Monday 11 April 2011

What's Up With That?

When I was in my twenties, and even when I was a thirty-something, I read articles about health and nutrition with great interest.  Now, though, I tend to take them with a grain of salt because much of what I read then is now being contradicted.  Many of the foods I chose to forgo in the interest of better health are now being heralded as healthful.  What’s up with that?

Chocolate was once touted as the road to weight gain, acne, hyperactivity, high blood pressure and heart disease.  Now we’re told that chocolate (in its purest form, not the stuff in your Mars bar) is actually good for us.  Chocolate is extraordinarily high in anti-oxidants.  The USDA published a chart of antioxidant foods measured in ORACs (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Units). For every 100 grams, dark chocolate has 13,120 ORACs, and blueberries have only 2,400.  Antioxidant-rich diets have been linked to a lowered risk of heart attacks, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer's and more. So it stands to reason that if chocolate is chock full of antioxidants, it's actually good for you.[i]

Avocado is another one.  When I was in my twenties, I was told that avocados were to be avoided because they were high in oil and very fattening.  Now we are told that avocados are sodium and cholesterol-free and have only five grams of fat per serving, most of it monounsaturated, making them a great substitution for foods rich in saturated fat. Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a "nutrient booster" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit.[ii]

As far as I know, no one has found a way to add coffee to the healthy side of the ledger but they’ve certainly done so for tea.  Tea contains antioxidants that benefit heart health and help to fight cancer.  It hinders the activity of two enzymes in the brain that contribute to Alzheimers.  Tea also contains fluoride and active antibiotics that kill off decay-promoting bacteria in the mouth so it’s good for your teeth.[iii]

It seems that even lard is being given the thumbs-up.  Naturally occurring, unprocessed animal fats don’t contain trans fats.  New York City's health commissioner recently compared trans fats to such health hazards as lead and asbestos. By that standard lard, which is free from trans fats, is healthier for you than vegetable shortening, margarine, and even butter.  Lard contains just 40 percent saturated fat (compared with nearly 60 percent for butter). Its level of monounsaturated fat is 45 percent.  Butter’s level of monounsaturated fat is 23 percent.[iv]

So…If nutrition experts now are contradicting what nutrition experts told us then, how do we choose the healthiest possible diet?  I think the answer’s really pretty simple:  Eat a wide variety of foods, grown as close to home as possible, as close to their natural state as possible.  Avoid foods that have been “messed around with.”  I think Michael Symon has it right when he says “ok let me get this straight...heart conditions have doubled since the popularity of butter substitutes...obesity has doubled since the popularity of light and diet foods...and diabetes has quadrupled since the birth of diet soft drinks...huh?....EAT REAL FOOD!!!”


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