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When Food Becomes Weird: More Fascinating Facts
October 7, 2013
Last week, we examined some unusual facts about food. Because food is so fascinating, there’s never a shortage of things to say about it. And while some foods may seem downright “weird,” other foods may be a little deceptive — for example, a healthy food that actually isn’t so healthy. As I can attest, that’s the beauty and the frustration of being a dietitian! Let’s look at some more food “weirdness” this week.
Durian — the world’s smelliest fruit
Durian trees are pollinated by bats and the fruit has a very short shelf life, making it a rare, exotic treat. When purchasing durian, should you ever find yourself in that position, choose one that is mildly fragrant — that way, you can be sure you’re getting a ripe one. If you can get past the spiny exterior and rotten cheese-like smell, you apparently will be in for a treat, as some describe the inner flesh as tasting like crème brulee. Nutrition-wise, be prepared for the high calories and its effect on your blood glucose levels: One cup of durian fruit has 357 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 66 grams of carbohydrate. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C.
Sodium — cutting back is harmful
Taubes based his statement on two studies that were meta-analyses (which look at several studies to derive hypotheses or conclusions). The meta-analyses were somewhat flawed in that one of them reviewed studies that only lasted a few weeks, while the other included a study of people with heart failure who were salt- and fluid-depleted to begin with.
Taubes’ argument that eating less salt can be dangerous was based, in part, on a study that reported that people who ate less salt had a higher risk of heart disease. But why did they eat less salt? Were they ill to begin with? Was sodium intake underestimated in the subjects? And what about all the other studies that have been previously done showing that a high sodium intake leads to higher rates of high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease? Should those studies be discounted? In my opinion, no.
Mercury — something fishy is up!
However, last week, a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives revealed that fish only accounts for 7% of the mercury in the body. The researchers found that, after fish, the foods (or beverages, actually) that are highest in mercury are herbal teas and alcohol (specifically, wine). They concluded that eating fish during pregnancy is unlikely to contribute much to the body’s mercury levels, and that eating fish has so many nutrient and health benefits for both the mother and the child that it doesn’t really make sense to limit fish. Drinking herbal teas and wine during pregnancy, on the other hand, may not be such a good idea. However, this is just one study, so if you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, it’s important to discuss your intake of fish and other foods with your obstetrician or dietitian.
Saturated fat — a help or a harm?
Other factors may play a role, such as the quality of the saturated fat (grass-fed beef, for example) and lifestyle factors. Some studies have failed to establish a connection between a high saturated fat intake and heart disease. And we also know that some saturated fatty acids, like stearic acid (found in beef and chocolate) aren’t so bad, while trans fats are pretty nasty (they raise LDL ["bad"] cholesterol and lower HDL ["good"] cholesterol; they also make blood “stickier” and seem to induce inflammation).
So herein lies the danger of assuming that all fats are bad. We know they’re not but we also need more information, particularly about saturated fat, to make wise decisions about what we choose to eat. Stay tuned.
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