Commentary: Good food, bad food

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For every trade group, professional association or scientific organization that ties try to educate people about diet and nutrition, there are a dozen sideshow websites online offering shortcuts to health that are so caught up in clichés they stumble over their own (lack of) logic.

Here’s good example: A site called ActiveBeat.com, which claims to be “Your Daily Dose of Health Headlines” and attempts to cover nutrition, fitness, food safety, medical diagnoses, even outbreaks of contagious diseases and food-borne illnesses, recently ran a pair of “trending” lists: “10 Worst Foods to Feed Your Children” and “11 Foods That Will Make You Gain Weight.”

I’m sure you can see where this is going. Obviously, the foods that Make You Gain Weight would be foods that people trying to lose weight would be advised to avoid, right?

Even more confounding, the stories imply good things about the 11 weight gainers and bad things about the 10 worst foods—even though some foods make both lists!

Is it any wonder people get confused, even when they try to eat healthier?

Here’s what ActiveBeat said about meat: “If you are trying to gain weight, enjoy some red meat. Steak contains a ton of protein and iron. Not all steak cuts are made equal though. You want the fatty cuts where the meat is marbled. These cuts of meat will contain more calories, but they’ll also be way more delicious too! Look for rib-eye, t-bone, New York strip, and beef tenderloin.”

Nice plug, eh? Dig into a steak if you’re trying to gain weight, and the more marbling, the better.

But then the blurb goes on to state: “Red meat is high in cholesterol, so enjoy it with a healthy diet. Combining it with an unhealthy diet high in saturated fats could cause health effects.”

What “health effects” are they talking about? That’s never explained, but if eating steak is good for you—especially steak with more fat—why then is cholesterol and saturated fat suddenly a problem? I guess the message is: “Enjoy that red meat—just don’t enjoy it too much.”

Good, bad, or both?

The fat phobia continues, as ActiveBeat advises: “Nothing beats the taste of butter for cooking. It is full of flavor and good calories. Enjoy eggs fried in butter for a tasty and nutritious breakfast.”

Next sentence: “Butter does have saturated fats, so enjoy it in moderation.”

It’s tasty and full of “good calories”—except for those “bad” saturated fats, which comprise 87% of butter’s caloric content.

Or how about cheese: “Cheese has all the nutritional benefits of milk products. Most cheeses are high in fat, making it a good product to have if you are trying to gain weight.”

But cheese receives a different grade when it’s on a pizza: “The pizza that comes to your door is a far cry from the kind you bake at home. A homemade pie [can be made] with natural, low-fat cheese, shredded chicken and tons of veggies.”

Or in a sandwich: “Grilled cheese is a fatty nightmare. It is possible to make a healthy grilled cheese, but instead of cheese, add in cold cuts or sliced chicken breast. Go easier on the cheese.”

So if you’re trying to gain weight, cheese is all good. But if you’re among the 90% of the population that’s trying to lose weight, then by all means don’t eat “regular” cheese—it’s a nutritional nightmare waiting to happen.

It’s the same schizophrenia that the ActiveBeat “experts” apply to milk. Whole milk is “good” if you’re trying to gain weight. “Whole milk is only 60 calories more per glass [with] the fat left in, [and] the vitamins D and A and nutrients stay in the solution.”

If you’re not, different story: “Yogurt is a top superfood because of all the protein and calcium. Many varieties are 2% fat, but you can also find 0% fat.”

Wait, I thought the fat in milk contained vitamins and nutrients, no?

If someone’s not thoroughly confused by now, well ActiveBeat has lots more misinformation to share. Consider these gems:

  • “Chicken nuggets are made from the off cuts of chicken—such as the bones, organs, and fat. It’s blended into a pink slurry and then formed into nugget shapes.”
  • “If your child eats a sliced meat sandwich, you may be packing them a very dangerous and toxic food [as] junior’s favorite lunch meat contains nitrates, a preservative used in food processing that drastically increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.”
  • “Fettuccine alfredo is a delicious meal, but it is wickedly unhealthy. The creamy sauce is packed with fat and calories.”
  • “Tuna casserole sounds healthy. Unfortunately, the excess cheese and butter turn it from healthy to indulgent. You can make a healthy by making the cheese sauce with skim milk and light cheese.”

So stay away from all that fat, cholesterol and calories—unless you’re underweight and want to reach a healthier weight. Then eat all you want.

Unless you gain too much weight, in which case all those healthy foods you were eating are bad!

Truth is, avoiding meat and its alleged fat content doesn’t help you lose weight. And eating meat doesn’t make you gain weight, because if it did, then generations of boxers who needed to make weight for their fights wouldn’t have spent weeks eating steak at their training tables, would they?

As a matter of fact, even as our national obesity stats continue to soar, per capita beef consumption reached a new low last year, at 55 pounds per person.

Again: If fat is so bad—and meat is loaded with it—then why is obesity going up, even as meat consumption is going down?

It doesn’t make sense, unless you recognize that eating meat isn’t the problem.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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Barbara    
Nicosia  |  June, 06, 2013 at 03:52 AM

Would like to add that the key to long term health and weight loss success is to develop healthy eating and healthy lifestyle habits for life. The Med Life Diet is a great book that can help you develop them one step at a time ! (www.themedlifediet.com)

michael    
kansas  |  June, 06, 2013 at 11:51 AM

Good points all, but we've been over and over this. What we need is A Solution, not more views of and examples of The Problem. We continue to talk about how gullible consumers are misled by hucksters and "advocates", and whine and wring our hands over how unfair it all is. But what can we do, and what are we doing about it? Other than presenting dry and boring lectures by academics, in conjunction with equally dry and boring presentations of statisitcs and studies, what are our producer groups and universities doing to counter the deluge of misrepresentations and attacks on our business? Maybe we should consider hiring the marketing, promotions and advertising staffs away from our enemies, since they've been infinitely more successful than our current employees. Tick Tock people, time's awasting as we're being flushed down the media toilet. CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS ANYONE? Which Popular Rock Stars, Models and Movie Stars can we recruit to our cause?

maxine    
SD  |  June, 06, 2013 at 06:04 PM

The Beef Checkoff has been doing research for years. IMO, this has appeared slow due to the decisions that we (beef producers) must hav virtually infallible research to back up any claims made for the nutritient superiority of beef in weight management. Recently there was a symposium for Registered Dieticians where researcher Heather Leidy, PhD, and weight management expert Molly Gee, MEd, RD, LD (and I don't know the meaning of those degree abbreviations, but believe they are impressively difficult to obtain) talked of the impact of high quality protein of been and its beneficial role in appetite control and weight management. See the story "Beef Can Hlp With Weight Management" by Dan Murphy, 6/6/'13 Drovers.

maxine    
SD  |  June, 06, 2013 at 07:11 PM

For anyone interested, more about Beef Checkoff projects can be found at www.mybeefcheckoff.com.

Ollie    
Minnesota  |  June, 07, 2013 at 09:17 AM

There you go again Dan. You are wishfully poking around in the bottomless cesspit of activist propaganda trying to pick out lumps that spin toward our message. You are playing right into the hands of anti-food anti-farm cultists when they get you wallowing in their muck like that. What's needed is to summarily dismiss the entirety of this silly agenda-driven food police misinformation campaign and get started on a sensible, defensible science-based discussion of nutrition and eating. Somehow the screamers and saboteurs must be marginalized back under the compost heap they crawled out from. Too bad the internet is dominated by their propaganda. When are we going to step up with better information in more attractive packaging? Instead of sucking up to the saboteurs and trying to appease them? Is it just easier to sort among their hateful messages or are they succeeding, little by little in brainwashing you too?

Herb Reed    
University of Maryland  |  July, 03, 2013 at 10:05 AM

All food is good food and any food can be bad if eaten in too large amounts or in a non balanced way. Eat too many carrots and your skin will turn orange and if the large consumption of carrots keeps you from eating a balanced diet you may be malnourished. Humans are omnivores. Our bodies evolved to eat a variety of foods, including meat and carbohydrates.


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