June 4, 2012
The news media love to pepper their pages with the latest discoveries in the field of nutrition and health. And who can blame them. Amid all the economic gloom and crime reportage, a story about a startling new finding on the merits of tumeric or olive oil is a breath of fresh air. Or is it? For those of us interested in self-care, there is a confusing amount of information about just which foods are good for your body. In this post, I have decided to critically examine some common myths.
Broccoli is a superfood: While it is true that broccoli does have cholesterol-reducing properties as well vitamins and fiber, so do other cruciferous vegetables. A researcher might conduct a study to prove the benefits of a food group and he chooses a member of that class of vegetables to experiment with. But the media confuses the sample for the finding. If broccoli or blueberries were used as a sample in the study, the media announces that broccoli or blueberries is the superfood. Totally missing the point of the research, and confusing the public. The truth is, a good serving of a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet will have steady, long term benefits. That is all the researchers ever try to illustrate.
Fresh is better than frozen or canned. Instinctively that makes sense but that is not the case. So much of our fresh food is imported, and as such is picked unripe to increase its shelf life during transportation. By contrast, sometimes canning happens at the farms themselves, or the produce is frozen before canning, hence retaining its full nutritional properties. Of course, buying the seasonal fruits and vegetables from your local farmer’s market is the best tasting option, nutritionally the canned variety is usually the same.
Supplements are good for you. Some of us have a plethora of vitamins on our shelves – every letter of the alphabet. Yet there is no medical evidence to suggest that popping vitamin pills has health benefits. That does not mean they don’t do any good either. It may just be that people who consume supplements are concerned about their well-being and as such do other things such as exercise to maintain good health. Hence the supplements alone do not give them better health but we can’t isolate that they don’t either. Generally, there is no substitute for a well-balanced diet. Supplements are useful for short-term deficiencies detected in your blood work (such as iron or calcium), but they should not be relied upon as a permanent and exclusive solution.
Fish Oil is good for the brain and heart. Omega-3 is, and fish oil does contain rich amounts of it. But then, so do walnuts, flax seeds and kiwi. If you have an ethical issue with consuming mangled up fish bodies (as I do) then many alternatives are available that are equally as good. Though you would never guess it from the media coverage fish oil gets.
The Mediterranean Diet is Best. This makes for good press, but what does it really mean? Italian food is often high in starch and is very salty, very different from a couscous salad. The essence of the Mediterranean diet is that it is low in red meats, and high in fresh fruits and vegetables. The cuisine of any part of the world that is balanced and consumed with an awareness of these facts is just as good. I have often heard it said that Indian food is bad for you because it is oily. My mother always cooked everything from scratch. She never used processed foods. Oil was used sparringly, we rarely ate fried foods. It is also now known that spices such as tumeric and cumin contain healing curcumin, an effective anti-inflammatory.
My mother also taught me to splurge on the best quality of fresh food I could afford. While cutting corners with other luxuries makes sense, cutting corners with nutrition does not. One of the great things about living in a global world is the availability of varieties of cuisines at your doorsteps. It is foolish to restrict yourself to just one type of foods. Nutrition seems complicated if we rely on headlines, but the research is all pointing to the same few things. Eat well-balanced, variety of foods in moderation. Simple.