It used to be that scanning a menu and choosing the best tasting thing on it was easy. We just did it; no thought, no guilt. But, that was then. Now, if we’re smart, we also take into account not just taste but also whether or not the food we choose is good for us. In an earlier day, a breakfast of bacon and eggs with a side of buttered toast and a cup of coffee was simple. It was good tasting and filling. But times have changed and ordering breakfast – and a lot of other meals and foods – is not quite as simple as it once was.
Today we know volumes more about health and diet than we did when bacon and eggs was a breakfast staple. But despite how good it might taste, there are studies that show today that bacon is not good for us; that it’s on the wrong side of fat and sodium, two factors that contribute to poor health. Of course, that’s just one study.
There are other studies that say just the opposite. For example, BaconToday, a pork industry website, touts the nutritional benefits of this iconic breakfast food. Not surprisingly, it not only says that bacon’s OK, but that it’s a smart, nutritional choice. “Bacon in moderation,” it says, “lowers blood pressure and blood sugar levels.” There’s also a new way to look at its traveling companion, eggs.
For years, the government warned about the dark side of eggs, sunny side or in any other incarnation. While passing no judgment on taste, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the panel that advises the government on nutrition, was firm on cholesterol, a compound produced naturally in our bodies but also present in scores of foods, including eggs.
The Committee warned that a high concentrations of cholesterol can be dangerous, blocking arteries and leading to serious health concerns including heart attack and stroke, especially among Latinos. (According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, half of all Latinos have high cholesterol and are unaware of it.)
The Committee also warned that an excess of cholesterol – in eggs, meat and dairy products, also in shrimp, lobster and fatty meats – in the American diet is a public health concern. But that was then.
Today the body has abandoned its dire warnings on consuming foods containing high cholesterol. Its new position reverses nearly four decades of cholesterol warnings. And while it says that cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern,” it stops well short of suggesting people just ignore it.
With so many contradictory viewpoints – on bacon, eggs and so many other foods – who are we to believe? Should we continue on our merry way and stick with the foods we like but are not necessarily wise choices? Or, should we re-do our diet and focus on health on long-living?
“Some of the things we read are confusing,” concedes Dr. Jennifer Powell Weddig, professor of nutrition at Denver’s Metropolitan State University. “Sometimes we don’t read the whole thing and a little bit of information can be a dangerous thing.”
When in doubt, whether it be over ordering the BLT or cheese omelet with vente Americano – double shot espresso and water – said Weddig, just take a moment and think. “There are some guidelines that will never change.”
Most important, said the Metro State instructor, is the guideline that stresses ‘moderation.’ Weddig uses coffee as one example. “I tell my classes when we say two to three cups a day of coffee are OK, we’re not talking about ‘vente’ Starbucks.” Vente is Starbucks’ way of saying ‘extra big.’ “When you’re drinking one, it’s actually three servings.” A ‘tall’ is the Starbucks version of ‘small,’ the size Weddig says is probably the best choice.
“Yeah, it’s pretty confusing sometime,” says Alicia, a young Latina mother recently at the Corky Gonzales Library, the city’s newest public library. “I try and educate myself on what’s good for me and my children but there’s so much information. Some things I think are good for me, I later find out aren’t.” Alicia, who asked not to use her full name, says she’s always wary of high cholesterol foods because high cholesterol runs in her family. But she’s also concerned about wine, something that she’s read is both good and bad for you. “Keeping up with the good stuff and bad stuff is not easy.”
Weddig understands the confusion. On one hand wine does carry certain health benefits. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health said that for moderate drinkers, wine can be good. It can reduce heart attack risk, lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes and lower stroke risk. The study, using American Heart Association guidelines, identified moderate wine drinkers as someone who drinks one to two four-ounce glasses a day.
But not all wine drinkers can thoughtfully be considered ‘moderate.’ For those in this category or those who do not drink wine or other alcoholic beverages at all and want the benefits offered by wine, Weddig makes a simple suggestion: drink pure grape juice. It’s wine without the alcohol.
Coffee has also moved from the dark side and into a new light. No longer is it linked to cancer or heart disease. A Harvard School of Public Health study that analyzed health and diet of 130,000 adults found no significant increase in cancer rates or cardiovascular disease among coffee drinkers. And the evidence held true for heavy drinkers, those who drink 48 ounces or more a day of coffee. Interestingly, the study showed a link to lower rates or Type 2 Diabetes, certain forms of cancer and even a “protection against Parkinson’s disease.”
Weddig says with a little bit of common sense and curiosity, a healthy diet need not be fraught with dark shadows. Drink alcohol in moderation. Cut down on saturated fats, the fats found in meat and dairy products. “You should aim to eat no larger than a 3 to 4 ounce portion of meat at each meal,” she preaches. Finally, she tells students to consume as much information on food and diet as possible. Also, when you buy groceries, “shop the edges.”
By that, Weddig says the best foods in the grocery stores are found on the perimeters and not in the center aisles “where all the boxed foods are.” The outer edges of a grocery store are where you find “the fruits and vegetables, the beans, nuts and seeds.”
And while there will always be new schools of thought on good foods and best foods, eating fruits and vegetables will always be good for you. “Eat five to nine fruits and vegetables a day,” the MSUD professor said. “I also tell them, move your body thirty to sixty minutes a day.”
A healthy diet is also a lifestyle. So, Weddig advises everyone learn what their ideal body weight is and try to stay as close to it as possible. “The farther we move away from this body weight, the closer we are to problems. It does make a difference.” Mentally and physically.