Thursday, June 10, 2010
Debunking the Debunked - Food Myths
I recently read an article on Yahoo! Green by Lori Bongiorno, titled "Seven Myths about Veggies." The article has enough good information to be worth the read; hence I offer it here.
However, a couple of things in the article trouble me - not because anything Bongiorno wrote is off-base - rather because her story is incomplete. It's a good start, and I'm sure very educational for many readers. But for my tastes, I'd like to add the complexity and nuance. Here are a few caveats to consider as you read:
1. Nutrient loss in harvested produce is dependent upon a lot of factors, and unfortunately, there is not a rule of thumb that applies to all vegetable types. Some produce ripens beautifully off the vine, while other produce should not be picked until ripe. Some produce will maintain its nutrient value for quite awhile after picking, while other produce will lose it quickly upon harvest. Some produce maintains its nutrients better if it is refrigerated, while refrigeration damages nutritional values in other produce. How can you keep track of all this? You have a couple of choices. You could research each vegetable and make a table for yourself. Or, like me, you could take the simpler path, and as often as possible, limit yourself to buying just what is in season locally. That saves a lot of research, but it does pretty much dictate my menu planning. Here is an article on the nutrition benefits of seasonal eating from George Mateljan's Worlds Healthiest Foods website: http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=28.
2. To cook or not to cook: Bongiorno makes the point that some foods are more nutritious when cooked - or at least the nutrients become more available - while others are more beneficial raw. This is absolutely true, and kind of debunks the "God's Diet" myth that everything is better for you in its raw form. But knowing how to prep each food to preserve its particular nutrients - again - requires a huge learning curve. Did you know that letting some foods sit before cooking enhances nutrition value? Did you know that some foods should be smashed rather than cut? Again, I would turn to the World's Healthiest Foods website, where a wealth of information is presented about food preparation to preserve and optimize nutrients. http://whfoods.org/. No, they don't pay me. It's just that they present both the "why" and the "how" in plain English. And although they do hawk their expensive cookbooks endlessly, they've made all the information available to everyone, for free, even the recipes. They want us reform our eating habits, and they aren't trying to limit it to those who can pay.
3. No iceberg. Period: Ok, so iceberg lettuce has some nutrients. Big whoop. Avoid iceberg lettuce like the plague, because it's wasted calories in my book compared to romaine, spinach, kale, chard, arugula, bok choy, even spring mix and the dark designer green lettuces that - unlike iceberg - are actually loaded with nutrients. These green leafy veggies are more nutrient dense than meat!
What you say? You just love a quarter head of iceberg with thousand island dressing? Ok, fine. I love sweet potato fries. So sue me. But I don't eat them daily. Daily, you should be eating dark, leafy greens if you care about your insides and want the healthiest shot at old-age possible.
Wait, I hear some of you saying, "But I don't LIKE dark green leaves." Well, teach your tastebuds something new. Did you know it supposedly takes eight "tastes" of something for your tastebuds to acclimate and begin to like something? To get the benefit of green, consider mixing a handful of darker greens into your lighter greens. When you're used to it, add a second handful to the salad, eventually converting yourself to a dark leaf eater. By the way, this works for those of you who haven't gravitated to the much healthier dark chocolate from the milk variety too. Even though this is a veggie post, chocolate-lovers can read more on dark chocolate here: http://www.livestrong.com/article/134296-healthy-chocolate/. Oh, and here's more on the health benefits of adding dark green leaves to your diet: http://www.brighthub.com/health/diet-nutrition/articles/42831.aspx
4. Potatoes...sigh. I love potatoes, and I used to think they were a great diet food as long as you didn't load them with sour cream and cheese. But then I learned - fortunately before I hit that magic age when simply stating that you like a food will put weight on you - that many types of potatoes are high on the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measure of a food's capacity to spike your blood sugar levels, imitate insulin, and create havoc with your ability to keep your weight down. I don't have the time today to educate you about how to take glycemic index (and glycemic "load") into account in your meal and diet planning, but here is an article, http://breastcancer.about.com/od/cancerfightingfoods/a/potatoes.htm, on the glycemic ramifications of potatoes, with chart on the relative glycemic values of different types of potatoes. And, if this is the first you're hearing about glycemic index, or you've been meaning to learn about it: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=32#what. The best option, however, is to switch to sweet potatoes, which, lucky for those of us who love sweet potato fries (preferably baked but hey - occasionally fried), are low on the glycemic index and high on nutrition.
Ok, I've said my piece. Now for the article: http://shine.yahoo.com/event/green/seven-myths-about-veggies-1609212/