Like fashion trends, dieting fads come and go. What was once hailed as the super food may be considered the bane of a healthy lifestyle a few years later. There are various reasons for conflicting information to continue being perpetuated. For one, scientific information sometimes get misinterpreted and misrepresented in the media. Other times, the health claims (or drawbacks) of a particular food are exaggerated by proponents of a dieting trend to sell products.
It does not help that long-standing myths and old wives’ tales are still floating around, adding to your confusion of whether a certain staple in your diet is really good for you or should be eliminated.
Here’s the verdict on 10 foods with questionable nutritional value, based on what the latest research and scientific discovery have to say.
For years, the health and medical community were not kind to this morning beverage that’s a favourite to many. Coffee has been given the reputation of growth-stunter, anxiety-inducer, cancer agent and heart disease promoter. Thankfully, recent findings assure drinkers they do not need to give up their daily dose of caffeine. Coffee is rich in flavonoids and antioxidants that may reduce the risk of liver disease, type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. Regular intake is also shown to lower risk of Parkinson’s disease in men and Alzheimer’s disease in women. While the pros far outweigh the cons, keep in mind that excessive coffee consumption is known to aggravate anxiety, irritability, high blood pressure and insomnia. So, don’t go overboard with caffeine!
The Verdict: Drink in moderation, with no more than two cups a day.
Often making the no-no list for those aiming to lose weight, potatoes’ bad reputation could be due to French fries. In truth, potatoes contain complex carbohydrates and are packed with vitamins C, B6, potassium and fibre. The trick to making potatoes a part of your healthy meal is the method with which they are prepared. They are best eaten when baked, roasted or boiled, seasoned with herbs and spices.
The Verdict: Eat your potatoes, but avoid deep frying them or flavouring them with creamy and fattening add-ons, such as sour cream, butter or cheese.
While it was undeservingly considered an enemy by healthy eaters because of its fat content, peanut butter actually contains monounsaturated fat – the good kind fat that keeps the heart healthy. Whether you prefer it smooth or crunchy, the spread is filled with vitamins E, B6, potassium, protein and fibre. Regular consumption of peanut butter is also found to regulate appetite, and decrease risk of heart disease and diabetes. The only concern with peanut butter is the high sodium and sugar content that comes with all its benefits.
The Verdict: Be selective by reading the labels; the best peanut butter brands are those that contain zero or low sodium and sugar.
This popular movie snack of choice is loaded with the healthy antioxidant known as polyphenols, which is responsible for lowering the risk of heart diseases and cancer, more so than fruits and vegetables. Plus, it is 100% whole grain. But remember that this nutritional value applies only to air-popped corns that are cooked with the right amount of butter and salt, and not micro-waved popcorn as those contain preservatives and flavourings.
The Verdict: For your next family movie night, opt for air-popped popcorn. You can air-pop your popcorn using a microwave or a home air-popper. Just remember to go easy on the topping; instead of butter, why not use olive oil instead? Other healthy topping choices include garlic powder, oregano and grated parmesan cheese.
Once blamed for weight gain, oily skin, acne and diabetes, the tides are turning for this favourite dessert and snack. Chocolate – dark chocolate, in particular – is an antioxidant and flavonoid powerhouse. After all, chocolate is made of cocoa, which is a plant-based compound that contains nutrients. Enjoying a bar of dark chocolate per week has been proven to reduce the risk of heart diseases, high blood pressure and stroke. Moreover, regular dark chocolate indulgence can also improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, thus reducing the risk of diabetes.
The Verdict: Not all chocolate are made equal! Milk and other flavoured chocolate are high in sugar and additives. Go for 70% dark chocolate for its higher cocoa content.
Not too long ago, full-cream milk and yoghurt were believed to be responsible for obesity, and dieting trends indicated that low-fat or skim dairy products was the way to go. More studies have now found that full-fat dairy is richer in favour and contributes to better satiety effect, making it less likely for you to eat more after a glass of calcium goodness. Conversely, low-fat dairy is higher in sugar content, making it more likely for one to gain weight.
The Verdict: Dairy is an essential source of calcium and minerals, but is also high in calories. A cup or two of full-cream milk or yoghurt a day will do.
If you have been told to eliminate nuts from your weight maintenance plan because they are loaded with calories and fats, it is time to reintroduce them. Tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pistachios are filled with vitamin E and good fats that benefit heart health and decrease diabetes. Additionally, groundnuts are an excellent source for vegetable protein and minerals.
The Verdict: Make nuts your choice for a healthy snack.
Nutritionists once warned against the consumption of eggs, equating it to high cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases. New findings showed that moderate egg consumption for healthy adults protects against early heart disease. Eggs are also excellent sources of protein, vitamin D and a host of minerals that benefit the vision and brain. The yolk, often condemned for being an artery-clogger, is in fact packed with vitamins A, D, E and K – nutrients that reduce risk of muscular degeneration
The Verdict: Eat your eggs. Just avoid – or at least minimize – cooking them in lots of oil, butter and cheese.
Researchers once credited red wine for lower rates of heart disease among the French, due to an active ingredient called resveratol that is known to protect the cardiovascular system. However, as research progressed, it was discovered that wine drinkers do not get sufficient amounts of resveratol to benefit the heart. The low rates of heart diseases in France is more likely due to the average French diet containing less processed foods, and more fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Verdict: Wine does not protect your heart, but no harm done in enjoying a glass or two a day to de-stress. More than a couple of glasses may court other health problems in the long run as wine is still an alcoholic beverage. Experts recommend that men and women limit their alcohol intake to two drinks and one drink a day respectively.
An excellent source of protein, vitamin B, iron and numerous minerals, red meat is also one of the primary sources of saturated fat. Since the 1960s to the present, studies linking saturated fat and red meat consumption with heart disease and cancer have been inconsistent. However, many of these studies arrived at the conclusion that regular consumption of processed meat contributes to chronic diseases that can cause premature death.
The Verdict: Nothing wrong with the occasional steak, but cut down on processed meats.
Alternet. Available at www.alternet.org
SF Gate. Available at www.healthyeating.sfgate.com
WebMD. Available at www.webmd.com