The United States government maintains a dietary pyramid of foods we’re supposed to eat (see image above; that’s not the real USDA food diet pyramid). Guidelines purport to enlighten Americans on what foods they should eat and in what proportions. Supposedly, women need a diet of roughly 2,000 calories a day while men need a diet that doesn’t exceed 2,500 calories a day. That’s not just any calories, however. Our caloric intake has to be made up of certain foods in specific proportions.
Many nutritionists propagate diet fads that claim the modern diet is bad for us. For example, some believe we’re supposed to eat like our ancestors ate, although they knew nothing about healthy foods. They probably ate just about anything they could find. Throughout most of human history hunger was an ever-present condition, as was food poisoning. The theory that we should eat like our ancestors (and those only a few generations before us) posits that highly processed foods are bad for you.
A growing number of recent studies have raised health concerns about a certain type of food that most Americans eat: ultra-processed foods. One such study, published in November 2022 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, concluded that these foods likely contributed to about 10% of deaths among people 30 to 69 years old in Brazil in 2019. Other studies—including one published in Neurology in July 2022 finding that a 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption raises the risk of dementia—have linked the food category to severe health outcomes.
Plant-based diets are always big in the minds of experts who supposedly care about our health. In fact, the federal government is spending $25 million to convince food stamp recipients to eat more veggies. The group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine claims vegetarian diets reduce substance abuse, while a plant-based diet reduces colon cancer. Ok, I believe the latter but not the former. Yet, they also found a Mediterranean diet does not reduce Alzheimer’s risk. That pretty much kills any desire I have to eat more plants with beans and olive oil.
Certain foods are claimed to have a specific effect on your health. One article explores whether you can control depression with changes in your diet.
Over the past few years, several studies have suggested that opting for healthier diets rich in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains may help improve depression symptoms.
Another article claims cinnamon can help brain health, improving learning and memory.
Studies show that cinnamon confers cognitive benefits and anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and immunomodulatory properties.
Some research shows that cinnamon potentially has neuroprotective effects, including against Alzheimer’s disease.
A compound in cinnamon known as cinnamaldehyde, for example, has been shown to inhibit the buildup of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain- a key sign of Alzheimer’s.
What strikes me as odd is that the recommended foods change periodically, often unhealthy foods becoming healthy, while healthy foods become unhealthy. For years we were told eggs are bad for you, butter is bad for you and margarine is a healthy alternative to butter. Come to find out eggs are not bad for you.
Researchers studied nearly half a million Chinese adults over nine years and found up to one egg per day led to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Experts have pointed out, however, that participants in that study were not eating a Western diet.
Another study from May, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating at least 12 eggs a week for three months did not increase cardiovascular risk factors for people with prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes. That result went hand-in-hand with a healthy diet designed to help study participants lose weight.
Neither is butter bad for you, but margarine is highly suspect. Margarine is highly processed and often high in trans fatty acids, an unhealthy fat.
To make them solid for use in margarine, food scientists chemically change their structure using a process known as hydrogenation.
This involves exposing the oils to high heat, high pressure, hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst.
Hydrogenation changes some of the unsaturated fat into saturated fat, which is solid at room temperature, and also increases the product’s shelf life.
Unfortunately, trans fat is formed as a side product. A high intake of industrial trans fats has been linked to an increased risk of chronic disease. For this reason, health authorities strongly advise people to limit their consumption of it.
A professor began a campaign against trans fats in 1957. It took nearly 60 years before anyone listened to him.
Kummerow first published his research warning about the dangers of artery-clogging trans fats in 1957. He soon began to detail the massive amounts of trans fat in the shortening and margarines lining grocery shelves, and he worked to persuade food companies to lower the content of trans fats in their products.
When I was a child my father often told me coffee would stunt my growth. He apparently didn’t really believe that because he never stopped me from drinking it. Everyone knows coffee contains a jolt of caffeine yet researchers have found that drinking two or more cups a day is linked to lower blood pressure. Indeed, coffee is good for the heart.
Research shows that coffee is beneficial for cardiovascular health. One study found that people who drink 3-5 cups of coffee daily have lower cardiovascular risk than those who drink fewer cups daily.
Did you know that drinking three or more cups of coffee a day may cause kidney dysfunction? What a minute! This study says coffee is both good for your kidneys and your liver.
When I was a child conventional wisdom was that alcohol is bad for you. Going back 25 to 30 years some experts began questioning that conventional wisdom. They cautiously began to claim red wine in moderation is good for you. Then a few weeks ago, I noticed articles that began claiming that alcohol is bad for your health even in small amounts. One article claimed although small amounts of alcohol are beneficial large amounts can lead to heightened dementia risk later in life.
A recent study that gave cognitive tests and brain scans to more than 25,000 people in the United Kingdom, for example, concluded that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption for brain health.
Maybe food in general is bad for you. Studies using mouse models find that a caloric restriction diet prolongs life. Now tests are going farther to test this theory in humans.
A new study investigates whether calorie reduction could be a way to slow down aging. In a first-of-its-kind, randomized, controlled human study, scientists have looked at a single biomarker to show it could.
The authors cite previous research that equates the 2–3% rate decrease to a reduction in mortality risk of 10–15%. This is similar to the risk reduction expected when a smoker quits smoking.
Finally, one-in-ten Americans thinks fast food is healthy. That 10% may not be healthier than the rest of us but I bet they happier than the rest of us.