Wednesday, September 27, 2006
BY DANIEL B. KLINE
Eating spinach may kill you and drinking alcohol helps you live longer. That sounds like wishful thinking, but with E. Coli-tainted spinach sickening hundreds and reports that moderate drinking actually strengthens your heart, perhaps everyone should put down their salad forks and pick up a flask.
In recent months there have also been multiple news reports that drinking coffee reduces the risk of several serious ailments, including diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver. The "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" even went so far as to report that the antioxidants in coffee dampen inflammation, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The journal's study also found that a typical serving of coffee contains more antioxidants than servings of grape juice, blueberries, raspberries and oranges.
While these studies are certainly good news for jittery, scurvy-riddled alcoholics, it has to be disheartening to parents everywhere trying to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables. More importantly it serves as the latest example of just how much contradictory and confusing information consumers must sift through simply to decide what to eat or drink.
At this rate, would it surprise anyone if scientists decided that ice cream cures cancer and fried dough holds the key to fighting obesity? If coffee and booze make us healthier and fresh fruit and vegetables either sicken us, or at least don't help as much as we were led to believe, then perhaps everything we've ever been told about health should be questioned.
In addition to this latest round of information that contradicts common sense, the public has had to deal with years of confusion regarding the healthiness of eggs. First we're supposed to drink them raw, then we were told to not eat the yolks and at various points we weren't supposed to eat them at all. I'm not sure of the current recommendations regarding eggs, but if the diner near my house sells anyone a spinach omelet I'm calling the police.
The same foods have bounced between good for you and terrible for you so many times that it's impossible for anyone to keep up. Scientists continue to find redeeming qualities in even the most unhealthy edibles, but that does not mean you should switch your diet based on the newest study.
Science may prove that dark chocolate has lots of antioxidants, but if you eat too much of it, you'll be an unhealthy fat person who has a shockingly low level of oxidants. Similarly, just because there might be some benefit to drinking red wine does not mean that you should swig a couple of bottles before heading off to work in the morning.
Common sense tells you that eating nothing but donuts, Taco Bell, Chinese takeout and pizza (basically my college diet) will not result in increased health. Just because you can find some positives in a particular food does not make it healthy.
For example, cheese has calcium, which is good for your bones. A diet based on eating mostly cheese, however, will not create strong enough bones to carry around your obese body. Nobody needs a medical journal to know which foods are healthy. If it comes out of the ground or falls off a tree, it's good for you provided man hasn't processed the goodness out of it. If it once lived, eat it in moderation and try to avoid the fatty parts. Anything created in a factory or carrying a long list of ingredients should be looked at with suspicion.
I'm still hoping they create an alcohol that's not only good for your heart but also scrubs your liver clean. I'm also hoping someone invents a non-poisonous spinach that in no way tastes like spinach. Until those things happen, I'll try to eat bad for me, but enjoyable, foods in moderation and choke down some healthy stuff.
Daniel B. Kline's book, "50 Things Every Guy Should Know How to Do," is available in bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.