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myth busting a myth buster

(post, Michaele Kruger)

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This morning I read an article on huffington post's health page about 9 foods that are commonly thought of us evil that may not actually be all that bad.  Click here to read the article (it's quick and has pictures).  And I'd like to share my thoughts on these selected items because I feel there was a lot of important distinctions that need to be made in order for the reader to understand how these items would be healthfully consumed and why they might be considered healthy.  So, if you didn't click on the link above, no worries, I'm going to pull directly from the article and comment on all 9 "health" foods.

So here we go:

1. Beef

The article states that beef gets a "bad rap" due to it's very large amounts of saturated fat, which it does have. (It's also important to note that beef is also high in dietary cholesterol, omega 6, which is way too abundant in our over-processed diets, and void of any fiber and phytochemicals.)  It then goes on to make the claim that eating lean cuts of beef is perfectly healthy and that you should choose wisely (just as Indiana Jones did at the end of "The Last Crusade")!  This is true, there are healthier cuts of meat, but they are just that, healthier, not healthy.  This is an important distinction.  It's also good to note that how the animal was raised directly contributes to the quality and health values of the meat.  When selecting beef, not only do you need to choose the leaner cuts, such as the fillet, sirloin, or flank, but you also need to pay attention to the feed of the animal-you want grass fed for as long as possible, and the where the animal lived-you want pasture raised as long as possible.  Both the type of feed, grass vs. corn, and where the animal was raised, on the pasture or in confinement, greatly effects the amounts of saturated fat in the beef that you eat as well as the omega 6:omega 3 ratio.  When purchasing beef, ask your butcher where the meet comes from and the type of feed, if he doesn't know the answers, then don't buy it.  Farmers Markets, Cow CSAs, Whole Foods Market are excellent sources for pasture raised, grass-fed beef.  The amount of meat you eat is also important to comment on in this section.  You want to make sure that you are not eating more than 3.5 oz every 2-5 days.  (And this serving size recommendation actually refers to all animal products, including dairy and eggs). So, while the right type of beef can be included in a healthful diet it is not a necessary part of a healthy diet.  

2. Bread

I totally agree with the article in the fact that bread has gotten a totally bad rap and that it does not need to be that way.  Instead, what needs to be given a bad rap is ALL highly processed foods, including wheat bread and white bread.  The word that you are looking for when purchasing ANY bread or grain product is WHOLE.  This is so important!  If the word on the ingredient list is WHOLE wheat then you are safe.  If, however, it just says wheat, with no descriptor, then you need to put the loaf, or the crackers, back on the shelf.  Whole grains are not nearly as processed as their poor, stripped-of-their-nutrients cousins.  White grains, like white flour, white rice, white cous cous, have all had their outer layer removed which takes with it all of the health benefiting qualities, like the fiber and nutrients.  So remember to check those ingredients and buy WHOLE wheat or WHOLE grain products, including bread, crackers, and pasta (note: if you don't like whole wheat pasta, check out the quinoa pasta, it's fabulous).

3. Chocolate  

I think that this was put on the list for the simple fact that the writer of this article was gobbling up a bar of dark chocolate and didn't want to have to feel guilty about it!  But in all seriousness, dark chocolate is not healthy.  Does that mean I don't eat it every now and then, of course not, but it's important to distinguish the difference between what is healthy and what won't hurt you.  So, while it dark chocolate does contain flavanols, which can be of great benefit in our diets, it also contains extremely high amounts of saturated fat, which are a great detriment to our health.  We just love the stuff so much we close our eyes to the obviously bad and search for anything that might be good. 

4. Coffee

Here's what the article has to say about coffee: 

"Studies show that compounds in coffee -- including but not limited to caffeine -- may reduce the risk of dementia, diabetes and liver cancer. Most benefits are associated with drinking two to four (8-ounce) cups a day. That said, coffee can make some people jittery -- and if this is true for you, you should cut back. You should also limit caffeine if you're pregnant -- the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises no more than two cups a day while expecting -- or nursing."  

So, while I am not an expert on coffee or the studies that are conducted on it, of which there are many as we so badly want it to be healthy, what I can say is this: it's good for you one day and terrible for you the next, so you drink coffee, you better drink lot of it and fast because come tomorrow it might be back on the BAD list!

5. Corn

Three cheers for corn being on this list!  Hip, hip, hooray!  Corn is an excellent source of nutrients and fiber and helps fill you up for few calories.  Corn chips, fried or baked in oil, covered in salt, are NOT!  So boil the last of that summer corn and gobble it up... but put down the butter knife and the salt shaker.  This stuff is super sweet and super delicious all on it's own.

6. Eggs

The "bad rap" is that eggs are very high in dietary cholesterol.  This is true.  It is also the case that the cholesterol is located in the yolk.  The egg white is the protein (and too much animal protein has it's effects on our diet as well as too much cholesterol).  The article states that the good news about eggs is that "Medical experts now emphasize that saturated fats and trans fats are bigger culprits in raising blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol is." This has nothing to do with whether or not eggs are good for you.  It may be the case that saturated fat and trans fat, two of the most dangerous nutrients for you to consume, are worse for your blood cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol, but does that necessarily make dietary cholesterol OK?  To me it seems like a case of "would you rather be shot or hung?"  Just because saturated and trans fats play a bigger role in raising cholesterol that doesn't mean that dietary cholesterol plays no role.  It still has great effects on your total cholesterol level.  

The article also states that "eggs are super-satisfying: in one study, people who ate a scrambled-egg-and-toast breakfast felt more satisfied, and ate less at lunch, than they did when they ate a bagel that had the same number of calories."  But what if I gave those same subjects of the study a big bowl of oatmeal and a piece of fruit?  I would be willing to bet that they would be just as satisfied, if not more so, than if they ate the egg, toast, and the bagel combined!  They would then be more satisfied for fewer calories!  And our country is in need of a little fewer calories these days for sure.

7. Nuts

Here's another one that we so badly want to justify.  Nuts are very, very, very, very, very, (you get the point) calorie dense.  One small handful can be loaded with a few hundred calories, easy.  That being said, they are necessarily bad for you, if you buy the ones that are dry roasted without salt, you just need to eat them mindfully.  And if you are looking to lose weight out the jar back on the shelf.

8. Peanut Butter

The same goes with peanut butter as any nuts.  It's very calorie dense.  Good thing a little goes a long way.  So yes, this can be healthy, but it can also be AWFUL!  Make sure that you are buying dry roasted peanut butter, be mindful of the sodium content because it can creep way up there, and be very aware that conventional peanut butter, like JIF, may be loaded with trans fat, even if it says 0g on the Nutri-Facts Label.  It's important to read your labels here and avoid anything with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils!  This is where trans fat comes from and if it has this type of oil, it's got trans fat in it, no matter what the Nutrition Facts say!

9. Potatoes

I may have saved the best for last!  I totally agree that potatoes get a bad rap when they should not at all.  It's important to think about how we usually eat potatoes... think about it... a little longer... OK... if you envisioned yourself eating a dry baked potato, you are probably kidding yourself.  The majority of us eat our potatoes either deep fried in oil, or loaded with sour cream, bacon, butter, and cheese.  The potato has become a delivery mechanism for fat and calories, but the potato itself is very healthy!  The article also raises a good point, many people think about the potato as being high on the glycemic index, however, that is a very flawed rating system (in what world is chocolate healthier than a potato?), and if you eat your potato with anything else on it, that glycemic index rating goes right out the window!  So eat your potatoes up... eat them baked with salsa on top or roasted with rosemary, or sliced in thin strips and baked in the oven and dipped in ketchup!  The way to enjoy the potato without loading them with junk is endless!

Life is good when you eat good food; make it healthy food so you can be healthier longer and eat even more good food!