First, they went after salt… then bacon… and then coffee.
Now the Nanny Police want to take away my fried chicken.
It’s another case of a ridiculous research paper masquerading as “science” instead of pure and simple common sense.
The trouble started two weeks ago with a study published in the BMJ. The headlines that the fear-mongering media shared all sounded like this: “Fried chicken could put you in an early grave.”
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Researchers used data from the Women’s Health Initiative that surveyed close to 107,000 women ages 50 to 79 for about five years, and followed for about 20 years. They wanted to see if diet corresponded to premature death, specifically from heart disease.
They found that consumption of fried foods, especially fried chicken, correlated with a higher risk of death compared with eating no fried foods. They failed to address why that happened or the fact that they only focused on women. And as we’ve mentioned before, self-reported dietary surveys aren’t the best for accuracy.
If you listen to the news reports, you’d want to give up fried chicken forever.
But the media glossed over an important aspect here: The scary 12% higher risk of heart-disease related death from fried chicken only happened if you ate one or more servings every day.
In other words, you’d have to consume a lot of Popeyes, KFC, and Royal Farms chicken to really increase your risk.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t cut back on your fried food consumption. Fried foods often contain trans fats and the dangerous type of saturated fats that wreak havoc on your health. We know these fats send your immune system into overdrive, promoting inflammation. Previous studies also show that consuming too much trans fat increases your risk of early death. So that’s nothing new.
And frying food also creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These chemical compounds form when an amino acid in the meat hits the sugars that are released during cooking. We know these HCAs can cause cancer.
What’s more concerning to me is that fatty foods like these tax your liver. If you overdo it, you’ll find yourself with problems like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). You might remember this is a growing issue in the U.S. that leads to liver failure.
Don’t let this dissuade you from all fats, though. Remember, some fats are good for our health. You should still eat plenty of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
MUFAs, such as those in olive oil, lower your levels of low-density lipoprotein (the so-called “bad” cholesterol). Some studies show that MUFAs also help keep insulin levels in check.
We need PUFAs for our bodies to function properly, but we can’t make them on our own. We have to get them through our food. These include the omega fatty acids.
Omega-3 fats (from fish as well as other sources) reduce inflammation. Inflammation increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and it accelerates aging. So there are significant health benefits to eating fish.
Omega-6 fats also help promote brain health and, along with omega-3s, help keep your bones healthy and your metabolism on track.
Now, there’s a bit of a controversy over how much of each one you need. Omega-3s are great for your health and are a type of fatty acid I’ve advocated for in my write-ups on fish.
However, too many omega-6 fatty acids can trigger inflammation – they’re almost the opposite of omega-3s. People ideally should be eating omega-6s and omega-3s in a ratio no greater than 4:1.
The problem is that omega-6s are also in heavily processed vegetable oils… So they are in the oils used in fast-food fryers. The American obsession with these oils means we’re getting about 16 omega-6s for every one omega-3.
I’m not against the trans fat ban from 2015. Most manufacturers have until June of this year to get rid of trans fats in their products (a few have extensions through 2021) . And it’s not just the fast-food chains having problems… Trans fats appear in plenty of processed foods, including frozen pizza, microwave popcorn, and margarine. But with some basic common sense, you can still enjoy these foods. Just don’t go crazy.
In fact, my favorite fried chicken place, Popeyes, already got rid of most of the trans fats in its products. But several of its products still contain them, including their nuggets, catfish, and Cajun fries.
I suggest looking into the nutritional facts of your favorite fast-food chain to see what the trans fat amounts are for your favorite meals. Try to limit them as much as possible. But remember, everything in moderation. Eating fried chicken now and then won’t kill you. And frankly, the crispy skin on a piece of Popeyes chicken is a delicious food I won’t give up any time soon.
What We’re Reading…
- Something different: The rise of the robocalls.
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 5, 2019