I’m one of those people who, when I’m buying something on Amazon (or any website with a “star”-type rating system), I don’t read the 5-star reviews without reading an equal number of 1-star reviews.
I don’t just Google “health benefits of broccoli” without also Googling “dangers of eating broccoli.”
It’s not because I’m a pessimist. I’m not looking for the bad in every situation. I just want to know the facts. I want the full picture. Then I feel I can make an informed decision.
But this approach is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I feel that I’ve considered all sides of an argument and reduced some level of ignorance on a given topic. On the other hand, I have now introduced a brand new set of concerns that may or may not be relevant to my situation and have potentially complicated matters to a standstill.
This problem is of particular importance in the health field, where conflicting theories and opinions about foods and food groups are rampant, especially on the internet. If you don’t know how to wade through it, you might get stuck.
Let’s take this evening, for example.
I was making millet. For those of you who aren’t familiar, millet is a grain that (to me) is a cross between polenta and quinoa in texture and flavor. Its origins are North African but it has also been a diet staple for many years in Asia and India. We now refer to it as an “ancient grain” that has been making a comeback in American grocery stores due to its (purported) health benefits.
I rotate my starches (as I rotate many things, because I'm a big believer that too much of anything is still too much) so millet is something I end up making about twice a month. I usually buy it from Blue Mountain Organics because they sell it already soaked and sprouted, and I’m willing to pay for that convenience. (Some foods I soak myself, but I have 2 small kids and have to draw the line somewhere).
***NOTE ABOUT WHY I SOAK/SPROUT: Grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes contain anti-nutrients (namely saponins, lectins, and phytic acid) that interfere with the absorption of minerals. This can lead to mineral deficiencies and intestinal permeability, among other things. However, traditional preparations of these foods (soaking and sprouting) helps decrease the amount of anti-nutrients thereby making them more digestible and less likely to rob you of things like iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. And you really need iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium).
Now I’m not even going to talk about the fact that millet is a grain, and although it is a gluten-free grain, there is a still a HUGE body of research that says that grains = death. Or at least sickness and disease. A slow death. This is a premise of the Paleo Diet, for example.
(And just so you know -- I am not against the Paleo Diet. I know a lot of people whose health has drastically improved by adopting the Paleo lifestyle. But fundamentally, I do not believe that one diet works for everyone. John might thrive on Paleo but it could make Mary totally sick. Mary does better as a vegan. While Diane could do either and it wouldn't make much difference. Every. Body. Is. Different).
So I was looking up a new way to prepare millet because, well, that's what I do, and I came across numerous articles touting its health benefits. But I also came across articles telling me to “beware” of millet, “major health risks” of millet, and so on.
This is nothing new in the community, folks. You will find a study for EVERYTHING.
And guess what? Some of these articles were pretty sound and based on actual studies. (The trustworthiness of studies is another blog altogether). But that was true on BOTH sides. For every study that “proves” why X is bad, you’ll find an opposite study that “proves” why X is good. It’s so easy to get confused.
I’m not a scientist – and unless you are, it's hard to really truly know how much phytic acid is actually reduced by how many hours of soaking, or the exact precise way that phytic acid responds in your particular body to your unique body chemistry. You can read about it, or read about someone who has read about it, but in reality, there are so many variables. In fact, there are some ways that phytic acid is actually good for you.
That's why science is always changing it's mind every few years. New research, a new way of looking at something, new technology. The human body is dynamic. Science isn't perfect. Nothing is absolute.
The point is this: you have to know your body. You have to listen to it.
You also have to know your sources, and your source's sources. And understand that there are two sides to every argument, usually.
Patricia over here might have a thyroid problem and she might notice that eating too many raw cruciferous vegetables (goitrogens) makes her symptomatic – but Marcy doesn’t really have thyroid issues and eats raw broccoli all day long without ill effect. Should Mary stop eating broccoli because it has the potential to impact her as-of-yet unaffected thyroid?
Or maybe not. Maybe the anti-cancerous compound (sulphoraphane) in the broccoli is thwarting off a level of inflammation that her particular genetic makeup is actually more susceptible to, so it’s actually serving Mary to eat that raw broccoli.
Don’t believe everything you read; at least, don't take it as Bible. Do your own research. Figure out where it fits in with your life and your concerns and your conditions, and make an informed decision.
There was a time when I practically stopped eating because the Internet had elicited so much fear around so many food groups. The stress of it alone probably raised my inflammation levels far more than the foods ever did. I was eating copious amounts of green leafys everyday and very little starch, which didn’t serve me or my body either. But eventually I learned that my personal food plan is mostly about eating clean, whole, real foods from all food groups (well-sourced) in moderation. I can tolerate gluten. I can tolerate dairy. I can tolerate nuts, but not in the mass quantities I was consuming them when I totally eliminated grains (because I had nothing else to snack on). For me, a clean, moderate plate = a calm mind and body, and vice versa.
It took me a long time to get to that point. Up until then, I had used every theory and anti-theory to convince myself why I should/shouldn’t be eating this or that. In the end, I had to quiet all of the noise and listen to my intuition.
That doesn’t mean you should use the two-sides-of-every-argument-theory as an excuse to eat whatever you want. (Be careful with that. Intuition is different from indulgence). Just be cautious of blanket statements and start paying attention to how your body responds to different foods. (And this may change over time. What works for you today may not work for you in 10 years as your body undergoes its natural shifts). You’ll eventually start to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. It isn’t about the latest fad.
So, I made my millet and have the recipe to share.
I will continue to soak my grains and may even start toasting them now, based on some things I learned in my millet-Internet-travels that pertain to me and my health profile.
I will also continue to provide you with both sides of the argument as much as I can so that you have a more comprehensive understanding of all of these superfoods, food preparations, etc., and their associated risks and benefits.
This blog has gone on far too long, so if you’re still here reading this: thank you. Next time let's focus on a lighter topic, shall we? And in the meantime, just remember that all nutritional advice should be taken with a grain of millet. Thoroughly researched millet.