Eating for the ’90s – fads out, variety and enjoyment in

Eating for the ’90s – fads out, variety and enjoyment in – includes related articles on what is healthy; change in nutrition beliefs; affect of dietary fat; sugars in diet

Recent surveys show that most Canadians, Quebeckers in particular, are very concerned about nutrition. Many worry about the cholesterol, fat, sugar, calories, salt additives in food, but they have a hard time separating nutritional truths from fads and fiction. The latest nutritional slogans are often popularized before their health claims have been validated and as swiftly abandoned. In the past few decades we’ve been deluged with fast-changing, often unscientific rules for healthy eating, adding confusion to the average person’s scanty understanding of good nutrition. An increasing willingness to accept some responsibility for their own lifestyle-related illnesses has made people more anxious about the way food affects health.

Food anxiety is a swiftly developing syndrome, and worried consumers view almost every dietary ingredient as a potential menace! A recent National institute of Nutrition (NIN) study showed that most people’s dietary knowledge comes from TV, radio, the daily press, magazines and the advice of friends and colleagues, often more a matter of blind faith rather than scientific fact. Few consult registered dietitians or nutritionists about diet. Physicians, who are seen as a reliable source of health information, could play a useful role by asking people about their diets and spending more time discussing good nutrition. We have a long way to go in improving our eating styles.

The new 1990 Health and Welfare Canada nutrition recommendations aim to cut through the confusion and help people make healthier overall food choices rather than merely recommending the nutrient intakes needed to prevent deficiency problems. Clearer, simpler nutrition labels would make it easier for consumers to alter their food habits in line with the new dietary guidelines.

New eating guidelines stress variety, balance and fun

Two federal government committees, the Scientific Review Committee or SRC and the Communications/Implementations Committee or CIC, have developed new nutrition recommendations for Canadians. They are presented in three booklets, listed at the end of this article.

The new nutrition recommendations reflect the latest knowledge about diet-disease links. Up to date, action-oriented and easy to read, they provide a single set of dietary guidelines, outlining strategies for partnerships among health care, medical, agricultural, industrial, social and educational institutions. The new recommendations include the Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNIs) – outlining the why’s and wherefore’s for the suggested daily amounts of all nutrients, including trace elements such as copper, chromium, cobalt and selenium. The publications also discuss safe levels of non-essential dietary substances such as alcohol, aspartame (NutraSweet), aluminium and caffeine. The dietary guidelines stress overall eating behaviour and the avoidance of excesses, examining the entire dietary mix. They urge people to eat in ways that don’t just prevent deficiencies but instead promote health and reduce the risks of common killer diseases such as heart ailments and cancer (especially bowel and breast cancer, possibly linked to excess fat intakes). The focus is on variety, the avoidance of taboos and putting the pleasure back into eating. To banish the view that good nutrition is boring, the guidelines emphasize the enjoyable aspects of food, down-playing restriction, elimination or limitation. They encourage people to sample a wide range of foods rather than regarding any particular item as the ultimate health-giver.

Canada’s Food Guide, first written in 1942 and updated every few years, is also being revised and slated for release in the Fall of 1991, to bring the dietary guidelines to the table. Health and WelFare’s Scientific Review Committee (SRC) proposes that the Canadian diet should:

* Provide energy consistent with maintaining body weight within the recommended range.

* Include essential nutrients in amounts specified in the Recommended Nutrient Intakes.

* Include no more than 30% of energy as fat and no more than 10% as saturated fat.

* Provide 55% of energy as carbohydrates, from a variety of sources.

* Contain less sodium (especially in table salt).

* Include no more than 5% of calories as alcohol (or two drinks daily, whichever is less).

* Contain no more caffeine than the equivalent of four cups of regular coffee per day.

* Bring community water supplies containing less than one mg/L of fluoride up to that level.

Examining the new nutrition recommendations

* Eating diets light in fat and lowering fat intakes to 30 per cent or less of calories means reducing the average fat consumption in Canada (and other Western countries) by eight to 10 per cent. The suggested decrease in fat consumption entails a huge shift in eating behaviour, also involving changes in food marketing and agriculture. To achieve so large a drop in fat consumption, Canadians must radically alter their food habits and consistently eat leaner meats, lower fat dairy products, low-fat snacks, foods prepared with little or no fat, fewer fried foods, perhaps giving up or reducing consumption of favourites like butter or margarine and mayonnaise on sandwiches.

* The SRC recommendation to lower fat intakes to 30 per cent of calories applies to everyone over age two. However, University of Toronto and other nutritional experts urge caution in applying the new recommendations to all age groups. Diets too low in fat may shortchange growing children of sufficient energy. The new guidelines suggest that infant diets or formula should offer three per cent of calories as polyunsaturated, omega-6 linoleic acid (one to two per cent in adults). Human and cow’s milk, as well as infant formulas, contain 50 per cent of calories as fat, and fat is a valuable source of energy for fast-growing children. Some University of Toronto experts warn that if dietary fat levels drop too low in the years between infancy and puberty, children may not get enough calories for their energy needs. They suggest that there should be transition guidelines for the childhood years and warn against over-rigorous application of the nutrition recommendations to young age groups.

* The new recognition of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (in fish, canola oil and flax) as essential nutrients is generally welcomed. Rich sources for both the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are soya bean and canola oils.

* Although they set no precise limits for dietary cholesterol, SRC suggests that people in all age groups should reduce consumption, provided that infants and children get enough total calories and essential nutrients. Reducing cholesterol intake “towards 300 mg or less” per day might help to decrease coronary heart disease risks. In contrast to the lack of specificity in the Canadian nutrition recommendations, the U.S. guidelines suggest restricting dietary cholesterol to 250 mg daily and the WHO to an upper limit of 300 mg a day.

* Accepting the strong recommendation to increase carbohydrate consumption, especially by eating more fruits, vegetables, grains, cereals and legumes – to 55 per cent or more of total calories – means eating more plant foods, being sure to include orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A. Diets high in natural carotenes/vitamin A, and other antioxidants from plant foods may reduce the risk of certain cancers. (The WHO guidelines suggest an upper limit of 75 per cent of total calories as carbohydrate. In contrast to the Canadian recommendations, which don’t specify exact limits for fibre, the WHO goal is 24-35 g fibre a day, much of it from legumes lentils, peas, beans – seeds, nuts, fruit and vegetables).

* The directive to maintain protein intakes at 13 to 15 per cent of total calories recognizes that most Canadian diets exceed that amount as our protein consumption averages 83 g a day about 50 per cent higher than the recommended intake. Protein foods need not necessarily be eaten at every meal or even every day, and some protein comes from low-fat dairy sources and plant foods.

* For salt (sodium chloride), the Canadian recommendations set no exact limits but conclude that it’s probably wise to reduce intakes – since amounts presently consumed greatly exceed the body’s needs – by omitting salt added in cooking and at table, also watching for sodium in mineral waters, preservatives and additives such as monosodium glutamate.

* The suggestion that alcohol be limited to five per cent of energy or two drinks daily (whichever is less) is at slight variance with the advice of Toronto’s Addiction Research Foundation (ARF) cited in the August 1990 issue of Health News. The ARF defines “low risk” drinking as one to four drinks daily but NEVER every day, to a total of 12 drinks a week, and:

for men: no more than two to four drinks a day, NOT every day.

for women: no more than one to two drinks a day, NOT every day.

for pregnant women and their unborn children, there’s NO SAFE LEVEL of alcohol intake. (See Health News, Augutst 1990 issue.)

The good news about caffeine

The advice given in the 1990 Canadian Eating Guidelines to “consume no more caffeine than that equivalent to four regular cups of coffee per day” because of coffee’s possible link to heart disease, is challenged by some University of Toronto experts. “While it’s wise to curb excessive coffee intakes,” says one researcher, “the suggested four cups a day limit is needlessly restrictive.” The federal recommendation is based on controversial evidence that coffee drinking (but not specifically caffeine) may increase coronary heart disease risks. Since differently brewed coffees contain varying amounts of caffeine, it’s inappropriate to measure possible health dangers in coffee cups. The amount of caffeine in coffee varies from about 65-75 mg per percolated cup (6 fl oz or 178 mL), to 110- 180 mg in a cup of filtered coffee and 60-90 mg per cup of instant. The amount in a cup of tea ranges from 30 to 100 mg caffeine per cup and colas average 25 mg per 10 oz can. And people differ widely in their response to caffeine. While some can consume three cups of coffee in short order with no ill effects, others feel edgy after a single cup. Clearly, people should reduce their intake if coffee makes them jittery or sleepless.

The many studies done to date on caffeine do not incriminate usual intakes as contributors to behaviour abnormalities, fibrocystic (lumpy) breasts, bladder or other cancers. Caffeine does not consistently raise blood pressure. The suspected link between coffee intake and coronary heart disease is being disputed. A recent review of coffee consumption and cardiovascular risks showed that only four out of 16 publications reported any significant relationship between heart disease and coffee consumptions of five to nine cups per day. The alleged link of caffeine to heart rhythm disturbances also remains unconvincing. One carefully conducted University of Toronto study showed no increase in ventricular heart arrhythmias (rhythm disturbances) in people with heart disease who drank moderate amounts of coffee – five or six cups a day.

Some researchers now query the claim that caffeine elevates blood cholesterol. One study found that coffee drinking raised blood cholesterol in men, not in women; another linked coffee to elevated cholesterol in women only. Several reports suggest that the cholesterol-raising effect varies according to the brewing method. As normally brewed in North America, coffee doesn’t seem to raise blood cholesterol. However, recent Scandinavian reports indicate that boiled and decaffeinated coffees, but not filtered or perked, might raise blood cholesterol. A 1989 article in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that drinking moderate amounts of filtered coffee does not affect blood lipid (cholesterol) levels while boiled coffees (especially as prepared by Scandinavian methods) and decaffeinated types (over three cups daily) may increase blood cholesterol over time. Some scientists feel that there’s a need for more research on the matter.

One University of Toronto expert sums it up this way: “considering the conflicting results, caffeine does not seem to cause heart rhythm disturbances nor does its long-term use raise blood pressure. There is currently inadequate evidence to link coffee or caffeine ingestion to increased risks of coronary heart disease. The bottom line is that moderate coffee intakes – to an upper limit of six cups (assuming 70 – 100 mg per cup) – do not increase heart disease risks or endanger health.”

Sorting out the cholesterol puzzle

Many Canadians want to but don’t know how to lower their blood cholesterol. While health-conscious people may assiduously shun cholesterol-rich foods like eggs, brains and liver (which have other nutritional advantages) they are often oblivious to the dangers of saturated fats. In the effort to lower blood cholesterol, many follow the cholesterol-free labels, yet eat fat-laden foods such as donuts, crackers, muffins, salads laced with dressing, french fries, cheeses and vegetable oil margarines (as rich in fat as butter). They may thus unwittingly drive up their blood cholesterol by eating products rich in fat although low in cholesterol. Cholesterol-free foods are popular because more than half the Canadians over age 30 supposedly have blood cholesterols above the healthy upper limit of 5.2 mmol/L (or 200 mg/dL) set by the 1988 Canadian Consensus Conference. While eating less cholesterol may modestly lower blood cholesterol, the effect varies widely from person to person. Eating less fat is generally a better strategy for decreasing blood cholesterol. Reducing total fat consumption from the present 38 per cent of total calories to the recommended 30 per cent mark could bring down blood cholesterol levels in many people. (For more on blood cholesterol and diets to reduce it see Health News June 1988 issue.)

One University of Toronto expert notes that “casting cholesterol as a dietary villain and cholesterol-free foods as healthy is gross over-simplification.” Many scientists raise quizzical eyebrows at the cholesterol-free labels displayed on foods that never contained any cholesterol. While cholesterol-free labelling has been aggressively used to market goods, consumers need to examine each claim individually to know if the cholesterol-free product is actually better than its regular alternative. According to Health and Welfare Canada guidelines, any low-cholesterol item must also be low in saturated fat, but not necessarily low in other kinds of fat. The “low cholesterol” or “cholesterol-free” label on foods must also declare all types of fat in the product. Consumers should look at the overall fat content when buying cholesterol-free goods to know what they’re getting.

In addition, experts caution that many cholesterol-free products are prepared with hydrogenated vegetable oils in which many of the polyunsaturated benefits of the natural oil are lost by conversion to saturated and trans fatty acids. The hydrogenation process used to stabilize vegetable oils not only adds hydrogen (making them more saturated) but also rearranges some of the natural “cis” chemical bonds to the “trans” form. Food manufacturers who have switched from animal to unsaturated vegetable oils often use the hydrogenated form, thereby negating the health benefits of using polyunsaturated fat. Current labelling requirements for hydrogenated foods are based on the supposition that trans fatty acids have a neutral or no adverse effect on blood lipids (fats). Therefore, the trans fatty acid content of foods isn’t listed on nutrition labels. However, some experts are pushing for their inclusion on food labels since they suspect that an increase in dietary trans fatty acids may raise blood cholesterol. Processed foods containing saturated and trans fatty acids include pizza crusts, puddings, crackers, cookies, rolls, potato and com chips, soft candy, breaded foods, french fries, frozen waffles and most margarines.

Repeatedly frying food in the same vegetable oil can drive out water and trigger transformation to the trans fatty acid form. Frying in unsaturated vegetable fats may also produce as many unhealthy (oxidized) compounds as frying in saturated fats. Few realize that the tropical oils, such as palm oil which is only 50 per cent saturated – are stable at high temperatures and may be a healthier alternative for frying than hydrogenated vegetable oils. Coconut oil is 90 per cent saturated but may also be as safe or healthier than hydrogenated vegetable oils for high temperature cooking.

Making fast food eating healthier

Whether eating at home or out, people should think of getting the fat down. According to a recent New England Journal of Medicine article, a typical fast food meal averages 40-55 per cent of its calories as fat, much of it the saturated variety that drives up blood cholesterol. Health-conscious consumers may choose chicken nuggets or fried fish as lower fat alternatives, not realizing that the batter or crumbs absorb lots of cooking oil. But chosen wisely, a fast food meal need not exceed the recommended 30 per cent of calories as fat.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s easy to reduce fat intake when dining on fast foods – for example, by choosing plain roast beef or grilled chicken breast (now available in some fast food eateries) instead of a hamburger. Better still, one can include salad bar choices (preferably not doused in salad dressing), skip the sauces (mostly fat), eat baked instead of fried potatoes (omitting the fatty toppings) and demand a choice of fruit juices and skim milk drinks. In response to consumer pressure, some responsible fast food establishments now provide a range of low-fat products – fresh salad items, low-fat yogurts, skim or two per cent milk and low-fat breakfast foods, such as low-fat muffins, and cereals (e.g., Cheerios, made from oats). Some are bringing in low-fat burgers. Together with a salad and low or no fat drink, a fast food meal can keep the fat content within healthy limits.

In future, eating low-fat foods may become less burdensome through new fat substitutes (not yet approved in Canada). Among those being investigated, one (Olestra) is a type of sugar not broken down or absorbed during digestion which substitutes well for saturated fat, providing a pleasing taste, texture and composition even when cooked. Several other fat substitutes are also being tested, some of them (such as Simplesse) proteins that taste and feel like fat but can’t be heated, although they can be used in ice creams, frozen products, mayonnaise, processed cheeses and other products that are eaten cold. Fat substitutes would provide a carefree way to cut back on fat while enjoying the fatty taste and texture humans like so much ! Urgent call for simpler, clearer food labelling

Simpler nutrition information on food labels could help people to make healthier eating choices. Sadly, the labels on many foods still leave buyers somewhat perplexed. A decade ago only two per cent of shoppers read food labels, but now an estimated 80 per cent do so. Yet it remains hard to work out the percentages of fat, sugar and other components in foods. (Nutrition labels do not currently reveal the percentage of core nutrients.) Some University of Toronto experts favour showing the nutrients as percentages of the total calories, to help consumers make wiser eating decisions.

In Canada at present, nutritional food labelling is entirely voluntary but will doubtless increase as food producers struggle to stay competitive. Since November 1988, Health and Welfare Canada has been encouraging the Canadian food industry to adopt the voluntary labelling scheme, presenting the nutrients in a standardized format. No specific health claims, cure benefits or disease-treatments can be advertised for any particular nutrient or food on Canadian food labels. U.S. regulations which used to be more lenient are also tightening up. Mandatory U.S. nutrition labelling is coming in for foods that are “meaningful sources of calories and nutrients,” with radical changes in what food labels can say, especially regarding cholesterol-free claims. American food products will soon have to bear detailed nutrition information according to the 1990 Food Labelling Requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Canadian foods that display nutrition labels must do so as “NUTRITION INFORMATION,” giving a “core” list of the calories, protein, fat and carbohydrate per serving – specifying the serving size in the same units as the net content declared. The equivalent household measure may also be listed, giving a practical idea of the amount of food that contains the listed nutrient(s). If the food package contains 100 grams, the serving size will be given in grams (e.g., 30 g). If the package contains 100 mL (millilitres) the serving size will be given in mL. The energy value is given both in Calories (Cal) and its metric counterpart, kiloJoules (kJ)*. Labels may also give information about the different fats – cholesterol, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats. Under carbohydrate: sugars, starch and dietary fibre may be listed. If the level of sodium is displayed, the amount of potassium must also be provided. Descriptive claims about products being “light” or “low” in certain components, especially fats and cholesterol, are carefully regulated. But, for instance, “high fibre” cookies or muffins can highlight the product’s fibre content without revealing its high fat level (because mandatory labelling of both nutrient categories isn’t required). The “100 per cent” or “high” vegetable oil tag may mean hydrogenated, not necessarily healthy fat. * FOOTNOTE: 1 Cal = 1 kcal = 4.18 kJ.

Some labelling details

* “Low-calorie” products must be significantly reduced in energy value compared to the regular product – and not more than 15 calories per serving;

* “calorie-reduced” = 50 per cent less calories than the regular/same food (which isn’t calorie-reduced);

* “light dinner” = 300 calories or less; o “lowfat” = no more than 3 g fat per serving, not more than 15 per cent of fat on a dry weight basis;

* “free of fat” = less than 0.1 g total fat per 100 g of the food;

* “low-saturates” or “low in saturated fatty acids” = not more than 2 g saturated fatty acids per serving, also not more than 15 per cent of energy from saturated fatty acids;

* “cholesterol-free” = not more than 3 mg cholesterol per 100 g. (Any item called “cholesterol-free” must also be low in saturated fat, with no more than 15 per cent of the energy value from saturated fatty acids, on a dry weight basis.);

* “low-cholesterol” = not more than 20 mg cholesterol per serving and per 100 g, and also low in saturated fat.

For more information, the following three booklets can be obtained from Health and Welfare Canada:

* Nutrition Recommendations, The Report of the Scientific Review Committee, 1990 ($18.95, available by mail from Canadian Government Publishing Centre, Supply and Services Canada, Ottawa, Canada, K1A OS9).

* Action Towards Healthy Eating, Canada’s Guidelines for Healthy Eating and Recommended Strategies for Implementation (CIC report).

* Call For Action (summary of SRC and CIC reports); 1990 (available by mail from Branch Publications Unit, Health Services and Promotion Branch, Health & Welfare Canada, 5th Floor, Jeanne Mance Bldg., Ottawa, Canada, K1A 1B4). [last two booklets are free].

A table of the World Health Organization Guidelines to Healthy Eating, and a detailed diet chart for lowering cholesterol can be obtained by calling the Health News office at (416) 978-5411

Nutrition information examples:

cheddar cheese

nutrition information per 30 g (1 oz) serving

ENERGY ……………………… 120 Cal (482 kJ)

PROTEIN …………………….. 7.4 g

FAT ……………………………. 9.7 g

CARBOHYDRATE ………….. 0.7 g

Sample calculation of the percentage of calories from fat in the cheddar cheese example: Grams of fat = 9.7 Calories from fat = grams of fat x calories per gram 9.7 x 9 = 87.3 calories 87.3 [sign of division] 120 (total calories) x 100 = 73 %. Thus, the cheddar cheese is 73 % fat.

mayonnaise

nutrition information per 15 mL (1 Tbsp) serving

ENERGY ………………….. 112 Cal (470 kJ)

PROTEIN ………………….. 0.2 g

FAT ………………………… 12g

POLYUNSATURATES ……. 3.2 g

MONOUNSATURATES ……. 5.7 g

SATURATES ……. 0.7 g

CHOLESTEROL ……. 9.3 mg

CARBOHYDRATE ………… 0.2 g

False, maybe, true: what is good nutrition?

FALSE

* Oat bran eases constipation. No! Oat bran is rich in soluble fibre – the insoluble form, such as wheat bran, is a better constipation-reliever.

* Eating cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs, liver and shrimp will raise blood cholesterol levels. Not always. The effect of dietary cholesterol on blood levels is usually small and varies from person to person. (Shrimps, formerly assumed to be high in cholesterol, actually contain other non-cholesterol sterols.) Although reducing dietary cholesterol intake can help to lower the blood level, eating less saturated fat usually helps to bring down blood cholesterol even more.

* Granola bars and trail mix are lowfat snacks. Not necessarily. Granola is often baked in saturated oils; a granola bar may contain 110-115 calories per serving, 5 g or 40% of it as fat.

* Eating “cholestetrol-free” fries will reduce heart disease risks. No! Many “cholesterol-free” foods are prepared in vegetable oils that have been hydrogenated (saturated with hydrogen) for stability. Frying at high temperatures in unsaturated vegetable oils increases the oxidation of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, changing them to oxidized compounds that endanger health.

MAYBE

* Bran muffins make a healthy breakfast. Maybe yes, maybe no. If laden with fat (especially the saturated type), they may not be all that healthy. But if low in fat, rich in whole wheat flour and bran or other whole grains, they would be a healthy breakfast food.

* “Lite” sausages and other light processed meats are low in fat. Not necessarily! Ordinary smoked (Polish-type) sausage, pork sausages and bacon average 80-90% as fat. Light products contain less. To be labelled as truly ” low-fat,” products must have no more than 15% as fat and contain no more than 3 g fat per serving.

TRUE

* Dried fruits are low in fat. Yes. Low in fat and cholesterol, high in vitamins, minerals and fibre. But they can stick to the teeth and promote dental decay.

* Fresh fruits and vegetables provide lots of fibre. Many do. They also provide vitamins and minerals. Most are also low in sodium and fat. However, while some fruits and vegetables are rich in fibre (e.g., peas), others (e.g., tomatoes, lettuce) are poor sources.

* Lowfat yogurts are good sources of calcium. Yes and also provide valuable protein.

* A cup of baked beans (or other legumes) has more fibre than a bowl of oat bran. Yes! One cup of baked, red, lima or other beans contains about 20 g dietary fibre compared to 7 g in a bowl of oat bran. Beans go further than oat bran in providing the generally recommended daily quota of fibre (about 24-35 g a day).

Translated into everyday terms, Health and Welfare Canada’s eating guidelines suggest that we should:

* Eat enough to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, but not less than 1800 calories a day as lower amounts may not provide all essential nutrients. (Those wishing to lose weight should not go on unbalanced, intermittent or fad diets but should increase physical activity and exercise.)

* Enjoy a wide variety of foods.

* Emphasize cereals, breads, other grain products, vegetables and fruits.

* Choose lower fat dairy products, leaner meats and foods prepared with little or no fat.

* Limit salt, alcohol and caffeine.

Canadians still eat too much fat

The 1991 Canadian diet averages 38 per cent of total calories as fat, well above the recommended level of 30 per cent and only slightly better than the U.S., Britain, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Hungary and France, with fat consumptions ranging from 40-46 per cent. In countries such as China, Japan, Egypt and Thailand fat consumptions average 15 per cent or less of total energy intake. Currently, red meat (e.g., veal, lamb, pork and beef) provides about one fifth of the saturated fat eaten by North Americans, followed by dairy products and baked goods. Much hidden fat is eaten in fast and take-out foods, salad dressings and restaurant meals. Although many Canadians say that they’ve changed their food habits, claiming to eat less fat, many simply eat different not less fats. The changeover that’s occurred in the past few decades in the types of fat eaten, from animal to vegetable types, has not substantially reduced overall intakes. While red meat is becoming less popular and many now trim off the fat, buy leaner cuts, discard chicken skin and select low fat dairy products, overall fat consumption in Canada remains too high. The total amount of fat in our diet poses health risks for many people.

So, what should we eat? (Practical tips for healthier eating in the 190s)

* Replace the outdated concept of “good” versus “bad” foods with the principle of balance and moderation.

* Ignore trendy nutritional news unless it’s based on scientific fact. Never shun or favour a food because of unvalidated rumours about its possible dangers or benefits.

* Shop for nutritional value and pleasure rather than fads and fashions.

* Demand clear nutrition information on foods and learn how to assess it.

* Become a conscientious label reader, evaluating what you read, comparing the nutrient values of foods chosen. (Take a pocket calculator if inclined to work out fat percentages!) Remember that fat has nine calories per gram, while protein, sugars and other carbohydrates each have four calories per gram. To work out the percentage of fat in a serving, multiply the fat grams by nine and calculate its percentage of the total calorie value listed on the label – SEE CHEESE EXAMPLE.

* Eat a great variety of foods, especially those from plant sources. Consume an array of differently coloured fruits and vegetables (to get the required vitamins and minerals).

* Consume more starchy foods and abandon the mistaken idea that starch is fattening. The latest research suggests that starch (a complex carbohydrate) as well as the fibre in plant foods may confer health benefits and reduce the risk of colon and other cancers. While it’s hard to separate the benefits of starch from those of fibre, since they’re often present in the same foods, enjoying more pastas, cereals, grains, bananas, yams, rice, potatoes and legumes may promote health.

* Note that carbohydrate-rich diets make weight control easier because any calories from starch, sugar and other carbohydrates are less efficiently stored than those from fat.

* Choose a sensible fat mix, reduced in saturated (solid or animal) fats, but don’t eliminate dietary fat altogether – it’s a nutrient essential for energy, especially in young children, and crucial for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

* Favour olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, which has unique antioxidant and health-promoting properties. Among the cooking oils, olive oil is the only one that contains natural antioxidants which keep it stable and stop it from going rancid for many years. (The health benefits of olive oil may stem more from its antioxidant levels than, as previously assumed, from its fatty acid composition.)

* To reduce fat to the recommended “30 per cent of calories,” steam, bake or poach foods. (Deep-fat frying or flaming of foods produces oxidized components, known to be toxic at very low concentrations.)

* Make sauces with skim, not whole milk, use low-fat yogurt instead of cream.

* Become a “hidden fat” detective. Watch for tat in crackers, cookies, desserts, dressings and sauces.

* Choose leaner cuts of meat and trim off the fat; eat smaller portions, boil or bake rather than broiling or frying. No need to shun meat – besides high quality protein, it provides many other vital nutrients, such as iron, zinc, vitamins B6 and B1 2 tO name a few).

* Eat fish two to three times weekly. Cold-water, deep sea fish are rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Eaten two or three times a week they may protect the heart and cardiovascular system. Eating deep sea fish is known to lower heart attack risks in some populations (by reducing the blood’s clotting action). Even the higher-fat fish (such as salmon, swordfish, herring and mackerel) are healthy choices. Low in saturated fats, fish also provide high quality protein. Finfish are generally low in cholesterol, shellfish somewhat higher. Canned fish is equally healthy. (Order the February 1987 issue of Health News for more on fish-eating benefits and a table of the omega-3 fatty acid contents.)

* Skip supplemental vitamins unless medically advised to take them. intakes of vitamins and minerals in excess of the RNIs aren’t recommended, except for specific situations such as pregnancy (folic acid) and vitamin D for infants and perhaps older people when there’s too little sun-exposure.

* A little of what you fancy does you good. There’s nothing wrong with occasional “junk” food such as chips, candy, donuts, cream cake or chocolates, provided they’re not invariably the major part of your diet.

* Relax, and enjoy food ! Confusion reigns amidst the search for healthy eating

The false idea that a particular class of food or any single nutrient can prevent disease remains widespread. In the search for dietary health “fixes” many will swallow almost any nutritional fad or whim. Nearly every week the announcement of some new study, not necessarily confirmed or medically accepted, hits the headlines and sends people scurrying after the latest health-promoting, disease-reducing and supposedly life-prolonging food. For example, many people want to cat more fibre but can’t accurately identify good sources, perhaps labelling lettuce as a high fibre food when it’s a poor source compared to legumes, nuts or whole grain cereals.

The oat bran craze is a good example of the way people latch onto specific foods as a magic bullet in the hope of preventing health problems. Favoured for its capacity to lower blood cholesterol, the inclusion of oat bran in innumerable foods, on the supposition that it would reduce the risk of heart disease, led many people to eat foods such as muffins and cookies, still loaded with fat (perhaps the saturated variety that increases heart attack risks). When one small, but over-publicized recent study cast doubt on the capacity of oat bran to unclog blocked arteries, many stopped their daily consumption. Nutritional scientists smiled wryly at the changing image of oat bran. They knew from the start that oats are only one of many foods containing soluble fibre that can, in sufficient amounts, reduce blood cholesterol. The fibre in beans, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes is also effective in lowering blood cholesterol but hasn’t yet gained the popular appeal of oat bran. Some food producers predict that the lowly bean will become trendy in the mid-’90s as a good source of soluble fibre.

How nutritional beliefs change through the decades

Yesteryear’s slogans of the meat and potatoes era promoted “three square meals a day,” “drinking a daily pint of milk” and “going to work on an egg.” The back to nature movement of the 1960s championed whole grains and additive-free products, labelling white bread, refined flour and starches as fattening. Sugar was dubbed “a silent killer” – blamed for a host of ills such as dental caries (tooth decay), obesity, hyperactivity and hypoglycemia. Salt was incriminated as a possible cause of hypertension (high blood pressure). Fish was suspected of producing mercury poisoning, bacon condemned for its nitrite preservatives.

In the 1970s, wheat bran was promoted as a cure-all for constipation, diverticulitis, cancer and other bowel problems. Protein-rich weight loss diets were popular despite their high fat contents. Animal fats such as butter, beef and bacon fats) were branded as contributors to blocked arteries and some cancers. Eggs became suspect because of their high cholesterol content and its possible link to heart disease.

In the 1980s, dieting became a North American obsession, typified by the “stint and splurge” approach (use artificial sweeteners in coffee but have a donut with it). Red meat was out, poultry and fish gained popularity. People switched from animal shortening and other saturated (solid) fats to unsaturated vegetable oils. Calcium supplements were touted to offset osteoporosis. Oat bran was big, bottled waters were everywhere, recyclable packaging and environmentally friendly “green” products became popular. Olive oil and Mediterranean cooking gained favour as “heart-protectors.” Herbal vinegars, decaffeinated beverages and herbal teas blossomed, fast foods and take-outs burgeoned.

At the start of the 1990s, starch, potatoes and pastas staged a comeback. Red meat was increasingly replaced by poultry and fish. Sugar gave way to cholesterol, a natural body constituent, as the worst dietary villain. Products labelled as “cholesterol-free” – many of which never contained a trace of cholesterol – hit the market. As the hedonistic, self-indulgent, materialistic attitude of the ’80s gave way to the more sombre, environmentally conserving approach of the ’90s, “less is more” became the credo. People were urged to eat to “feel healthy” rather than to “look good.” Experts predict that the 60s back to nature movement will pale in comparison to that of the 1990s. Exaggerated diets are gradually being ousted by more balanced eating. Consumers demand leaner meats and low fat dairy products. Microwaveable items are big, with nearly 70 per cent of Canadian households now owning a microwave oven. Since almost 60 per cent of women work outside the home, they seek convenience products, desiring easy-to-prepare, less hassle products such as fresh, pre-cut and weighed salad greens and veggies. Freshness is big for the ’90s. In tune with consumer demands, grocery stores now devote more space to fresh fruit and vegetables as well as to freshly baked goods (which don’t necessarily ensure a low fat or calorie content).

The central dietary message: eat less fat

The key dietary messages for the 1990s are: to reach and stay at a healthy body weight, to increase the variety of foods eaten and above all to eat less fat. These dietary guidelines match those promoted in many other countries and by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Eating less fat means not just switching to different fats – vegetable or unsaturated instead of saturated fats but eating less overall fat. Fat shouldn’t total more than 30 per cent of the entire calorie intake, with no more than 10 per cent in the saturated form (solid or animal fats, fully saturated with hydrogen) such as butter, dairy and meat fats. The remainder of the fat quota should come from a mix of polyunsaturated fats (e,g., safflower, soya, sunflower, canola, com and nut oils) and monounsatuiated fats (e.g., olive and canola oil – rich in both mono and polyunsaturates). While some experts suggest that polyunsaturated fats shouldn’t exceed three to eight per cent of our total fat intake because of possibly raised cancer risks with higher levels), just getting fat consumption down to the recommended 30 per cent of total energy would go a long way in improving our diets. (For more details on the right fat mix, see Health News June 1988 issue.)

Enjoy sugars – in healthy moderation ! While Health and Welfare Canada’s nutrition recommendations don’t specify limits for the amount of refined sugar (sucrose) in the diet, other health authorities suggest curbing intakes. One University of Toronto expert points out that “the perception of sugar as a health risk is at odds with the latest scientific knowledge. Despite proclaimed fears of sugar, assertions about its ill effects and its lingering but unmerited reputation as unhealthy, the average sugar consumption in Canada – at 10-12 per cent of total energy – remains within safe limits.” The WHO 1990 Guidelines for the Prevention of Chronic Disease sets an upper population average for refined dietary sugar at 10 per cent of total energy, mainly to reduce the risks of tooth decay. Other than its effect on teeth, the amount of sugar generally consumed by Canadians doesn’t pose a health risk. Contrary to popular misconception, sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity or aggression, but in fact – like other carbohydrates – exerts a calming action, perhaps by increasing the production of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter with sedating properties. Moreover, one concern in urging people to eat less sugar is the likelihood of their switching to fats – thereby increasing health risks. Sugar may well be the lesser evil! For instance, while people shun cookies or cakes because they think the sugar in them is bad or fattening, it’s more the fat (at nine calories/gram) than the sugar (with four calories/gram) that puts on the weight, as well as bringing other health risks.

COPYRIGHT 1991 Strategic Inc. Communications Ltd.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group