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COMMON SENSE IS BEST GUIDE TO HEALTHY DIET

There was a time when most of the foods I enjoyed were bad for me. My physician warned me to stay away from chocolate and avoid oily foods, and not to consume more than two eggs a week.

But like Woody Allen's character in his movie "Sleeper," I've awakened to discover that almost everything I was told may be bad for me is now healthful. He discovered that in the future, milkshakes and steaks marbled with fat turn out to be good for you. He wasn't far off the mark.

Recently, a medical report (commissioned by the International Cocoa Organization) noted that chocolate, a former health scourge, is an effective antioxidant, more powerful than dark tea and tomatoes.

For years, my doctor and parents conspired to deprive me of a restorative substance because they believed in the myth of chocolate's evil. Yet it turns out that I was right and they were wrong. Will they recant? I think not.

When I reached my middle years, I was advised to avoid eggs. "Too much fat" and "eat only egg whites" were continual lamentations. I yearned for two eggs with hash brown potatoes but, relying on expert advice, I resisted.

Recent medical reports suggest the consumption of eggs does not contribute to reduced longevity and may actually have a salutary effect on the body.

So much for expert advice.

Another staple among nutritionists was the claim that oily foods clog your arteries. The claim was made without refinement -- oil was bad for you, except for mineral oil, which was necessary for your digestive system, and castor oil, a magical potion that made healthy bodies but that tasted like liquefied bad breath.

So I avoided oily foods. Now reports have emerged that olive oil is not only desirable, it has a positive influence on the circulatory system. It cuts bad triglycerides -- compounds that increase the risk of heart disease -- and promotes the good ones. Greeks and Italians went from having the worst to the best dietary practices.

There are lessons in this turnabout. For one thing, the experts know less than they think. For another, common sense is the best guide to diet, moderation the most sensible bit of advice. Don't consume too much of anything.

Above all, don't be so sure about "expert opinion." Affluent America has become preoccupied with the idea of living longer and is searching for a magical solution. The pages of vitamin booklets promise everything from the Fountain of Youth to biceps like baseball's Mark McGwire.

Food has become the refuge of hucksters. If you eat brown rice, claims one guru, you cannot contract cancer. If you eat fiber, another says, you can defy the actuarial tables. Every expert promoting a product has a promise of nirvana. What the experts don't know is what science may discover.

The food discovery of today may be the menace of tomorrow. Look at the history of milk, which has gone from being an essential to having a reputation in some circles as an arterial bad boy.

Who knows? If chocolate is good for you -- or at least nowhere near as bad as the "experts" say -- can cheesecake be far behind?

My parents wanted the best for me, but the best turned out to be transitory. The fad of yesteryear may be passe today. Conversely, foods to be avoided may turn out to be essential. Who'd have thought chocolate would turn out to be good for you?

Perhaps in the near future we will be told spinach is bad for you. Redemption can be a beautiful thing.

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