Tuesday, June 29, 2010


WIC is a national food program designed to benefit infants, children, and pregnant or nursing women by giving them checks for specific food items at registered stores. Its not meant to provide all the food that low-income children or expecting women need, but to supplement meager incomes with healthy foods in hopes of improving overall nutrition.

I first noticed WIC food choices were rather interesting about 3 years ago. The items that first struck me as odd were peanut butter and tuna fish. The foods available to buy on the check are pretty limited, and why peanut butter was selected was odd to me. Most children are advised not to eat peanut products until age two because of the risk of allergies.

Tuna fish is on pregnant women's checks, yet, the amount is right at the limit of a pregnant woman's recommended intake of tuna, assuming she's rationing a can per week and not eating more than one. I was told that peanut butter is a great source of protein. Tuna as well, and its high in omega 3s which are essential especially for developing infants. But, why does WIC warn about high mercury consumption, and then have it as a WIC item?

The other available foods through WIC are (See Federal online listing or Washington State specific brochure):
  • Select cold cereals
  • Milk
  • eggs
  • fruit juice
  • dried beans
  • dried beans or peanut butter
  • canned meats
  • cheese
  • fruit and vegetable choices
  • whole grain choices
  • soy beverages
  • infant formula, cereal, and baby food
I won't even go into the quantities of foods that are on the checks, its just weird sometimes, like 1 quart of milk or two separate one pounds of cheese, but lets talk more about the health of these products. Here's Washington WIC:

Select cereals Kix, Special K, Cheerios, Wheat Rice or Corn Chex, Grape-Nuts, Grape-Nut Flakes, Cream of Wheat, Life; I thought it was all great, increasing whole grain consumption. I've lately learned a little about cold cereals, and that due to the level of heat of production, whole grain cereals like Wheaties and Cheerios result in higher insulin spikes than even straight sugar. The high heat also destroys many nutrients, and "creates toxic elements that have caused rapid death in test animals," yet the FDA approves the use of words like cancer and heart-health promoting on the box. (Barbee, 117)
Milk Well, I've learned raw milk from grass-fed cows beats all, including increasing omega 3s, but raw milk isn't allowed. Nor is goats milk, which is fit for those that can't digest cow's milk. Homogenizing milk (all supermarket brands) makes xanthine oxidase (which damages arterial walls) more absorbed in humans. (Read Politically Incorrect Nutrition.) The growth hormone rBST which has been linked to cancer and weakened immune, and is also important to avoid. In Washington state, rBST-free are readily available and labeled.
In the second year of life, children are given whole milk, which fats help in "brain development." At 2 years of age, they are then switched to anything but whole milk. Are we supposed to believe that the brain instantly doesn't need those fats for development anymore, and "dieting" should be higher priority? Low fat, reduced fat, and skim often have milk solids added which increases free glutamic acid.
eggs Organic eggs aren't allowed, which are higher in omega 3s, but I wonder if advertised vegetarian-fed "cage-free" eggs are, which also have higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids and DHA, essential for brain function. If they're not, I'm sure WIC would change if they realized more omega 3s would be available.
fruit juice This is one of the worst. Sure, it gives vitamins, and it comes from fruit, right? Well, its best fresh made at home. Pasteurization of packaged juice destroys a lot of the enzymes and other nutrients. Just sitting on the shelf, it loses nutrients. Its basically just a sugar drink. It also comes in a plastic bottle- BPA threat? or, tin can- aluminum threat?
WIC offers so much juice. Juice is one of the major sources of sugar in children's diets, right next to soda, according to Behavior and Nutrition. Dentists advise not giving these juices in sippy cups for all-day sipping, which leads to tooth decay, as well as hyperactivity, insulin resistance, and further down the road, type II diabetes. Boxed juice also contains lead, but big deal; so does much of our food.
dried beans Sounds good. They give out a cookbook of bean recipes to expand our world of beans. Cheap, great food storage food :), and they say "baby's love beans."
dried beans or peanut butter Who's really going to choose $1 worth of free beans over $3 worth of free peanut butter, even if it is allergenic? Avoid trans fats by buying 100% natural (Adam's) peanut butter.
canned meats Tuna: contains mercury, but excellent for omega 3s.
cheese Great. Gotta love this one. Just trying to switch over to raw milk cheese, rBST free, from grass-fed cows, and annatto coloring isn't great for us, nor are enzymes.
fruit and vegetable choices They just barely started this. Much needed.
whole grain choices choose corn tortillas, bulgur, oatmeal, brown rice, or 100% whole grain bread (all if its the right weight). Many dough conditioners, additives, and preservatives, aren't good for us. Bread is best homemade.
soy beverages, tofu Soy is not a complete protein; also, unfermented soy products can lead to hyperthyroidism
infant formula, cereal, and baby food Infant formula and baby foods often have hidden MSG and/or BPA. Most people I know have an excess of baby foods and cereals from WIC that they never used.

So, overall, is WIC helping or hurting? I'm not anti-government-choosing-for-us what we eat, so its not Twinkies and Ho-hos, especially when we've got an obesity epidemic and we're undergoing universal healthcare. I think WIC is pretty helpful in many ways (whole grains, fruits and veggies). A real problem is just our food system in general, so how can you blame WIC when its got poor food to choose from?

But, money is voting power, and whoever decides what WIC can and cannot buy has a lot of power to choose a lot of votes in our food supply, for good or ill. What really kills me is the bottled fruit juice and the no-raw no-goats now no-organic milk, and, well, you can see what else I wrote above about the other items.

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