Nutrition is an exciting and interesting topic for many but it can be pretty frustrating at times when trends in nutrition change over and over again. In a way it is helpful when multiple researches provide informative data for eating healthy but the studies sometimes become either conflicting or controversial. One day you read an article about how oil is bad and eating fat-free food should be the way of life. But then few months later you see an article about how some oils are actually good for your health. This type of conflicting nutrition data can be extremely annoying.
But why does this really happen? Is the subject of nutrition really all that hard to figure out? Well it’s certainly not an easy topic but neither is it rocket science. It is the wide-spread interest in nutrition that hypes up even a small research evidence to create a stir before that study gets further validated. In this article I have tried to cover few such controversial data which the nutrition industry has taken a u-turn on and help you with an approach to these confusing topics.
Cholesterol- We all have kept our safe distance from cholesterol in food. It wasn’t clear to what extent dietary cholesterol raised blood cholesterol levels but the current conclusion is that it’s actually trans fats (artificially processed fat from naturally occurring oils through hydrogenation) that raises blood cholesterol more than the dietary cholesterol. Processed foods made with hydrogenated trans fats are the major cause for coronary heart diseases and high lipid profile. Conclusion, you rather have shell fish (which has cholesterol) than processed food (with trans fat).
Coconut Oil-Long ago researches had termed all fats as bad fats. Sadly, many people still equate fats & oils with weight gain and clogged arteries. Thankfully, substantial researches have helped to conclude that certain fats are essential. Infact some help to burn fat and prevent cardiac diseases. The successful distinction between fats (such as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) has further provided information to exactly know which fats are harmful and helpful. Though saturated fats have been largely controversial in the harmful list of fats (such as coconut oil), revisiting earlier studies have proven that it is hydrogenated coconut oil which is the culprit. In the current times, coconut oil is considered to be a superfood which helps in burning fat and extra virgin coconut oil is a stable saturated fat that does not raise your cholesterol levels. Or imagine, wouldn’t the entire population of South India be cardiac patients?
Egg yolk- They have acquired a bad reputation in recent years because one yolk contains approximately 200mg of cholesterol. People worrying about their cholesterol levels have shut their kitchen doors on yolks. The pendulum on eggs being good or bad has been swinging to and fro every few years. As I mentioned above, the current evidence significantly claims that cholesterol in food is not directly proportional to cholesterol in the blood stream, but before the clock begins to swing again, let moderation be the key. An egg yolk a day cannot be disastrous.
Sugar substitutes-before we jump to controversial side effects of sweeteners causing memory loss and cancer, it’s important to understand what exactly are sugar substitutes. They are basically any sweet substance other than table sugar (sucrose).There are artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium etc), sugar alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol etc.), natural sweeteners (date sugar, honey, fruit juices etc.) and novel sweeteners (like stevia). It is the artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame) which have been getting a strong negative response. However, according to the latest reports Aspartame is safe for consumption with an acceptable daily intake (40mg/kg of body weight per day). A typical diet fizzy drink contains 180mg of aspartame. One would need to drink 15 cans of a diet soft drink to exceed the acceptable limit. We have swung back and forth on sweeteners and side effects and many have chosen the path of not consuming them at all (which is fine), but unless you are allergic or sensitive to a certain sweetener, an occasional intake of sugar-free candies or sodas will not be life threatening.
Salt- since urbanisation and malady following this fast-paced lifestyle, we have been repeatedly advised to lower the salt intake. But a new set of data has emerged claiming going ultra low on salt intake (less than 1500mg) may not be beneficial. However, this is one finding which needs a lot of more research. There is no denial on the fact that low sodium diets are an important strategy for controlling blood pressure and complications preceding it. So let’s not get carried away as of yet. With the kind of food we consume today we tend to consume too much anyways.
Caffeine-Complicated! Caffeine has been associated with elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, anxiety, poor sleep and digestive issues. Thus the advice has been to limit or avoid caffeine. It was even banned by the World Anti Doping Agency and got re-introduced in the non-prohibited list after 2004. Recently, caffeine has been shown to improve muscle coordination, strength if consumed pre exercise, increases energy expenditure and may help to burn calories. So it appears as though there are positive benefits of caffeine as well! One cannot deny side-effects of caffeine mentioned above, but a cup of coffee to kick start your day cannot be damaging.
Fortunately, while studies may give different data about a particular nutrient, the value of a healthy diet is not in doubt. Bottom-line is good food choices have a positive impact on health and poor diets have negative long-term effects. It’s up to us to stay informed but before being conclusive, run it through your common sense, filter the data and consider the source. Nothing can ever be proved from one article or one study. The only really authentic nutrition advice comes from research that has found consistent results over many, many years. These types of researches are abundant but you don’t hear about it often (because, it’s just not as exciting to feature).
Nutrition is evolving and there is more to nutrition than nutrition. Being in the field I am conscious of what advice to give. I wouldn’t want to provide any information which I need to rescind few months later. So tips to take home-
I acknowledge that research and debate in nutrition is quite sensitive and there are always conflicting views. The reason for writing this article is not to discredit any research or a counter view, it is just to highlight that nutrition is evolving. And the key to a healthy lifestyle is very simple eat fresh foods, avoid processed foods and follow moderation in everything.
If in doubt, remember to eat mostly vegetables. Everything else is controversial!