I’ve been considering writing this post for a little while, but hesitated because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. I’m currently using WIC, although the need for it will likely soon be done soon. However, when its very nature makes it less useful than it should be for the people its supposed to help, there’s a problem, and that’s what I want to talk about.
WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a government program that helps low-income women, infants, and children with “healthy” foods.
Unfortunately, the foods provided on WIC are, in many ways, highly impractical in the quantities and even types of food provided. Let’s consider a few.
As an exclusively breastfeeding woman, I get six gallons of milk a month. My baby doesn’t drink it. It’s just my husband and I. We do not go through that much milk in a month, which means we either don’t get everything that we’re supposed to be able to get, or some of it goes to waste. We generally opt for getting less than we’re provided, since we aren’t aware of anyone we know needing milk. Even getting less and often freezing some so that it doesn’t go bad, there’s often a little out of each just that goes to waste before it can be finished.
Moreover, I’m not allowed to get whole milk. I think it’s allowed when giving it to children, but not for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The fullest fat I can get is 2%. Yet full fat dairy would be far better for a developing baby, and for the mom, than milk that has had some of the fat removed. Why? Because natural fats are very important in a healthy diet.
Nor am I allowed to get raw milk, even though it contains enzymes that help process the lactose, and is safer to eat than the eggs or even some of the produce I’m allowed to get on WIC.
Also, that much milk isn’t always nice on my system.
Do you know what can happen to a breastfeeding woman whose system is being upset by the food/drink she’s consuming? A colicky baby. And a baby screaming for a few hours while you can do little to sooth him or her is no fun. Take note of that. It will come up again.
I’m not allowed to substitute dairy milk with coconut or almond milk, either, despite those being healthy dairy alternatives. I could do soy, but that’s got its own host of issues, so I’ll stick with something that is at least an animal product.
I suppose the point of that much milk is the calcium, but there are other sources of calcium that don’t have the negative side effects of dairy, and that don’t require such a ridiculous quantity.
WIC does provide produce…but only $10 worth per month. Let me say that again. $10. Per. Month. That really doesn’t go a long way if you’re eating healthy, especially since the less expensive produce places like local produce stands often don’t take WIC checks. You also only get it once a month, so you’ve only got fresh produce for a couple of weeks. Two $10 checks per month for produce would do a lot better for promoting the health of the people that WIC is helping. They could take off a few gallons of milk to balance off the costs, while they’re at it.
Fully breastfeeding women get the most protein on their WIC checks, with being allowed two dozen eggs and a few cans of canned tuna or salmon per month. Others only get one dozen eggs and no canned fish.
Protein is important for nourishing children. Fat and protein are some of the most basic building blocks for the human body (whereas carbs aren’t nearly necessary in nearly the same quantity.) Now, my husband and I can go through two dozen eggs in one week easily. Even if it’s just me, I could go through a dozen in one week, and potentially more if I’m baking anything. (And I bake Paleo foods, so even my baked treats are relatively healthy.) Not only that, but I pretty much never eat canned fish, especially since I stopped eating bread while following Paleo.
I would say I wonder why non-vegetarian/vegan families aren’t given, say, a few pounds of chicken or ground beef or whole fish per month, but I know why. It’s because many protein sources are also fat sources, and the government just can’t endorse fat. They also probably don’t want to deal with providing alternative protein sources for vegetarians. Eggs are fairly safe. While they have saturated fat, they’ve been vindicated in their effects on cholesterol and heart disease (go figure). Many vegetarians are also willing to eat non-fertilized eggs. And many people who don’t like other meats are willing to eat a bit of fish.
There are no substitutes allowed for eggs, though, so I feel bad for any moms or children who have egg allergies. I wonder if there’s something that can be done if they bring in proof of their allergy?
Whole Wheat and Other Grains
And of course, wheat must be included in a government-controlled food program. Because, you know, even though the evidence is mounting against the necessity and even desirability of whole wheat in the diet, the government subsidizes the grain industry because its, you know, “healthy.”
Again, it is something that bothers many people’s systems, even if they don’t know it (which many don’t, since they’ve been led to believe that it’s so good for you). That means, once again, colicky babies for breastfeeding moms who are intolerant to grains, especially gluten in wheat. And why in the world are we feeding this stuff to our young children? It has very little nutritional value compared to many other options, and gluten can tear up the GI tract, which is not good for a developing child. Gluten is increasingly becoming linked to many autoimmune disorders, attention orders, diseases, and other health problems. Even many average people who don’t have serious disorders, diseases, or conditions often feel better when they cut gluten out of their diet. So why in the world are we giving something that can potentially cause so many issues to mothers and their young children?
Besides, most “healthy” whole wheat choices have things like high fructose corn syrup in them. Even the ones that don’t are, ultimately, going to largely break down into glucose in the system, driving insulin spikes, fat storage, and setting the stage for obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
But yes, we want to make sure pregnant and breastfeeding women and our youngest children are getting enough. Insert eye roll.
In addition to this, breakfast cereal, which is all grain-based and often loaded with sugar, is included. The reason? Oh, well, they’re “fortified” with vitamins and minerals. They have to be “fortified” because they’re so lacking if its not added in! I could get way more iron, without the negatives of grains, from leafy greens and some beef. Actually, steak with a salad sounds like an excellent source of iron…yummy.
Legumes (Or Peanut Butter)
I’m going to assume that these are included because they’re another protein source. But legumes (and yes, peanuts are legumes) are not an ideal source of protein.
For one, there are often more carbs than protein. For instance, black beans are over 70% carbs, and only 22% protein. A cup of raw black beans has a glycemic load of 57 (daily target, according to Self Nutrition Data, is 100). Even peanut butter is nearly even in the carbs-to-protein ratio; the protein in one serving is barely more than carbs.
Let’s go over this again. Carbs break down into glucose. Glucose is sugar. We don’t need to be loading up on more sugar.
Second, most (or all?) legumes are not complete protein sources. Women would get much more benefit from some sort of meat instead of legumes.
Again, we also face the fact that legumes tend to cause gastrointestinal upset. More than that, legumes, like grains, contain phytates, which act as anti-nutrients, binding to minerals like calcium so that they pass through the body without being used. The result? Moms aren’t getting nearly as much as that calcium from the milk as they think they are.
We go with the peanut butter. At least it has some good fats and a better carbohydrate:protein ratio than most other legumes. But even then, natural peanut butter isn’t covered even when it costs the same and is made by the same company as other options. How does that make sense?
While I enjoy a cool glass of juice occasionally, it’s really not the best thing to be drinking on a regular basis. Especially from concentrate. Especially if it has added sugars, which often include high fructose corn syrup. Yuck. And fresh squeezed organic? Forget that being an option on WIC.
While many parents give their kids juice daily, often without considering it, the sugar load without the benefits of whole fruit (which often have less sugar than a serving of juice) is setting the child up for sugar addiction and future obesity and metabolic syndrome. Sure, there’s lots of vitamin C in juice, but there’s lots of it in whole produce, too.
Notice all of this kept coming back to the need for more whole produce and more protein sources, particularly meat? Yeah. That’s because those things are actually healthy and provide the necessary nutrients, both macro and micro, to make optimally healthy mothers and children.
I don’t like walking into the WIC office, knowing that they’re supposed to be there to help, and knowing that some moms and children on it are in far greater need than I am and depend on WIC far more than I do, but that they’re being given food based on nutrition ideas that are outdated and continuing to be peddled to the public — including those who are in need and looking for help — because it is profitable and comfortable to continue to promote the common wisdom, rather than the facts.
It’s great that there’s a resource for people who need help. It’s not great that that help is not the quality they need.