Anyone who spends any time at all reading this blog knows I love food. The very definition of an omnivore, I am not a picky eater. However, as I've gotten older and my metabolism has slowed and my body has started to pick up creaks and aches and things just don't work as smoothly as they did when I was 19, I've had to put a bit more thought into what I'm eating and why.
When I was a kid my mom tried to get on a heath food kick on more than one occasion. Casting around in an effort to keep her children healthy, she bought cereals like Body Buddies
("Fortified with 16
Vitamins and Minerals!"), tried to limit chocolate by substituting carob (I'd rather skip chocolate altogether than pretend I'm eating chocolate by eating carob instead) and some downright crazy things like substituting Caro clear corn syrup for artificial maple-flavored pancake syrup (the only explanation I can come up with for this one is that she was trying to go "natural" but couldn't afford pure maple syrup). Though I have now become an eggplant fan in adulthood, my mom will never let us live down the time my brother and I turned our noses up at her attempt to make eggplant lasagna. Mom did what she could in the wilds of Minnesota and without the benefit of Google to find answers to her questions, but if we didn't grow up eating fast food, potato chips, Twinkies, and soda it was healthy eating forced on us by poverty. Where poverty kept chips and soda out of my hands, it also denied me fresh produce, whole grains, and real butter (apples and carrots, since they kept well, were the fresh fruits and vegetables of my childhood).
Two items are currently working their way to the top of my "food concerns" list. One is hydrogenated oil. Hydrogenated oils first came to my attention through Bruce Cordell, whose essay Artificial Fats Are Killing You
can be found on his webpage. We used to be advised to avoid or reduce consumption of saturated (or animal) fats. Nutrition labels appeared, listing not just the total fat but the percentage of saturated fat per serving. In January 2006, the FDA added trans fats to the list of things that need to be called out on nutrition labels. Trans fats and saturated fats are the main dietary factors in raising blood cholesterol.
Not only that but, as Cordell points out,"When you eat a trans fatty acid, your body incorporates it into your cells--your cells actually become hydrogenated."
Eww. Unfortunately, hydrogenated oils (and their accompanying trans fatty acids) are all over the place! Not just lurking in a tub of margarine, but in those "Fat Free" Ry Krisp crackers I bought. The third ingredient: partially hydrogenated soybean oil (though the label assures us that it "adds a trivial amount of saturated and trans fat").
The second ingredient on my watch list is high fructose corn syrup
. HFCS is another one of those ingredients that seems to be in everything. Sodas and fruit juice drinks are loaded with the stuff, but it's in your bread and hot dog buns, your corn flakes, your ketchup, those saltine crackers, applesauce, spaghetti sauce... Health professionals advise people to avoid foods that have HFCS listed in the first five ingredients. Consumption of HFCS is implicated
in Americans' increasing instances of obesity and diabetes, and researchers are compiling data
from human and animal studies that show HFCS can "induce insulin resistance, impair glucose tolerance, produce high levels of insulin, boost a dangerous type of fat in the blood and cause high blood pressure". With so many potential risks and nothing to recommend HFCS (except the economic benefits for companies that use this cheap sweetener), I just don't see a reason to keep eating the stuff.