Thursday, May 7, 2009

All things in moderation

How's your knowledge of organic chemistry? A little rusty? Well, if you listen to the news on any regular basis, you might be feeling that you should have paid a little more attention to all those lectures about ketones, steroids, free radicals and polymers. Every day, another story rolls out about some deadly new compound that's been found in a pantry staple, or a life-saving chemical found in some obscure piece of produce (how many darn pomegranates can one person eat, anyway?). Who to believe...what does it mean...what changes are we supposed to be making? Can someone please just sit down and cut through all the statistics and medical studies and tell me how dangerous my dinner plate really is?
Why, yes, Dr. Joe Schwarcz does just that in his new book An Apple a Day: the myths, misconceptions, and truths about the foods we eat. Starting with naturally occurring substances in our food supply (both good and bad), Dr. Schwarcz goes through all the headline-grabbing nutritional information that science has unearthed lately. Omega-3 fats, oleic acid, lignans, flavonoids are the new wonder compounds that are supposed to reduce disease. But how well do they work, and how much do you have to eat to make a difference? Dr. Schwarcz points out that coffee is the most important antioxidant in our daily diet, not because coffee contains the highest level of these chemicals, but because we consume much more coffee than we do cranberries or dates.
He also looks at nutritional supplements, food dyes, sweeteners, preservatives and MSG. You can read about benzene in beverages, hormones in meat, antibiotic residues, bisphenol A in plastics, and PCBs in fish. He polishes the book off with a chapter that looks at so-called 'miracle foods' such as goji berries and green tea, the empty promise of DHEA and alkaline diets. An Apple a Day is full of interesting information, and will hopefully make your next trip to the grocery story a little less stressful (and perhaps a little less expensive....).

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