One of the weird things about being an Earthling these days (at least, in many regions of Earth) is that there are many, many choices of food available and many people talking about what they eat and why and how. It’s very confusing! Sometimes it seems as though every bite we take is a potential death trap and/or political statement. There’s so much food information floating around, yet a lot of it is twisted up with some sort of agenda: “Tomatoes prevent prostate cancer!!” says the ketchup ad, but do tomatoes made into ketchup really provide any benefit in the amount you’d get from a normal serving of ketchup, or are they basing that claim on some study of rats who ate nothing but tomatoes? It’s hard to tell!
That’s why I’m glad the Center for Science in the Public Interest exists. This nonprofit organization collects and publicizes information on nutrition, food safety, and health through clear, helpful documents like this chart of food additives. Some of it is available for free online, but they also publish a great little magazine called Nutrition Action Healthletter that’s like Consumer Reports for food and nutrition. It has no advertisements (so there are no companies threatening to pull their ads if bad news about them is reported!) yet it’s quite affordable.
Which fruits are most nutritious? Are Bruegger’s bagels more healthy than Einstein Brothers? Should you take the Daily Value of a particular vitamin, or more, or less, or not take it in pill form at all? What’s the latest research on diabetes and diet? Do you need to filter your tap water? Does zinc really prevent colds? What does “reduced sugar” on a label mean, exactly? How can you work more leafy greens into your meals? Nutrition Action answers questions like these in a very readable format that gives clear facts (with references noted) but isn’t too sciencey. As a research professional (but I work in social science), I appreciate that it critiques whether a research study was set up well or poorly and who sponsored it, instead of simply reporting its conclusions.
A lot of “real food” advocates rave about making everything from scratch, which is great to the extent that you can do it, but some of us have busy times when we need to buy ready-to-eat or partly-made foods. Nutrition Action reviews lots of convenience foods and gives helpful suggestions for what you can add to make a healthier, complete meal–for example, add extra frozen vegetables to frozen meals. It also analyzes restaurant meals and gives specific tips on what menu items to choose in chain restaurants. I love the snarky reviews of nutritional nightmares . . . and the happy descriptions of healthy foods that taste good.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest works for me! And it’s working for you, too, nudging food marketers and the U.S. government to make healthy, safe foods more available to all people and to prevent deadly food-borne diseases. I was not compensated in any way for this article. I simply think this is a great organization that publishes a great magazine!