Ain't So Bad! Foods That Have Gotten a Bum Rap
Some of the food phobics have taken on all the shrillness and presumed righteousness of Carrie Nation, the six-foot bruiser of a woman who led the temperance movement in pre-prohibition America.
To make her point, Carrie would march into bars accompanied by hymn-singing women and bust up bar fixtures with her hatchet. Few had the balls to stand in her way.
Today's food phobics – the temperance movement's modern day equivalents – seemingly look for the negative aspect of any and all foods, but they haven't bothered with hatchets because they don't need them. Instead, they've got the Internet. They'll seize on any report, anecdotal or real, and seemingly ignore the flip side of the nutritional coin to wholly condemn these foods.
Rather than urging moderation in the intake of said food, they'll instead excommunicate it entirely, relegating it some persona non grata wasteland where they're perhaps tended by farmer Mel Gibson.
Well, I'm here to champion these maligned foods, to be their Rocky Balboa, pummeling away at the mid-section of the Clubber Lang food phobics while chanting, "Ain't so bad! Ain't so bad!"
The food phobics are all-atwitter about LFTB (lean finely textured beef), or as it's more famously, or infamously known, pink slime.
"It's "disgusting," they Tweet. "It's unnatural." "It's "unhealthy."
For those of you who have somehow avoided hearing about pink slime, it's the salvaged scraps of beef that are processed and added to the hamburger meat you typically buy from the grocery store, or that you routinely ingest when you order a restaurant hamburger.
Correction, it used to be what you typically ingested with your hamburger, as the production and use of this stuff has practically come to a halt, courtesy of the shrillness of the food phobics.
As mentioned, pink slime is made of salvaged scraps of beef. They're simmered at low heat and spun at high speed to remove the fat. They're then exposed to a puff of ammonia gas to kill any bacteria.
Their alleged problem is probably as much a cosmetic one as it is a conceptual one. Pink slime looks like pink slime. Furthermore, the idea that we're eating "scraps" is anathema to most humans in the Western world.
Okay, would I rather eat organically raised beef that came straight from the pristine hindquarters of a single animal that was raised by nuns? Yes. But do I think pink slime should be banned? Hell no. It's protein and it's safe and it makes economic sense. There is no proof that it's harmful to anyone's health.
Furthermore, the beef industry estimates it'll have to slaughter an additional 1.5 million head of cattle to make up for the loss of this filler. This should make any environmentalist, any animal sympathizer, any economist shake his head.
Nobody cares a whit that the average jar of peanut butter is allowed to contain up to 153 insect parts and 5 rodent hairs, but we get all worked up over protein that looks a little unappetizing in its uncooked state. It's just another example of food phobics being ruled by emotion instead of logic.
Genetically Modified Foods
Sometimes I think the anti genetic-modification people know as much about biology as Homer Simpson:
Homer (to Lisa, after she professes to be a vegetarian): Wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute. Lisa honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
No, geneticists aren't trying to create "wonderful, magical animals" like Homer's talking about. Instead, they're trying to increase crop yield by increasing growth rates and staving off plant diseases without the use of pesticides.
Let me tell you a little story. Back in the 1940's, scientists realized they could induce huge yields in wheat crops by feeding them nitrogen. Unfortunately, the plants would grow so tall that they would fall over, ruining the crop.
Along came a botanist by the name of Dr. Norman Borlaug. He began experimenting with a wheat plant that contained an unusual gene, one that had the effect of creating a short, stubby variety of wheat.
Borlaug and his team transferred this gene into tropical wheats, which created short plants with enormous heads of wheat – plants that wouldn't fall over. Wheat output on the same amount of land could be tripled or quadrupled. The same technology was later applied to rice.
The net effect of this genetic modification? Untold millions of lives were saved.
Yet when Borlaug died in 2009, hardly anyone outside the scientific community realized it. Society mourned Michael Jackson and later on, Whitney Houston, two singers who sang snappy tunes, but it didn't give a rat's ass about Borlaug. Society went into a funk after the passing of Steve Jobs, the man who gave our toys neato interfaces, but it barely registered Borlaug's death.
This is one of the reasons I want to leave this planet and go live with the aliens.
Anyhow, I digress slightly. Transgenic plants contain genes that control insect pests, thus cutting down the need for potentially harmful pesticides. Transgenic plants have a greater tolerance for soil alkalinity, free aluminum, and iron toxicities. They can tolerate abiotic extremes such as drought, heat, or cold. They can contain higher amounts of micronutrients that are otherwise hard for humans to get.
In short, they can feed the planet.
But food phobics deem them as universally "unnatural" and unsafe, despite the lack of evidence.
The fact is that nature has been practicing genetic modification for a long, long, time, and we're just using our big brains to facilitate the process.
And I'll admit that there needs to be certain regulations put in place, lest some whacko scientist starts developing a strain of gourds that sings "Billy Jean," or worse, introduces unpredictable genes into the botanic environment, but that's imminently doable.
Yes, I drink almond milk occasionally. It has virtually no carbs in it, so I guess it's a good dieter's drink. It also has a nice, nutty taste.
However, it doesn't stack up all that well against regular cow's milk. Granted, store-bought almond milk contains more calcium than cow's milk, but it's because of the added calcium carbonate. It also has a nice amount of Vitamin E in it, in addition to a decent number of micronutrients.
But almond milk only has about one-eighth the amount of protein as cows milk, as well as lacking the nutrient quantity and nutrient diversity of its bovine counterpart.
Despite the nutritional elegance of cow's milk, the food phobic's have largely abandoned it.
They say it contains hormones. They say it contains antibiotics. They say it causes allergies and mucus and, I don't know, locust in your shorts.
Let's try to look at the subject without any biases. Yes, some dairies use recombinant bovine growth hormone in cows and it elevates amounts of IGF in the milk.
It results in more milk and cheaper prices, but food phobics freak out when they contemplate it. They think that anyone who drinks milk is going to grow a big head and be indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice and then be blackballed by major league baseball.
Beyond that, they worry that the elevated IGF levels will cause cancer, as it's been shown to do in some lab studies.
The food phobics don't need to fret. Bovine growth hormone and IGF are protein hormones and they're cleaved into their constituent amino acids by your digestive enzymes in the same way as any ingested protein. In other words, they turn into food. It's not possible for them to have any growth-hormone like effects.
It's true that there are probably antibiotic residues in milk, though. People worry, probably with good reason, that ingesting antibiotics may lead to antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that might put a big hurt on all of us, but the Government is currently trying to put limitations on that practice.
Furthermore, you can take your fate into your own hands by buying USDA-certified organic milk – which doesn't contain antibiotics – from the grocery store.
We've looked at the supposedly negative aspects of milk, but what about the positive? For one, milk contains large amounts of protein (anybody remember protein?), about 80% of which is casein and about 20% of which is whey, which are both world-class muscle builders.
Drinking two or three glasses of milk, either whole or skim, also purportedly lowers the risk of both heart attack and stroke.
Bottom line: If you want a nutrient-dense beverage that builds muscle, drink milk. Unless you're dieting, lactose intolerant, or have some allergy to milk, save the almond milk for mixing with Amaretto.
Let me quickly say that the evidence is pretty clear that an abundance of fructose in our food sources has really screwed up the world, causing an epidemic of metabolic illnesses.
However, again, some of the food phobics have latched onto a simple fact and exaggerated it to the point that they warn against the ingestion of fruits, which are usually high in fructose. Some have even warned against ever eating, say, apples.
Oh yeah, all those fat apple-eatin' bastards in their stretch-polyester blue-whale pants standing in line at the Wal-Mart checkout! If only they'd had the willpower not to eat fruit.
Again, this overreaction stems from ignorance. They figure that since high amounts of fructose can be a problem, any amount of fructose can be a problem. As a result, they make the health they espouse all the more difficult to attain because they're condemning some of the most nutritious foods on the planet.
Here's how it works: essentially, carbohydrates get broken down into glucose and fructose. Glucose goes straight into the bloodstream where it's used as energy. Any glucose that isn't needed is either stored in muscle or the liver as glycogen. Once the glycogen storage facilities are filled up, any excess is stored as fat.
Fructose, however, must first go to the liver. Some of it can be converted to glucose and released into the bloodstream. Fructose can also be stored as glycogen. Lastly, fructose can be converted to fat, and here's the issue that gets the food phobics all worried.
Both glucose and fructose can be converted to fat. However, thanks to an enzyme known as phosphofructokinase, glucose doesn't get converted to fat very easily. However, fructose thumbs its nose at this enzyme. It bypasses it and thus gets converted to fat a lot more efficiently.
That's why the food phobics say to avoid fruit.
However, if you're in a calorie maintenance or deficit, then the fructose you ingest will either be used for energy or stored as glycogen. Fructose does not inevitably turn into fat.
And even if it does get stored as fat, so what? You're storing fat molecules all the time, from fructose or glucose, even if you're in a moderate caloric deficit. But you're also burning fat molecules all the time. It's the summation of all those fat molecules over time that counts. If you're burning more fat molecules than you're creating, you lose body fat.
It is true, though, that fructose will be more easily converted to fat if you're in a calorie-surplus phase. Still, that doesn't mean you should avoid all fruit. If you're paranoid about it, avoid dates, raisins, and figs, which are probably the fruits that contain the most fructose. That means you'll have to give up dining at your favorite Middle Eastern restaurant. Big sacrifice.
But apples and blueberries, which also rate in the top ten highest fructose-containing fruits? What are you, nuts? An average apple has about 5.9 grams of fructose in it. You will not get fat from eating an apple. You will not get fat from eating 4 apples.
So stop with the fructose phobia. Yes, yes, don't eat cereals, canned sodas, and all the other stuff you know to avoid, but eat fruits, lest you turn into a nutrient-deprived zombie.
Food expert Michael Pollan is often asked what the single best food is, the one we should all be eating every day. His answer is whole grains. He feels "they offer a lot that's missing from the industrial diet, from fiber to important antioxidants and healthy fats." Furthermore, he's observed that "people who eat lots of whole grains are generally healthier and live longer than those who don't."
Unfortunately, food phobics have largely thrown out the barley with the beer, or whatever the wheaty equivalent expression is to "throw out the baby with the bath water." They've focused on gluten, a protein found in wheat and related species that gives bread its elasticity or doughiness.
The trouble is, a lot of people have a sensitivity to gluten, or worse yet, suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine. People afflicted with such can suffer diarrhea and fatigue and a failure to thrive. It's definitely bad news.
Because of a variety of reasons – abundance of gluten in our diet (it's contained in so many things, including breads, soups, pretzels, pasta, etc.), stress, overuse of NSAIDS, antacids, etc. (which increase permeability of the gut, thus allowing gluten to enter the bloodstream), and yes, even genetic manipulation of gluten to make it even more doughy – gluten sensitivity is very high.
It's estimated that 18 million Americans have some sensitivity to gluten. Obviously, these people should avoid gluten.
However, the food phobics have somehow latched onto the notion that gluten is bad for everyone. It's a classic case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, which is Latin for your logic's messed up. Just because gluten is bad for some people doesn't mean it's bad for everyone. Athletes in particular took to demonizing the protein, probably due in large part to tennis pro Novak Djokovic.
Months after revealing he had a gluten sensitivity and had altered his diet, he posted an impressive 64-2 record. After winning the U.S. Open, reporters asked him what he had eaten for dinner the night before, for breakfast that morning, and what he planned on eating that night.
"I'll give you a simple answer," replied Djokovic, "Last night I didn't have any gluten, and tonight I will have a bunch of gluten."
It was official. Djokovic had made gluten sensitivity a fad and simultaneously, somewhat of a joke. True gluten sensitivity can't be manipulated in that casual a manner.
Regardless, people stopped eating wheat. Nimble manufacturers switched gears and started making bushel baskets of gluten-free products, many of which, unfortunately, are often less healthy than the allegedly unhealthy gluten food they replaced. Gluten-free foods are typically more refined and convert to glucose a lot faster than gluten-containing foods, which, as you know, can cause a whole bunch of problems.
Gluten sensitive people should definitely avoid these gluten-containing grains:
However, gluten sensitive people can still eat the following grains:
The rest of you can eat freely of all the nutritious grains listed above. However, in keeping with one of the prevailing themes of this article, moderation is always a good idea. It's not far-fetched to imagine that you could self-inflict a gluten sensitivity by ingesting it several times a day.
Logical thinking is elusive. We're trained to look for the bad in everything, and then we're trained to look for things that confirm the bad. As such, long-standing beliefs are formed and they set hard, like fast-drying cement.
It takes quite a sledgehammer to break through that cement. Here's hoping I at least busted a few chip off.
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TC has been Editor-in-Chief of T Nation since it first opened its electronic, pixilated baby eyes way back in 1998. He's authored well over 2,000 articles on nutrition, weight training, and men's issues in his career. He's considered an expert on the hormone Testosterone and is an authority and visionary in the field of nutrition.
TC has authored 3 funny, informative, and inspirational books, two of them real and one imaginary: Atomic Dog: The Testosterone Principles; The Testosterone Principles 2: Manhood and Other Stuff; and Luoma's Big Damn Book of Knowledge.