Steve Kurlander: Legislators should bring good nutrition, not pork, back to their districts

A recent “fluff” piece by political writer Anthony Man in the Sun Sentinel reported that Florida Congressman Ted Deutch has become a vegan. He says he’s lost “25 pounds” and that his “health has definitely improved as a result.”

Citing his long day where he finds himself not eating many homemade meals and faced with caloric choices all day, Deutch said he has “come to really [enjoy] the vegetable side dishes at restaurants.”

Deutch may want to take his dietary conversion a step further based both on new findings about the diet of Americans and the rising prices of beef and pork.

Deutch has joined former President Bill Clinton and many other affluent Americans whose diets have improved while most Americans continue to eat badly, according to a study released last week by the Harvard School of Public Health.

The results showed that affluent people had healthier diets than low-income and that the gap increased from 1999 to 2010.

One of the study’s authors, Professor Frank Hu, recommended that the federal government do more to improve the health and diet of Americans. He wants legislation designed to educate and even limit the food choices of the 51.5 million Americans receiving food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“SNAP can have a big influence with better incentives to purchase healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rather than soft drinks and highly processed quote-unquote junk food,” Hu said. “I think the programs should put more emphasis on quality of diet rather than just quantity. This is an area where the combination of nutrition education and financial incentives can really shape people’s attitudes and behaviors.”

Indeed, there’s scientific proof that vegans and vegetarians are healthier.  A study published in the National Institutes of Health Library in March found that vegans, who eat 50 percent more fruit and 25 percent more veggies scored highest on the “Healthy Eating Index.”

The Harvard study confirmed that changes in eating habits played a significant role in boosting dietary quality. Those found to have improved their diets are eating more whole fruit, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and polyunsaturated fats, and they’re drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.

Now, with the significant increase in pork and beef prices, it may be the perfect time for Congress to implement such recommendations.

American shoppers are feeling a significant pinch at their butchers or the meat aisle of the grocery store.  Wholesale beef prices are forecast to jump by 8 percent to 9 percent in 2014.

And when Deutch is out eating in restaurants, he may also want to talk to the owners, who are struggling to cope with higher prices for meat and other commodities.

“‘There’s a definite pattern of accelerated food price inflation overall,’” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the research and knowledge group at the National Restaurant Association. While overall consumer prices have risen 2.1 percent in the past year, beef was up 10.7 percent and pork 12.2 percent.

With increasing evidence that eating more fruits and vegetables is beneficial and the rising cost of food, now is the time for Congress to try to stabilize food costs and encourage America to become more veggie.

And to lose some significant weight like Deutch did.

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly’s Kommentary (stevenkurlander.com) and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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