Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, the land of juicing and sprouts, we were quite the opposite of health nuts. It was the 90s and my parents' generation was the first to showcase America's growing waistline as the result of the industrialized diet. Our kitchen was always stocked with soda and sweets, and fast food was a common experience. At the time, the general public was not nearly as aware of the health crisis this country had developed as we are today. However in our house, little things were taken into consideration: super sugary cereals were reserved for birthdays (Count Chocula for me, Lucky Charms for my sister), and shelf-stable wheat bread was on every sandwich K-12.
It wasn't until I went to Culinary Institute of America, that I began thinking about nutrition. Every student is required to take a 6 week nutrition class, which was beyond boring (science words = blah blah blah). But it was there where I met one of my now closest friends, a registered dietician. She was able to explain to me what those mind-numbing nerd words all meant, as related to real life. She also had a killer body and glowing skin, and that is absolutely why and how I first started to explore how food affects the body and mind. Then, when I became a Personal Chef–going on 6 years ago, I needed to have the knowledge to talk to my clients about their needs. It was my job to have read the latest studies, since I assure you that they all have.
Nutrition can be so incredibly frustrating because it is still a very young science, which means that researchers are doing what they can to learn and educate. Articles will literally contradict ones from the day before.
Remember when whole grain bread and pasta was considered health food? I was raised on that soft wheat bread in the mustard yellow bag. Home Pride? My mom used to test for freshness by squishing the top. The one with least resistance made it to the shopping cart. At the time, that was the wave of sensible consumption. Now? The gluten debate is as strong as ever. The argument went from: less refined wheat is beneficial– to our crops have been so stripped of all benefits anyway, so don't bother. In a recent Washington Post article, it was reported that:
“'For the [first] 99.9 percent of our human evolution, our species has been gluten-free.' The protein entered our diets only about 10,000 years ago, when our ancestors began domesticating crops, he says. As a result, our bodies don’t contain the digestive enzymes to break it down. Eating a lot of gluten is akin to 'asking your GI system to do an impossible mission: to digest something that’s not digestible.'”
Same with dairy. Milk was considered the absolute staple of nutritious development: calcium, protein, vitamins D & K. Then fat was deemed bad and whole milk turned into 2%, which became 1%, then skim. Now the concern of what cows are jacked up on (very valid) and the questioning of why humans consume another specie's milk in the first place (also valid) has propelled the mass development of dozens of alternatives. The first one to go mainstream, soy milk, has too many GMOs and messes with estrogen. Now it's carrageenan, an emulsifier derived from red seaweed and an ingredient added to many of the newer milks. Apparently it causes gastrointestinal issues.
To start the new year, the New York Times Opinionator blog published Kale? Juicing? Trouble Ahead. The dramatic sequel: The Dark Side of Kale (And How To Eat Around It) immediately went viral. Now longtime health nuts and reformed fast food junkies alike are getting nutty. The MVP green and IT edible of the year is now a gateway to hypothyroidism? I think one of the commenters said it best:
"I'm going to die of starvation trying to eat healthy."
I did manage to find a study from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University backing the claims of cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.) and hypothyroidism, but this is what it says:
Very high intakes of cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage and turnips, have been found to cause hypothyroidism (insufficient thyroid hormone) in animals(68). There has been one case report of an 88-year-old woman developing severe hypothyroidism and coma following consumption of an estimated 1.0 to 1.5 kg/day of raw bok choy for several months (69).
So there you have it: the claims are based on a study found in animals, and one 88 year old woman who ate nearly 2.5 pounds of raw bok choy daily developed hypothyroidism and a coma.
Awareness is good, but please, before anyone blows off one of the trendy foods actually putting our country in the right direction, don't believe every headline. Kale is most certainly one of the few things we don't want to give the public a reason to dismiss. Most importantly: NOT TOO MUCH and EVERYTHING IN MODERATION.