Consumer Reports: Should We Swallow, Should I Eat This?

The back cover says:

“If you’ve ever stopped before biting into a food and wondered, should I eat this? – So this book is for you. Consumer Reports scientists, nutritionists, dietitians, editors and culinary experts are on your side. They examine scientific studies. They do their own research. They separate food facts from fiction. They give you clear, unbiased advice on healthy eating.”

Now the book goes to considerable lengths to offer a wide variety of good advice, which it does, but most of it is the same old diet clichés. What Consumer Reports (CR) had a chance to do, but failed to do, was use its consumer education platform to critically assess many of the common fallacies that most consumers still embrace and provide a bit more objective guidance. .

Breakfast the most important meal of the day.

There are many false assumptions related to this old cliché. However, the most important thing to consider will be your hunger cues. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. If you are, eat. It’s not that complicated. You have more than enough nutrients and calories stored in your liver, fat, and muscle tissue to maintain your physical and cognitive functions while working long hours at most job tasks. Choosing to wait and eat later, when hungry, becomes problematic only if you fall victim to all the inappropriate food options that may be available in the workplace. Skipping breakfast does not apply to school-age children who will not have the opportunity to choose to eat when they are truly hungry.

Recommend organic produce over conventionally grown food

The ACSH, as well as many other scientific organizations, have repeatedly debunked this myth. For CR to repeat this nonsense, given the contradictory evidence readily available, is a sign of shoddy investigative journalism. CR tries to support its position by stating that there is some evidence that organic products contain more antioxidants.

Even if this were true, it’s a moot point. All plants produce more antioxidants under stress, such as from pests, which would be true for organics due to their farming methods. However, more is not better, just more, as discussed here Y here. It’s ironic that CR, whose motto is to make sure you get the best value for your money when you buy produce, proposes quite the opposite in this case when it suggests organic instead of conventionally grown produce.

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Regularly eating small amounts of processed meats increases the risk of cancer and heart disease. CR is based on invalid interpretations of observational studies. Here is a better analysis of this topic. CR also quotes Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Fang Fang Zhang MD, who states that “there is no known safe level of processed meats.” Apparently, Dr. Zhang was unaware of one of National Geographic’s glamorous Blue Zone cultures: With greater longevity and fewer incidents of cancer and heart disease, he routinely indulges in SPAM, as noted in my latest article.

Beans: a true superfood? The beans really deserve the title.

CR suggests that “bean eaters may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.” This has nothing to do with any unique composition of beans other than substituting more calorie-dense foods and possibly reducing the prevalence of obesity, a major risk factor. There’s no argument that beans are great for you, but it’s your general diet and usual lifestyle habits, not some magical component that can be added to your diet like fairy dust.

Vegetables are healthier cooked.

CR tries to make the case that certain vegetables are better for you cooked rather than eaten raw. CR claims that the advice they provide will “unleash your full potential in terms of nutrition…” Is this true or is this just another spin on an irrelevant topic?

  • Carrots: CR states that “cooking ignites this vegetable’s cancer-fighting carotenoids” by increasing the “carotenoid concentration by 14 percent.” First of all, carotenoids are one of many plant chemicals associated with reduced rates of cancer among those who consume them. However, this is an association, not a cause and effect relationship. The synergistic effect of the many thousands of plant chemicals seems to be responsible for this effect and not the isolation of a specific one. To claim that just because cooking increases carotenoid concentrations will “turn on” the cancer-fighting potential of carrots is a twist. Getting more of any plant chemical does not necessarily equate to better health. The carrot already provides more than enough carotenoids in any state of ingestion. More does not mean better; it’s just more
  • Mushrooms: CR states that “a cup of cooked white mushrooms has about twice the muscle-building potassium, heart-healthy niacin, immune-boosting zinc, and bone-strengthening magnesium as a cup of raw mushrooms.” Before you continue reading, stop for a moment and reread what CR just said. The obvious problem is related to a simple word: cup. A mushroom is 92% water by weight, so when you cook it the volume is significantly reduced, so of course a cup of cooked mushrooms will have substantially more nutrients, probably four times the amount of mushrooms than a cup of raw mushrooms.
  • Spinach: CR states: “The leafy green is packed with nutrients [true]but you’ll absorb more calcium and iron if you eat it cooked.” This is attributed to the oxalic acid in spinach, which is commonly believed to bind with iron and calcium and prevent absorption. However, we get iron and calcium from other sources of foods, for example, milk for its calcium and any meat or bean products for its iron. And the oxalic acid in spinach may not prevent iron absorption. study done in 2008 using iron isotope uptake in humans concluded: “Oxalic acid in fruits and vegetables is of minor relevance to iron nutrition.”
  • Asparagus: CR states, “Cooking these stems raised the level of six nutrients, including cancer-fighting antioxidants, by more than 16 percent.” The value of individual antioxidants has been overemphasized for more than a decade. It is one of the most overused clichés in nutrition science and a popular buzzword for product marketing. They’re important, but all plants contain them, and any plant-based diet, cooked or not, readily provides them. CR also claims that cooking asparagus “more than doubled the level of two types of phenolic acid, which some studies linked [my emphasis] to reduce cancer rates.” A “link” has nothing to do with cause and effect. I can pick any one of thousands of chemical compounds found in produce or grains and make the same claim. phenolic acid simply reflect that those people eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, which will lower their cancer rates. Who eats raw asparagus anyway?
  • Tomatoes: CR states, “Heat increases a phytochemical, lycopene, which has been linked [my emphasis] to reduce cancer rates and heart disease.” See my previous comments on “links.” You don’t need more lycopene than is already found in a fresh raw uncooked tomato. If you think there’s magic in lycopene, try a little tomato sauce.
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low calorie sweeteners

CR states, “Some studies suggest they may not be better than sugar. The latest evidence suggests that low-calorie sweeteners may not have a positive effect on health or weight.” This is a significant misunderstanding on CR’s part. CR does not provide a link to the “latest study,” so it is impossible to object directly. But there is plenty of documentation to illustrate that CR must have chosen his reports carefully. An international panel of experts in food, nutrition, dietetics, endocrinology, physical activity, pediatrics, nursing, toxicology and public health met in 2017 to develop a Consensus on the use of low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners (LNCS) as substitutes for sugars and other caloric sweeteners. concluded

LNCS are some of the most extensively evaluated dietary components, and their safety has been reviewed and confirmed by regulatory agencies worldwide… LNCS in weight reduction programs involving the replacement of caloric sweeteners with LNCS in the context of Structured diet plans can promote sustainable weight loss. In addition, its use in diabetes control programs can contribute to better glycemic control in patients, although with modest results. LNCS also provide dental health benefits when used in place of free sugars; It is proposed that LNCS foods and beverages could be included in dietary guidelines as alternative options to products sweetened with free sugars.

Other consensus workshop in 2018 concluded:

“Low calorie sweeteners (LCS) may be beneficial for weight control when used to replace sugar in products consumed in the diet (without energy substitution). or glucose control , in fact, LCS may improve diabetes control and dietary compliance.With regard to effects on the human gut microbiota, data are limited and do not provide adequate evidence that LCS affects gut health at doses relevant to human use.

A more detailed review of this issue can be found here.

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CR’s book does not separate food fact from fiction as it claims. Outside of the common-sense nutritional advice it provides, it’s no more helpful to anyone reasonably familiar with proper eating habits than the nutrition facts on a water bottle label.

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