“Butter is the new food trend.” “Salt may not be so bad.” “Instead of avoiding fish, there’s a minimum you should eat.”
These are just a few of the confusing media messages we’ve heard over the past few months. It seems like each day a new story evolves, refuting the claims of a subject previously popularized. This is particularly apparent when it comes to the topic of nutrition.
I recently appeared on ABC’s Real Biz with Rebecca Jarvis to talk about some of the hot, yet confusing, media messages consumers regularly face, whether it’s on electronic devices or in print. Here are some issues you may need to consider before planning your next meal:
1. Time Magazine’s cover recently said: “Eat Butter. Scientists Labeled Fat the Enemy and Why They Were Wrong.” But that doesn’t exactly make butter a health food.
A study released early this year indicated that saturated fat – the type of fat found in animal products such as meat and dairy – may not cause heart disease after all. As a result, Time magazine featured butter on its cover provocatively questioning whether we’re ending the war on fat. The article also suggests that we should eat more fat and less sugar. But before you go back to butter or dip into that sugar bowl, understand that there’s still too little science to show that all saturated fat is good for you. The American Heart Association stands by its recommendation to keep the amount of saturated fat you consume low.
We are, however, a fat-phobic nation – fearing all fats even when some, in particular, such as avocado, nuts, certain oils and fatty fish, could actually be beneficial and heart-healthy. Media messages, however, focus more on the notion that fats could be harmful rather than encouraging consumers to choose fats with benefits.
Ditching fats and going fat free could be costly. Fat-free foods often swap sugar for fat, and we’ve seen that these sweet treats have not changed obesity rates or improved long-term eating habits.
Your best bet is to welcome fat back onto your menu by consuming foods containing healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, since they’ve been shown to be beneficial for protecting the heart. But keep in mind that at nine calories per gram, you still need to be mindful of fat-containing portion sizes.
[Read: Unusual Uses for Avocados.]
2. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued new guidelines regarding fish, pregnant women and young children. But just a few years ago, wasn’t there more of a warning rather than a guideline for fish for fear of ingesting high levels of mercury?
The newest FDA recommendations suggest pregnant and lactating women and young children consume two to three servings of fatty fish per week (a minimum of 8 ounces and no more than 12 ounces of fish with low levels of mercury). This advice was given to insure that the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA – more commonly referred to as “fish oil” – are included in the diet. Omega-3s have been linked to fetal brain development and enhanced cognitive function in children. You can safely get these oils from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, but if you don’t like fish or if you avoid it for other reasons, you might want to consider taking a daily supplement containing omega-3 fatty acids.
The unique character of this new guideline is that it focuses on the minimum amount of fish that pregnant women and children should eat. The previous advisory, issued in 2004, highlighted themaximum amounts to protect their fetuses and young children from mercury. What has not changed is that these vulnerable groups should still avoid high mercury fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, tile fish, king tuna and shark.
3. The FDA announced it will be issuing sodium guidelines for the food industry in order to reduce sodium consumption, but research has shown that too little sodium can be bad for you as well.
Some people are more salt sensitive than others. Although currently there’s no test to determine salt sensitivity, most people can tell their salt susceptibility because they may have difficulty removing their rings off their fingers after having a bowl of salty soup.
Salt may not necessarily be dangerous for everyone, but we do know that if you have high blood pressure, you should talk to your health care provider about whether you should be shaking or ditching the salt shaker. Most (about 75 percent) of the sodium we consume is obtained from food consumed outside the home and from highly processed foods, and not from the salt we add at the table. No matter what the study shows, I’m still a fan of dumping the salt out of your shaker and filling it with an array of seasonings and spices. Aside from waking up your typical dishes, spices come with their own health benefits.
[Read: The Best Spices for your Health.]
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