Foods go in and out of fashion. Sugar, a dietary pariah not too long ago, is making a comeback as a natural food – in large part as a backlash against high-fructose corn syrup, which has been subject to widespread criticism as a cause of rising obesity because it’s inexpensive and ubiquitous.
But in fact, many nutrition and obesity experts say sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are equally bad in excess, and the new view of sugar is largely marketing-driven.
What are some common misconceptions about what and how we eat?
- Barry M. Popkin, economist and nutrition epidemiologist
- Larry Bain, co-founder of Let’s Be Frank
- Cathy Erway, food blogger
- Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab
- Josh Ozersky, restaurant editor for Citysearch
- David Kamp, author and editor
The Perils of Fruity Drinks
Barry M. Popkin, an economist and nutrition epidemiologist, directs the Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is author of the “The World Is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race.”
One big myth is that fruit juice is a healthy part of our diet. Wrong. Drinking a glass of fruit juice a day — which is the equivalent of one soft drink of 110 to 180 calories — has been linked in the U.S., Australia and Spain to increased calorie intake and higher risks of diabetes and heart disease.
Eating a piece of fruit provides vitamins, fiber and, best of all, tends to reduce intake of other food. Most fruit juices are just sugary beverages, providing extra calories — all from refined carbohydrates — without sating appetite. And this is true whether you drink apple or orange juice or one of the fancy new juices like acai berry or pomegranate juice. The added calories can contribute to weight gain and increased risk of both diabetes and heart disease.
A second myth surrounds foods and waters, which are heavily marketed for their antioxidant properties. Consumption of fruits and vegetables is linked with decreased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke and some benefits for various cancers. Some foods, like dark chocolate, which has antioxidants, are also linked in careful scientific research to reduced risk of heart disease.
But none of the antioxidant waters, which are very popular, have shown any health benefits, despite their indirect marketing pitches. Essentially, what one is buying is expensive water with sweeteners and some flavorings and supplements added. However, just as almost all studies of antioxidants provided as supplements have found no benefits, we would not expect to find them added to water to produce any benefits, either.
What Kosher Guarantees
“Are your hot dogs kosher?” is a question asked many times at our cart. The question is rarely asked by folks who are Jewish and following the prescribed dietary laws of kashruth, but by folks who believe that kosher is a guarantee of quality.
It’s a belief — and while they may not be religious there is an element of faith here — that “kosher” means that the meat is of a higher quality. A trust that only the best cuts are used to make the hot dog (as one marketer of kosher food says: “no ifs, ands or butts”). It’s a prayer that the producers are respectful about the environment, humane animal practices and the health and well-being of the consumer.
And why wouldn’t consumers believe that? One producer of kosher dogs states “We answer to a higher authority” which implies their standards are more stringent than just sustainable, organic and humane.
But the sad fact is that today, “kosher” in many cases merely means there is no pork or lobster in the food, maybe. One only has to look at what was once the largest processor of kosher meat, Agriprocessors, which was outed by PETA for outrageously inhumane treatment of their animals (some of the executives were later arrested for treating their workers inhumanely, too).
There is a movement afoot to redefine kosher so that it includes standards for humane animal treatment, for good environmental practices and for fair labor practices. Until that new kosher comes along, when you see a kosher label, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the food was produced in a better, more healthful way, so be vigilant for the butts.
Packed With Nutrients, Despite Their Color
Cathy Erway writes the blog Not Eating Out in New York, about all things home-cooked in the city that seldom eats in.
People always say that foods with the most vibrant colors are the ones that are most healthy for you. While this is certainly true to an extent (dark green leafy vegetables contain high concentrations of Vitamin K and other nutrients), some of our dullest-colored fruits and vegetables are commonly misunderstood as nutritionally bereft.
I’ll blame it on iceberg lettuce, the cheap underdog of salad greens. In any case, white cabbage happens to be one of the most nutritious foods for you, packed with Vitamins K, C, A, B and even calcium, iron and fiber. White beans? They’ve got as much protein and fiber as red or pink pinto beans. The oft-overlooked celery, with its greenish pallor has some calcium and protein in addition to Vitamins A, C and K, and is pretty low in calories to boot. Perhaps the palest produce of them all, white cauliflower is a dense nugget of antioxidant power (and don’t forget to eat the stems, too).
The list goes on, but the point’s clear (or off-white), don’t judge a plant by its color alone.