The high moment of a family dinner at my home when I was a kid was the wheeling out of the fruit trolley at the end of the meal. Having some fruit after dinner, considered good for digestion, was something I had been doing routinely long after I became an adult and began raising my own family.
Then one day not too long ago, I read a report in a newspaper quoting a medical study by some highly reputable institution which said that eating fruit, any fruit, after meals was bad for the body. Its advice was to eat fruit before meals.
It didn't exactly turn my world upside down. But it did make me wonder how seriously should we take these advises that could influence our daily lives.
In this information age, we are bombarded all too often by the many medical and personal health surveys and studies telling us what we should or should not do. To be sure, many of these research studies are carried out by qualified and disciplined professionals in accordance with accepted scientific practices. But in many cases, their findings are either non-conclusive or too trivial to be of much value.
Some years ago, I was alarmed to read the report of a research which said that rice could cause cancer. But this scary revelation to us rice eaters turned into nothing more than an amusing trivia when I finished reading the story. There was a paragraph toward the end of the story which said that one has to consume copious amounts, like a ton or so, of rice a day to become a risk.
I gave up drinking coffee for a long while some years ago because I was told that it could give me an ulcer. I got an ulcer anyway, not from coffee, but rather from some bacteria. Now, I am drinking coffee regularly because my craving for the drink has been augmented by medical research which said it's good for the heart.
In recent months, one couldn't help but feel amused by reading reports of the great salt debate that is spreading from New York to other cities and regions in the United States.
The harm that salt can do to one's body has been talked about for years. When I was living in San Francisco in the 1990s, many restaurants there had already tried to woo customers with their salt-free cooking.
Advocates of low-salt diets in the US recently mounted a heated campaign to force food companies to use less salt in their products, although there is no concrete prove that Americans are eating more salt than they used to. What's more, a reduction in salt intake could lead directly or indirectly to other health problems that would more than cancel out whatever benefits one could possibly derive from sodium abstinence.
Opponents to salt restrictions have put forward the hypothesis that the amount of salt a person consumes is regulated by his brain. If that is true, the reduction of the average amount of salt in foods will simply force people to eat more of everything to maintain the level of sodium intake at the risk of getting fatter and fatter.
Chinese people seem to be largely immune to such dietary paradoxes. That is because the principle of "balance" is deeply ingrained in our way of life.
As my mother taught me, every food is good for you as long as you don't eat too much of it.
Yes, I'll continue to enjoy food seasoned by salt and frequent the quaint coffee shop near my home. There are too many other things to worry about in life than being poisoned by an overdose of sodium or caffeine.
(China Daily 02/26/2010 page9)