Following food fashions

It’s hard to know what to eat these days. Some foods used to be good for you but now they’re bad, while others used to be bad but now they’re good. Then there are those foods that are universally bad (until they turn out to be the most healthy thing you can put in your body). It’s not about nutrition, or even common sense. It’s all a question of timing.

When I was a kid, eggs were bad. They raised your cholesterol, the worst sin a food could commit. My poor dad, who enjoyed his scrambled eggs for breakfast, had to settle for nasty boxed liquid egg products with reduced cholesterol. If he tried hard enough, he was sometimes able to pretend that he was eating a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs. Today, the egg is the perfect protein, as long as you make sure to consume the egg yolk, the repository for fat and cholesterol. Go figure.

Similarly, butter was a no-no when I was a kid. Full of animal fat, butter was bound to raise your cholesterol and put on the poundage. Better eat margarine instead, and try to believe that you can’t believe it’s not butter. Fast-forward to today, when margarine is censured for its trans-fat content, and butter is the better choice.

In those days, instead of eggs and butter, we were instructed to eat oat bran to actually lower cholesterol. The oat bran craze swept the nation. Stock in Cheerios soared. For a short time, oat bran triumphed at the top of the food chain. Then the egg resurfaced, miraculously cleared of its cholesterol-raising allegations, and took over as breakfast king once more.

So you’ve got your eggs and butter for breakfast today. How about those Cheerios? Sorry, oat bran is right out — carbs will make you fat. But fiber is good, even after all these years. So, about that bran muffin ... to eat or not to eat, that is the question. You have to be current on the food fashions to know the right answer.

Back in the day, sugar was bad for you — it made you fat and rotted your teeth. Nobody wants that, so high-fructose corn syrup took over. Hey, it’s corn, a vegetable, right? Vegetables are good for you. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Time passed, and people got fatter and fatter, causing the food police to crack down on the high-fructose corn syrup. Lo and behold, sugar is now making a comeback! The time is right.

Let’s talk about fat. We all know that trans-fat is bad, and has been officially banned by the food police. Coconut oil has been replaced by “heart-healthy” canola or olive oil. In fact, olive oil, like eggs, just might be the perfect food. It has health benefits for a huge list of conditions including cancer, diabetes, stroke, depression and heart disease. And if you spread it in your hair, it will smother head lice. It’s a salad oil, it’s a cancer treatment, and it’s a pesticide. Can’t get enough of the stuff!

So olive oil is supposed to be good for your heart, hair and digestion. You should probably be eating this super-food daily. And of course, vegetables are good for you — no one disputes that fact. So put the two together and you get deep-fried veggies — gotta be the most healthful food around, right?

You can deep-fry just about anything: vegetables, succulent cuts of meat, gooey mozzarella cheese, Mars bars, etc. Deep-fried butter on a stick is one of my favorite “fair foods” available. Poke a skewer through half a stick of butter, dip it in the batter and sizzle away in your deep-fryer. You can even call it health food, since butter is better than margarine; the batter features that perfect protein, eggs; and it’s fried in that other perfect food, olive oil. Top it off with a dusting of sugar — much healthier than high-fructose corn syrup. Better eat it quick, though, before food fashions change and today’s perfect food becomes fodder for the food police of the future. It’s all about timing.

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and aspiring author who lives in Juneau. She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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