Monday, January 08, 2007

Side effects of 'healthy' eating

There's a definite trend growing towards organic, unprocessed and 'natural' foods, but is there a cost to shunning modern growth and processing techniques? A recent study described at Nature News (subscription may be required) has shown that folate, a vitamin that helps prevent birth defects, may not be consumed at the recommended levels thanks in part to a shift towards "whole grain" breads and cereals. Your average loaf of Wonder bread is enriched with vitamins, including folate, helping the population reach the suggested daily 400 micrograms. Unprocessed breads and cereals don't benefit from this enrichement which has led do the decline in folate consumption. A corresponding increase in birth defects has not yet been observed. For those on low-carb diets or with a preference for whole grain breads, spinach, broccoli and yeast products (Marmite, anyone?) are alternate sources of folic acid, but "you would have to eat a very large portion of broccoli or spinach," according to the author.
In other 'health food' related news, for those making the switch to diet Coke to help out with the New Year's Resolutions, it seems that there's a correlation between the consumption of diet sodas and weight gain (sorry for the poor source - CBS, but apparantly this work has been presented to the American Diabetes Association). The reason for the correlation isn't clear, but it seems it may be a change in behaviour when drinking diet sodas (i.e. you think you can eat more fatty foods since you're drinking diet cola) but other theories are discussed.


Bayman said...

The fact that humans have managed to give birth to healthy babies for almost our entire history, even before "enriched" processed grains were around, I think would strongly suggest that the "enriched" levels of folate are unecessary.

Kamel said...

No, I agree, but there's a big difference between 100% heathy babies and 90% healthy babies, 10% with birth defects (i.e. people having healthy babies and people having healthy babies with an increased rate of defects.)

In the article they say that rates of birth defects decline considerably in the 90s which they believe is because of a push of folate by the government at that time. Folate is important for neural tube development and the fact remains that pretty much any public health entity suggests that women of childbearing age consume adequate folate, even if not pregnant. So necessary, perhaps not, but beneficial, yes.

It's sort of like vitamin D enriched milk. People got by just fine without enriched milk, but now it's pretty much impossible to find milk that isn't. Sure, we survived healthily for centuries without it, but I'd be willing to bet that the incidence of rickets has gone down since the practice started.