Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Beer, Chocolate, and Other Forbidden Health Foods

Beer, Chocolate, and Other Forbidden Health Foods

What if someone discovered a substance that "significantly inhibited arteriosclerosis"? You might expect that it would soon be advised as a treatment.

Furthermore, what if this same substance had "antioxidant quality clearly superior to that of vitamin antioxidants and to that of the phenol ingredients, suggesting synergism among the antioxidants in the mixture"? All the more reason to recommend it.

But I seriously doubt that you'll ever hear anyone recommend you have this healthy substance, because it comes in brown bottles, pints, and from microbreweries.

Dr. Vinson and colleagues at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Scranton analyzed 15 lagers, 6 porters and ales, 11 light and nonalcoholic beers, to see what effect these had on markers for heart disease. They found that “lager significantly decreased cholesterol and triglycerides, and both beers acted as in vivo antioxidants by decreasing the oxidizability of lower density lipoproteins”.

Click Here to Read The Study Abstract Itself

Moreover, beer - that pedestrian source of the "beer gut" - also happens to be a fantastic source for the phenols that protect your heart. The authors listed the order of phenol concentration: ales > lagers > low calorie > nonalcoholic. In other words, the stronger the better, and that low calorie beer is also low-heart-protective as well.

But this seems bizarre. Beer is bad for you, right? Now beer is good for you? Who in their right mind would recommend beer-drinking as a health remedy?

Beer has always been considered "bad" for you because it could be over-consumed to the point of becoming harmful. The same is true for wine, and these are just two of a long list of forbidden foods, which we have been told to avoid even though they have fantastic health properties. Consider pizza, chocolate, cheese, eggs, ... the list goes on and on.

Yes, you can over-consume chocolate. Yes, you can over-consume beer, wine, pizza, cheese and all the rest. But if we’ve learned anything from our past 30 years of overeating, it’s that anything can be bad for you if taken in the wrong amounts. If you take too much of your life-saving heart medication, it becomes bad for you; if you overdo aspirin it can be bad for you; if you eat too much fiber, you’re going to be sorry.

The funny thing is that no one advises you not to take medications because they could have negative consequences if they are overused - quite the opposite. We are inundated with drug ads. The FDA is flooded with new drug trial applications every month.

But when it comes to food, we suddenly lose our nerve. We cringe at the thought that someone might overdo it, drink too much beer or eat too much pizza. And so, we lower the bar for everyone, and tell people to avoid it altogether. Medical advice either avoids the subject, or explicitly advises us not to even go there.

We have deferred responsibility for abstinence.

This is ultimately harmful for the people who are supposed to be served by the advice in the first place. To favor medication over food is a mistake. To encourage people avoid wonderful foods instead of teaching moderation is a shame.

But what if we did look at food like a drug? Even then, we should be able to have our chocolate and eat it too. For example, Barry Sears (of the Zone diet) and Dean Ornish (low free eating proponent) have famously urged us to think of our foods as drugs. Drugs typically come with strict instructions on the amounts to be consumed. So why don't we simply include dose amounts on our foods as well?

Something like this:
-- Chocolate is good for you at 1 small square per day, bad for you at 6.
-- Pizza is good for you at 4 slices per week, bad for you at 4 pizzas per week.
-- Coffee is good for you at 2 cups per day, bad for you at 6.
-- Beer is good for you at 2 12 oz bottles per day, bad for you at 2 6-packs per day.
-- Wine is good for you at 1-2 6 oz glasses per day, bad for you at 1-2 bottles per day.

What if we accept the following premise, "over-consumption of any food can make it bad for you" . Then we could also say that there are no "forbidden" foods -- just foods that must be consumed in varying degrees of moderation.

No forbidden foods? No forbidden drinks?

This sounds fantastic, but remember that it also means all foods have the potential to be bad for you. All of them. The only thing that separates "good for you" from "bad for you" is your own eating habits. A small amount of beer, for example, may protect your heart, but a large amount will kill your liver.

Seen in this way, your good or bad health depends on your behavior, doesn't it?
The beer itself is just a sideshow.

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