I’m a big fan of health writer Jean Brody. She’s a featured contributor to the New York Times health section and also to the Well blog. She recently offered some insights on nutritional falsehoods that circulate widely. She believes these falsehoods spur the squandering of hard-earned dollars on questionable foods and supplements, and she also feels they inspire consumers to make poor choices. I agree. She’s also a big fan of Dr. Joe Schwarcz, Director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University, Montreal. Ms. Brody recently highlighted some tips from two of his books, Science, Sense and Nonsense, and The Right Chemistry. Here is my take on those tips:
Cured meats like hot dogs and bacon are clearly unhealthy because they contain preservatives called nitrites. When nitrites react with naturally-occurring compounds called amines, they form nitrosamines, which are implicated in causing mutations when consumed in high doses. Problem is that consumers who shun cured meats may turn to either organic versions or vegan-processed options instead. These processed healthier foods still need preservatives and processing in order to prevent bacterial contamination or spoilage from occuring. The nitrate-rich celery juice used as a preservative is still a problem, even if the label says “uncured.”
I say – either food product can be consumed in a balanced diet when it’s positioned as a special treat rather than a dietary staple.
Trans fats have been declared public enemy #1 by most health professionals. When the term is used generally, it refers to man-made artery-clogging fat that is found in many processed foods. There are also naturally-occurring trans fats in dairy and meat that behave a bit differently. And conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, is also a trans fat. CLA has been shown to enhance immune function and reduce atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and inflammation. It may also help with weight loss and muscle gain.
I say – Most consumers are not gravitating to the healthier trans fats, they are over-eating the dangerous artery clogging fats. They are also eating oversized portions of healthy fats like olive oil (with a bread basket as accompaniment at restaurants) and vegetables oils (that they fry in and use in salad dressings). All fats should be portion controlled and trans fats mostly deserve the ban currently in place.
Nuts and nut butters are healthy and fattening. Well, it’s true that many of the calories of nuts come from fats, but they are typically unsaturated fats and heart-healthy in nature. Nuts are also chock full of protein, antioxidants, vitamins, mineral and fiber. They are quite satiating and versatile – you can add them to a host of recipes. So despite being ‘fattening,” they should be part of a balanced diet.
I say – The problem is that most people nix the portion control and we need portion control, even with healthy foods. The health halo we assign to nuts, and their good taste and crunch, can encourage the average person to eat several handfuls which can clock in at several hundred calories. Nuts can also be highly processed with added salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. So the two rules you need to follow is to (a) count out your nuts for a single portion that has about 160 calories and (b) choose natural nuts that are unprocessed. When it comes to nut butters, I like to grind nuts myself (many stores have a grinder too) and refrigerate the nut butter.
Farmed salmon versus wild salmon is an ongoing debate. The truth is that there isn’t enough wild salmon to satisfy the increasing demand for the heart-healthy fish. Most people are concerned that the coloring used in farmed salmon is dangerous. It’s actually a commercially made pigment that is safe – fish feed plus asaxanthin, an antioxidant.
I say – The value of eating fish like salmon outweighs the unsubstantiated concern about its coloring. I would recommend eating different fish varieties including salmon, and sticking to low mercury choices exclusively. The fish choices that most concern me are swordfish, tile fish, King mackerel and shark. They are top feeder fish, loaded with mercury.
(Sources include What You think You Know (but Don’t) About Wise Eating by Jane Brody, New York Times Health blog, Jan 2, 20130
Published On: January 17, 2013