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What to Believe

I've always been fascinated by the counterintuitive, the exceptions to the accepted wisdom, the beat of the different drummer. The food and nutrition area has proven to be an especially fertile hunting ground for this interest of mine, given that accepted wisdom about what to eat seems to have the life span of the average fruit fly.

Truly, what goes around comes around when it comes to diet advice. Just take the government's nutrition guidance, which seems to have an almost biblical need to raise the low and flatten the exalted on a regular basis. Hence, the despised saturated fat of yesteryear is today's rising star, while those carbs so celebrated in the first food pyramid are now sleeping with the fishes, at least the mercury-laden ones.

Rumblings of the latest candidate for dietary rehabilitation looms in a recent New York Times article by celebrated culinary author Gary Taubes titled "Salt, We Misjudged You." It includes this bombshell: "…the evidence from studies published over the past two years actually suggests that restricting how much salt we eat can increase our likelihood of dying prematurely. Put simply, the possibility has been raised that if we were to eat as little salt as the U.S.D.A. and the C.D.C. recommend, we’d be harming rather than helping ourselves."

This little nugget comes just when the federal government—seemingly always the last to get the joke—begins mandating reduced sodium in school lunches.

Taubes is a veteran bombthrower. A decade ago, he published a piece in the New York Times Magazine titled "What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" that decontructed the low-fat diet conventional wisdom of the time. I remember writing a piece about it for Food Management ("Why Low Fat's in the Fire" in the August 2002 issue, unfortunately not available online) because I figured it was a story that had legs. Boy did it. Today, low-fat still has its advocates, but nothing like ten years ago.

In his 1973 movie Sleeper, Woody Allen presented a world of the future where everything that was accepted wisdom in his present day was turned on its head, perhaps most hilariously diet and smoking. He set it 200 years in the future but things seem to have speeded up since then...

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