There’s a lot of food hating going on these days. Just check-out social media, where a slew of messages, tweets and photos portrays the evils of just about any food or food group. “Eat beef & destroy the environment.” “Dare to give your children milk & also take credit for the autoimmune disease they develop.” “Stay away from pasta if you want to avoid diabetes and cancer”. While the posts and tweets sound scary, they are usually coming from well-intended authors, people who only want to save others from ill-health caused by food choices. However this single-track thinking has ramifications of its own. Nutrition, like many things in life, is not one-dimensional. Every decision has consequences. Killing off honey bees may provide the benefit of no one ever experiencing a painful sting again, but also be prepared to loose half of our world’s crops due to the honeybee’s critical role in pollination. There are pros and cons to all choices in life.
As a nutritionist, I don’t advise anyone to avoid specific foods or food groups unless there is an indicated reason to do so (food allergies, intolerances, therapeutic diet for a medical condition). I also respect anyone who chooses to avoid food for their own reasons (animal rights, intolerances, limited resources). What I don’t support is food policing or fear mongering by anyone, certified in nutrition, or not.
As with the honeybee analogy, it’s important to consider what happens when people remove food groups from their diets. To further illustrate this point, consider the following examples of why a variety of different foods (& food groups) is important for good health.
Milk & Dairy Products Save the Lives of Children
Beginning in 2014, America became aware of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Thousands of people, specifically children, have since been poisoned by lead-contaminated water as the result of inadequate water treatment and aging infrastructure. Lead poisoning is serious; children develop learning disabilities and behavioral problems, as well as heart and kidney complications. Ever since the situation in Flint made national headlines, water testing in other communities has raised concern about wide-spread lead contamination.
Fortunately, good nutrition, specifically adequate intake of calcium, helps to protect children against the devastating effects of lead. Calcium, most notably found in milk and other dairy products, blocks absorption of lead in the body. Children who consume dairy products have been found to have lower levels of lead in their blood.
Milk and dairy products often take a hit for being so called disease-causing. Yet no research to date supports this idea. On the other hand, adequate intake of daily products has been shown to reduce the harmful effects of lead in children.
Gluten-Free Isn’t Always Better
Gluten-free diets were developed for people affected by celiac disease, a condition in which the body is intolerant of the protein, gluten. Those with celiac disease need alternatives for products such as breakfast cereals, breads and pastas. Gluten-free foods are great for people with celiac disease and other less-severe forms of gluten intolerance, but they’re not intended for everyone. The reason is that most specialty gluten-free products are not fortified in the ways that regular products are. Regular, gluten-containing grain products are mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be enriched with B Vitamins, Vitamin C, calcium and iron. In fact, fortified grain products are the main source of dietary iron for those people with the greatest iron requirements, children and women. Up to 20% of African-American women are iron-deficient in the United States. Iron-deficiency causes a host of issues including fatigue, poor concentration, and increased susceptibility to disease. Most people are better off leaving the gluten-free products at the store for those who truly need them.
Eggs are Hearty
Eggs have long been scorned because of concerns over their cholesterol content. More recent research, however, dispels this cholesterol myth, and indicates that egg consumption alone does not play a role in development of heart attacks and stroke. In fact, the antioxidants and other nutrients found in whole eggs (i.e. the yolk!) are thought to improve cardiovascular health markers. One of the most significant nutrients contained in eggs, and eggs alone, is choline. Skimp on choline and risk raising your chances of experiencing a heart attack.
- Managing Elevated Blood Lead Levels Among Young Children: Recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. CDC. 2002. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/casemanagement/managingEBLLs.pdf
- Iron Deficiency Anemia. American Family Physician. 2007. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0301/p671.html
- Choline. Oregon State University. 2015. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/choline
- Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers on FDA’s Fortification Policy. 2015. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/ucm470756.htm