Physician and popular New York Times contributor Aaron Carroll mines the latest evidence to show that many “bad” ingredients actually aren’t unhealthy, and in some cases are essential to our well-being.
Physician and popular New York Times Upshot contributor Aaron Carroll mines the latest evidence to show that many “bad” ingredients actually aren’t unhealthy, and in some cases are essential to our well-being.
Advice about food can be confusing. There's usually only one thing experts can agree on: some ingredients—often the most enjoyable ones—are bad for you, full stop. But as Aaron Carroll explains, these oversimplifications are both wrong and dangerous: if we stop consuming some of our most demonized ingredients altogether, it may actually hurt us. In The Bad Food Bible, Carroll examines the scientific evidence, showing among other things that you can:
·Eat red meat several times a week: The health effects are negligible for most people, and actually positive if you're 65 or older.
·Have a drink or two a day: As long as it's in moderation, it will protect you against cardiovascular disease without much risk.
·Enjoy a gluten-loaded bagel from time to time: It has less fat and sugar, fewer calories, and more fiber than a gluten-free one.
·Eat more salt: If your blood pressure is normal, you should be more worried about getting too little sodium than having too much.
Full of counterintuitive lessons about food we hate to love, The Bad Food Bible is for anyone who wants to forge eating habits that are sensible, sustainable, and occasionally indulgent.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, one of the biggest debates in our household had to do with what we should spread on our toast. On the one hand, butter had been a staple of the American diet for centuries, but experts recently had begun to push margarine as a healthier substitute. Butter, after all, was full of “unhealthy” saturated fat; indeed, it contained more saturated fat than just about anything else in the typical Western kitchen at the time, although cheese, cream, and other dairy products (as well as certain nondairy animal products) came close. On the other hand, margarine was made in a lab from “healthier” vegetable fats: the unsaturated fats found in (for instance) soybean or safflower oil.
There was just one problem: at room temperature, vegetable oils are liquid. No one wants a soggy, wet piece of toast. To make margarine solid, food scientists subjected vegetable oils to a process called hydrogenation, in which hydrogen gas was mixed with the oils while exposing them to a metal catalyst and subjecting them to heat and pressure. This process created oils that were solid at room temperature and, at least at first, tested quite well in marketing research. Many people, even cardiologists, began to push margarine as a “hearty healthy” substitute for butter. It became the spread of choice in the Carroll household.
Of course, today we know “hydrogenated oils” by another name: “trans fats.” And now we know they’re terrible for us ?— ?even worse than saturated fats. Yet the margarine-induced assault on butter continues to this day and has led people to spurn many of its saturated-fat cousins as well.
The impact of this low-fat craze on our health has been dubious, to say the least. It turns out that alternatives to saturated fats ?— ?including, but not limited to, trans fats ?— ?are not nearly as good for us as we were led to believe. And there’s another wrinkle. Those saturated fats we thought were so bad for us? They actually might not be.
The truth about trans fats
By the 1990s, evidence was building that trans fats carried a significant risk of coronary heart disease. Today, they’ve been found not only to increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (the “bad” cholesterol ?— ?more on this in chapter 3) but to also decrease levels of high-density lipoprotein (the “good” cholesterol). By both lowering LDL and increasing HDL, trans fats have about twice the negative impact as saturated fats. And that’s not all. Trans fats also increase triglycerides, fats that our body can use for energy but that are also thought to be associated with cardiovascular disease.
Unlike many other areas of nutrition science, there is some high-quality research to support the conclusion that trans fats are bad for our health. In 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine published a huge review article that began to sound the death knell for trans fats. The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of twelve randomized controlled trials of trans fatty acid consumption through 2005. They found that compared to eating saturated or unsaturated fats, eating trans fats significantly increased pretty much all the risk factors for coronary heart disease. Trans fats also appeared to increase the markers of inflammation in the body and decrease the effectiveness of the cells that work to keep the blood vessels clean. On a per-calorie basis, trans fats increased the risk of coronary heart disease more than any other nutrient.1
Throughout this book, I discuss how the dire warnings we hear about many ingredients seem to be overblown. I don’t take that approach with trans fats, however, because the evidence against them is pretty damning.
I’m not alone in this conclusion. In recent years, artificial trans fats have been almost entirely eliminated from the American diet. Months before the study in the New England Journal of Medicine was published, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that companies had to start explicitly labeling how much trans fats their foods contained. Fast-food retailers such as McDonald’s and Burger King began eliminating artificial trans fats from their products, and the tiny amounts that remain occur naturally in meat and cheese. New York City banned them in restaurants in 2007, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention argued that removing trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent about 20,000 heart attacks a year and 7,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease. In response, the FDA issued a Federal Register notice announcing that the agency believes that trans fats are not “generally recognized as safe.” Such a notice allows a period of time for people and businesses to comment and offer opinions and evidence as to why the determination should not result in a ban. Nothing convincing came of this, and in 2015 the FDA finalized its determination that trans fats are generally not recognized as safe.
In the butter versus margarine debate, the Carroll family should have stuck with butter. And that’s not the only match in which butter appears to win out. It seems that not only are saturated fats much better for us than trans fats, but they also may not be that much worse for us than a range of other fats ?— ?including many that have been championed as “healthier” alternatives.
You read that right: butter, and the fats it contains, are not only likely to be part of a healthy diet, but they may actually be better for us than many alternatives. Frustratingly, the evidence to prove this has been out there for decades. It just hasn’t been given a fair shake until very recently.
One of iBooks' "2017 Favorites"
"The Bad Food Bible knocks down a number of nutrition myths...[Carroll] closes the book with nine common-sense rules for healthy eating."
—Wall Street Journal
"In this informative, accessible book, Carroll, a doctor and healthcare expert, sifts through the research, advice, and straight-up hype surrounding diets to reveal that some of the foods we view as off-limits aren't as awful as we think...The book has plenty of sensible tips for maintaining a healthy diet...Here's to a delicious new year!"
"This excellent title from Carroll explains that practically no food or drink is as bad as certain 'studies show' data would have us believe...VERDICT: An excellent choice for every reader and all collections."
—Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
"'Avoid gluten!' 'Eat organic!' 'Go vegan!' The cacophony of dietary doctrine has reached a fever pitch. Aaron Carroll—a pediatrics professor and a seasoned health columnist—analyzes countless nutritional studies and concludes that many of society’s frowned-upon foods are unfairly demonized. From the crusade against butter to our vehement disdain for genetically modified foods, Carroll uses historical examples and rarely published scientific evidence to help us see through the current pandemonium. His commonsense approach lays the groundwork for a healthy relationship with 'sinful' foods; the only commandment in The Bad Food Bible is moderation."
—iBooks, 2017 Favorites
“Eat, drink and relax, already. As Aaron Carroll shows in The Bad Food Bible, when it comes to nutritional health, much of what we've been told to worry about is either hyped or hogwash."
—Michael Moss, best-selling author of Salt Sugar Fat
“Aaron Carroll's brilliant advice has changed my health and my life. Forget about all the fads: here's the real truth about food and the role it plays in our lives.”
—John Green, best-selling author of The Fault In Our Stars
“A satisfying book that challenges the very notion of food morality and frees us up for some seriously delicious, sinful eating.”
—Nina Teicholz, best-selling author of The Big Fat Surprise
“The Bad Food Bible is a breath of fresh air in a media environment saturated with eating dos and don'ts. For anyone confused by single-study headlines or looking to make sense of how to eat healthy with a world of so many options, Aaron Carroll's advice will certainly deliver.”
—Sarah Kliff, Senior policy correspondent, Vox.com
"In The Bad Food Bible, Aaron Carroll turns down the food fear sirens to zero, and responsibly explains what science actually says about the food we eat. Instead of demonizing prosciutto or wine, Carroll reminds us that the odd indulgence isn't going to kill anyone, but a lifetime of poor nutrition might —sane and welcome advice in a time of great nutrition confusion."
—Julia Belluz, Senior health correspondent, Vox.com
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