When it comes to healthy eating, it seems like the more we know the less we know. Is chocolate good or bad? Wine –does it cause cancer or prevent cancer? Low fat or low carb?
These days I feel more and more like Woody Allen’s character from the 1973 movie “Sleeper”. The character wakes up 200 years in the future to find out that everything he thought was healthy was wrong, and the most unhealthful (yet delicious) foods were healthy. Out with the wheat germ, in with the hot fudge. Here is the dialogue between the scientists who have just brought him out of his 200 year sleep:
HAS HE ASKED
FOR ANYTHING SPECIAL ?
YES, THIS MORNING
HE REQUESTED SOMETHING
CALLED WHEAT GERM,
AND TIGER’S MILK.
[ Laughs ]
OH, YES. THOSE WERE
THE CHARMED SUBSTANCES…
THAT SOME YEARS AGO
WERE FELT TO CONTAIN
THERE WAS NO DEEP FAT ?
NO STEAK OR CREAM PIES
OR HOT FUDGE ?
THOSE WERE THOUGHT
TO BE UNHEALTHY,
PRECISELY THE OPPOSITE
OF WHAT WE NOW KNOW TO BE TRUE
Hmmm . . . a few years ago, we were being told to eat canned tomato sauce because it was the best source of lycopene. Even Martha Stewart told us that canned tomatoes have even more health benefits than fresh tomatoes. Lycopene, a pigment that is responsible for the tomatoes’ red color, is one of several carotenoids (a group of antioxidants) that may help to decrease the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. The processing method used in canning tomatoes causes the release of a greater amount of lycopene than what is usually found in raw tomatoes.
But that was SO five minutes ago! Today, we are now told that canned tomatoes are the worst thing you could possibly eat! Prevention magazine just listed them as #1 in a list of the top seven foods to stay away from! Also on the list is farm-raised salmon . . . raised, no doubt, because we all jumped on the “miracle food” bandwagon.
The November issue of Prevention Magazine takes into consideration foods that aren’t necessarily causing immediate illness but may be just as — or more — damaging to our long-term health, and comes up with a list of seven foods to stay away from. To do so, the mag asks health experts what foods they personally avoid. Two foods — potatoes and tomatoes — are cited on both lists. T
1. Canned tomatoes2. Corn-fed beef
3. Microwave popcorn
4. Non-organic potatoes
5. Farmed salmon
6. Milk produced with artificial hormones
7. Conventional apples
Perhaps the most surprising is canned tomatoes. The acidity of the fruit, the article says, causes the bisphenol-A (BPA) in the lining of the can to more easily leach into it. BPA, as many already know, is responsible for a shocking range of serious health issues. Fredrick Vom Saal, a University of Missouri endocrinologist, tells the magazine, “You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that’s a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young … I won’t go near canned tomatoes.”
The information on potatoes — which as root vegetables are socked with herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides — is also fairly disconcerting. The chair of the National Organic Standards Board says, “I’ve talked wtih potato growers to say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.”
As an RN who has also been a health coach, I’m not doling out diet advice to anyone these days. There is just too much conflicting information. For all of our talk about evidence-based medicine, there is very little talk about what to do when the evidence is unclear, or when our evidence is based on wildly fluctuating results from year to year.
Perhaps the best advice is to think of Woody Allen’s character in “Sleeper” and how you would feel if you woke up 200 years in the future and found out that the rice cakes you detested but scarfed down for “health benefits” were the worst thing you could have eaten. Don’t eat anything you hate just because it is (today) considered healthy. Listen to your gut and let it tell you what to eat and what not to eat. Right now, I’m cutting back on sugar. Something in my body is just telling me that I’ve gone overboard with the stuff and it’s time to reel it in. But I’m not going to villify sugar as the evil substance that is leading to the destruction of the free world. All the brilliant scientists in the world still can’t agree on what we should and shouldn’t eat. So let’s just be happy that we have food. Most of us have the opportunity to go to sleep tonight with full bellies, and have never experienced the desperation of true hunger. Maybe we should just be grateful. Woody Allen’s futuristic vision has come to pass earlier than expected. Steak and chocolate are deemed health foods, and I’m OK with that.