High-fat meat and dairy foods are high in saturated fat that can increase “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood — a risk factor for heart disease. But wait. Some of the saturated fat in these foods is stearic acid, a neutral fat that does not affect blood cholesterol levels. But wait. Some reports link a diet high in dairy foods with an increased risk for prostate cancer. But wait. Recent studies have found that higher consumption of milk and dairy products lowers the risk of colon cancer.
Researchers at three major universities report that people over the age of 60 who drink light to moderate amounts of alcohol may have improved memory. But wait. Excess alcohol intake (more than 1 or 2 drinks a day for women and men respectively) is known to be harmful to the brain.
Green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and beans are rich in nutrients that can lower the risk for cancer and heart disease. But wait. These plant foods also contain “anti-nutrients” — compounds that inhibit the ability of your body to absorb certain nutrients. But wait. Some of these anti-nutrients also have anti-inflammatory properties that can help prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Prevailing advice for most people over the age of 51 is to limit sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day. But wait. A report in 2013 said there was not enough evidence to go that low; that up to 2300 milligrams of sodium a day is OK. But wait. Who’s even counting? The average American eats about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, according to the American Heart Association.
Here are some guidelines that may calm you as you venture out to the scary world of food shopping:
Choose lower-fat meat and dairy foods most of the time. You’ll save calories while you give yourself much-needed protein and other vital nutrients for strength and vitality. And don’t fret about the occasions when you splurge on a few higher-fat choices.
Reduce the anti-nutrient content of grains and beans simply by cooking them. Just don’t overcook green leafy vegetables or they will lose valuable vitamins.
Focus on the balance and variety of foods you eat rather than individual foods or nutrients. Case in point: A recent review of four highly-rated eating styles — Mediterranean Diet (fish, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, moderate alcohol, dairy, and limited sugar), DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension: lean meats, fish, poultry, fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, nuts and legumes), USDA Dietary Guidelines (limits solid fats and added sugars), and Harvard University’s Healthy Eating Plate (1/2 plate vegetables, 1/4 whole grains, 1/4 plant and animal proteins plus 1 or 2 dairy foods and vegetable-oils) — found that all of them could lower our risk for heart disease and cancer. And they all tell us to avoid trans fats and limit sodium and alcohol.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.