‘Unhealthy’ foods that may actually be good for us
We are told to cut down on coffee, eat low fat, low carb, and eat the keto way and yet seemingly every week there is a differing opinion on what is good for us. Time and time again we see extreme recommendations for eating yet the evidence always comes back to balance and moderation.
This week I look at where we may have been getting it all wrong and you may be pleasantly surprised ….
There has been a lot of negative information regarding coffee lately so if you have been feeling guilty about indulging in another flat white or almond milk latte, feel free to drink up. We were once told that drinking coffee could be harmful to our health but new research may suggest otherwise. Research from the University of Southern Norris Comprehensive Cancer Centre of Keck Medicine have found that regular coffee consumption decreases the risk of colon cancer.
Studies showed that drinking coffee is associated with lower risk of colon cancer, and the more coffee consumed, the lower the risk. This doesn’t give you a free pass to consume as much caffeine as you possibly can remember caffeine can have a negative effect on blood pressure and heart disease however further studies suggest that regular coffee consumption may in fact reduce the risk of some cancers such as brain and breast cancer. In pre-menopausal women, the consumption of regular coffee (4 cups a day) has been associated with a 38% lower risk of breast cancer.
Grains and Legumes
Paleo advocates will tell you that rice, nuts and legumes such as beans and peas are bad for us as they contain a substance called phytic acid which can bind and therefore inhibit mineral absorption. The reality is many plant based foods including vegetables contain phytic acid. It would also appear that phytic acid may not be the baddie that Paleo lovers make it out to be and it may be ok to eat non activated nuts after all!
Phytic acid has in fact been linked to enhancement of the activity of our bodies own natural killer cells and may even inhibit tumour growth. Colon bacteria have been shown to produce potentially damaging oxygen free radicals in appreciable amounts and dietary phytic acid might suppress oxidative damage to intestinal epithelium and neighbouring cells. Studies suggest that those that consume more phytic acid are less likely to succumb to breast and prostate cancer. Legumes such as lentils, peas and chickpeas are full of fibre, protein and essential nutrients such as folic acid, necessary for healthy DNA replication, fertility and cell health.
We were once told that saturated fat caused heart disease however there is no proven scientific evidence to directly link saturated fat consumption with an increased risk of heart disease or obesity. It now appears that it is excessive sugar consumption that is linked to the majority of diet related health problems. We need a healthy amount of fat in our diet for vital functions within the body such as hormone production, nerve transmission, and healthy cell membrane function and brain health.
Our brain is made up predominantly of fat! Fat contains fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K all of which are vital for our health, wellbeing and immune health. The reality is we are not eating enough fat and are at risk of become deficient in vital fat soluble nutrients which can further contribute to disease within the body. Including fat from foods such as butter, full fat milk, and yoghurt in your diet is healthy.
Carbs have been deemed the enemy for years and the mere mention of the word carbohydrates sends many running for cover. Carbs come in many forms and not all carbs are bad. Carbs or sugars occur naturally in fruits and milk and are also added to many foods in the form of cane sugar, honey and maple syrup. They also appear as refined carbohydrates, as with white bread, white pasta or many cereals. Refined carbs offer little nutrient value and quickly turn to sugar and when eaten in excess fat in the body.
Our cells rely on carbohydrates as an efficient energy fuel source, particularly our brains. Removing carbohydrates completely from your diet can therefore lead to low energy, fatigue, brain fog and lack of mental alertness. The good carbs such as wholegrains, fruits and vegetables contain fibre and provide slow released energy throughout the day helping up to feel mentally active, alert, full of energy and happy.
Recent research from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre suggests a high carbohydrate and low protein diet, may be the most effective for stimulating the FGF21 hormone which may be responsible for longevity. Very high protein diets stimulate IGF 1 or Insulin like growth factor which may be a risk factor in those prone to cancer. A sensible approach to a healthy diet therefore is to reduce consumption of refined carbohydrates and moderate protein consumption. Balance is key.
Fruit and Fructose
Sugar consumption has recently become demonised leading many no-sugar extremists to cut out all sugar including natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables. Health complications such as obesity, fatty liver disease and diabetes arise from eating excess sugar such as the nasty high fructose corn syrup which is added to sauces, chips, salad dressings, fizzy drinks, and processed savoury and sweet goods.
Fruits contain the natural plant sugar, fructose (not high fructose corn syrup which is where all the negative controversy stems from) and minerals, vitamins and fibre that keep us hydrated and nourished. Fruit and freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices are a healthy part of any diet. Do minimise the processed pre-packed juices in the supermarkets which often have preservatives, colours and added sugars (sometimes even high fructose corn syrup) and choose fresh juice that is still full of the fresh nutrients and enzymes that we need for good health. Whole fruit is full of health promoting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre which slows down the absorption of sugar into the blood stream. Eating fresh, whole fruits is extremely healthy and cutting fruit out of your diet increases the risk of a deficiency in essential nutrients.
Eating a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet that is high in antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and fresh whole foods appears to be the most successful approach for health and wellbeing.
It is important to maintain a healthy balanced diet, and consuming too much of any one particular food is not recommended. A high intake of fresh foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables is important and include a variety of foods daily.
Scholarly article: April 1, 2016 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention
Scholarly Article: Nkondjock A. (2009) Coffee consumption and the risk of cancer: an overview. Cancer Lett, 277:121-5.
Scholarly Article: Admassu, S. “Potential Health Benefits and Problems Associated with Phytochemical in Food Legumes.” East African Journal of Sciences. 2009. 3(2) pp 116-133.