Here's what you need to know...
- Fried foods don't have to be bad for you, as long as you use the right kind of oils or fats.
- Some trans fats actually promote heart health, in addition to promoting leanness and even fighting cancer.
- Many of the nutrients in brown rice aren't bioavailable because of phytic acid. White rice is a better choice.
- Ketchup, as long as it's not sweetened with fructose or other sugars, is a great source of lycopene.
- Much of the fat in bacon is a monosaturated fat known as oleic acid, the same kind found in olive oil.
- Beer can be a healthier drink than wine. Both have plenty of nutrients, but beer has fewer calories.
Hardly anything is simple, and hardly anything is at it appears, least of all dietary recommendations from mainstream food and nutrition writers.
Too often they hand down blanket recommendations on food that, upon further scrutiny, are riddled with inconsistencies, yesterday's science, shortsightedness, or plain old two-dimensional thinking.
Case in point, here are some foods you were told to stay away from because they were "bad," but could actually be good for you.
We've been told to avoid fried foods most of our lives, even though practically everyone knows one relative on a farm who lived to be 100 years old despite frying up bacon and eggs and hash browns and drinking down the grease every day before heading out to the fields.
As those long-lived farmers often attest to, fried foods aren't really less healthy than un-fried foods.
True, cooking in oil will add some calories, but plenty of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, along with beta-carotene (sweet potatoes), lycopene (tomatoes), and lutein (spinach and kale) need fat in order to be absorbed by the body.
Still, you should adhere to a few guidelines.
For instance, only use oils that have a high "smoke point," which is the temperature at which the oil starts smoking.
Overheating oils changes the chemical composition of the oil to things that might not be so healthy, so use oils such as olive (the refined stuff, as opposed to the extra virgin) avocado, peanut, walnut, or sesame oil for high-temp frying.
Other fats or oils, such as butter or coconut oil, simply have too low of a smoke point to cook with when using high temperatures.
Now there's been some controversy as to whether applying high heat can turn a cooking oil into a bad variety of trans fat, but even if that actually happens, it's more likely to occur if you reuse your oil over and over.
For low-temp frying, however, go ahead and use coconut oil, butter from grass-fed cows, or use extra virgin olive oil.
A few years ago nobody, except for a few nerdy chemists who looked like cast members of The Big Bang Theory, knew what trans fats were.
Now everyone knows them as fatty bringers of cardiac death, hiding in baked goods, microwave popcorn, and margarine, ready to glom onto the insides of your arteries.
These unsaturated fats are fairly uncommon in nature but they're a common byproduct of industrially produced foods. They're feared because they pose a double threat to heart health, raising the bad cholesterol and lowering the good.
But what isn't commonly known is that there are trans fats that are actually good for your heart, in addition to having fat-burning and cancer-fighting properties.
Collectively, one group of these healthful trans fats is known as conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA.
CLA is found in large amounts in grass-fed meat and dairy products, but it's also produced in our bodies in small amounts.
Numerous studies have shown CLA to actually reduce the risk of heart disease, in addition to preventing or improving type II diabetes (at least in rats) and even reducing the growth and metastatic spread of tumors.
Additionally, studies suggest that CLA can reduce body fat and even increase lean body mass.
While CLA is available in supplement form (it's part of the Flameout® formula), it's also found in abundant quantities in grass-fed dairy and meat, which contain three to five times more than grain-fed animals.
If healthy food has an icon, it's brown rice. The staple of hemp-wearing earthy types everywhere, brown rice is as admired as a bootleg vinyl Grateful Dead record.
These types will tell you that brown rice is full of protein. They'll tell you that it's got the fiber to make your poop strong and proud. They'll tell you that it doesn't raise blood sugar as much as white rice.
Well, they're right, but those are all minor details.
Yes, brown rice has protein, but it's a negligible amount; you're better off with a mouthful of animal protein. Brown rice does indeed have fiber, but you'd be better off getting your fiber through other, more nutrient-dense fiber sources like fruits and vegetables.
And lastly, yes, it doesn't do much to raise blood sugar, but no one eats a bowl of white rice by itself unless that's all they get to eat. Instead, they eat it with meat, or vegetables, or a little oil, all of which ameliorate rises in blood sugar.
But there's one other thing about brown rice that makes it particularly problematic and that's the presence of phytic acid, a compound located in the rice bran – the part that gives brown rice its color.
Phytic acid, quite simply, grabs on to or chelates minerals, in addition to inhibiting enzymes we need to digest food. This results in making many of the coveted nutrients largely unavailable for digestion.
That's why white rice, despite decades of propaganda, is often a superior food, especially for athletes.
White rice is fortified with vitamins (digestible ones) and isn't associated with food allergies, bloating, or any other digestive problems often associated with grains in general.
Back in the early 1980's, the U.S. government passed legislation that allowed ketchup and other condiments to count as vegetables in school lunches. Parents and nutritionists didn't take kindly to it.
Despite the attempts to make it a health food, public opinion quickly relegated ketchup back to its long-held junk food status, where it pretty much remains to this day.
The thing is, it turns out that the government's idea wasn't all that stupid (not that they were doing it for any other reason than to cut expenses) because ketchup, provided you find a brand without added sugars – high fructose or otherwise – is pretty good stuff.
The phytochemical lycopene is an antioxidant that's about 100 times more powerful than Vitamin E and it's found in tomatoes and other bright red fruits and vegetables.
Unfortunately, lycopene isn't very well absorbed unless it's cooked, which is why processed tomato products like ketchup are some of the highest, most bioavailable sources of lycopene.
Lycopene is implicated in reducing the incidence of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, male infertility, and prostate cancer, so look for ketchup made with tomatoes, vinegar, salt, and spices and use it liberally on your food.
Put it on the usual stuff like burger, but also use it on eggs and grilled meats. Use it instead of whipped cream in your perverted lovemaking. Add it to soups and stews.
Bacon is one of the most demonized foods of all time. In this age of saturated-fat phobia, how could it have been otherwise?
All you had to do was drop a few strips into a heated frying pan and in moments, the bacon is drowning itself in a pool of sizzling fat – fat that's presumably just waiting to cascade down your gullet and be transported to its forever home in your aorta.
But now that we know that fear of saturated fat was largely unfounded, it's time to take another look at bacon.
When you look at the nutrients truly important to human health, foods like organ meats rank very high, along with certain herbs and spices and nuts and seeds.
The trouble is, most Americans don't particularly fancy organ meats, and eating an amount of herbs and spices big enough to provide the required nutrients would have you burping up flakes of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme all day.
But also high on the nutrient list is pork, particularly bacon.
But let's get back to the issue of fat again. It turns out that the bacon contains mostly healthful saturated fat and monosaturated fat, consisting mostly of oleic acid, the type found in olive oil.
The only caveat is that you should look for bacon from "pastured" pigs that ate normal piggy foods instead of industrial slop. Look for it in the usual places, like Whole Foods. If you find it, try having some BLTs for dinner once in a while and live a little.
So these Harvard boys put together a study that followed large populations and their disease rates. Among all sorts of findings, they linked potato eating to being overweight, blaming in on the resultant spuddy rise in blood sugar.
The thing is, there are plenty of other foods that cause similar or greater rises in blood sugar, yet they correlate with healthy body weights.
Well, as is often the case with scientists, they neglected to look at the whole picture. It turns out they mashed up their potato findings; they put all potato products together, including potato chips and French fries.
No wonder potatoes correlate so highly with obesity rates!
But other, more elegantly structured studies have failed to find any correlation between potatoes and weight gain or any diseases, for that matter.
The potato is actually a good guy, provided you boil it or bake it (or even fry it with healthful oil and dip it in sugar-free ketchup).
Despite its lack of color, which often denotes a dearth of phytochemicals, potatoes contain a number of carotenoids and flavenoids, as well as a decent array of vitamins. There's absolutely no need to leave them off your dinner plate.
By the way, despite the old wives' tale about all of the potatoes' nutrition being found in the skin, only 20% of it is found there. The rest of it is in the flesh, although the skin does contain an appreciable amount of fiber.
Beer is usually regarded as the unsophisticated, gap-toothed, uncouth brother of wine.
Legions of snobs everywhere extol wine's flavor, heritage, taste, and health benefits, but while most of those categories are subjective, the last one – health – isn't, and that's where wine doesn't have much of an advantage over beer.
Sure, wine contains polyphenols that are allegedly heart-protective, but so does beer. The only difference is that beer's polyphenols come from barley and hops instead of grapes.
Wine is also said to reduce the incidence of blood clots, but it's probably just the alcohol that does that.
As far as individual nutrients, beer has more niacin, B5, B12, folate, selenium, and silicon, while wine has more calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and manganese. Beer is lower in calories, but that's primarily because wine contains more alcohol.
For the most nutrient bang-for-your buck, stick with the darker brews that taste like liquid bread instead of the paler, watery variants like Coors.