Take dueling health data with a grain of moderation


April 25, 1995|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,Special to The Sun

Well, it's been quite a week for nutrition news.

First, a big study showed eating lots of fish doesn't reduce death-from-heart-attack risks. Then, the Center for Science in the Public Interest panned commercially prepared baby food. Finally, the National Heart Savers Association bought advertising space in 40 newspapers and commanded "Don't Drink 2% Milk."

If this kind of media hype leaves you feeling confused and discouraged, come get a spoonful of reality.

1: One study does not refute an entire body of evidence. It simply adds to everything else we know.

Fish is still good food. It's high in protein, low in fat and saturated fat, and adds interesting variety to your diet. While fish itself may not be a miracle food, it helps balance your total eating pattern. Rest assured, more studies are coming, and they may provide different results. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, trust variety.

2: Scrape apples, mash bananas, chop spinach and mince green beans -- it's a great way to save money on baby food and improve children's nutrition. But remember, only 10 percent of Americans eat two fruits and three vegetables a day. Where will babies get fruits and vegetables if they're not being served to the family? Babies eating commercially prepared fruits and vegetables might be better fed than their parents and older siblings.

And how many families think "cooking from scratch" means baking a frozen pizza rather than phoning Dominoes? Are they going to make baby food? And is there any nutritional reason why they should?

Fear of "additives" comes to mind. But the additives in baby food are not toxic chemicals. They're things like modified food starch and tapioca, complex carbohydrates that improve texture and make the food easier for baby to eat.

Call me crazy, but I'd prefer to spend that precious time cuddling my infant, and let Gerber and Heinz do the cooking.

3: Now let's separate fact from fiction in the 2 percent milk debate.

Ad says: "Drink skim milk! It has all the nutrients of whole and 2% milk, but no fat. It has all the calcium of whole and 2% milk, but fewer calories."

Fact: this is true, and the very best reason for adults to switch to skim if you can. But children under 2 should be drinking WHOLE milk. They need fat in their diets for central nervous system development.

Ad says: "My family just switched from 2% to skim milk. We'll be healthier and I'll lose weight."

Fact: That could turn out to be true, but the connection isn't automatic. If you're already eating a lowfat diet, you won't necessarily gain a health advantage from going lower. If you go too low, your skin might dry out and your gall bladder could act up. Forty to 65 grams of fat per day is about right for women. Sixty-five to 80 grams per day is good for men. Losing weight isn't automatic either. When you give up those calories, you have to resist replacing them with other foods, and that's not easy to do.

Ad says: "Don't drink 2% milk! It's NOT low fat! (It does not meet the FDA definition.)

Fact: 2 percent milk does not meet the new labeling guidelines for a lowfat food. It was allowed to hang on to the title through "grandfathering," because the public is accustomed to the terminology.

This disappoints me. Ease of comparison and reliability of definitions was a major reason for new labels. (And it's happening again with "lean" ground beef.) Here, industry

pressure prevailed, and consumer interests lost.

One the other hand, I hate to see the food police say "Don't drink 2% milk" as if it were deadly. There is no one food that will wreck your diet all by itself. For many people, switching from whole to 2 percent milk is a big improvement.

For cholesterol lowering, get your saturated fat below 20 grams/day for women and kids, and 25 grams/day for men. Eight ounces of 2 percent milk provides 3 grams of saturated fat.

If you're happy with 2 percent milk, and you're willing to give up the saturated fat in cheese, ice cream and meat, then relax and enjoy it. The choice is yours.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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