Make up Your Minds, Already!

by Lisa Rosen on August 25, 2009

The scientists keep changing their minds, but you knew that, right?  It’s hard to keep up with what we’re supposed to be eating these days–oat bran or oatmeal?  Blueberries or cranberries?  Low-carb or high-fiber?  Are eggs in at the moment, or out?  If you’re still obsessing over a study you read about ten years ago, you might want to find an update–research changes every day.  Better yet, take it all with a grain of salt–just because blueberries are good for you doesn’t mean you should sit down and eat so many you get the runs.

Lee and I subscribe to a whole stack of nutrition/fitness/heart disease/general health newsletters, most of which do a pretty good job of summarizing a tremendous amount of information.  I search through them for the most useful nuggets–the things that apply specifically to us, or the things that are short, tidy, memorable snippets of advice that I can implement immediately.  If I can use it right away, I will, and it’ll probably become a habit; if I have to work out a complicated calculation while I’m racing down the aisle at the grocery store, then it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth.

One of our favorite newsletters is the Health & Nutrition Letter from Tufts University.  The July issue (2009) had an article that prompted Lee to hand it to me, saying, “You should go ahead and read this” (I have a bad habit of stuffing newsletters into the pile on my nightstand; sometimes it’s months before I get to them). This “special feature” was called “The NEW Skinny on Fats,” and when I did get around to reading it, I was a bit abashed–turns out I don’t know as much as I thought I did.

The article is a summary of lots of science, and I’m going to do all that science the huge disservice of summarizing it even further here.

This is what I took away from the article, in a nutshell:

1) The total quantity of fat in our diet is less important than the type of fat we’re consuming.

2) Olive oil is not necessarily the best choice–soybean, sunflower, safflower, and corn oil are generally better choices (as long as they’re not the partially hydrogenated kind).

3)  It doesn’t matter one whit how low-fat your diet is, or what kind of oil you cook with, if you’re overweight.  Study after study shows that BEING OVERWEIGHT IS THE SINGLE MOST SIGNIFICANT RISK FACTOR FOR A WHOLE HOST OF DISEASES.  It’s also the easiest risk factor to change.

Years ago, right after Lee’s heart attack, we had a dinner party.  I remember overhearing one guest saying to another, “This is great.  This food is all low-fat, so I can eat as much as I want.  It’s just not possible to gain weight eating this stuff.”

Wrong!  Too many calories, whatever their source, will cause you to gain weight.  It’s important to choose healthy foods, but science is now telling us that it’s even more important to eat less.  Finally–some common sense!

All things in moderation, I suppose.  Until they change their minds again.

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