Everybody knows how to operate smartphones and understands complex modern phenomena, but many Americans are frighteningly ignorant about basic human nutrition.
I am convinced this is the result of a powerful conspiracy fueled by the (junk) food industry. Here are just a few examples:
Milk has been advertised as a healthy beverage. It is not. No other species consumes milk beyond infancy. Milk-based products like ice cream and yogurt are on top of that often sweetened beyond their natural properties.
Fruit juices make it possible to consume the calories of half a dozen pieces of fruit faster than eating just one. Naturally tart juices, like cranberry, are sweetened the same way as soft drinks (high fructose corn syrup), and therefore no healthier than Coca-Cola.
Things made from flour — like bread, crackers, boxed and instant cereal, pasta, and snacks like pretzels or chips other than plain potato chips — raise blood glucose levels faster than eating table sugar: The breakdown of flour starts in our mouths because of enzymes in our saliva while sucrose doesn’t break down until it reaches our small intestine.
Sugary foods, even candy like Twizzlers, are advertised as “fat-free,” which is a relic from the days when fat was believed to be bad for you. Many fats, like those in olive oil, salmon, tree nuts, and avocado are extremely healthful.
Another example of tangential descriptions is when flour-based snacks are promoted as “baked, not fried.” Flour is bad, no matter what you do with it, and, in fact, the presence of fat slows down the blood glucose rise from highly processed carbohydrates.
Serving size is still used to deceive people. A small bag of chips may seem to have a modest amount of calories until you realize it is supposed to be two servings. Fortunately, some packaging now states how many calories are in the whole package. Serving size should be abandoned since it has no basis in what people really eat.
Artificial sweeteners are still promoted as if they are a way to consume fewer calories. Unfortunately, we now know that they often alter our intestinal flora, which in turn can release hormones that make us hungrier and crave sugar even more.
Additives are often promoted as healthy, from probiotics to vitamins to extra protein. There is little evidence to support this.
Words like “all-natural” are often used in food advertising but mean nothing in terms of whether they are good for you or not. Poisonous plants, like hemlock, are natural, but that doesn’t mean we should eat them.
So many people have trouble understanding the three types of calorie-containing foods that exist: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. That’s where I often have to start. And sometimes, when I ask people, “Walk me through your day, tell me what you eat,” I end up pointing out, “It’s all carbs.”
This kind of basic information should be kindergarten stuff, not adult education.
Hans Duvefelt is a family physician who blogs at A Country Doctor Writes: and the author of A Country Doctor Writes: CONDITIONS: Diseases and Other Life Circumstances.
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