Nutrition – Day 2 – How good or bad is it … really?

I am down to one diet coke on a good day and two on any day ending in a ‘Y’.  I know that it isn’t good for me in theory, but in actual life, is giving it up worth the risk to my children and marriage?  I am off coffee, a fact that never ceases to annoy my friends and sisters who claim that it is embarrassing to be at Starbucks with someone who orders a large tea.  I bought flax seed oil.  It is sitting, unopened, right next to the olive oil.  It makes me feel responsible to have it there in plain sight.  I have a bottle of One-a-Day in my spice drawer that gets opened less than the bottle of ground turmeric and I do know where the fish store is – right next to the Dunkin Donuts where I assume everything tastes so good because of high-fructose corn syrup.  (What is so bad about corn?)   You can’t watch the news without seeing some fad diet or new supplement that will save your life.  The most eye-catching headlines are often about what you are eating or drinking that will ruin your life in short time.  I am a foodie but it occurs to me that my knowledge about what is good and bad for me is very general and based on sound bites.  Perhaps you are in the same boat.

1.  Diet Coke – I didn’t even want to ask, but I did.  According to Chef Ellen, (I introduced her yesterday if you missed it) you should start getting in the habit of avoiding artificial sweeteners at all costs – she feels pretty strongly about this.  Since artificial is the operative word, your body does not know how to break them down efficiently.  There is evidence that diet soda consumption leads to weight gain and bloat.  There is further evidence that artificial sweeteners enhance our cravings instead of curbing them.  There is also a lot of hype about aspartame – the sweetener in diet coke – being linked to cancer.  Large studies have disputed this and there is no strong evidence to support the theory that aspartame causes cancer.  Drinking any type of soda has been linked to osteoporosis although scientists are not sure why.

2.  Caffeine – I will cut to the chase on this one.  It isn’t so bad.  Moderate amounts of caffeine a day – about three cups of coffee – have no adverse effects on your health.  Studies that looked at high caffeine intake – over six cups a day – showed some increased excretion of calcium and magnesium but in amounts so minimal as to be offset by a couple tablespoons of milk.  High intake of caffeine has  been linked to increased hip fractures in older women.   (Here’s a theory:  Maybe elderly women who drink tons of coffee have more energy to still get out on the dance floor putting them at increased risk for fracture.)  Caffeine will not help you sober up and if drunk late in the day may lead to insomnia.

3.  Flaxseed oil – Here I insert a direct quote from Ellen’s book, It’s Just Personal, because I am getting lazy and because she knows better than I.  “Studies have shown that a person who consumes flaxseed on a regular basis may significantly lower his or her risk of developing heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, high cholesterol, anxiety, and stroke. I started using ground flaxseed in my oatmeal every morning a couple of years ago because I read that it contains high amounts of omega-3 (or ALA—Alpha Linolenic Acid), something I do not get a lot of due to the fact that I am not a big seafood eater. From there, information on the benefits of flaxseed just continued to surprise me. It is rich in fiber and contains high levels of lignans, a natural antioxidant. The lignans in flaxseed can maintain breast and colon health by binding circulating estrogens and other substances that might promote unchecked cell growth. If you ate thirty cups of fresh broccoli, you would get the same equivalent of lignans that are in just two tablespoons of flaxseed. I love broccoli, but that’s a lot of broccoli. Keep flaxseed on hand (in your refrigerator for a longer shelf life) to put in your oatmeal, or throw some in your morning smoothie, homemade soup, Banana Bread, or even your cookie dough.  Any way you look at it or consume it, you are doing your heart and body good.”  Anecdotally, I have a good friend who thinks sneaking in a little flaxseed to her son’s diet has done wonders for his eczema.

4.  High-fructose corn syrup – I know that this has become Public Enemy #1 and I have heard so many moms say that they don’t buy anything that contains HFCS.  I am sure I am not going to make any friends when I tell you that it is likely not much worse than sucrose, the sugar made from sugar cane.  It became a hot topic when it was observed that obesity and Type 2 Diabetes rates rose at about the same time that it was introduced as a cheaper and sweeter alternative to sucrose.  A couple of years ago, the American Medical Association stated that the evidence doesn’t exist to blame HFCS for our country’s super-size.  The media got all over them saying that the AMA was an ally of HFCS.  In fact, the AMA was simply stating that all sugars in high quantities should be avoided and have adverse effects on our health.   It is more palatable, I suppose, to have one substance to blame.  It also makes shopping easier.

5.  Supplements –  This is way too large of a topic for a paragraph, but since most of us do not have the time or the taste-buds to eat a well-balanced diet, a daily multi-vitamin is a good idea.  Read the label and look specifically at the % Daily Value.  For instance, if the vitamin you are taking only provides about 50% of the Calcium you need and you don’t think you get the other 50% in your diet, you should consider supplementing further (or eating more yogurt which is good for you in lots of ways – just ask Jamie Lee Curtis.)  Vitamin D has gotten a lot of press lately.  You need about 600IU/day to, among other things, properly metabolize your calcium.  You get it from sunlight and a very short list of foods which is why some foods, like milk, have been enriched with D.  You may have heard that vitamin D deficiency is also linked to depression, heart disease, and chronic fatigue.  Studies are still underway but a simple blood test can check your vitamin D level if you or your doctor have concerns.

Is it horrible that as I am writing this, I am drinking a diet coke out of a wine glass?  Maybe I should throw in some flaxseed oil to alleviate the guilt.  Don’t forget to check out the healthy recipes provided by Ellen Postolowski under Feeling Better Without a Prescription.  Tomorrow … to go or not to go organic, that is the question.

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  • Carmela

    I was dreading this day- the day that you would write that diet coke is bad for you. I might give myself on this one, after all they have the red dress on the can, it can’t be THAT bad.