Most North Americans are accustomed by now to the frequent and excessive declarations by researchers that this or that food is now either deadly poison or an elixir of immortality. You know the routine: This week, coffee's good for you; last week, it was going to give you cancer of the eyelashes, and the previous week, those who didn't indulge were doomed to an agonizing, early demise. Wine, chocolate, tomatoes, broccoli, canola oil, butter, eggs, and many other foods have been the subjects of the unceasing flip-flopping of scientific opinion.
With each new "deadly" or "miraculous" pronouncement, of course, there are millions of obsessive, eating-disordered North Americans changing their diets to accomodate the fresh misinformation that fills every corner of every news outlet. I find it hard to blame them (but not impossible) when "New Study Says Drink Coffee To Live Longer" is a headline positioned higher and larger than, say, a few thousand brown people* dying of genocide and starvation in another country. Aside from the sheer self-absorbed, whiny nature of such prioritizing, it is obvious that people are being trained to fear some foods and revere others. And, after thinking about it, the reasons for this are pretty obvious.
Whenever we are fed another tidbit of food science, no matter how shaky the facts, the big food companies are on the ball, quite ready to cater to this new quirk. Low carb craze? Here's our brand new low carb bread for you to buy! Lycopene is a miracle substance? Let's make commercials reminding people to eat lots of ketchup! Wine has stuff that might be good for you, but wine itself gets you drunk, so, hey, here's some wine in pill form, with all the magic stuff to make you live forever.
Not only do they have these awesome new products to give you wine without the enjoyment of it, bread without actually being bread, and so on, but you'll pay extra for them to add a bit of something (that probably cost them a fraction of a penny per product) or leave out an ingredient. Our national eating disorder is not just big business for diet companies, it's enormously profitable for food manufacturers. Where else can you get away with paying more money to have less stuff put into a container, just so it can be conveniently marked as being a "100 calorie pack"? Give me a break.
We pay more money for special foods (fat free, sugar free, caffeine free, flavor free) that we don't even like to eat, because they taste like shit. They don't satisfy our hunger, so of course many people go and binge afterwards. I'm not going to comment on binge eating making you fat, because that isn't true for every person that binges, BUT the fact that you've spent money on the flavorless garbage, then go ahead and pay MORE money to eat something that actually assuages your hunger, well, that's certainly one hell of a way for the food companies to make a profit.
I wonder if many people have lost their ability to be guided by their palates toward satisfying meals. We get jerked back and forth by "science", suckered into buying the diet foods, and then binge on whatever is handy, which is usually NOT what we wanted in the first place. How would a person go back to a more intuitive way of eating after all that? I suppose the first step would be to ignore and dismiss each new food-related claim that is getting the news spotlight. The next would be to figure out what foods you actually DO like, and which DO satisfy your hunger properly, and then make and eat those foods.
For what it's worth, I have pretty much always rolled my eyes at these food pronouncements, and my spouse and I enjoy filling, home-cooked meals almost every day. Because my dinner is satisfying and delicious, I don't have the urge to go raiding the refrigerator later on. We are familiar with the things that we need in our meals to make them satisfying, such as a good balance of protein, fats, carbohydrates, and flavor. Fat-free stuff? Worthless--it leaves you hungry!
Eat what you enjoy, and what satisfies you. Ignore the screaming press, and don't cave in to things that say, "Buy our stuff, because it has this awesome thing in it that makes you live like, forever, dude!" Don't fear chocolate, coffee, or other items unless you have a specific problem with those items--obviously we are all different, and some are allergic to things that most people have no trouble eating. Don't buy into the hype :)
* I have, for most of my life, found it incomprehensible that people in the US seem to have absolutely no value for people who are not white. A few thousand die in an earthquake in India? Hey, they're just brown people. No biggie. Genocide in Sudan? Brown people. There's too many of them anyway, right? Thirty thousand children starving to death every single day? So what--they're not white, so their parents had no business breeding in the first place. Perhaps it is easier for people to dismiss them as "other" than to wrap their brains around the horrors in the world, but I don't find that to be a sufficient excuse.