Not-So-Expert Advice

March 27, 2011 at 1:58 am 2 comments

Have you heard? Salt is the new fat. Remember when dietary fat was the mortal enemy of anyone aspiring to reasonably good health? Avoid it, we were told, unless you want to be the willing architect of your own premature heart attack. Fat was the single most culpable culprit in obesity; it served no good purpose; it clogged the arteries and packed itself around our vital organs. Especially stern warnings were issued against the monstrous threat lurking in a tub of movie theater popcorn. 

But long-term research confirms that, while calorie-dense, lipids provide fatty acids essential to bodily functions and that many of the “good fats” actually help lower cholesterol – fats like olive, canola, safflower, and palm…What??!! Palm oil? That villainous inspiration for tirades from self-appointed arbiters of health like the Center for Science in the Public Interest? The very substance that made commercially-popped corn a dietary snare contrived to cut costs for the greedy vendor while simultaneously bumping-off cash-paying customers? (It’s not mylogic, folks.) Can it be true that it’s not one of the bad guys after all? 

Confusion is understandable, considering the hype that accompanies sensational health scare pronouncements when they first hit the pipeline. But according to numerous updated reports, the nutritional and health benefits of palm oil are staggering. Found to be rich in vitamins E and A, a source of desirable HDL cholesterol, and fifteen times richer in beta carotene than a carrot, earlier claims of its adverse effects seem designed to baffle. Such industry-destroying hysterics presumably provide job security to the “authorities” cited, but what about the hapless bamboozled consumer?  

And eggs. Why, those little cholesterol time-bombs were to be disdained and avoided., useful only to mischievous teenagers with Halloween mayhem on their minds. Help yourself to the tasteless, colorless albumens, but send the yolks right down the drain. One or two eggs per week was the maximum recommendation back in the 80s.  

That story sure has changed. Now the Journal of the American College of Nutrition reports, “Data from free-living populations show that egg consumption is not associated with higher cholesterol levels [and] epidemiologic literature does not support the idea that egg consumption is a risk factor for coronary disease.” 

The Journal of Nutritionconcurs: “Although [the recommendation to limit intake] may be useful for certain individuals with a history of elevated plasma cholesterol or established coronary heart disease, it is unwarranted for the vast majority of the population and may actually have negative nutritional implications.  

As a whole food, eggs are an inexpensive and low calorie source of nutrients such as folate, riboflavin, selenium, choline and vitamins B-12 and A. Eggs are also one of the few exogenous sources of vitamins K and D. Furthermore, eggs are a source of high quality protein, and the lipid matrix of the yolk serves to enhance the bio-availabilityy of nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin.” I’m converted. 

So, what beloved substance should zealots target next to create uneasy consciences amongst the citizenry and keep themselves gainfully employed? Why salt, silly. Gotta’ have a bogeyman, some simplistic explanation for the problem of ill health.  

This particular campaign really raises my hackles because salt is my last “vice,” and now I have to defend it every time I turn around. I’m starting to feel like the poor soul Mark Twain describes, who has cleaned up his act to the extent that when his doctor tells him to give up some bad habits in order to regain good health, finds himself in a sinking ship with nothing left to throw overboard. 

But aside from personal bias, the crusaders’ premise that salt intake is irrevocably linked to high blood pressure, that the path to the stroke ward is paved with saline, is not supported by fact. For example, some in the scientific community assert that our elevated sodium levels are the result of insufficient potassium intake, which causes a troublesome imbalance between the two interactive nutrients. 

Again, the hypertension problem is complex, but trying to dress sodium up as an isolated dietary scapegoat and send it off the into the wilderness is unsupportable. According to biomedical researchers, only ten per cent of the population has a sensitivity to it – and that average is inflated by a higher rate of vulnerability among certain racial subgroups. If you are a white female who exercises (i.e., sweats) a lot, the prescribed cookie cutter limitations make for a cramped fit.  

Of course none of these particulars phases the misguided fanatics trying to prohibit the use of salt in restaurants in the most populous city in the county. Recently proposed legislation carries a $1,000.00 fine for any evil New York chef-cum-lawbreaker who dares to defy the ban. I can just see it: thriving black markets for Morton’s, and corned beef speakeasies tucked into dark corners all around the megatropolis. 

The do-gooders are no doubt fueled by a misguided sense of mission, and everybody needs a reason to exist. But unless you are sitting in that 10% wedge of the pie chart, the blaring screeds become just one more ear-numbing false alarm, a case of constructing an entire militant movement on the soppy sands of overreaction rather than the firm foundation of science. Bullies for Better Bouillabaisse, or something like that.  

And then there was this recent shocker, blazing across as a headline banner: “Fish – long recommended for good health – may be a cause of stroke, study shows.” The focus of the study, it turns out, is fish cooked in the Southern tradition: breaded, deep-fried, then served with a huge glop of tartar sauce no doubt.  

IT’S NOT THE FISH, IT’S THE PREPARATION TECHNIQUE, YOU MORONS,” I shriek at my non-responsive computer screen. “Frying,” the article elaborates, “is associated with an increase in the food’s fat and calorie content.” Well, duh. Maybe seafood coated with in a batter sponge and then submerged in a nice long Crisco bath isn’t the best way to get your omega-3s delivered, but didn’t the average adult know that already? And wasn’t that opening hook scandalously misleading?  

At what point do we start viewing health reports as comic relief? Maybe as of yesterday, when one earnest young woman on a local channel announced that it has now been officially established how much sleep a person needs in order to be healthy: Seven hours. Exactly. Period. Amen. Get less or moreon a consistent basis and you are looking at big time health consequences, according to the sages in the press room.  

So, sorry; but even if you have a physically demanding job, are conscientious about what you eat, get every penny’s worth out of your health club membership fee, and have settled on an eight hour snooze as exactly what you require to get you through your demanding day, too bad. You’ll have to cut back to seven hours or you’re headed for trouble down the line. That swooshing sound you hear is the flushing of media credibility down the toilet. 

As any reasonable person can attest, any one-size-fits-all recommendation is ludicrous. Same for height and weight charts that totally disregard bone structure or fat-to-muscle ratios, or the curse of osteoporosis being laid on the head of any womanwho weighs less than 125 pounds. Ludicrous.  

Of course alarmist claims are not just insulting, they are harmful to the very cause of good health that is their supposed goal, as people tune out important data because they are wary and weary of being lied to via overstatement. Sadly, that swoosh may carry some life-enhancing information down the drain right along with the questionable stuff.

Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Keith Wissman  |  March 27, 2011 at 11:37 am

    as always, very well said (he said after a dangerous 9.0 hours of sleep…). the significant and important info is lost in the drone of noise.

    • 2. kirkhams  |  March 27, 2011 at 12:35 pm

      (Just as I am opening the curtains in the office, I hear a “ping” in the in-box and wonder, who else is up at 6:30 on a Sunday morning?)

      Yes, it’s really too bad about the clamor. It becomes like so much political reporting one hears: you find yourself asking, “Gee, wouldn’t it be something if that were true?” then dismissing that possibility.

      Blessings on your day.

      Sue Anne


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