By Dr. Mark Liponis, Parade
Are you confused about whether what you’re putting in your body is making you healthier or killing you? Here’s the latest science on what’s up and what’s down on the food charts.
No need to feel guilty anymore about that double-shot Americano that gets you going in the morning. In fact, coffee is looking more and more like a health drink. Among its remarkable benefits, new research shows, coffee may reduce the risk of diabetes, heart attack, gallstones, Parkinson’s disease, kidney stones, and cirrhosis. One caveat is that black coffee may lead to thinner bones, especially in women, but the simple solution is to add milk to your coffee.
Dark chocolate, which contains at least 70% cocoa, has proven health benefits. It contains less sugar than white or milk chocolate and is a rich source of health-promoting compounds such as polyphenols and flavonoid antioxidants (similar to those found in green tea). Studies show that even a small intake of dark chocolate may reduce the risk of the blood clots that cause heart attack or stroke and may lower blood pressure. And, as many people know from experience, chocolate also can lift your mood and give you a boost of energy. Of course, chocolate is high in calories and contains saturated fat, so enjoy it in moderation—no more than 2 ounces a day.
There’s not much good news to relate about soda. Both the high-fructose corn syrup in regular soda and the artificial sweeteners in the diet varieties may kick your pancreas into overdrive, which boosts insulin levels and causes weight gain. Research last year from the American Chemical Society found that chemicals in beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (called “reactive carbonyls”) may increase the risk of diabetes. In addition, the caffeine and phosphoric acid in colas may thin the bones of those who frequently consume them.
Oatmeal is most people’s idea of a healthy breakfast, but you may need to rethink your morning meal. A controlled study at Boston Children’s Hospital found that eating only instant oatmeal for breakfast increased kids’ appetite and calorie consumption by more than 80% the rest of the day when compared to eating a vegetable omelet and fruit for breakfast. (Eating steel-cut oats did not spike appetite as much.) The study’s researchers attribute the results to fluctuations in blood sugar that occur after a meal consisting of processed grain products, and they stress the importance of having some protein at breakfast.
Pizza isn’t exactly a health food, but it certainly is a food with healthy ingredients. Tomato sauce is rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Recent studies suggest that lycopene may have a range of benefits, including reducing the risk of cancer and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Adding veggies to pizza further improves its health benefits. But stay away from sausage, pepperoni, and other toppings rich in saturated fat—you already get that with the cheese. The biggest concern about pizza is calories and what they can do to your waistline, so order by the slice.
Eggs get a bad rap. Their negative reputation started because egg yolks are a source of cholesterol. But studies have not shown that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases in egg eaters. For example, in a study of more than 115,000 men and women, there was no association between egg intake and the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke over an eight-year period, except among those with diabetes. Women who ate more than one egg a day actually had the lowest risk of coronary heart disease. Eggs also are a great source of protein, and many organic eggs are now rich in omega-3 fatty acids, thanks to a change in chicken feed.
Eating fish twice a week may cut your risk of heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiovascular death. Fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and inflammation. The best for your health are oily and small fish such as sardines, herring, anchovies, salmon (organic or wild), and mackerel (except king mackerel). Large fish such as swordfish, tuna, tilefish, and shark live at the top of the marine food chain and accumulate many contaminants. In general, canned chunk light tuna—lower in such contaminants as mercury than albacore or sushi tuna—is also a good choice.
Artificial Sweeteners (+/-)
Surprising news for people trying to stay slim: New research suggests that even noncaloric sugar substitutes, whether “natural” or artificial, may contribute to weight gain. Researchers at Purdue University published a study in February showing that rats gained weight when fed foods artificially sweetened with saccharin. The researchers speculated that when the sweet taste of the sugar substitute wasn’t followed by lots of calories, it threw off the rats’ response to calories in general. As a result, they ate more food. Although this response doesn’t necessarily apply to humans, many dieters find that after eating sugar-free food, they compensate by indulging in other calorie-rich sweets.