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Is red meat really unhealthy?

The more we learn about the science of food, the more we need to question nutritional advice that has been widely accepted.

FOOD can be very confusing. With ever-changing guidelines and recommendations, it can be hard to know which foods should be avoided, or included, in our diet. We have been told to avoid egg yolk because it is bad for our cholesterol level, to eat very little red meat because it is high in fat, and that consuming potatoes leads to weight gain and type-2 diabetes.

However, as more studies are conducted, the perception about these foods have changed. Many foods that once had a reputation for increasing health risks and/or were linked to diseases are now no longer villains. Surprisingly, some have become “protectors” against the very same diseases.

If we follow dietary guidelines, there is not a single group of foods that should be eliminated. We are only advised to either eat more or less of certain food groups. As experts have said, there is no such thing as good or bad food, there is only a good and bad diet.

Here are some foods that for years have been declared as off-limits but are now acceptable, and should be included as part of a well-balanced diet.

1.RED MEAT,/b>


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WHAT WE’RE TOLD

For years, the consensus among nutritional experts is that eating red meat leads to cardiovascular disease, stroke and certain types of cancers. Harvard Health warns that every extra daily serving of unprocessed red meat increases the risk of dying prematurely by 13 per cent. Processed red meat upped the risk by 20 per cent.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW

Recently a 14-member international team of researchers concluded that the advice that red meat is bad is not backed by good scientific evidence. They have determined that there is low certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease. There is some evidence that red meat consumption might be harmful, but it's not strong enough to justify telling people to change their dietary habits.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The best approach would be to exercise portion control, it is important to ensure you consume only what your body needs. The American Institute for Cancer Research advises no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat a week.

2. EGG YOLK


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WHAT WE’RE TOLD

Egg yolks have been demonised as the cause of high blood cholesterol level, and this leads to cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke. Egg yolk is considered unhealthy because it contains dietary cholesterol, about 180mg in an average size.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW

In 2015, researchers from Tufts University in Boston couldn’t find any conclusive evidence on the relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, following the review of 40 studies. In addition, the egg yolk is much more nutritionally dense compared to white egg. It contains essential nutrients like Vitamin B6, B12, A, D, E and K. Nearly half of an egg’s protein (43 per cent) is also found in the yolk.

THE BOTTOM LINE

To get the full health benefits, eat the whole egg. The British Heart Foundation says that moderate egg consumption — up to one a day — does not increase risk of heart disease in healthy individuals. However, stick to boiled or poached eggs.

3. POTATO


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WHAT WE’RE TOLD

Due to its high starch content, many people avoid potatoes as they believe it leads to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Adding to this idea is that potatoes are commonly consumed with processed foods.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW

Potatoes are a complex carbohydrate and high in fibre which makes them more filling. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition revealed that when people followed healthy recipes, they lost weight even while eating five to seven servings of potatoes per week. In addition, the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in potatoes help in the prevention of osteoporosis, maintaining heart health and reducing the risk of infection.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Potatoes can be unhealthy from the style of cooking. To preserve their healthy nutrients, stick to cooking methods like baking, boiling or broiling, as opposed to frying.

4. COFFEE


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WHAT WE’RE TOLD

Due to its caffeine content, this beverage has been subjected to a long history of debate on whether it is bad for you. High doses of caffeine are believed to have negative effects, such as anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and increased heart rate. As such, frequent consumption of coffee is blamed for risks of heart attack.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW

Various studies have debunked the link between coffee and heart attack. A study by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, found that even drinking up to 25 cups of coffee a day was no more likely to cause a stiffening of arteries. Studies also found that coffee does not cause cancer, incontinence, brittle bones, dehydration, gallstones, liver damage, dementia or stomach ulcers.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Consuming moderate to high amounts of coffee — between three and 10 cups daily — may lower the risk of several conditions. This includes protection against Parkinson’s, liver disease, improve cognitive function and possibly reduce risk off Alzheimer’s. But it is important to avoid sugar, whipped cream and flavoured syrup in the drink. However, people who suffer from anxiety or insomnia should avoid drinking coffee or choose the decaffeinated version.

5. FULL CREAM MILK


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WHAT WE’RE TOLD

Whole milk should be avoided as it contributes to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. Whole milk has more calories and fat than low fat dairy products. Each cup of whole milk has about 145 calories and eight grammes of fat of which about four grammes are saturated fat.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW

A large new study, published in the Lancet, found that consuming whole milk or full fat dairy does not increase the risk of heart disease. In fact, total intake of two or more servings of full fat dairy was associated with a 34 per cent lower risk of stroke, and a 23 per cent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

THE BOTTOM LINE

While you don’t need to consume a huge amount of whole milk, with the evidence of some benefits, it means you don’t need to only go for low fat or skimmed milk.

6. PEANUT BUTTER


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WHAT WE’RE TOLD

It is promoted as unhealthy because of the ingredients that are added on, including unhealthy oils, salt, sugar, flavourings, artificial sweeteners and even trans fats.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW

The presence of saturated fat is as low as one serving (about two tablespoons) is only 3.3 grammes. It has more of healthy fat with 12.3g or 80 per cent unsaturated fat. Peanut butter also has fibre, some vitamins and minerals. In just two tablespoons, there are 8g of protein and 2g of fibre.

Numerous studies have shown that people who regularly include nuts or peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who rarely eat nuts.

THE BOTTOM LINE

When paired with the right food, peanut butter can be included in a well-balanced diet. Pair it up with wholegrain bread, celery, carrots, multigrain crackers, apples, and bananas to get the full benefits.

7. BUTTER


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WHAT WE’RE TOLD

Butter has long been declared as unhealthy because it is high in saturated fat and calories, which experts claim as the leading factors in cardiovascular disease.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW

There have been several studies that declared that butter is not as bad as everyone fears. Butter is a by-product of milk, and rich in vitamins A, D, E, and K2. It contains two beneficial fatty compounds, conjugated linoleic acid (which displays anti-cancer properties), and butyrate (which promotes digestive health). A study in 2016 concluded that butter is not linked to a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

THE BOTTOM LINE

While there are new studies showing the benefits of butter, moderation is still key and overdoing anything is bad for health.

8. CHOCOLATE


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WHAT WE’RE TOLD

There are too many health risks associated with eating chocolate. Many believe that its fat and sugar content lead to obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW

Avoid milk and white chocolate but go for dark. Dark chocolate contains high levels of cocoa, which has flavonoids, that act as antioxidants and may play a role in cancer prevention, heart health, and weight loss. A 2017 Danish study in British Medical Journal found that participants who ate moderate amounts of chocolate had a lower risk of atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It is still best to consume dark chocolate in moderation. Limit only to about four dark chocolate bars a week and choose those with 70 per cent cocoa or higher. Chocolate with lower percentages of cocoa have more added sugar and unhealthy fats.

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