Out there in Nutritionville, it's dog-eat-dog.
Even worse, it's man-eat-soyburger--and, shockingly, soyburger-eat-man.
You've heard the news, no doubt: Researchers have found that middle-aged men who ate tofu at least twice a week were prone to shrinkage of the brain.
Doesn't that figure? Just when you think you've found something you can trust, you discover it securely lodged between your shoulder blades like a cleaver in liverwurst. Caesar learned this all too well; no sooner did he turn his back in the Senate than he wound up dead, with his mighty name stuck on a salad.
That's why you should take care when attempting the following confrontation. Slowly open the refrigerator. Find and remove that bland, betraying, sodden white brick of soy curd. When you've placed it safely on the counter, yell loud enough to shake the wind chimes:
Et tu, tofu! Et tu!
Craven lump that it is, it will not respond. Instead, it will just sit there and quiver.
Of course, it should surprise no one that tofu's dark side finally has emerged. Weary consumers have long realized that everything good will be proved bad and everything bad will be proved good, except cigarettes, which are just plain terrible.
But soybeans? The honor student of all vegetables, causing our brains to wither?
The sad story is told in a study called "Brain Aging and Midlife Tofu Consumption," published in the April issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Researchers in Hawaii traced the eating habits of Japanese American men over nearly 30 years. Their conclusion: The men who ate the most tofu scored lower on various tests, had a greater incidence of Alzheimer's disease and generally displayed the brain functions of non-tofu-eaters who were four years older. Scans and autopsies revealed a greater degree of brain atrophy.
These findings concern me, as in my ceaseless hunt for new ways to not keel over on my keyboard, mid-adverb, I've swung to soy. While I'm glad to report I've lost a few pounds, the bad news is that they may have been from between the ears.
How do I tofu? Let me count the ways:
* I eat soy hot dogs and soy burgers. On whole wheat bread. With water. Yum.
* Instead of diving into the Skippy Super Chunk, I partake of smog-brown soy butter, which is a mulch of roasted soybeans and Elmer's glue. On whole wheat, with water.
* When I say cheese, it's soy cheese. This isn't too bad, except for its tastelessness and the fact that it melts unevenly, like crayons on a hot dashboard.
* Apparently taking my brain in my hands, I frequently dine on tofu--gingered, curried, hot-sauced, stir-fried, what-have-you'd tofu. Hard to like and hard to dislike, it's the quintessentially political food, assuming the color and flavor of things around it while offering none of its own. It's smooth, it promises great things--and now, having shimmied its way onto our dinner plates, it reveals its hidden agenda--brain shrinkage!
But people with cooler and, perhaps larger, heads than mine warn against jumping to conclusions.
"One little study doesn't necessarily prove anything," said Connie Noggle, a nutritionist who oversees lunch for the 6,500 students in the Conejo Valley Unified School District. "It has to be repeated over and over. And sometimes these side-studies just deflect from the truth."
Like many other school districts, Conejo Valley cuts the fat content of its hamburgers by removing 10% of the beef and replacing it with soy. Do you think schools bent on boosting test scores would inflict anything on students--besides trigonometry--that could shrivel their cerebrums?
Ventura dietitian Lois Zsarnay sounded the same caution, pointing out how hard it is to eliminate all of life's other little variables and link a particular food to a particular symptom.
"Never make a choice based on one study," she advised. "It needs to be replicated and duplicated. Someone else needs to do it differently to show that the conclusions are valid."
That, indeed, is the saga of science--conflicting studies, the relentless give-and-take of researchers who vow never to sleep until they reach the Truth, or until the grant money gives out. Without the rigorous procedures of the scientific method, we would still be eating bad clams, jelly doughnuts, chicken feet and other things we used to think were just ducky.
But when it comes to tofu, my experts tell me there is no reason to panic. If you can remember the location of your keys, the letter that follows "P," the definition of "snood" and the name--it's on the tip of my tongue!--of the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, there is no reason to suspect tofu-related brain shrinkage.
Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at email@example.com.