4 Truths About Food It’s time you believed


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I’ve been writing this column for about eight years trying to find out what’s really true about food. During this time, I pursued a number of questions that provided surprising answers.

You can always guess how surprising the number of people you call jerks on social media is, and that’s what happens when you try to peg zombie ideas. What doesn’t happen is that the ideas actually die.

I’m shocked, shocked that I haven’t convinced practically anyone that these four things are true. But the fight goes on.

1. We eat junk food because it’s cheap.

If there’s just one idea I’d like to banish from the nutrition discourse, it’s this: we eat junk because of subsidies.

Junk food is cheap! That’s because the building blocks of junk food — refined grains, sugar, oil — are cheap. But these building blocks are cheap because of the plant’s inherent qualities, not because the government has been subsidizing them for decades.

If you have any doubts about this, look at the estimates that agricultural schools publish of the cost of producing an acre of corn versus an acre of broccoli.

The cost to produce a 23-pound box of broccoli is about $15, according to an estimate by researchers at the University of California System.

The state of Iowa estimates that the cost to produce a 56-pound bushel of corn is about $4.

And the corn is path eat more. This bushel makes 1,500 tortillas (6-inch tortillas, 60 calories), each with a quarter-cent worth of corn. The box of broccoli makes 70 2-cup servings (about 150 grams, 60 calories), each with 21 cents worth of broccoli. Yes, we don’t eat tortillas; we eat Twinkies. The example is only to put into perspective the inherent cheapness of the ingredients. I’ve spoken to many economists about this over the years, and most tell me that subsidies account for no more than about 10 percent of the price of agricultural crops. And since the cost of groceries is typically 10 to 15 percent of the cost of processed foods, that’s 1 percent of your Twinkie’s price.

We eat Twinkie-like foods because food companies with bazillion-dollar budgets and no concerns about our health stay up late trying to figure out how to make cheap foods irresistible. And guess what? They’ve gotten very good at it.

2. Diet soda is perfectly fine.

There’s no evidence that diet soda is bad for us.

Oh wait, apart from those big observational studies. In which, diet soda correlates with everything bad. Cancer, obesity, diabetes, just for starters! But one funny thing happens when you actually feed people artificial sweeteners: nothing. Unless you count on losing a little weight.

In the real world, drinking diet soda shows you’re not listening to the nutritional authorities, who have advised against it for decades. And if you’re not listening, what else are you not listening to? Cancer, obesity, and diabetes that correlate with diet soda are most likely not caused by diet soda, but by other eating and health habits for which diet soda is a marker.

If you’re like most health-conscious people, the notion that artificial sweeteners are bad is ingrained. But the most important thing to remember is that you consume them in tiny amounts. A Splenda packet contains 12 milligrams of sucralose. Of course it’s possible that 12 milligrams of something could harm you, but when something is that dangerous it’s pretty easy to find out.

People have been trying to find problems with artificial sweeteners for decades, and they just haven’t. If you drink them in soda or use them to sweeten things you make at home. Keep it up. It’s just fine.

3. Regional foods are not better for the climate.

I make every effort to buy local vegetables and meat. I want farming in my community. I like going to the farmers market.

But however you slice it, local food isn’t better for the environment. They just aren’t.

Intuitively, it makes sense that they should be! If your lettuce is traveling across town rather than across the country, that’s a few thousand fossil miles that needn’t be passed. But it turns out that transport only accounts for a very small part of the climate impact of food: less than 10 percent most of the time.

The climate isn’t the only thing I think about when choosing dinner. Local farms can contribute to the local economy, provide community touchstones and simply be a place for a kid to meet a pig. If you want to reduce the climate damage of your diet, eat more of the plants that have the lowest environmental impact: grains, legumes, nuts, tubers, tree fruits. That doesn’t mean you have to stop shopping locally.

4. Salad is a first world luxury.

Let’s get one thing straight. Lettuce is a vehicle for bringing chilled water from farm to table.

If you have an intuitive sense that a food that is 96 percent water is a waste of resources and a nutritional zero, you’re right. If you don’t, you could be one of the bazillion people who hit me hard writing about the green climate threat lettuce.

Okay, that’s a little unfair. lettuce is not a threat; it’s just a luxury. It uses too many resources for too little food to be a wise choice for the health of people or the planet. It graces my table because I like it and because it can help me say no to seconds of lasagna. But this is a solution to a first world problem: overeating. The idea that we intentionally grow and eat food just because it’s low in calories only makes sense in a world of plenty.

But there’s a catch, too. Lettuce lends its healthy halo to anything put in a bowl with it, and the salads we think are healthy generally aren’t. If you buy a lettuce and then remove the lettuce, see what you are Yes, really lunch: sad little brown piles of croutons, dressing, shredded cheese and chicken strips.

Of course, there are grain- or bean-heavy salads loaded with real, nutritious veggies like kale and broccoli that are really nutritious and great choices. But they are the outliers. Most salads are nutritional and environmental losers.

And just in case you haven’t found anything you don’t agree with yet, I’ll add that all eggs taste the same. Blindfolded, the eggs of my spoiled backyard chickens are indistinguishable from the ordinary supermarket cage bird variety. You think you can, but you can’t.

That’s all: four, plus a bonus, zombie ideas. Feels good getting all those off my chest! At least until I check in on Twitter…

https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2022/07/01/food-truths-mythbusting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_lifestyle 4 Truths About Food It’s time you believed

Chris Estrada

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