Nutrition news still causes whiplash

Friday, March 30, 2007

Editor's note: This column was originally published April 7, 2006.

The clock on my computer screen tells me I am on the downward slope of midmorning and sliding toward lunchtime. This means my stomach is growling.

In addition to taking care of my appetite, I am looking forward to a rare treat: lunch with my wife. Busy schedules don't permit us to eat workday lunches together very often.

So here I am, trying to think of an appropriate lunch spot. This is difficult, because I can't think of an eating place I don't like. My wife, on the other hand, has standards.

Fortunately for both of us, my wife has always looked out for the welfare of the family's nutrition. When our sons were small, eating dinner -- a home-cooked meal consumed around a common table -- wasn't an option. It was a given. Most of you grew up that way. Nowadays I hear about families that haven't eaten a group meal since Aunt Wanda's funeral a few years back, and it involved cousins who gave everyone indigestion.

My crafty wife found ways to get vegetables into our growing sons' digestive tracts (A) without their knowing it and (B) avoiding complaints. The only time the Great Vegetable Scheme backfired was the time my wife put chopped okra in the taco meat. She will never live that one down.

For years we've all tried to live with the pronouncement of Medical Experts. Remember when we were told butter would clog our arteries and kill us? We gave up deadly butter and switched to margarine and other butter substitutes, most of which bore no relationship to the real stuff other than they were yellow.

My wife's Aunt Della would have plainly observed that the push to make us eat oleo instead of butter was a plot by margarine manufacturers who had bought enough easily purchased politicians in Washington to produce government-backed studies designed to convince us butter was Satan's spew.

Like Aunt Della and her husband, Alf, I grew up with milk cows and homemade butter. Some of the fresh milk was put into a crock so the cream could rise, be skimmed off and churned into butter. The cream, fresh or sour, was rarely used for cooking. After all, it couldn't be fried. And all of you who grew up in homes whose kitchens were dominated by a single non-mechanical appliance -- the black cast-iron skillet -- know what I'm talking about.

Now new medical studies say some butter substitutes are more harmful to our health than butter. I wish Aunt Della were still here to give us her take on the conspiracy of butter manufacturers.

But that's not all.

Coffee drinkers who have been mentally browbeaten by caffeine-induced guilt are being told the java jolt is just the thing to keep us in the pink of health.

And staying out of the sun to avoid skin cancer is depriving us of vitamin D, we're now told. Ten minutes of midday sun with your sleeves rolled up and no hat will give you the dose you need. See, golfers had it right all along.

The smokers in the office -- mostly young whippersnappers who think health problems are just for people my age -- are holding out for a government report that says tar and nicotine ward off disease. Then, they think, I'd stop making a big production every time I pass one of their smoking sessions on the parking lot.

They may have a long wait. Health science is goofy, not stupid.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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