MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
Food recalls - chemicals - preservatives and processed foods: a cause for concern for most consumers. Sifting through mixed messages about the downfall in our diets and reportedly unsafe food is a daunting task. With the help of researchers, nutritionists and dietitians, we wanted to separate fact from fiction regarding our food supply, and what we found was shocking.
Do a simple search for "GMO", or genetically modified food, and you'll be bombarded negative information, even downright scary facts about what this food could be doing to your body and your family's future health. But our team of experts say everything isn't as it seems.
"A lot of people are afraid of GMO foods," UAB Assistant Professor Dr. Beth Kitchen explained. "Quite frankly they are pretty safe. I've seen two recent trends here, where companies have gotten rid of GMOs. They are not dangerous. In fact, they are in some ways good for you."
Kitchin responded our concerns one by one, from aspartame, gluten, and high fructose corn syrup, none of which she felt would dramatically impact our bodies.
"Consumers are confused, and for good reason", Kitchin said. "We get really scared of these foods. I see us focus on that and say, "that's not the biggest problem we have." We really should be looking at an obesity problem."
But what about our country's mass produced foods? Processed foods that are on recall every month, and preservatives? Surely, that's where she will change her tone.
"You hear a lot of people talking about processed foods. I say, what do you mean by processed foods? There are some processed foods that are good for us, like milk", Kitchin stated. "I don't like to use that blanket term to demonize food. People also talk about preservatives. Preservatives are used to keep our food supply safe. They say, if I can't pronounce what's in the ingredients, I shouldn't eat it, and that's just not the case."
When asked how preservatives impact our bodies, Kitchin referred to a past issue with Capri Sun, a children's drink company that prides itself on not using preservatives. However, when mold surfaced in the drinks, not using preservatives is a direct cause.
Kitchin says there's no "bad food" and simply put, she says we should all relax.
"I think it's important not to be afraid of food", Kitchin believes. "The one thing we've gotten away from in this country is our enjoyment of food, going back to our old food ways. How did our families eat generations ago? I think we've gotten away from sitting down and enjoying food. That's one area I would like to see people getting back to is enjoying real food."
We walked away from Dr. Kitchin's office confused. How did we get it so wrong? Another researcher, Dr. Doug White, was waiting at Auburn University to help further set the record straight.
"I don't think there's any one bad food," White explained. "I'm not going to say no you can't eat that. I think there are foods that are better for your that have a higher nutrient density, that's now many nutrients you are going to get versus how much calories you are going to get…"
White's research mirrored Kitchin's in ways we certainly weren't expecting. Preservatives, toxins and chemicals must have a larger impact on our health? Not according to White.
"Preservatives are not your biggest issue," White said. "Obesity is a bigger issue than perceived toxins. I would not worry about the toxins in the food. That will take care of itself. There are a lot of things that are natural that are not good for you. Arsenic is natural, but it's not good for you."
Globally, White and Kitchin say balance is key. While we wanted rigid guidelines to keep our families healthy and free from the radical downfalls of our food chain, it's all about moderation.
"Eating real, whole foods means going to the grocery store, preparing it, knowing how to prepare it", Kitchin said. "That can be time consuming for people. That's another problem that a lot of us have, we don't know how to cook, we've lost touch."
White says it's important to approach new research as "buyer beware", reminding consumers that the latest scientific information is not a collection of facts, but more of a collection of ideas that meet present criteria. Instead, if you want to lose weight, keep it simple.
"In a sense, it's an easy problem, in another sense it's a hard problem", White explained. "Obesity is taking in more calories than you are burning. That's the easy part. The hard part is why your body is defending a certain weight."
If both must be tied to general guidelines, they would encourage consumers to cook more, and eat out less. When cooking at home, use wholesome, healthy ingredients. Generally, eat less fast food and sugar, and beware of hidden sugar in unsuspecting foods by checking ingredient lists for items like drinks and salad dressings.