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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Nutrition and health reports always grab attention. A daily diet of red meat increases your risk of cancer, but a little dark chocolate every day is good for your heart. But so many studies appear to contradict previous reports. A little wine is good for you or not, the same goes for coffee. Sugar is addictive. No high fructose corn syrup is worse. And well then TV ads get into the game too.

Here's an ad that takes issue with that last part. We see a woman filling a glass with a bright red drink at a children's birthday party when another woman approaches.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Unidentified Woman #1: Wow.

Unidentified Woman #2: You don't care what the kids eat, huh?

Unidentified Woman #1: Excuse me?

Unidentified Woman #2: That has high fructose corn syrup in it.

Unidentified Woman #1: And?

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah. You know what they say about it?

Unidentified Woman #1: Like what?

Unidentified Woman #2: Funny.

CONAN: Well, as you might suspect, that ad comes from the Corn Refiners Association. And it's just another of the conflicting sequels we get on what to eat and what to leave on the plate.

So how do you get the headlines and the hype and wade through the science. Ultimately, how do you decide what to eat?

Later in the program, should the next appointment to the Supreme Court be a woman and does a judge's sex affect the way he or she rules? Dahlia Lithwick will join us.

But first, how do you decide what to eat? Who do you trust? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Allison Aubrey joins us here in Studio 3A to help us separate food fact from food myths. She's NPR's consumer health reporter. Nice to have you on the program.

ALLISON AUBREY: Hi, Neal. It's good to be here.

CONAN: And let me run some of those recent headlines past you. And we'll start where the TV ad left off. High fructose corn syrup, no worse than sugar.

AUBREY: I might add to that perhaps. As far as we know, or maybe change it to too much sugar, too much high fructose corn syrup, both are bad. If you have too much of either both can be bad.

CONAN: Uh-huh. So, no worse than sugar? I mean, you're seeing a lot of ads these days. Also, on the other side - geez, only natural ingredients i.e. sugar, not fructose corn syrup.

AUBREY: Well, that's a bit of a false dichotomy there. I mean, high fructose corn syrup comes from corn. Let me just tell you what the science suggests. There have been recent studies published that find that sucrose - which is table sugar, which is about half fructose and half glucose and high fructose corn syrup. When you give those - they've done studies and given have people drink drinks with either sucrose or sweetened with sucrose or high fructose con syrup, they don't find any substantial differences in endocrine or metabolic effects on the body.

So, 24 hours after people drink a drink, whether it's sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or sucrose, they've measured insulin, leptin, ghrelin - these are hormones that regulate appetite - and they find no differences, no big differences.

CONAN: Okay. Eating red meat raises risk of death study.

AUBREY: You know, if I were the headline writer, I might say, eating too much red meat still not good for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But is there anything to the study?

AUBREY: Well, you know, when you see these kind of studies, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions. One, you want to say, what is the population that they studied here and can I generalize from that population that was studied to me.

And I would say, here, this is a very large study, 500,000 people. These are people who are in their - older when it started. They were AARP members. And basically, with a very large study, you want to know, does this add to the body of evidence? Have other studies suggested that when you eat a lot of red meat that it can lead to higher rates of cancer and heart disease?

And the answer to that is, yes. It has suggested that very high doses of red meat can do that. And then you want to ask yourself, is there a mechanism? Meaning, is there any kind of explanation that scientists have based on science and the answer here is that saturated fat - red meat is high in saturated fat. And we know that saturated fat, too much of it, can be a risk factor for heart disease.

CONAN: Okay. Women's cancer risk may increase with just a few drinks.

AUBREY: Yeah. That's a hard one there, because we've gotten conflicting messages on that, certainly. What has been known - if I were the headline writer here, I might say, I'd say that the keyword here is may. But, of course, when you're reading that it's hard to make that standout. Women's cancer risk may increase. And I'd also add, you know, a few drinks a year over many years, obviously we're not talking about just a few drinks here.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And I guess the big one that comes up all the time is red wine. A little red wine reduces stress. It might be good for you in some respects. No, no, no, no, red wine is bad for you or any kind of alcohol is bad.

AUBREY: That's right. And you know what here, the problem is, you know, I said that I always ask myself, is this adding to a body of evidence that already exist or is it an anomaly.

And the answer here is yes and no, because it confirms what we've already known about women and breast cancer, that there is a link that there. That women who drink moderate amounts of alcohol and were at risk of breast cancer, that that can lead to more - there's a strong correlation between, you know, moderate drinking and breast cancer.

Now, we also know, there are some big studies that show that there is a positive effect of moderate drinking when it comes to heart disease, actually cutting the risk of heart attacks and strokes. And so, you know, in some ways, this study raises more questions than answers.

CONAN: Oh, and here's one everybody's rooting for the same answer in here. Chocolate may cut heart disease. Please tell me that's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUBREY: That's a good headline, isn't it? And I have to say, if I were the headline writer here, I might say, dark chocolates, boost blood vessel function, maybe not as dramatic of a headline.

CONAN: Yeah, I'm not going to spring to read that one necessarily. But, again, it's one of those things that, well, maybe.

AUBREY: Yes, maybe. But what happens here is that we know that dark chocolates is full of flavonoids and - these are compounds that can trigger the release of substances that can vasodilate, which means to expand or increase blood flow in the vessels - and when you're increasing, improving blood flow to the heart, that's a good thing.

Now, the point here is that when you buy chocolate, it tends to come along with a lot of what - fat and sugar. And we know that that can expand the waistline.

CONAN; Expand the waistline, which can cause other problems, and indeed other problems for your heart.

AUBREY: That's right.

CONAN: So, take this with, you'll excuse the expression, a grain of salt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUBREY: That's right. That's right.

CONAN: As you look at these studies, a lot them was just looking at who funded the study give you any information. For example that red meat thing was funded by the National Cancer Institute. You wouldn't necessarily read a bias in there one way or the other.

AUBREY: That's right. With that, that would not raise a red flag. With the chocolate one, almost - many of the chocolate studies - and I have to look through this to see who it was funded by - but many are funded by the institute.

And, you know, with that, I would say, if it's published researched - and a lot of these chocolate research is - it doesn't mean that you throw out the results. What it means is you closely look at the design of the study and you say to yourself, were they asking rigorous questions here?

If you look at this chocolate study you'll find that they were looking at what happens to the blood vessels, you know, in the short aftermath - immediately following - or can it really lower blood pressure in the long run? That's - the study clearly doesn't answer that kind of question.

The other thing that's important is when you're looking at the findings, you want to look at the magnitude of the effect. If you look at the study that you were pointing out, they found that the chocolate actually decreased the blood pressure by about 2.9 mm of mercury. So if you had blood pressure of, say, 130/85. It would take it down to 127. So we're not talking about major effects here. The magnitude of the effect was, you know, significant but small.

CONAN: Well, we're talking about scientific studies. Some of which can be confusing. Some of that is the study's fault and some of that can be the fault of the news media. And nevertheless, it's easy to get confused. And sometimes, of course, we see lots of advertising which can also send contradictory signals.

If the health studies are so complicated it takes a scientist to understand them, how do you translate the science into delicious food? Well, Mark Bittman is not a scientist, he's a food writer. His most recent book is "Food Matters: A Guide To Conscious Eating." He also writes for the New York Times' food blog, Bitten. And today, he's with us from a studio in Paris, France. And none of us are envious, Mark.

AUBREY: Not at all.

Mr. MARK BITTMAN (Author, "Food Matters"; Writer, New York Times): Well, I'm suffering. So, there you go.

CONAN: Absolutely. It's clearly, clearly suffering for your art. Nice to have you on the program with us today. What do you tell your readers about these if they have questions about high fructose corn syrup and sugar?

Mr. BITTMAN: Well, I think, you know, I'm preaching moderation and that sort of the bottom line I'm sure. I imagine Allison would agree with that.

AUBREY: Absolutely.

Mr. BITTMAN: But the whole thing about the studies is that the majority of studies find what the people who designed the studies want them to find. So it's hard for us, and I'm counting myself as a layperson, it's hard for us to really get into the kind of detail and say well, what are - how the studies designed? What are the questions that were asked?

The easiest thing, in a way, is to say who sponsored the study because then you're likely to be able to figure out, almost immediately, what the results are going to be. I mean, that's not always true, but it's true in the majority of cases.

CONAN: And it might be where it's published, but often that's not food-alarmist news.

Mr. BITTMAN: Well you know, as you both have pointed out so brilliantly, the headline is the big deal. If you get into reading the story, and you see what the results really are, as Allison just said, a study that says that you're going to drop blood pressure levels by two or three percent is not - you know, it's not big news, really.

CONAN: Because that's a relatively small decline, and even if you have problems with high blood pressure, you need a bigger decline than that to make any serious progress.

Mr. BITTMAN: Right, and also, you know, again as you said, what's the baggage? You know, the guy who you previewed before who said he's eating six Dove bars a day, well that's great. He's probably eating 1,000 calories in sugar a day. It's not worth - you know, the game isn't worth the candle.

CONAN: Now how do you incorporate that - this kind of information, moderation in all things, into recipes?

Mr. BITTMAN: Well you know, there's sort of a macro and a micro way that I'm working these days, and the macro is that there are many things that seem to be not so good for us in large quantities. It doesn't mean they're evil or bad, and I'm including sugar and meat and fat here. It just means that if you eat a lot of them, if you let them dominate your diet as so many Americans do, then that's probably not the healthiest way to eat.

So the first thing to do is to sort of look at the proportion of the way you're eating. And a lot of Americans, the majority in fact, eat way too much meat and processed food and sugar.

We eat, on average, half a pound of meat a day. And we eat, on average, close to two pounds of animal products in general a day, and we don't eat enough plants. I mean, all of this is known.

So the first thing that I encourage people to do is just glance at your diet, look at the big picture and see if you can change the proportions. Just every time that you eat plants instead of anything else, you're doing yourself a favor. And that's - there aren't a lot of people who are going to disagree with that statement.

CONAN: And when…

Mr. BITTMAN: And then when it comes - sorry.

CONAN: No, go ahead. I was just going to say…

Mr. BITTMAN: And then when it comes to…

CONAN: …you don't necessarily want to put a lot of butter on it, either.

Mr. BITTMAN: Well yeah. I'm saying fat, processed food - animal products, processed food, junk food. And then when it comes to writing recipes, which I spend a great deal of my time doing, developing and writing recipes, I'm trying to take that message into this sort of micro-world of looking at recipes and saying most Americans really are not interested in becoming vegans or vegetarians.

They want to keep eating the things that they like to eat. So how can I create recipes that, on a small level, do what I'm saying on a big level, which is change the proportion of animal products, processed food and junk food in these recipes and increase the amount of plants in them.

CONAN: And we have examples of three such recipes available on our Web site that Mark has kindly provided to us. Two are desserts, a fruit crisp and a chocolate semolina pudding with raspberry puree, and there's also a meat dish, a Thai beef salad. We'll talk a little bit more about them when we get back.

We also want to know how do you know what to eat? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Remember when the grocery store was just a place to get your milk, your chicken, your potatoes? Now it is a veritable battleground of competing nutritional ideologies, the home of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, sulfites.

Don't worry, NPR's consumer health reporter, Allison Aubrey, is here to decode all the competing advice on what to eat, along with Mark Bittman from the New York Times. If you'd like to try your hand at some of the recipes Mark Bittman has been talking about, go to our Web page, npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

How do you decide what to eat? Who do you trust? 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. There's also a conversation at our Web site. Again, that's at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's start with Margaret(ph), Margaret with us from Cleveland.

MARGARET (Caller): Hi. Well, I've actually been thinking a lot about this recently and changing the way I eat. And I eat a lot of vegetables and meats, and I cook a lot with regular ingredients. But when I'm looking at an ingredients label, I just make sure that it has real food as the majority of the ingredient items and anything scientific or chemical-sounding is - not too many of them and at the end of the ingredients list.

CONAN: At the end of the ingredients. So if you can pronounce it, you can eat it.

MARGARET: Yeah, pretty much, if it sounds natural.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Mark Bittman, is that good advice?

Mr. BITTMAN: Yeah, I'd say hear-hear to that. I mean, there is this sort of vague rule that can't be followed in any super-dogmatic fashion, but if something has more than five ingredients, I try to look at it very carefully and usually steer clear.

CONAN: In fact, Allison, it's been interesting. There's a lot of new food campaigns. There's a new ice cream out called 5, which has just five ingredients, and I don't think agar agar is one of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUBREY: On that one, I'm sure that the cream is, so you might want to pay attention to the…

CONAN: Might want to double-check that one, yeah - cream and sugar.

AUBREY: …so much. That's right.

CONAN: Okay. Margaret, thanks very much.

MARGARET: Thank you, bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an e-mail, this from Paul(ph) in Cave Creek, Arizona. The pork industry claims pork is the other white meat, but reference to your comments on the risks of too much red meat, is pork red? Allison?

AUBREY: Actually, pork is not red meat. And in the study that we had started off talking about, they actually made a distinction in the survey when they asked people how often do you eat X. They did make a distinction between red meat, beef, and others, and pork. And pork is lower - somewhat lower in saturated fat and doesn't seem to be associated with quite the increased risk, at least in this one study.

And we should point out that when they found an increased risk of cancer and premature death in that red meat study, we should definitely point out the difference was here the people who were at risk were eating 28 ounces, almost up to two pounds, of red meat per week compared to those in the lowest-risk category eating, you know, less than a half pound a week.

CONAN: So pork not red meat. Does that count bacon?

AUBREY: Pork is not red meat.

CONAN: Does that count bacon?

AUBREY: Bacon is made from pork oftentimes. It can also be made from turkey, as well.

CONAN: (Unintelligible) that may have to do with some added extra ingredients. I don't know about that. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and let's go to Donald(ph), Donald in Murray, Kentucky.

DONALD (Caller): Yes, sir, thank you very much for the program. I enjoy listening to it and listen to it every day.

CONAN: Go ahead, thanks very much.

DONALD: All right. My - I guess the way I decide to eat something is I go with how I was raised. We eat a lot of vegetables, don't go overboard on the red meat, eat pork, chicken, fish and just, you know, the stuff I'm familiar with.

CONAN: Were you raised there in Murray, Kentucky?

DONALD: I wasn't. I was born in California. I've lived here for 30 years.

CONAN: And you…

DONALD: But I guess growing up in California, I don't know if that had anything to do with it. That was before all the fancy diets came out, and it was just a combination of how my mom grew up and how my dad grew up.

My dad is from Kentucky, and my mom's from California. So it was just a combination of some of the West Coast eating and the farm living.

CONAN: Mark Bittman, it sounds like Donald is doing okay with his - eating the foods that he was raised on. That's not necessarily a rule of thumb for everybody, though.

Mr. BITTMAN: Well, I mean, someone - you know, it's funny. I do these kinds of shows a fair amount, and you always hear from the people who, or you usually hear from the people who, are agreeing with you, but someone out there in the United States is responsible for us having among the highest rates of cancer and heart disease and certainly the highest rate of obesity in the entire world, and among in industrial - industrialized nations, among the worst morbidity and mortality rates.

So you know, it's hard to talk to individuals and say yes, you're doing the right thing, no you're not doing the right thing. As a country, it's clear we're not doing the right thing.

CONAN: Well, I was certainly raised not just with the fruits and vegetables and meat but with TV dinners and Colonel Malton's(ph) pies.

Mr. BITTMAN: Me, too, and I bet if I say the word Salisbury steak, your mouth starts to water.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: No, no, there's another - completely other reaction to the Salisbury steak issue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Soggy under-crust, however - I was always very fond of the soggy under-crust. Anyway, Donald, thanks very much for the call.

DONALD: Thank you very much, sir.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go to Hunt(ph), and Hunt's with us from Savannah.

HUNT (Caller): Yes, hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

HUNT: My wife and I typically read nutritional labels, and we don't stand for chemical-sounding things, but we usually see if it translates into high-calorie, you know, low-protein, high-calorie food that we typically don't buy.

We don't subscribe to a particular, you know, brand of dieting, but we generally keep it high protein, low carbohydrate and low calorie. And it does fairly well for us.

CONAN: Allison, based on whatever your diet may be, those nutritional labels available, they certainly weren't when my mother went to the A&P.

AUBREY: Well, you know, they are good strategies to live by - if you read them - because they have very important information like calories. The ingredient labels certainly can be confusing, but if you look for things like overall calories, certainly make a note of the serving size, look at, you know, saturated fats and monosaturated fats - you don't want too much saturated fat - and you get a good benchmark of what you're putting in your mouth. And you know, as always, it's the portion that you need to pay attention to.

CONAN: And if you're looking at the recommended daily requirements for various kinds of, you know, vitamins and minerals and that - if they're all down around zero, probably not a good idea.

AUBREY: Not the greatest thing, that's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay, all right. Hunt…

Mr. BITTMAN: Can I just interject a word here, is that - do you mind?

CONAN: Go ahead, Mark. No.

Mr. BITTMAN: You know, I would say one thing about the labels is that yes, portion size is incredibly important. And you know, there are some things you want high, like fiber, and other things that you want low, obviously, like sugars.

But I think that there is one thing that people tend to put too much emphasis on, and that's protein. Because I think that it's nearly impossible for an American who lives anything above the poverty level to not have enough protein in his or her diet. And many people say the kind of thing that the last caller said, which is that I make sure that I get a lot of protein.

But I think that we're all getting plenty of protein, and protein often carries with it a high amount of fat and a lot of calories. So it's just something else to think about.

AUBREY: Whereas the fiber is what adds to the satiety, the sense of, you know, giving you a sense of staying full.

CONAN: Being full.

AUBREY: That's right.

CONAN: Hunt, thanks very much for the call.

HUNT: Thank you.

CONAN: I did want to ask about some of these recipes, Mark, and for example, the fruit crisp, and you recommend apple or nearly anything else, but there is, you know, half a cup of brown sugar in here.

Mr. BITTMAN: Well, you know, as I said when I first came on, what I'm trying to do here is find some kind of compromise between what I believe in principle to be the ideal diet and what people will actually eat.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BITTMAN: So people want dessert. Dessert does equal sugar. And I think that if you look at your diet over the course of a day, the course of a week, the course of a month, and you maintain a much lower intake of sugar than most people have right now, there's nothing wrong with some sugar, or there's very little wrong with some sugar. That's actually something of a debate.

But you know, I could get up on a soapbox and say we should all be vegans and eat nothing unnatural and so on and so forth, but I don't live that way, so it would be somewhat hypocritical. And I don't think that many of us are going to live that way.

CONAN: In a dessert, though, some people would say, that's made up of fruit, and it's got nuts in it, too, why do you need sugar?

Mr. BITTMAN: It makes it taste better.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It makes it taste better. People will actually eat it, I see. Okay, let's see if we can get another caller…

Mr. BITTMAN: You could have an apple. I mean, I have no problem with you eating an apple, you know.

AUBREY: Yeah, and there's a big divide between what we say we want to eat or should eat and what we actually do eat, right?

CONAN: Jason's(ph) on the line, calling from Grand Rapids.

JASON (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

JASON: Thanks for getting me on. I just wanted to say we pretty much - it's all on appetite. I have a large family. So cooking is always kind of an ordeal in my house. My wife and I probably snack a little bit too much at the end of the day, but we generally go on appetite.

I eat a lot of pork, and we try to mix it with a lot vegetables and potatoes and stuff like that…

CONAN: So you're a believer that your body will tell you what it needs?

JASON: More or less, yeah. If I have any questions, that's what the doctor's for.

CONAN: Okay. And is everybody in your family in pretty good shape?

JASON: Oh yeah. We're all generally very healthy.

CONAN: Well, that's great. Jason, thanks very much for the call.

JASON: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Appreciate it. If I did that, there'd be a lot, a lot of ice cream and a lot of cookies that would go down the hatch, but maybe it works for Jason. Here's an email…

Mr. BITTMAN: I was going to say one thing Jason is doing right is - and his family obviously - is cooking, which is - I think a key to this whole thing is buying individual ingredients, that is, you know, a head of broccoli, or for that matter, a piece of pork has exactly one ingredient, and combining them at home. And by doing that, you know what you're putting in your mouth and you tend to eat more healthfully, you tend to eat better.

CONAN: Because you can pick up a whole lot of salt and sugar without even noticing it when you're eating foods that are prepared outside.

Mr. BITTMAN: Yeah. Absolutely. And fat.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail just to that point of - in - from Kerry(ph) in Mascoutah - I am hoping I'm pronouncing that correctly - in Illinois. Personally, strangely, my body will crave a color, like orange, so I'll eat quite a bit of orange veggies or green. It's odd but I listen to my body and it seems to work. I've done this for years. I'm now in my mid-50s, happy and healthy. So, as long as I think you're going for orange and green, you're probably okay.

AUBREY: Absolutely. Those are two good…

CONAN: Allison?

AUBREY: …those are two good colors to crave. And that is actually a dieting strategy. I've heard nutritionists give the advice to their patients that when you fill your plate, make the protein no bigger than the size of your fist, put it on a small portion of starch, you know, rice or potatoes, and then make the rest of the plate, two-thirds of it, just colored with as many different colored vegetables as you can. So, the idea of eating for color is a good strategy…

CONAN: All right.

AUBREY: …as long as that orange isn't coming from Doritos, right? (unintelligible)

Mr. BITTMAN: Candy corn, I was thinking.

AUBREY: Yeah, right.

CONAN: Twinkies are orange. Twinkies are orange.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Here's an email from Nina(ph) in Anchorage. My mother taught me to shop around the edge of the grocery store. That's where you found fresh vegetables and fruits, freshly butchered meats, and refrigerated dairy. Many foods on the outer edge are not processed and are without added sugar. It's the packaged foods in the aisles that have unnatural ingredients and extra calories that add extra pounds.

Allison, that sounds like a reasonable approach.

AUBREY: Absolutely. And that's another tip the nutritionists give, and it actually plays - it's a strategy to play into that eating with lots of color -eating lots of - eating for lots of color because as this says, you know, you're going to find all of your fruits and vegetables in the perimeter.

You'll usually find dairy in the perimeter and, yes, all the packaged crackers and donuts and things that are packaged to have lots of sodium in it, those are always in the interiors aisles.

CONAN: And have the - do the folks at the - the Giant haven't figured this out yet?

AUBREY: Well, the problem is that - as a strategy, it's a good one. But like we said before, there's a big divide between what we say we're going to do and what we actually do. And when push comes to shove, there are lots of things in those interior items that we tend to find tasty. So the idea is just not to eat too much of them.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR's consumer health reporter Allison Aubrey and with Mark Bittman, a food writer and the author of many cookbooks, most recently "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Mark, you happen to be in Paris as you told us earlier. You're on a vacation there or maybe you're working there. You're obviously eating out a lot. How do you deal with this in that situation?

Mr. BITTMAN: Well, actually, I'm not eating out a lot. I have - my wife is working here. I'm working my normal schedule since I work from home anyway. And I'm cooking. I've gone to the local markets. We've been here a month, and I think we've eaten out four or five times, which is about what I average at home.

So, because it's a total joy to shop here and I have a stove and I have pots and I have things that I need to get it done, it's really been a pleasure. So, the one, you know, my downfall here is cheese, because…

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. BITTMAN: …the cheese is unbelievable and it's everywhere. And…

CONAN: It's really good.

Mr. BITTMAN: …it's difficult not to eat it every day. So, you know, but that's my dessert now, is cheese.

CONAN: And - but do you have advice for somebody who's in a situation where they're out of town a lot?

Mr. BITTMAN: Well, you know, I think it's interesting that, you know, we talk about supermarkets, but half of all meals are eaten out of the home. People don't cook.

This is - it's fine to shop around the perimeter of the supermarket. But if you're going to then go to - stop at Dunkin' Donuts, you know, no particular offense intended, but - and buy donuts, or Starbucks and buy cappuccinos, you know, those things are completely loaded with calories.

So, when I travel in the States, which is actually the really hard thing is traveling, it's not going to another place and living there, I do try to go to supermarkets during the course of the day. And I just buy, you know, whatever I think I can stand to eat.

And I may buy two apples, two pears, two bananas, you know, and a pound of carrots, and snack on that kind of stuff during the course of the day. And, you know, no, those aren't my favorite foods in the entire world, but they keep me going, and I feel like I'm staying closer to eating the way I want to eat.

CONAN: And Allison, I assume you go to the supermarket with a magnifying glass so you can read all that list of ingredients.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUBREY: When I'm doing stories or research, yeah. But you know what, when I shop for my family, no. You know, I do try to shop the perimeter and, certainly, I buy treats.

I have two young children. I have two young boys, and so they are always, you know, asking me for sugary cereals and treats. And I don't deny them. I think that if there's a forbidden fruit, they'd go off, you know, to college nine years from now and binge on everything they could get their hands on.

So, I think the key here and what I try to teach my children is to, you know, to listen to their bodies, to eat when they're hungry and stop when they're not, which is a hard concept for kids sometimes.

But, you know, the - what I do with my children is I put as many things on the plate, as many colors as I can make in one night, and I just keep exposing them to foods even if they don't eat them the first time. And sometimes they don't ever develop a liking for them, but I keep trying.

CONAN: And Mark, you have to keep working at this. This is a life - you need to do this every day.

Mr. BITTMAN: Well, you need to do - I mean, of course, you can take days off. But, you know, this listening to your body or, you know, and seeing what your numbers are, your weight, your blood levels and so on, you know, I think is important.

Another thing, you know, Allison just touched on this, is what's, you know, we have this expression that is - I'm starving. Well, very, very, very few of us are anywhere near starving. We get hungry a lot, but one of the things we're most neurotic about in the United States is food.

And, you know, we're neurotic about sleep, we're neurotic about sex, but we don't go off having sex and falling asleep every time we feel like it. But we do go off and eat every time we feel like it. And that's something that's important to be conscious of and important to monitor because, you know, if you really eat when you're really hungry and you stop when you're not any longer, and you don't just eat because it's four in the afternoon and you feel like a Snickers, this is what conscious eating is about.

CONAN: Mark Bittman, thanks very much. And we hate you for being in Paris.

Mr. BITTMAN: Well, thanks, Neal. I'll eat some cheese for you. I'm going to go do that right now.

CONAN: Good. Really stinky cheese.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUBREY: Some for me as well.

Mr. BITTMAN: Okay. Take care. Bye

CONAN: Mark Bittman's most recent book is "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating." He writes for the New York Times food blog Bitten, and joined us, as we just mentioned, from a studio in Paris, France.

You can see some of those recipes we talked about at our Web site, npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Allison Aubrey was with us here in Studio 3A, where the food is just as good. She's consumer's health reporter for NPR News. If you like to hear more of her advice on how to decode nutrition news and the science behind food myths, you can also go to our Web site at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Allison, thanks very much.

AUBREY: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up, many people believe the next Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by a woman. Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick will take a look at why.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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