Opinion: Five Food and Nutrition Myths You Can Ignore

Jason Brick wrote . . . . . . .

A little more than 70% of American adults are overweight (according to the CDC), with a third of us qualifying as obese. But what if that has less to do with us jamming burgers into our faces and washing them down with sodas so big only astronomers understand how to measure their size and more to do with us having been lied to by the powers that be?

In search of answers to our various food-related conspiracy theories, we called up Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health. Not only is he one of our leading experts in health, wellness, and nutrition, he’s spent a couple of decades calling out the most egregious food lies from government agencies and food cabals, and presenting more accurate information.

After talking with Dr. Willett, and reading his no-bullshit guide Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, we identified the five most insidious food myths that have been forced down our throats and what we can do to combat them.

Myth #1: The Food Pyramid

If you’re old like me, you will remember “the Basic Four” food groups: dairy, meat, bread, and fruits and vegetables. It was an attempt by the US Department of Agriculture to provide guidelines for what to eat every day and introduced the concept of a balanced meal, but it wasn’t detailed enough to be useful. “It didn’t recognize a difference between white bread and whole grains, or between spinach and cherries,” says Dr. Willett.

The USDA addressed some of those concerns in the early 1990s with the more nuanced Food Pyramid, but, according to Dr. Willett, its legitimacy was undercut by lobbyists. “The influence of agribusiness like corn and dairy had more to do with [how the pyramid took shape] than the CDC and other health agencies,” says Willett. One example: the Food Pyramid wanted you to eat more white bread than raw vegetables. It also didn’t tell you the difference between good fats and oils and the bad ones.

The USDA’s latest nutrition guide, MyPyramid, introduced in 2011, is more trustworthy, but it’s also less nuanced and therefore brings back the issues associated with “the Basic Four.” For those looking for more detailed guidelines about what’s nutritional circa 2018, Dr. Willett recommends the Healthy Eating Plate, released by his team at the Harvard’s School of Public Health, which also provides an elaborate and nicely illustrated “Healthy Eating Pyramid,” complete with optional suggestions and reminders for what foods to eat sparingly.

Myth #2: Drink more milk

You heard it from your parents, from your TV, and from our buddy Leon the Professional: Milk is good for your bones and your teeth, so you should drink at least a glass a day. Maybe two. Especially as a kid. On the surface, this makes sense. Milk contains a lot of calcium. Calcium is what they make bones and teeth out of. Ergo, bones and teeth are made of milk. Pour me a glass!

According to Dr. Willett, though, it’s “not such an emergency.” A grip of studies during the ’90s looked at comparative medical outcomes in countries where people drink a lot of milk (like Denmark and the USA) and countries where people hardly drink any milk at all (like Japan and Singapore). Turns out, there’s not a whole lot of difference in frequency of broken bones, age of osteoporosis onset, or dental problems. If drinking a lot of milk was so important, we’d see more bone and tooth problems in the countries with less moo juice.

Why don’t we see that difference? Because calcium is in all kinds of stuff. Oranges, green beans, sunflower seeds, broccoli, almonds, squash, clams, and rockfish are just a few of the dozens of foods with a powerful calcium content. Hell, Tums have more calcium than your body needs.

The takeaway: Eat cheese because that shit is delicious, not because you’re afraid you’ll break a hip if you don’t.

Myth #3: Fat is bad

This one is rooted in the fitness craze in the ’70s and ’80s that accompanied jogging, jazzercising, and Jane Fonda’s Workout. Again, it made sense if you only gave it a little thought. Everyone wants to be thinner, and fat is the opposite of thin. So if we want to be thin, why would we put fat into our bodies?

But fat is one of three kinds of food substances our bodies need. Eating a diet with no fat is like running your car with no oil. Sure, you have plenty of gas and transmission fluid, but overall it’s a bad idea. Dr. Willett, and a few thousand other knowledgeable professionals, report that you shouldn’t avoid fats, but learn the differences between kinds of fat and eat accordingly. Roughly, these fall into three groups: good fats from plants and fish that you should eat plenty of; bad fats from animals (plus palm and coconut plants) that should represent no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake; and super-duper bad trans fats from industrial processes that you should not only avoid, but bury at a crossroads at midnight with a stake through their hearts.

There’s one piece of good news here. Back in the worst days of the fat scare, people ate butter substitutes made from trans fats and thought they were doing themselves a favor. According to Dr. Willett, “most butter substitutes are free of trans fats after we became aware of the problem in the early 2000s.” So, we’ve got that going for us.

Myth #4: Low-carb is good

Low-carb, slow-carb, Atkins, Paleo, or Keto. Whatever you choose to call it, low-carb diets are a massive business, and for two good reasons: 1) people who follow low-carb diets tend to experience rapid weight loss in the early months of the diet, which is not only encouraging, it’s usually pretty good for them, and 2) they generally don’t ask you to stop eating meat. Losing weight is good. Bacon is delicious. So what’s the problem?

“No diet advice is complete if you only tell people what not to eat,” says Dr. Willett. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners consisting entirely of bacon and sawed-off chunks off cheese the size of a car battery is a staple of most low-carb diets, but your dietary approach needs to be far more complicated when you’re looking at the bigger picture.

But complicated nutrition programs don’t sell books, and you can’t make a Dr. Phil-esque comment that sums it up succinctly. So low-carb programs sell big and folks keep on being skinny right up to their first heart attack.

Myth #5: Diet soda makes you thin

“Oh, for the love of…” you’re saying. “Diet soda has zero calories. How can it not make you thin?”

That’s what the makers of diet sodas have been banking on (and taking to the bank) for decades. Like all the other myths on this list, it passes the sniff test initially because its surface thesis is sound: If you drink sodas with lots of sugar and calories, you’re going to put on more weight than if you drink sodas with zero calories.

But that’s not necessarily true, and despite a lot of research over the years on the matter, science isn’t entirely sure why yet. Some hypothesize that diet sodas contain a mess of chemicals that mess up your metabolism, make you crave sugar, or instruct your body to store fat. Other experts conjecture that it’s a correlation-not-causation thing — that only people who are already overweight drink diet sodas. Psychologists have speculated that some people might use consumption of diet drinks as tacit permission to super-size their value meal.

Yeah, it’s all super-complicated and nobody’s really sure what the hell is going on. Meanwhile, Dr. Willett recommends just setting the policy of never drinking calories. Water and tea are fine for most meals. Especially water. Drink more water.

Source: Thrillist


Opinion: 7 nutrition trends you’ll see in 2018

Christy Brissette wrote . . . . . . .

Last year was all about plant protein, sprouted foods and healthy fats. My prediction is that 2018 will be focused on eating to prevent and manage health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and boosting digestive health.

This year’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo was held in Chicago and brought more than 13,000 nutrition professionals together to learn about food and nutrition research and innovation.

Here are the top food and nutrition trends you’ll see in the year ahead.


Why it’s a trend: Healthy fats are in, and in 2018 we’ll home in on omega-9s (also known as monounsaturated fats) for their potential to regulate blood sugar levels and promote a healthy weight.

Where you’ll see it: Algae has been touted as a superfood in its own right, but the newest use for algae is in the production of ­omega-9 cooking oil. The process doesn’t use genetically modified organisms or chemical extraction, further broadening its appeal. Thrive algae oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. It has a high smoke point of 485 degrees, which means you can use it in baking, roasting and sauteing.

So what does algae oil taste like? It’s completely neutral and odorless, so you can use it in any recipes where you want healthy fat without changing the flavor of the food.

Plant-based probiotics

Why it’s a trend: Probiotics have been a hot topic in the nutrition world for several years. They’re bacteria that provide health benefits such as better digestion and a stronger immune system. With plant-based eating becoming increasingly popular, people are looking for probiotic sources beyond yogurt and kefir.

Where you’ll see it: GoodBelly dairy-free probiotics come in tasty shots, juice, infused drinks and bars so you can get your daily dose of good bacteria any way you like. All GoodBelly offerings feature bacteria strain Lp299v, which has been scientifically proved to survive stomach acid and arrive safely in the intestines, where it can colonize in the gut. In other words, these probiotics go beyond “live and active cultures” — they survive and thrive to give you health benefits.

Chicory root fiber

Why it’s a trend: It’s fantastic to introduce healthy bacteria into your digestive tract, but you also need to provide the right fuel to help those good bacteria thrive. That’s where prebiotics come in.

Chicory root fibers (inulin and oligofructose) are the only scientifically proven plant-based prebiotics with proven health benefits such as weight management, improved calcium absorption and digestive health.

Where you’ll see it: Expect to find chicory root fiber in a variety of foods, including nutrition bars (ThinkThin), yogurt (Oikos Triple Zero), smoothies and oatmeal. You can also find it as a powder (Prebiotin) that can be added to your food and beverages.

Eating for ‘Type 3’ diabetes

Why it’s a trend: Alzheimer’s disease is now being referred to as “Type 3 diabetes” and “brain diabetes,” as both conditions involve insulin resistance and deficiency. In 2018, we’ll be focusing more on the importance of eating for brain health.

Where you’ll see it: A randomized control trial of the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay) diet is looking into the benefits of a nutrient-rich diet emphasizing foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and berries in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Frozen blueberries are being given to participants because they are rich in antioxidants that may be beneficial for the brain, particularly when it comes to memory loss in aging.

Recent research published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that daily consumption of the equivalent of one cup of fresh blueberries, given as 24 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder, showed positive changes in cognitive function in older adults over a placebo.

Expect to see blueberry powder as a supplement and blueberries being used to create condiments and sauces in savory as well as sweet dishes.

Pseudograins made convenient

Why it’s a trend: Getting healthy whole grains on the table has always been a challenge because of longer cooking times. That’s why food companies are coming up with ways to bring us whole grains and pseudograins (seeds that are served as grains) much more quickly.

Where you’ll see it: Fast and portable amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa in single portions such as Ellyndale Q Cups in low-sodium flavors like Savory Garlic & Mushroom. They’re ready in five minutes; just add boiling water and steep and you’re ready to eat.

Stevia 2.0

Why it’s a trend: Stevia continues to rule as the sweetener of choice for people wanting to cut down on sugar or calories. As the demand for stevia grows, so do the product offerings.

Where you’ll see it: Look for stevia as an ingredient in more beverages, baking mixes and condiments as consumers look for calorie- and sugar-reduced versions of their favorites.

Stevia will be mixed with brown sugar, cane sugar and honey by companies such as Truvia to make lower-sugar and lower-calorie options. Because these stevia products are naturally sweeter than sugar, you need to use only half the amount.

Cottage cheese, the new Greek yogurt

Why it’s a trend: Cottage cheese used to be only for dieters because it was seen as plain and, let’s face it, lumpy. Now it’s becoming more popular because we’re all obsessed with finding more ways to pack protein into our meals and snacks. This cousin to Greek yogurt is slightly higher in protein and is mostly casein, a protein that can help you feel full longer.

Where you’ll see it: Brands such as Muuna make cottage cheese with a texture that melts in your mouth and is sweetened with real fruit and no artificial flavors. Plus it’s low in sugar, with only four grams in the plain version.

Source : The Washington Post

Opinion: Humans Made the Banana Perfect – But Soon, It’ll be Gone

Rob Dunn wrote . . . . . . .

In 1950, most bananas were exported from Central America. Guatemala in particular was a key piece of a vast empire of banana plantations run by the American-owned United Fruit Company. United Fruit Company paid Guatemala’s government modest sums in exchange for land. With the land, United Fruit planted bananas and then did as it pleased. It exercised absolute control not only over what workers did but also over how and where they lived. In addition, it controlled transportation, constructing, for example, the first railway in the country, one that was designed to be as useless as possible for the people of Guatemala and as useful as possible for transporting bananas. The company’s profits were immense. In 1950, its revenues were twice the gross domestic product of the entire country of Guatemala. Yet while the United Fruit Company invested greatly in its ability to move bananas, little was invested in understanding the biology of bananas themselves.

United Fruit and the rest of the banana industry did what industries do. They figured out how to do one thing well—in this case, grow one variety of banana, the Gros Michel. Moreover, because it is difficult to get domesticated bananas to have sex (they are puritan in their proclivities, blessed with virtually no seeds), the Gros Michel was reproduced via suckers, clonally. Cuttings from the best specimens were replanted. As a result, virtually all bananas grown in Guatemala, in Latin America in general, and around the world for export were genetically identical. Identical in the way that identical human twins are identical and even a tiny bit more so. For industry, this was great. Bananas were predictable. Each was like each other. No banana was ever the wrong size, the wrong flavor, the wrong anything.

It is hard to overestimate how unusual the situation of bananas in the middle of the last century was—unusual not just in the history of humanity but also in the history of life. There is a patch of aspen trees in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah that many argue is the largest living organism on earth. It comprises some thirty-seven thousand trees, each of which is genetically the same as the other, and the argument goes that the trees, collectively, represent a single organism because they are identical and connected by their roots. But requiring pieces of an organism to be connected in order to be considered part of a collective is arbitrary. The ants in an ant colony, for example, are clearly part of the colony, even when they’re not physically in the nest. All this is to say that an argument can be made that large groups of genetically identical plants, even if not connected, may reasonably be considered a single organism. If one makes such an argument, the banana plantations of Central America in the 1950s were not only the largest collective organism alive at that point, they also may well have been the largest collective organism ever to live.

Economically, growing just a single clone of bananas was genius. Biologically, it posed problems. These problems had already been noted, for example, in the British production and export of coffee in the 1800s. At that time, the British drank coffee, not tea. They drank coffee exported from their colony Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Early on in Ceylon, coffee plantations were planted among wild forests. When the British took Ceylon from the Dutch in 1797, they began to expand coffee production on the island. Investment in the coffee plantations by the English, both at home and abroad, “was unlimited; and in its profusion was equaled…only by the ignorance and inexperience of those to whom it was entrusted.” As the demand for coffee increased, it was planted in large monocultures—that is, vast areas of only a single variety of tree. Coffee on one hill, coffee on the next. Not a taller, wilder tree to be seen. There were 160,000 hectares of the central uplands planted in coffee. The coffee brought real affluence—banks, roads, hotels, and luxury. It was an unbridled success, or seemed to be.

Harry Marshall Ward, a British fungal biologist visiting Ceylon in 1887, warned farmers that farming such large plantations of a single variety of coffee would cause problems. Pests and pathogens, once they arrived in the plantations, would devour them. This was, he thought, particularly true of coffee rust, which was already present in Ceylon, but it would also be true of any other pest or pathogen that arrived. Nothing would stop such an organism from quickly devouring all the trees, since they were all of the same variety—and thus equally susceptible to whatever threat might arise or arrive—and planted very close together. This is exactly what happened. Coffee rust wiped out the coffee of Ceylon and, subsequently, much of the rest of the coffee of Asia and Africa. Coffee growers replanted with tea.

Ward had predicted that the coffee of Ceylon would be devastated. As the plantations of bananas expanded across the American tropics, scientists made similar predictions. These scientists noted that in the native range of bananas lived a great diversity. There were big ones, small ones, sweet ones, sour ones, hard ones, soft ones, bananas as dessert, and bananas—plantains, really—consumed as sustenance. In those same regions one could also find an extraordinary diversity of pathogens. But in the cultivated world of bananas, the scientists pointed out, because a single genetically identical variety of banana was planted everywhere, were any banana-attacking pathogen to arrive, it would mean trouble. Any pathogen that could attack a single banana plant, even one, would be able to kill all of them. If the banana companies had listened to these warnings, they might have planted a diversity of banana varieties or a variety that would be resistant to the most likely pathogens. But why would they? The single clone of the Gros Michel banana was the most productive anyone had ever found. Planting anything else would mean losing money.

Then the inevitable happened. A malady arrived—Panama disease (now more often called fusarium wilt), caused by the pathogen Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense. Panama disease started to wipe out banana plantations in 1890. Nothing precluded its spread or even promised to slow it. Seen from above, the plantations across Latin America started to look like the lights had been turned off. Patches of bright green went black. Whole landscapes went black. In the Ulua valley of Honduras alone, thirty thousand acres were infected and abandoned within the first year in which Panama disease arrived. Nearly all the banana plantations in Guatemala were devastated and, once devastated, abandoned, because it was quickly figured out that the pathogen, having arrived, could lurk in the soil for years (or even, as we now know, decades).

United Fruit Company’s leaders believed that if they were able to find another banana, one that vaguely resembled the Gros Michel but was resistant to the pathogen, it could be planted on the abandoned land and the banana empire could be restored. This plan, however, was based on a farcical set of assumptions. It assumed that consumers would simply accept whatever banana you sold them as long as it looked more or less the same. In addition, it overlooked the reality that no replacement banana had yet turned up — no good option, anyway. The only banana that seemed both pathogenresistant and similar to the Gros Michel was a banana called the Cavendish. The Cavendish tasted very different from the Gros Michel. It had “off flavors” and was less sweet. What it had going for it, though, was that you could plant it even where Panama disease was present in the soil and it wouldn’t die (and it still doesn’t).

Over the next several years, the Cavendish banana would prove to be the only banana that both looked like the Gros Michel and would resist Panama disease. So it was that without any other real options, and having helped to overthrow a democratically elected government so as to continue to be able to produce cheap bananas, the United Fruit Company started to plant the Cavendish across hundreds of thousands and then millions of acres. They then began to export it to the United States, along with a massive advertising campaign lauding the benefits of the banana. It worked.

Just as the British had earlier switched from coffee to tea (substituting one caffeinated drink in a cup for another), Americans switched from the Gros Michel banana to the Cavendish. The advertising was so good that the new banana, the Cavendish, was even more successful commercially than had been its predecessor, the Gros Michel. Bolstering the Cavendish’s sales was the shift of American populations to cities, where the connection between what consumers bought and what grew well locally had been severed. Sales of the Cavendish banana were strong, and they continue to be.

It is with very few exceptions the only kind of banana you find in stores outside the regions where bananas grow. Its success fuels the economies of whole countries. It is the biggest export of Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, and Belize and the second most valuable export for Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras. If you were born after 1950, you are unlikely to have ever purchased any banana other than the Cavendish clone—other than what is now the world’s largest organism. To the extent that anyone worried about diseases affecting the Cavendish, it was because of black leaf streak (Mycosphaerella fijiensis), which was not nearly as bad as Panama disease. Panama disease, meanwhile, had become a thing of the past. The Cavendish remained resistant in part because the pathogen itself is not very diverse and so relatively unable to adapt.

The Appeal of the Cavendish

Industry, we learn from the story of the Cavendish banana, will plant the crop that grows most easily and supply it to us whenever we want. It will encourage us to want it all the time. It will tend to plant crops in ways that produce the greatest yield, even if that mode of production has costs; even if it also puts the very crop the industry depends on at risk. Cavendish bananas are all genetically identical. Each banana you buy in the store is the clone of the one next to it. Every banana plant being grown for export is really part of the same plant, a collective organism larger than any other on earth, far bigger than the clonal groves of aspens.

This giant organism is now at risk of exactly the same sort of population crash that befell the Gros Michel, and a new strain of Fusarium, a close relative of the pathogen that causes Panama disease, has evolved. It can kill both Gros Michel and Cavendish bananas. This strain has already spread from Asia to East Africa and seems likely to make its way to Central America. This should be extremely worrisome. But what should be more worrisome is that the same is true of most of our crops, most of the plants that we most depend on, a list of species that is shockingly and increasingly short.

The simplification of the agricultural world and our diets has come with benefits. They are the same benefits that accrued to the United Fruit Company (rebranded in 1984 as Chiquita Brands International, a.k.a. Chiquita)—the ability to produce a large amount of food on a given area of land. In concert with the homogenization of agriculture, we have figured out how to grow more food per acre than ever before—ten times more food than ten thousand years ago, perhaps a hundred times more than fifteen thousand years ago. As a result, a smaller number of people on earth go hungry today than at any other moment in the last thousand years. Modern science has brought us food in abundance, just as it brought the United Fruit Company affluence. Yet this abundance, like the affluence of modern banana companies, is tenuous, dependent on our ability to protect the very few species on which we now depend. The problem is that nearly all those key species are in trouble, because in simplifying the production of our food we achieved short-term benefits at the expense of long-term benefits—and, for that matter, at the expense of long-term sustainability.

The problem we face is the consequence of the preferences of our brains, reinforced by the incentives of industry. We live in a thoroughly modern world with brains and bodies that evolved in an environment where sweets, fats, proteins, and salt were all hard to get. We have simple ape brains and simpler ape nervous systems. Our ancestors evolved taste buds that rewarded them when they found food that provided these necessities. Our environment has changed. Our needs have changed. But our taste buds remain the same. We experience pleasure when we eat these substances, our body’s way to reward us for having found them. Our brains, meanwhile, are wired to spot shiny, bright fruits. As a result, the world we were most likely to create is one in which our foods appeal simply to these ancient preferences. This is precisely what we have done and precisely what one encounters in the grocery store, where the foods in the greatest abundance are now perfectly matched to our ancient needs despite our modern waistlines. Inasmuch as we demand (or at least buy) the same things regardless of the time of year, the foods in the grocery store are never out of season. What’s more, whereas the fruit and vegetable aisles of some grocery stores are relatively diverse, the vast majority of the calories in our diets come from the processed foods found in the rest of the store, foods that can stay on the shelf long beyond the seasons of the plants (or animals) from which they are made.

Globally, we favor the crops that best satisfy our ancient needs at the lowest cost, regardless of how far they might have to travel and regardless of the season. The more urban our civilization becomes, the more disconnected it becomes from the life on which we depend and thus the more extreme our demand for simple products regardless of the season. The crops that are expanding—in terms of the area over which we plant them—are not those that are the most flavorful or nutritious but rather those that are used to produce sugar (sugarcane, sugar beets, corn) and oil (oil palms, olives, canola).

That we have created such a simple world seems dissatisfying, but just because something is dissatisfying doesn’t mean it won’t suffice. Theoretically, we could live off of a diminishing number of crops. We could even get by on a single crop. Potatoes, for example, provide nearly all the nutrients we need, as do cassava and sweet potatoes. But just as our demand for a few basic foods whenever we want them was predictable, so, too, were the problems these crops are now facing. The more we feed ourselves according to our most primitive desires, the more we create a world dominated by just a few productive crops—crops that are threatened by their very commonness. Even coffee is at risk again. Having learned nothing from Sri Lanka, we have once more planted varieties of coffee that are susceptible to coffee rust in large plantations, and the rust is back. That these crops are nearly all at risk today from pests, pathogens, and climate change is not a fluke. Given our preferences, it was nearly inevitable.

The risk to our crops comes in direct proportion to the ways in which we have simplified agriculture. Nearly every crop in the world has undergone a very similar history—domesticated in one region, then moved to another region, where it could escape its pests and pathogens. But these pests and pathogens, in our global world of airplane flights and boat trips, are catching up. Once they do catch up, there are only very few ways to save our crops, and all of them depend on biodiversity, whether in the wild or among traditional crop varieties. This was true with the banana. Saving banana production around the world depended on finding the Cavendish banana, which relied on the work of the farmers that produced and grew it in the first place. Saving the banana when the Cavendish collapses will depend on our finding yet another variety and having similar luck. Alternatively, someone might be able to breed a new, resistant banana using some mix of new technologies and ancient varieties. But if they are going to do so, it will need to be soon.

The more we heed our basic instincts for cheap sugar, salt, fat, and protein in whatever form we want it, whatever time of year we want it, the more we create a simple agricultural world and the more we will depend on the diversity of life with which that same agriculture competes on a finite planet. This book is the story of scientists racing to save the diversity of life in order to save our crops and in order to save us. It is the story of a puzzle we must solve. The ancient rules of life leave us relatively few ways to arrange the pieces.

Source: WIRED