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  • Three Things I Want Recalled

    RawPotatoC-listers all over Tinseltown must be insanely jealous of eggs’ press agents.  If you were one of the millions of recalled Salmonella-tainted eggs over the past week and a half, you were everywhere — form the morning talk shows to CNN to thousands of blogs and tweets.

    Alas, all this recall business got me thinking about other things I would like taken back as of yesterday.

    1) Potato hate:

    Apparently, some nutritionists and Registered Dietitians are stuck in the “net carb” days of 2003 and consider potatoes to be a “no no”.  Some go as far as claiming “it doesn’t count as a vegetable.”  Magical realism and denial rolled into one big ball of “huh?”.  Pretending something “doesn’t count” if you don’t like it is the new black!

    Since, these nutritionists reason, most Americans eat potatoes in unhealthy ways, then it only makes sense to make a gross overgeneralization and claim the potato itself is not healthy.  Because, hey, why try to educate people when you can just keep a myth going?

    Truth is, when eaten in a healthy way (think baked, with its skin on, topped with some olive oil, salsa, or guacamole), potatoes provide fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.  This notion that a baked potato and an order of large fries are essentially the same thing is reductionist, simplistic, and absolutely inaccurate.  And, please, spare me the “but potatoes are a white food” speech.  So are bananas.  And cauliflower. And garlic.  And most onions.  And coconut meat.

    2) Food/Supermarket Scoring:

    In theory, it sounds helpful.  “Let’s score supermarket foods so people know what’s healthy and what’s not.”  Well, befriending your old high school friends on Facebook also sounded good in theory.

    Truth is, a lot of these systems either state the obvious (“broccoli is healthy!”) or are mired by huge flaws (“if a product is high in fat, it gets lots of points taken off, even if it’s something as simple and healthful as almond butter.”)

    This is something I have personal experience with.  For several months, I was a consultant on a food-grading system (one that, I must say, successfully escapes the pitfalls others plummet into).  Though I exerted a significant amount of effort helping developers come up with algorithms that would lead to an accurate system, it was impossible to not face limiting restrictions (“yes, take off a lot of points for long ingredient lists… oh, well, but, wait, here is a 100% whole grain sprouted bread with no added sugars made from 16 grains.”).  Still, that said, the developers did as comprehensive a job as possible.

    My main concern is that ttoo many variables that come into play.  For example — what’s “healthier”: a full-fat chocolate ice cream made from local, organic grass-fed milk or a reduced-fat ice cream that is lower in calories (with no artificial sweeteners or fake fats) but made from conventional dairy, possibly from cows injected with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone?

    Food comparison programs and apps are at least more customizable and can capture more nuances than supermarket scoring systems like NuVal, which despite much hyperbole, have yet to be mplemented in more than a handful of stores.  For example, someone concerned with GMOs or a company’s labor practices can find a particular app for their interests, while a supermarket scoring system may only look at variables that may seem irrelevant to a consumer (for example, I don’t give grams of protein a second of thought when food shopping, whereas some supermarket scoring systems do).

    3) Overcomplicating the Issues:

    Find me one person whose weight did not drop (and health did not improve) by eating fewer calories, eating fewer processed foods, and amping up their physical activity.  Yes, there are a myriad of factors that can affect how well those behaviors play out (i.e.: hormonal changes, genetic makeup, etc.), but I don’t understand the need to reinvent a wheel that works (“eat negative calorie foods”, “drink 9 glasses of green tea every day”, “never EVER mix a carbohydrate with a protein”, “no carbohydrates for dinner”, “dairy products make you fat”, etc.).

    As I always ask the “calories don’t mean squat” groupies, please show me examples of people who gained weight as a result of eating fewer calories or individuals who lost weight by doubling their daily caloric intake (without any change in physical activity).

    Of course, the quality of what is consumed is of the utmost importance.  Whether one wants to gain or lose weight, the idea is to fill up with nutrients and other healthful components from whole foods (not chalky astronaut beverages in a can or an “energy bar” more fitting for a chemistry class experiment than your digestive system).

    Oh, PS: if anyone could offer me a time machine, I want to go back to the early 90s and immediately recall the fat-free era.

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    4 Comments

    1. Marianne said on August 28th, 2010

      I am so with you on the potatoes thing. And well, all the others as well. The scoring systems are weird – you’ll get one that says an orange is better than an apple. Okay, but both are still good for you, so why rank one against the other? If it’s a real, whole food, chances are it has something good going on, so if you like it, consume it.

    2. Axel said on August 28th, 2010

      Do you think that foods high in fat or starch are black listed simply because of the obesity pandemic? Are some nutritionist just hyper sensitive to these foods because American food culture focuses on large portions and over eating?

    3. Andy Bellatti said on August 28th, 2010

      Axel, I suppose… but the connection doesn’t make any sense. If you look at consumption figures, total calories (and, therefore, all nutrients) have increased over the past three decades. Most of these calories are in liquid form (whether it’s 500-calorie lattes, soda, etc.) Blaming potatoes as a whole because most people eat them as French fries is silly. It would be equivalent to saying fish and seafood should be avoided simply because most people in the US eat it fried and breaded.

      Blaming isolated foods and nutrients has been done for decades, all while obesity rates continue to increase. I strongly disagree with nutritionists who think the key is to avoid bananas/potatoes/dairy, etc. I’m not saying everyone has to eat those foods. However, no one should be “warned” about them.

    4. Andy Bellatti said on August 28th, 2010

      Marianne,

      EXACTLY. I don’t find it impressive that Dr. Katz and company have finally figured out a way to determine which fruit is healthiest. What’s the purpose? Also, a lot of these scoring systems can sometimes get caught up on trivial details (ie: a food gets extra points for containing flaxseeds…. even though whole flaxseeds don’t offer the same amount of nutrition as flaxmeal… and, besides, should a tortilla chip really get preferential treatment because it has a few flaxseeds sprinkled on top?)….

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