Friday, August 19, 2011

A Thoughtful Process

Trans fats are bad, very it!  Most of us seem to be receiving that message loud and clear.  In fact, the subject of what NOT to eat is often front-page news.  But what ARE we supposed to eat?  Given that I am now the proud holder of a graduate degree on this very topic, I tend to think that I have a pretty good handle what makes something a good food choice (which is not to say that I always pick it!)  Every now and then, even I catch wind of a tidbit of information that throws me for a loop, and makes me pause and think critically about what I am hearing.  Some people are able to make very compelling arguments regarding their food beliefs.  Sometimes, the information they provide is accurate, and sometimes it is not. It can be tempting to believe things that are presented energetically, and surrounded by “facts” that sound convincing, but are not often based on real science.  I’m grateful that I can debunk most food myths that I come across, and I encourage you to take in new nutritional information with healthy skepticism.

Case and point:  Olive oil.  Good guy right?  Rich in heart healthy “good fats” that we hear about, like essential Omega-3 fatty acids.  It’s cholesterol free, and trans fat free making it a much better cooking oil choice than margarine, butter, or palm oil.  So why did someone try to tell me recently that people should avoid olive oil because it is a processed food?  Huh?

I got myself involved in a conversation about a new program that promotes cooking with, and eating strictly unprocessed foods.  Foods that are, shall we say…Whole.  Sounds good right?  I was told that a tenet of this program is to avoid cooking with all oils, including olive oil.  Why?  Because olive oil is refined, and therefore does not fit into the philosophy that one should eat only unprocessed foods.

Red Flag, Red Flag…but olive oil is good for you, no?  When I mentioned the various health benefits of cooking with, and consuming olive oil, I was told by the program’s representative (who is incidentally NOT a credentialed health or nutrition professional) that program participants are encouraged to eat olives (unprocessed) for their healthy fats, rather than rely on their (processed) oil for health benefits.   Um…again…what?!!!?  Olives that we buy for eating have been brined or cured…they have to be to be edible.  As far as I can tell brining and curing are not only processes, just like pressing olives to make oil.  Additionally, brined and cured olives have a heck of a lot of sodium by nature, as salt is used in both "processes."  We are all supposed to be avoiding excess sodium right?  I say this program's philosophy is hooey, and we should cook with oil and limit your consumption of brined and cured olives.  Who’s right here?

Lately, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that processed foods are to be avoided, but work still needs to be done so we can all adopt a definition of what is meant by "processed foods."  

I think you would agree that planning a diet free of ALL processed foods is completely impractical and probably impossible (isn’t chopping a process?)   Instead, peruse the grocery aisles critically, and apply a little realism to your decision-making.  It’s also never a bad idea to consult with a registered dietitian if you have questions about the nutritional quality of foods.

If I had my druthers, and an idyllic life, I would grow my own food, raise my own animals for meat, milk my own cows to drink their milk raw, and bake my own bread.  Unfortunately, I’m just as busy as the rest of you, and it’s not likely for any of that to happen anytime soon.  I do however take the time to apply a critical eye to the foods that I eat, and the information that I come across.  And I compare food choices in search of those that are as minimally processed as possible, within reason! 

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