Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Where I Go On and On**

Well, hell. I didn’t mean to spread a contagious round of insomnia with my post about late-night musings regarding the supposed virtues and evils of saturated and unsaturated fats. I forgot that many of you who pop in here at Sagebrush and Serendipity are health conscious and have a genuine interest in nutrition. Smart folks, you.

For the record: I am not a nutritionist. I am just a nerd with a touch of paranoia who was raised by a father with a passion for conspiracy theories. I have no formal education or training in nutrition, I just love to read about all things nutrition. A lot. (I am also growing more and more obsessed with food ways, local foodscapes, what is involved in both individual and community commitments to locavore food ways and systems, food traditions, etc. I don’t think I am exaggerating, either, when I choose the word obsessed.) In fact! Next week I am sitting in on a lecture called Ethics, Economics and Public Policy for the Global and National Food Systems. The title is a bit dry, but the abstract for the lecture is positively sexy. I have circled and starred the date on every available calendar and have invited everyone I work with and A. to join me. OBSESSED.

A few weeks ago, I ran across this post via Pann (with, what looks to be, a yummy recipe to boot!). In the post, Pann links to this post by Michelle S. Michelle’s post gives a lengthy and well-written argument against using canola oil. I always give information like this consideration but I don’t usually change my diet without further investigating claims myself. (Why I trust myself to decipher all of this shit, I don’t know. It is kind of like trusting yourself to drive more than anyone else, I guess.) I take what health columnists in newspapers and magazines write with more than a grain of salt, too. I really think their interpretations of health studies are often questionable at best. Not to mention the original structure and framework of said studies… But maybe I am just being an arrogant snot. It is not unheard of.

Even though Michelle’s post includes a lot of information, she does not include references and that always gives me pause. I still have one foot in the Pool of Academia, after all. To be fair, it would be a lot of work to include all of the references I am sure she has come across. And she has posted this to a blog rather than submitting to a journal, etc.

Nonetheless, Michelle’s post piqued my interest. Her arguments did not appear to be unsound. Just unreferenced. I decided to keep my eyes open for more info and my ears tuned to any mutterings in the nutrition world regarding canola oil.

If you glance over to the right at my “what I am reading” section, you will see I am reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon – for fun! The title of the book caught my eye; I thought the volume might be about traditional foodways in a time of convenience and fast foods. Rather, it is a cookbook with a referenced introduction that challenges conventional nutritional guidelines. I am always up for challenging the status quo, so I snatched it right up. (Also, I am curious about the food choices A.’s little sister, B., and BIL-Twice Removed* make for their son, The Most Darling M. This book appeared to be in line with their thinking.)

Much of what Michelle S. talks about in her post is brought up in this book. Hmmm. Fallon goes into enough detail regarding the different molecular structures of oils and why some are better and some are worse to further convince me to dig through more research on the effects of canola oil in our diets. I like that she didn’t brand anything (other than hydrogenated oils and trans fat) as unequivocally, unconditionally bad. Nutrition and health and environmental factors seem far too nuanced and sophisticated to allow such rigid proclamations. Her arguments and illustrations definitely keep the lay reader in mind, which is both nice and problematic. I like lots of references, casual readers probably do not. But there are enough sources included in the back of the book to get me started on my own little journey toward Dietary Validation.

So, I am not advocating throwing out your canola oil and slathering your naked body in butter. Unless you want to. *devilish grin* I would encourage you to keep your eyes open for solid, well-referenced and rigorously examined information, though. Hopefully without sounding too preachy about it?

I haven’t even started the section about sugar. Shall I post about the next Dietary Crisis I find myself in when I look through all of my cookie recipes?

* A.’s little sister, B. has a child with K. They are not married, and neither are A. and I. Hence why K. and I are in-laws twice removed. I rather like the nickname BIL-Twice Removed.

** Was this the strangest mix of nerdiness and snottiness in one post, or what?


  1. You're awesome, seriously. I love this nutrition stuff, and yet find myself horribly frustrated because everything is bad for you and everything is good for you (aside from a few things most likely like the very scary Xylitol that is in the gum I am currently chewing). What's a girl to do? Especially since she just bought a big ol' tub of Smart Balance last week.

  2. Can I ask a question, even though I just asked one on your side bar? What's your favorite meal?

  3. This post is neither snotty nor nerdy. It is just fascinating and aware and slightly skeptical. And I think that is a great combination. I love when you get so passionate about all this.

  4. Flib - I use Smart Balance, too. I am looking into it, because I do like it. It has palm oil in it, which might not be evil, just very calorie-laden.

    Favorite meal? That might require a sidebar bulleted list. :-)

    Jess - You are so damn sweet. I think you are pretty damned smart, as well, girlie.

  5. Well, this post is GREAT and AWESOME and not even a LITTLE snotty. Also, I agree. I think if more people required actual PROOF of the things "they" are always telling us, it wouldn't be nearly as confusing.

    It always seems to come back to unprocessed foods. We always THINK we can outsmart mother nature by making this or that better or more "healthy" (margarine, sugar substitutes, processing grains, etc) but we always find out we can't.

    LONG LIVE BUTTER and that's all I have to say about it. The anti-animal-product movement is one of the biggest Health Lies in history, if you ask me.

    I should add that I'm fine with avoiding animal products for ethical reasons or because of hormones/antibiotics, etc. But nutritionally, there is practically NO basis for saying they're bad for us.

  6. This was so, so good. I like to have lots of references too... I'm always skeptical of an article that is so far to one side of an argument that it makes it SEEM like there's not another side.

    I use canola in baking that calls for oil (because Dr. Oz told me to!) and olive oil for everything else. You're actually not supposed to heat Extra Virgin olive oil, either - it's better just to use regular olive oil for cooking.

    I guess it all comes down to what is best for your body. The FDA and its Canadian equivalent exist to make sure products aren't inherently harmful (i.e. won't kill you on the spot); it's left to the consumer to figure out what is actually healthful. With all of the conflicting information that's out there, the only thing I really trust is the advice to eat whole foods as much as possible.

    Did I mention how good this post is?

  7. I followed Pann's link to your link from MY link. Yeah. I don't reference anything. My friend Leslie is a writer and gives me crap all the time that I should reference stuff, but then I'd have to open two screens and copy and paste links and YAWN, that's so boring. Plus, I don't make any money writing my blog. I think I've made $200 in a whole year from my Google ads. :0 So maybe someday I'll just get internally motivated enough to do that, but for now I just have to say, I wrote it, so you have to believe me, because, SO THERE! :) (Until I get sued by the big bad canola industry then maybe I'll take my $200 and pay for a lawyer!)

    I'll have to check out that book!!! Don't eat Smart Balance either. Blech. Blech. Blech. I don't know why. I just say so. Don't. do. it.

  8. Random assortment of comments:
    1. You've probably already read Marion Nestle, but if not, I find her to be a very balanced, sensible, and informed source on nutrition.

    2. My own theory on nutrition: The more natural and less processed the better. I'm very wary of foods engineered to be lower in fat, lower in sugar, higher in fiber or vitamins, or somehow "better" than the natural version of the food.

    Not that I necessarily practice what I preach. I'm pretty sure that the Twix that I had for lunch are entirely unnatural and highly processed.

    3. I went to a talk today that you might have enjoyed. James McCann, a historian from Boston University, spoke about the political and social implications of food in Africa. Not the more common food security stuff, but more about how particular "traditional" cuisines have come to be defined and how Africans themselves have historically viewed food and expressed political and social structure through food. His new book is still in press, but I think he has some earlier stuff on the same subject.

  9. Tessie, LoriD and Lisa - My default rule when in doubt is "The less processed, the better." It just seems to make the most sense.

    Michelle S. - my gut reaction is that your post is sound. I am just a NERD and love references. I don't reference much of the crap I write on my blog, and certainly don't expect you to reference the good stuff you put on yours! I do appreciate the information, though. Very, very much. THANK YOU.

    Lisa, again - I am reading Marion Nestle, too! She and Fallon are both on my nightstand as I type this! That lecture SOUNDS JUST UP MY ALLEY. How fun.

  10. What a great post...not snobby at all, and nerdy only in the best possible way. I went over and read Michelle S's post, too, and had a similar reaction to you, I think (OMG! Dump that Canola down the drain NOW! Followed by...well, let's wait and see. Especially since I'm such a cheapskate that if I had, say, a tub of It's-on-sale-because-they're-about-to-outlaw-trans-fat Crisco Vegetable Shortening, even though I know it is EVIL I would finish it all. Just in very small amounts. Over many years.) So I will probably cook with Canola oil tonight, but I will also start paying more attention to alternative oils. Like Olive Oil. Although, there was an article in the New Yorker a few months back about the scams involved with that fine product as well (I don't have the article here, but my memory says the conclusion of the article was something along the lines of many imported olive oils are not actually 100% olive oil).

    ARG. As a fellow Rocky Mountain-er, do you know--are there any locally produced vegetable oils?

  11. Hey Melospiza -

    It is so fun to have you show up in the comments!

    I remember reading something a while back that many olive oils are only part olive oil and part crap cheap oils. I can't remember where I read it, either. I can't reference for ****, apparently. Now how the hell are you supposed to tell the difference when all is listed on the label is olive oil? I have stuck to only the extra virgin olive oil that says it is cold pressed, but I have no idea if I am being ripped off or not. Grrrr...

    I don't know of any locally produced oils, but I will drop a note to some folks at the co-op. They might have some info. I'll be sure to send it along.

  12. Nerdiness + Snottiness = you are *so* my kind of person!


  13. I want to clarify - I actually didn't find your post all that snotty. Just a tiny bit and in exactly the kind of way that I myself tend to me. Hard to explain.

    I really am delighted that you took the time to look up some of Michele's points and I always look to see what you are reading because I am interested in the same kinds of books.


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