Foods fall in and out of favor, spun on the wheel of nutritional roulette. Name your villain: salt, fat, red meat, and now, thanks to arsenic traces, even rice.
Carbs came under fire in the early 1990s, and the current victimization of wheat and other small grains is–to my eyes–just a continuation of a pathogenic-starch terror. I find the habit of fearing bread particularly suspect because I respect the 12,000 years people have been growing wheat. The 6,000 year habit of leavened bread is another tradition I revere. Plus I have a thing for pancakes.
Here is a Guide to Wronged Foods that have fallen prey to Popular Nutrition. THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE, okay? Just great words from people who spend their lives thinking about what to eat.
Remember the egg board’s ad for the incredible, edible egg? Well, their reputation has suffered same as anything else. Cholesterol content is the culprit, but if you hunt, you can find research that says that cholesterol can be good cholesterol, depending on how the animals yielding the eggs are treated. Given sunshine, lots of scratch time, and plenty of buggy dirt to do that scratching, the stuff inside an egg can be healthy, not harmful.
“I feel that they are an invaluable food that provides complete protein, all of your B vitamins, as well as high levels of vitamins A, D, E, and K,” says Schenectady-based holistic health counselor Tamara Flanders, who provides personalized help along with corporate and community wellness classes.
Instead of rationing eggs, she recommends minding servings of fast food, rich dairy foods like cheese and heavy cream, baked treats, steak, and organ meats.
“Not only are eggs a protein-rich food, they are a fast, easy solution for breakfast,” she says. “Eggs will help with balancing blood sugar as well as keeping you nourished and full for a longer period of time.”
For a nutrient-dense fast meal, Flanders suggests scrambling eggs and adding bits of chopped kale or spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, and some fresh herbs and spices.
Wheat and Gluten
Bakers have great insight into people’s body-and-mind battles with bread. Matt Funicello of Rock Hill Bakehouse in Glens Falls has a long familiarity with food allergies, having grown up with a brother who had severe allergies and ate very little. Even before gluten became suspect in the popular imagination, customers talked to him about their troubles digesting bread. Often people had better luck eating spelt breads. Sourdoughs have always been in the equation at his bakery.
“I’m a believer not in the Paleo diet but in a primitive diet,” Funicello says. “You can imagine that 10,000 years ago most of what we were eating was a hunter-gatherer diet, with meat as a rarity.”
People probably did not eat a lot of grasses–wheat and corn, the edible seeds of grasses–because production of flour or meals was time-consuming and rudimentary. Soaking grains with water allowed the plant matter to digest a little bit before you tried.
“Sourdough is a relatively modern way of producing breads made with more refined flours that are easier to digest,” Funicello says.
This innovation is thousands of years old, and bakers who choose to work with the wild yeasts in sourdoughs are signing up for a deeper relationship with the process of baking. Chemically leavened breads have shorter rise times. Research is now exploring whether investing more time in dough, and allowing long fermentations to begin the trick of digestion before we get beautiful breads into our mouths, is the key to healthy breads.
Although I can’t justify my annual indulgence in American cheese, which I relish right down to the crinkle the plastic makes as I toss it in the trash, cheese is getting some good press if you dig in the right places. While the food is highly suspect in our fat-dubious dietary mind—the one that is in direct opposition to the evidence of our weights and swelling portion sizes—there are reasons to love your love for all cheeses. Number one being that Fat Equals Flavor, as a chef once told me.
A big confusion around cheese, according to Eric Paul of the Cheese Traveler in Albany, is that people who have trouble when they drink milk or eat ice cream also swear off cheese.
The owner and chief cheesemonger of the Delaware Avenue cheese shop has trouble digesting milk and ice cream, too. Yet cultured milk products work fine for him, and he is able to enjoy the wide array of cheeses that fill his store and his life.
Lactose intolerance, he notes, is not the same as a milk allergy. Yet he steers plenty of customers with digestive issues linked to lactose—the sugar in milk—to cheeses they can likely love without adverse affect.
People who have difficulty with cow’s milk will choose cheeses made from sheep and goat milk. Studies in Great Britain suggest another option: Research is finding that aged cow-milk cheeses show a decline in lactose content the longer they age.
“If it’s aged over 90 days the lactose is dropping in steep decline, and over a year there is hardly any lactose left at all,” says Paul. “You can enjoy a full range of cheese.”
The debate about fats is kind of nuts. Nuts and seeds are foods, in fact, that contain beneficial fats. The lowfat diet heralded in the ’80s and ’90s is now being linked, in some nutritional and medical circles, to the very diseases of aging that the diet was supposed to skirt. Though one little dip into the fat pool is not going to answer all your questions, here’s a good thought to follow.
“Everyone talks about fat being a problem, like every other thing,” says EJ Krans, Healthy Places program director at Capital District Community Gardens. “When it’s the right kind of fat, it’s good in your diet, and avocado is the right kind of fat.”
You need fat to break down the nutrients in salad, so grabbing fat-free dressing might not be the way to go if you want to make the most of your leafy greens and shredded carrots. A winning recipe distributed at the Veggie Mobile, the organization’s mobile produce aisle, is an avocado salad.
“You take a lettuce, preferably a nice silky lettuce like Boston leaf lettuce or something like that, add cut up oranges and grapefruits and an avocado or two, and all you need for dressing is a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar,” explains Krans. “This salad is just spectacular. People always freak out about it.”