Opening Day—and kicking off a season of increased colorectal cancer risk for baseball fans. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, baseball fans are expected to eat more than 19 million hot dogs during the 2018 season. But even eating just one hot dog a day can increase the risk of colorectal cancer, which kills more than 50,000 Americans per year.
In 2015, the World Health Organization released a report declaring hot dogs and other processed meats “carcinogenic to humans.” Studies show that consuming one daily 50-gram serving of processed meat—about the size of a typical hot dog—increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
Unfortunately, some stadiums have taken baseball’s deadly processed meat addiction to a new extreme this year. “Extreme” hot dogs recently debuted at several MLB stadiums, including the Triple Play Dog at Coors Field in Denver—a hot dog topped with pulled pork, bacon bits, and purple slaw. The Milwaukee Brewers are offering a Polish Sausage Pierogi, while the Kansas City Royals are selling a Smoked Barbecue Brisket Taco.
Fortunately, other teams are stepping up to the plate and offering healthier options. The Philadelphia Phillies recently unveiled a new Vegan Cauliflower Cheesesteak, and the Toronto Blue Jays have added Vegan Nachos to their food offerings.
So, when you are soaking in the sun and enjoying America’s pastime, choose the Vegan Un-Tuna Salad or Greens and Grains Salad at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, not the Pulled Pork Pierogi Hoagie. Revel in the Vegan Nacho Grande with Beyond Meat crumbles at Globe Life Park in Arlington, and say no to the Triple B—a sandwich made with bacon, brisket, and bologna.
As some teams begin to offer healthful, plant-based options, it’s time for the rest of Major League Baseball to start incorporating our country’s health into our national pastime—and to strike out processed meat for good.
Exciting news from New York: Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and Council Member Fernando Cabrera have just introduced a resolution to the New York City Council that would remove processed meat from the city's school lunches.
The landmark resolution cites a 2015 report from the World Health Organization that declared processed meat, such as hot dogs, pepperoni, bacon, sausage, and deli meat, carcinogenic to humans. Studies show that just one hot dog or two strips of bacon per day can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. In recent years, colorectal cancer rates have been steadily rising in young people.
That’s why current menu options like Turkey Sausage Crumble, Egg, and Cheese Wrap for breakfast and the Meat Lovers Pizza with Bacon and Sausage for lunch don’t belong in schools.
“We cannot continue feeding our children substances that are scientifically proven to increase their chances of cancer later in life,” says Borough President Adams, who reversed his type 2 diabetes by adopting a plant-based diet in 2016.
“I know from my own experience with being diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic that it is so important to take ownership of your health and take control of what you eat,” added President Adams. “We must feed our kids nutritious meals that will nourish their bodies and help them perform better academically. Kids want to be healthy and strong, so let’s help them get there by feeding them healthy meals.”
By adopting the resolution, New York City would add to its impressive record as a leader in offering healthy school food. New York City schools already offer daily plant-based meals to every student, and the district is home to the first all-vegetarian public school in the nation.
Join us in urging the New York City Council to support this resolution.
Or switch to action alert link when we get it
Fans of the hit NBC series This Is Us finally learned how the beloved character Jack Pearson died, but did they get the full story? In this week’s episode, after a fire breaks out at the Pearson residence, a doctor explains that excessive smoke inhalation stressed Jack’s heart, triggering a massive heart attack that took his life.
What the doctor didn’t mention is that atherosclerosis, which is a fatty build-up in the arteries, put Jack at risk for the attack. The physical stress his body endured through his heroic and successful attempt at saving his family from the fire likely caused plaque to dislodge and block an artery that supplies the heart with oxygenated blood. A lifetime of eating animal products floods the body’s circulatory system with cholesterol, raising the risk for heart disease.
It couldn’t have helped that the Pearson kids ditched Jack on Super Bowl Sunday, leaving Jack and Rebecca to deal with all of the food they had prepared for a full day of snacking. Food served on game day is traditionally very animal product heavy, making it high in saturated fat and cholesterol. A 2007 study from the Journal of Nutrition found that a single fatty meal can cause the heart to beat harder and raise blood pressure. And a 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the number of heart attacks in one major city doubled during a big sports event.
One has to wonder, was the state of Jack’s heart health a ticking time bomb? Could he have been due for a heart attack sooner or later anyway?
What You Can Do
Ditch animal products and switch to a heart-healthy diet centered on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Vegan diets have been found to help reduce heart disease risk by reducing inflammation and to lower risk for heart failure. And on game day, try these doctor-approved, crowd-pleasing recipes.
By Lee Crosby, R.D., L.D.
According to recent data from the USDA, Americans are expected to eat a record-high average of 222 pounds of meat per person in 2018. That’s devastating news for Americans’ health.
To put it in perspective, studies show that eating just 2 ounces of processed meat per day—less than the amount on a typical ham sandwich—can up the risk for colon cancer by 24 percent. Another recent study found that just one third of an ounce of processed meat a day—the weight of a single poker chip!—can raise the risk for breast cancer.
On top of that, meat can also up our risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.
So what can we do? The good news is that by moving away from meat and opting for a diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, we can reduce our risk for developing these lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Ready to give it a try but not sure how to jump in?
Check out my top 5 easy and healthy meat replacements!
- Beans and lentils are low in fat, but packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that you won’t find in meat. Use beans and lentils to replace meat in chili, tacos, salads, and no-meat loafs.
Recipes: Black Bean Chipotle Burgers and Sweet Potato Lentil Chili
- Tofu is beneficial for cancer prevention, heart health, and bone health! It’s versatile and can work like eggs or meat in scrambles, stir-fries, soups, or sandwiches.
Recipes: Tofu Zucchini Scramble, Vegetable Lo Mein, and BBQ Tofu Bites
- Portobello mushrooms have a meaty flavor and texture that make them an ideal low-fat, cholesterol-free meat alternative! Grill like steaks or burgers or add to fajitas or pasta.
Recipes: Marinated Mushroom Burgers and Barbecue-Style Portobellos
- Seitan, or wheat gluten, is a high-protein meat alternative that mimics meat in taste and texture. Grill, bake, shape into roasts, and add to stir-fries!
Recipes: Seitan Piccata and Polenta with Hearty Barbecue Sauce
- Meat replacements, like veggie burgers and veggie crumbles, are available in most grocery stores. While whole foods are best, these can be great to use for transition foods or special occasions.
Recommendations: Gardein Ultimate Beefless Ground and Beyond Beef crumbles are both low in fat and gluten free.
Learn more in my recent interview on The Exam Room podcast!
Sign up for Dr. Barnard's Blog
Moby Calls on USDA to Focus SNAP on Healthy Foods - April 10, 2018
Don’t Let Hot Dogs Strike You Out This Baseball Season - March 29, 2018
New York City Schools Could Become First to Ban Processed Meat - March 28, 2018
Could Jack Pearson’s Diet Be to Blame? - February 9, 2018
Top Five Meat Alternatives - January 25, 2018