Navigating the world of food claims

I’m a nutritionist. No, I’m not THAT kind of nutritionist; I’m not a dietician, anyway. Instead, I’ve spent a better part of my life finding the best way to feed animals. Originally, I wanted to be a veterinarian. If you’re a kid in the city that loves animals, “being a vet when you grow up” is all you really know; at least for me it was. It wasn’t until I went to college that the world of agriculture opened up to me. I fell in love with it, with finding ways to keep animals healthy throughout their lives, with scientific research and the joys of discovery, and with the understated but critical role that agriculture plays in our lives. George Washington is attributed with saying that “agriculture is the most healthful, most useful, and most noble employment of man.”

My work now focuses on keeping our food supply safe for humans and animals alike. It’s fascinating how similar many animals are to us. Biologically, we function very much the same ). When my daughter was born, my first instinct was to devise a plan on how to feed my “little piglet”. I knew the research and I had it all mapped out. Though, my wife was quick to inform me that she’d be taking care of things at the beginning, and I had some time before I even needed a plan. However, when the time came, I came to realize how convoluted “food” could be in a way that I had never considered. Ricardopicforblog

“Do you have whole-fat milk?”
“Sorry, is 2% ok?”
“I suppose”

It’s tough eating with a toddler. We want our child to have food that is healthy and full of nutrients. But, we also tend to impose our own insecurities on our children. My daughter is quite the finicky eater. She didn’t turn out to be the “little piglet” I envisioned her to be; really, she eats more like a mouse. So I try to provide nutrient-dense foods as much as possible. Except, food now is geared towards our adult insecurities, or against the outdated belief that fat leads to things like heart-disease or childhood obesity: so children’s food is now “healthy,” (low fat milk, egg whites) but completely lacking in the fats and nutrients that children need. These things may be great for an adult prone to over-eating, but not so much for a growing child with a tiny, mouse-like appetite. Two of the best things that we can do as parents are to remember that “nutritious” is a relative term, and to know that the needs of our children may differ from what advertising might have you believe.

As I walk through the aisles of the grocery store, each item on the shelf is imploring me to buy it, adamantly shouting its sales pitch: Organic! Natural! No GMOs! No hormones! The issue is that none of these claims translate to a healthier child and most aren’t even relevant. You know those chicken adverts with bold lettering stating that they contain no added hormones? Well, added hormones are never used in any portion of poultry production, ever. Or when a product claims it does not use GMO oats? Well that’s good to know, considering that GMO oats don’t even exist and that even if they did, twenty-five years’ worth of research indicates that there is no substantial difference between GMO and non-GMO foods. The overwhelming body of evidence shows that I wouldn’t be putting my child at risk by having her eat these foods.

In today’s world, a product can have an organic label put on it and have a 500% markup with no proof of there being a positive benefit. Because of this, and claims that are meant to entice consumers (“No Hormones!” “Gluten Free Water!”), we, as parents, have to be discerning, and do our due diligence to know what’s in the best nutritional interest of our children.

So, when I stand in front of the milk section and look at a half-gallon of organic milk at $5 and a half-gallon of conventional milk for $1, what exactly am I paying for? Someone’s certainly benefiting from the sale of these products, but it’s not my daughter, that’s for sure.

EkmayPhotoRicardo Ekmay, Associate Research Scientist, joined Dow AgroSciences in 2012. His current role focuses on nutritional assessments for global regulatory submissions, but also provides direction for the development of nutritionally enhanced products. Ricardo received his Bachelors of Science in Animal Science from Cornell University (2004) and his Masters of Science (2008) and Doctorate (2011) in Poultry Science from the University of Arkansas. Prior to his arrival at Dow AgroSciences, Ricardo completed his post-doctoral studies at Cornell. His area of expertise is in animal nutrition with an emphasis on nutrient partitioning, reproduction, and nutrient modeling. Ricardo’s current work has also expanded his focus into human nutrition. He also devotes his time to community outreach and the promotion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education through his involvement with the Dow AgroSciences’ Science Ambassadors. The Science Ambassadors strive to engage the next generation of scientists through hands-on activities and interactive demonstrations at school and STEM events. Ricardo is also an active member of the Dow AgroSciences Hispanic Latin Network (HLN)—that focuses on strengthening and leveraging the diversity of cultures, experiences and professional skills within Dow AgroSciences’ Hispanic-Latin community.