Since I’m now semi-retired and no longer work 60+ hours a week managing restaurants, I have time to do something that I’ve always wanted to do: further my education. I recently read an article in the New York Times about how some Chinese university students are taking online courses at prestigious American universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Cambridge to bolster up their resumes. The article also said that some of the courses are free, which is right up my alley. Now I’m too old to care about credits and I don’t think that I’ll be out job searching anytime soon, so I’m in this strictly to feed my information-junkie habit.
The first thing that I had to do was to decide which courses I wanted to take off of the extensive list. One course that caught my eye was “Heroes and Anti-Heroes in Ancient Greece” at Harvard. I’ve always been keenly interested in mythology. Twenty-six weeks later, I finished the course and started looking for something else. This time I decided to sign up for 2 or 3 courses. (I was feeling pretty good after passing a “Harvard course.”)
I had just finished publishing a book about diabetes, so I looked for something medical. Ahh, there was “Introduction to Neurology” also at Harvard. To balance out all that hard science, I also signed up for a philosophy course at MIT, (of all places) and the food science course at McGill, which is in Montreal.
Here are a few things that surprised me about food: The professors think that all the fuss about “chemicals” in food is overblown. Their response is that we are made out of chemicals as well as the food we eat. Did you know that apples have naturally-occurring traces of formaldehyde and arsenic as well as other noxious chemicals we wouldn’t dream of ingesting? (Celery has a neurotoxin, rubbing alcohol is found in potatoes, and the list goes on and on.) A word about organic: If the whole world went organic tomorrow, half the population would starve. It’s all the fertilizers, pesticides, and hormones that allow us to grow enough food to feed the world. This is not to say that these things aren’t harmful, but they are a necessary evil. There are way too many people in the world.
There are no “superfoods.” The highest antioxidant edible that we consume is coffee. That’s right, coffee. We don’t need to take vitamins and supplements. A balanced diet contains all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that we’ll ever need. Don’t believe the screaming headlines. They take a tiny bit out of a research study and blow it all out of proportion.
And the studies themselves are sometimes questionable. It must be a controlled, double blind, peer reviewed study that’s published in JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet, or a similar well-respected publication. A random study of 50 people published in the St. Clair County Journal of Frozen Orange Juice doesn’t count.
The professors at McGill pretty much believe what author Michael Pollan says: “Eat a well-balanced diet, mostly plants, with smaller portions.”
Here’s another couple tidbits: Frozen vegetables are more nutritious that fresh. Freezing reduces the fluid in the cells thus concentrating all the vitamins and minerals. Microwaving is better nutritionally than cooking food on the stovetop. Heat is the great destroyer of vitamins and minerals, that’s why most canned food has less nutritional value than fresh or frozen. Microwaves cook food at a lower temperature.
And finally, of the big three things that are bad for you, sugar is by far the worst. Originally we thought that fat was the biggest enemy, but guess what? Sugar is broken down by the liver into the type of fat that causes the unhealthiest fat to accumulate around your internal organs and cause heart attacks and stroke.
Oh, and sugar is put into everything these days. The average American consumes 26 teaspoons of sugar a day, not counting what we add to food and fruit juices. A single can of tomato soup has 7 teaspoons of sugar.