Once again, many of us are following the New Year’s tradition of setting personal goals for the next year. A resolution for healthy meals and regular exercise is righteous and, in theory, can be improved by expert advice, but we had better think twice before taking advice from the food police.
In the second half of this year, official and self-appointed food police were again out in force. They marched lockstep in chants and sermons on red meat, salt and sugary-sweet foods. In an unexpected U-turn, they chipped away at antioxidants’ good reputation and, in a gush of political correctness, they struck a pettifogging pose on referring to any food as “healthy.”
Beef is certainly not what’s for dinner at the food police table. A link between red meat and longevity was found in an AARP-National Institute of Health study of more than a half-million older Americans. It “concluded that people who ate the most red meat and processed meat over a 10-year-period were likely to die sooner than those who ate smaller amounts.” The more immediate perils of beef were suggested by Consumer Reports tests finding that “conventionally produced ground beef had twice as many superbugs as beef raised in more sustainable ways.” Sustainable means methods that do not employ antibiotics, as is typical for grass-fed cattle. Ten percent of the study’s beef samples contained bacteria toxins that cannot be eliminated by regular cooking, which could make consumers very ill.
Sugar and salt were again villains reviled by many food activists. The New York Department of Health was sued by the National Restaurant Association over a regulation that requires posting salt warnings for any menu item containing more than 2,300 milligrams of salt. Salt opponents cannot help themselves. They are replaying the litigation antics that led to a repeal of Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on soft-drinks exceeding 16 ounces.
In a broader condemnation of consumer intelligence, calorie counts on menu items have been ordered by the FDA and they seem destined for adoption in chain restaurant menus. Sugar in soft drinks, a prominent component in calorie counts, is under attack. The perceived horror of sweet sodas unifies activists faster than any call for social justice. Anti-soda crusaders plan soda-tax campaigns in a dozen cities during 2016. Even sugar-free sodas draw aggressive detractors who bemoan the loss of tooth surface (measured in millionths of a meter) from anything sweet. Holy cavity Batman!
The journal Circulation reports that 25,000 US deaths per year are attributable to sugary drinks which promote diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Choosing big “round numbers” is intended to draw media coverage, but the cited rate is less than half of Chicago’s murder rate in 2012. That suggests living in Chicago is twice as dangerous as consuming soda drinks.
Even natural ingredients that dieters have welcomed for flavor, color and nutrition are coming under criticism. Antioxidants are a well-known component of blueberries, acai berries, green tea and leafy veggies. Antioxidants include vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, which protect cells by defending against “free radicals.” Unfortunately, the journal Nature and the journal PLoS One report that antioxidants also help cancerous cells to grow faster and spread. In some contexts even the most welcomed ingredients should be avoided.
The most annoying food police action in 2015 was the FDA’s virtual ban on use of the term “healthy.” A legal tiff arose over what can be said about any package of nuts, whole grains, seafood, fruits or vegetables that has been processed – i.e. cleaned, dried, and packaged. The FDA says food processors may not assert that the food is “healthy.” The key to their objection is the ongoing war on fat, this time in natural nuts, seafood and vegetables, such as avocado. Government has decided that it knows better than Mother Nature.
Consumers are not obligated to agree with government. Go ahead with your resolution. Detail your preferred diet. Make the food choices broad, nutritious and tasty. Constrain your diet with limits on volume rather than rejecting food choices that the food police indict. Consumers always produce more sensible results when fending for themselves than they do in acquiescence with a bureaucrat’s edicts.