Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fact vs. Fiction

I read an interesting article in this month's Runner's World that got me thinking a lot about food. Ok, ok, I'm always thinking about food. But it got me thinking about peoples' perceptions of food based on gossip and wives' tales. So I thought I'd write this week's Table Tuesday about my thoughts that came from reading that article.

You've probably heard things like "red meat will cause heart and blood pressure problems, stay away!" or "carbs will make you fat," or, "egg yolks will raise your cholesterol."

All of these ideas are problematic. And they tend to cause people to eat less healthy, not more healthy.

Most natural foods are good for you in moderation. Unless you're at high risk for heart disease and your doctor says "do not eat red meat," you can probably have some. The line between healthy consumption and unhealthy consumption gets crossed when people don't respect portion control. Too much red meat, too often (say, several times a week, or on a regular basis) really isn't good for you. But that doesn't mean you should cut it out completely.

Carbs will not make you fat, but a certain Dr. A sure made a good fortune by making everyone believe they will. Gorging yourself on carbs (or really any element of any food) probably will. Cutting carbs out of your diet all-together to get a quick slim-down is bad for you. All crash-diets are bad for you. In fact, from here on out, let's consider the word "diet" a four-letter no-no. You need the sugars that carbs turn into for energy. You'll find yourself feeling great at first, but in the long run becoming less healthy and probably a little lethargic. A better alternative: instead of eating refined, enriched flours, go for the whole stuff: Bob's Red Mill puts out some great products (including great gluten-free flours that I've had excellent luck with).

As for eggs: a few eggs a few times a week are good for most people, unless a doctor says otherwise. For most people, the cholesterol in eggs isn't a threat unless you're already genetically predisposed to having cholesterol problems. People think that the yellow part is practically poisonous. True, the yolk does contain the most of the cholesterol, but it's also where all the vitamins, minerals, and the bulk of the protein in the egg are. And, um, yolks are delicious.

People today seem to think that the key to healthy eating is an all-or-nothing approach. But that's not true for most people. The key to healthy eating is whole, real foods, in moderation. Too much of a good thing can hurt you, but an appropriate amount of a good thing will usually benefit you.

Now, there are exceptions for some people. If your doctor, a certified, highly-educated medical professional who knows your medical history, tells you that there is a specific food that you need to stay away from for the sake of your health and longevity, talk about it with them.

Although I will say that I think all foods, when whole and unprocessed, are good for us and should be eaten, I'm not overlooking people with specific dietary needs. For instance, someone with Celiac Disease is going to have a very unique set of challenges to face when getting healthy carb intake, since someone with Celiac can put their health in danger simply by eating any product that has gluten (a wheat protein).

But, barring all special dietary needs, we need not worry so much about cutting one thing or another out, as we do need to be concerned with eating well in moderation.

On the flip-side, some people take the "Food X is good for me" to an extreme and have too much. Some vitamins, for instance, are really good for you, but too many can be bad for your liver or other organs if they are fat soluble. Someone who hears that a glass of red wine a few nights a week is good for the heart (which is true, just ask my dad's cardiologist!) should not take that to mean that they have an excuse to drink as much wine as they want, as often as they please. Too much alcohol is bad for all of our organs, no matter what form it comes in.

So, let's take a fun little True/False Food Folklore quiz!

1. True or False: Nuts will cause weight gain quickly.

Answer: False. The fat in nuts is a type that is actually good for your heart. Nuts are packed with vitamins and minerals, and are a good snack throughout the day to stave off an over-active appetite.

2. True or False: Dairy products are fattening.

Answer: Mostly false. Too much dairy is not good for anyone. But lots of dairy products (like yogurt or milk, yum!) have a great balance of calcium and vitamins that can actually help you maintain a weight you're happy with.

3. True or False: Smoothies are really good for me, especially in the morning.

Answer: False. A smoothie you pick up from a smoothie place will have way more sugar in it than vitamins, minerals, or...fresh fruit. Try making your own. Honey is a good sweetener that has plenty of flavor so you don't have to use loads of sugar. Or just try keeping your homemade smoothie sweet with natural sugars in foods right off the produce aisle.

As for our mission this week: It's Christmas this week! I feel bad giving an assignment during an already busy week. Enjoy the bounty and blessings the Lord is sharing with you and your family. Enjoy the birthday of our Savior! I am, however, intrigued to hear more about what you're learning about food, nutrition, healthy living, and oxalates. Should the writing mood strike you, indulge us!

Mele Kelikimaka! Aloha!

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