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Senior Correspondent

What to eat? What not to eat? How much to eat? How little to eat? Raw? Cooked quickly over a high flame? Cooked slowly over very low heat? Does organic matter? To juice or not to juice? To sprout or not to sprout? And, what pan is safe to cook it in?

Many years ago, a friend sent me a battered old paperback that said the Eskimos were very healthy on a diet of whale and seal. No fresh fruit or vegetables to speak of. That ran counter to those who proclaimed we must stay away from saturated fats. I gave it to a dietician, and she couldn't make any sense of it. Low fat was "in." Only later, years later, we learned that low fat usually meant high sugar and salt.

And what about those Twinkies of old? They were always junk food, but at least they were made of real food ingredients. The downside was that they had only a few days of shelf life. Compare that to the Twinkies of today that will last, and last, and last. Did you ever ask yourself why Twinkies last so long?

Diet gurus came and went with opposing theories of the best way to eat. People tried weird diets, fasted, went liquid, macrobiotic only, and often either got sick, continued to get fat, or yoyoed up and down. Food morphed into omega 3s and 6s, vitamins and minerals, low or high glycemic, inflammatory or less inflammatory.

Ways to process food multiplied as did the weight of many people. Our grocery stores got larger, as did the grocery carts to put our groceries in. Shelves of options multiplied — with this or that added, with this or that removed, enriched with this or that. But someone in the know warned to avoid most of all those shelves in the middle of the store and lurk around the edges to get the "real" food. Reading the ingredients label required a lot of time, a very discerning eye, and a knowledge of nutrition.

I went to two cooking classes within a couple of weeks. It seemed they were held on different planets. One chef authoritatively advised no meat, no milk, no milk products, no wheat, no eggs, and definitely no sugar. Juicing and sprouting were the healthy way to go in that class. It was the "don't eat anything that had a mother" way to eat. Teeth weren't required to eat any of the food she prepared.

But we humans do have teeth, and pay a lot of money to straighten them into dainty rows, clean them, fix them, and (sigh!) eventually replace them. The other chef believed in meat, and even the skin of the meat. He admitted that much of the nutrition is lost in today's world before we even get the food close to our mouths, but that we should aim for high quality, organic fruit and vegetables — and making food that tastes good. He was an "everything in moderation" kind of chef. It is the extremes of eating that are destructive to our health.

Modeling what people eat in other countries is only somewhat helpful. Asians eat a lot of polished white steamed rice that has basically no nutritional value at all. They also add lots of MSG while cooking. The French eat rich food, but keep portions small. They also smoke a lot. India extols the virtues of curry to stay healthy. And corn is a staple in some cultures even though it is one of the foods most likely to be genetically modified. And who knows what genetically modified food will do to the human metabolism, which basically hasn't changed since humans evolved?

Instead of being a pleasure, eating has turned into an unhealthy confusion of opinions and science.

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