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Monday, February 28, 2005

Beware Mutant Foods! 

We all know about nutritional fads and trendy diets. Some of them may be less atrocious than others, but they all have one thing in common: they tell you that you must eat less ingredient Y and more ingredient X (which the diet expert/celebrity in question will happily sell you). Vitamin and mineral supplementation has been around quite a while, and probably is, at the most basic levels, a Good Thing. Goiters and Rickets are exceedingly rare in the US today, where they were epidemic a generation ago. However, today's frenzied pace of nutritional fads, coupled with the new US Government Dietary Guidelines, make for some seriously worrying food supplementation.

Vitamin C is in everything, vitamin A (Beta Carotene) too. The former in excess quantities can lead to kidney stones, the latter to liver problems and jaundice. The latest thing about to be added to foods are Omega-3-fatty-acids, famous for their protective effects on the heart and vascular system. Now, aside from my general aversion to overly processed and modified foods, there is a serious problem here: omega-3's only have a positive effect in very limited amounts. I used to work in a biochemistry lab doing research on just this topic: how much of what types of lipids (including omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids) were good for you, and how much of what types were bad. Omega-3's are very good for your heart, up to moderate doses, but with more than low-moderate doses, they begin to wreak havoc on the liver and kidneys. I can see this trend going so well.

So how do you eat healthy and stay fit and thin? Eat more! That's right, I said it: "Eat. More." It's just a matter of what you eat. Low-calorie-density foods, like soups and fruits and veggies, fill you up their high volume, but still have fewer calories. One apple is more filling than one cookie, but has probably half to a third as many calories. This is a theme of those new dietary guidelines, and the heart of what may be the next dieting trend. Not that I'm promoting any sort of fad diet at all...they tend to have a second feature in common, as well as the one stated above: as soon as you stop being 100% on them, you gain all the weight back. Which is worse for you than never having lost it (true fact - studies have shown that "yo-yo dieting" is extremely rough on your cardiovascular and digestive (read: insulin regulation) systems. So, you best bet is to eat all kinds of foods in healthy balance and moderate amounts.

(Cross-posted at DCFüd...comment there!)


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