Maybe, when it comes to food.
Several years ago, Dr. Joan Gussow said, “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.” This is one of my favorite quotes, and it’s meaningful on more than one level when it comes to food.
Regarding butter vs. margarine, this quote really has to do with the ability, or lack thereof, of man to improve upon nature. Certainly, chemistry has led to some incredible accomplishments: vaccines and drugs that fight cancer come immediately to mind. But when it comes to food, we seem to be a long way away from improving upon what simple, organic nature provides us. Margarine is the perfect example. Margarine was created by French chemists (mon dieu!) in the mid-late 1800s when fats were of short supply. Plant oils were extracted and hydrogenated – a process that allowed the liquid fat to solidify into a solid that, conveniently, also offered a much longer shelf life.
The resulting hydrogenated fats were eventually embraced as health food, due to the fact that they were unsaturated, and went about replacing butter. This delighted processed food manufacterers, as margarine is cheaper than butter and doesn’t spoil nearly as fast, which led to their wide-spread adoption in packaged crackers, cookies, cakes, donuts, and fryer oil. Little did we know at the time that trans fats are exponentially more dangerous than saturated fats. Not only are they a time bomb in the arteries, but they trigger an inflammatory repsonse that can contribute to a long list of diseases – cancer, alzheimers, heart disease, and many many more. (Current US gov’t recommendations are to eat less than 2g of trans fats per day – which is too generous).
What other examples exist? There may very well be others that we don’t even know about yet. Despite the incredible advances of science, we really know very little about the complexities of nutrition. We do know that we’re eating more man-made, or man-altered food than ever before, and are simultaneously seeing historically high rates of chronic disease at increasinly young ages (20-somethings with heart disesase, teenagers with type II diabetes – both previously unheard of phemomena). We know that societies, such as the US, that eat more packaged and fast-food, are worse off than societies that eat whole foods, including unadulterated grains, vegetables, and naturally-raised animals.
I bring this up because we tend to think – perhaps due to our ambition and optimism – that we can take anything and improve it. This may not be the case when it comes to food, at least not yet, and it’s a good idea to start questioning foods that have been altered from their natural form. Take low-fat dairy, for example. It’s stantard nutritional advice ( not from me) to eat low-fat dairy products, again to limit your intake of saturated fat. But there aren’t any substantial studies showing the overall, long-term health benefits of a high intake of low-fat dairy. (Just like there weren’t any studies demonstrating the benefits of trans fats). In fact, there’s recent research showing that high intake of low-fat dairy can alter the balance of hormones in the body – enough to disrupt ovulation in women. Who knows what else is it’s doing?
I simply to encourage you to develop a natural suspicious of “altered food” of any kind. Things that have been enriched, lowered, added-to, reduced, etc. Just ask “why”? Maybe there’s a reason – but that reason may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes, as is the case with ice cream, eating the whole version is also a lot more fun. 🙂