Sunday, March 8, 2009

What's in our food?

Having read Joe Schwarcz's non-fiction book, An Apple a Day, I feel that I need to stock up on blueberries, tomatoes, corn, citrus fruits, and apples. No, these aren't the "wonder foods" we want to believe in; there's no such thing as wonder foods. These fruits and vegetables are simply good for the body.

An Apple a Day is a collection of essays divided into four sections: naturally occurring substances in food, food additives and manipulation, contaminants, and food hypes. Each essay is a stand-alone piece. You can skip essays and sections, choosing the ones that appeal to you and your diet. I think most of us would rather skip the part about food dyes and fluoride, but reading each essay would let you in on some of the amazing facts that goes on with our food, how our food is processed, and the additives in processed food such as sausages.

The first section on naturally occurring substances in food is the high point of An Apple a Day. Here we learn that an apple contains formaldehyde and a host of 300 other compounds. While formaldehyde can indeed be carcinogenic, Dr. Schwarcz constantly reminds the reader that the important thing about these substances is the dose. There's no such thing as a toxic chemical, only a toxic dose. Dr. Schwarcz also tells us that lycopene, a substance in tomatoes that is linked to a reduced risk for certain cancers, is actually more plentiful in cooked tomatoes than in raw ones.

The section on food supply manipulation is probably the weakest. It's clear that Dr. Schwarcz veers away from topics that he has no expertise on. Although, he does manage to make very engaging and interesting discussions on the merits of natural and artificial sweeteners. (There's nothing to be afraid of them.) And what's the difference between Coke Lite and Coke Zero? It's all about the sweeteners. Coke Lite is sweetened with aspartame, whereas Coke Zero by acesulfame. And unless you consume more than 20 cans a day of both, you need not worry.

Dr. Schwarcz doesn't take the pleasure away from eating our favorite dishes. In fact, he also extends this leniency toward food additives, food dyes, and food processing, just as long as we don't make a habit of eating red meat, barbecuing, frying all the time. Nevertheless, the author warns about consuming foods laden with trans fat and being gullible to hype such as the goji juice and detox. Goji juice, detox, and alkaline diets, just to name a few, simply have no redeeming health value.

The author's inevitable conclusion comes off as a bit of an anti-climax. Perhaps because we've heard all of these points before. The real gem is the essays themselves, and all the wonderful information we learn from them. In the end though, Dr. Schwarcz makes a few interesting conclusions:
  • Start most days with oats, flax, and berries. Blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins don't count.
  • No need to be horrified with eggs: even five a week are unlikely to have an effect on blood cholesterol.
  • Look for variety in your fruits and vegetables: the more colorful, the better.
  • Eat fish a couple of times a week. Women of child-bearing age and young children need to limit their intake of swordfish and frozen or fresh tuna, which are known to be high in mercury.
  • Aim for eight to ten servings a day for fruits and vegetables. Wash them well. Don't fret whether the've been organically grown or not.


ike v said...

mukhang masaya ito!

Rhett said...

I believe an apple a day is good for you. I've tried it and am very fond of the results the morning after. ;)

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Goji Juice

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