Eating, one of life’s simpler pleasures, is no longer that. Every bite you take comes slathered with guilt and paranoia. Even obsessive-compulsive diet trackers struggle to keep up with the rapid flip-flops of nutritional advice that routinely makes news. Is butter healthier than toast? Are the fresh juices you have daily slowly nudging you to death sooner than later? Should ice cream be jettisoned in favour of flavoured yoghurt? (Yes, yes, and no)
Have overdosed on nutritional wisdom over the past decade, I choose the middle path. I pretty much eat whatever I like as long as it is freshly cooked, but eat smaller portions of it. I avoid processed food full of sodium (salt), sugar and artery-clogging trans fat that individually and together raises the risk of a clutch of diseases ranging from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers.
Fad diets suck
New nutritional wisdom bears this out and advises people not to cut back on any one food with single-minded zeal. Fad diets that oversimplify advice – no carb, high protein, low fat, no dairy-diets, to name just a few – come in more flavours than ice-cream and rarely last the test of time because they are not based on science. Apart from the three taboos – sugar, salt and transfats found in processed foods -- no food is completely bad as long as you don’t have too much of it.
Here’s what new findings say about some popular but much maligned foods.
Butter is back
Having a bit of butter each day won’t kill you, concluded a major study in published in The Annals of Internal Medicine, which junked the widely-held belief that butter clogs up the arteries and triggers heart attacks and strokes.
Eating one tablespoon (14 gm) of butter a day actually benefitted – it lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by 4%, and raised the risk of death by just 1%. There was no significant link with heart disease and stroke, found they study, which reviewed nine studies from 15 countries that between them included data from close to 640,000 adults.
Despite being packed with calories (30 gm have 190-200 calories that can add up to 2 kg a month), the fibre, nutrients and healthy oils in nuts, often referred to as dried fruits in India, does more good than harm. Daily nut-eaters are less likely to die of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease, which are among the top five causes of death worldwide. Overall, those who ate nuts every day are 20% less likely to die than those who shun nuts, showed data from close to 120,000 people published in The New England Journal of Medicine .
The composition of nuts—fibre, healthy unsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals—lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol, raises HDL “good” cholesterol, reduces inflammation and lowers blood pressure. Since all nuts – walnuts, almonds, pistachios and peanuts -- are high in protein and fibre, they help regulate blood sugar levels and lower hunger pangs, which leads to weight loss.
Eggs for health
After being shunned for more than two decades for their high cholesterol content, eggs are back with the proverbial bang. Eating one egg a day does not raise the risk heart disease even in people with a genetic predisposition, reported a Finnish study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study found no link between eating eggs with the thickening of the carotid artery walls, which can trigger strokes.
The findings concur with the 2013 Harvard study that found eating one egg a day did not cause heart disease or stroke. One egg has 75 calories, 7 gm protein, 5 gm of fat, and 1.6 gm of saturated fat, along with iron, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and all nine essential amino acids.
All fruit are good
Fruit, even sweet ones like grapes and bananas, give you an undeniable nutritional vitamin and mineral edge when eaten whole. A study of close to 200,000 people showed that those who ate more fruits lowered risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 20% while those who had more juice raised diabetes risk by as much, reported Harvard researchers in The British Medical Journal. Irrespective of the type of fruit – the study included grapes, raisins, peaches, plums, apricots, prunes, bananas, cantaloupe, apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries and blueberries – eaten, the benefits of having two servings (one cup of whole fruit, half a cup of dried fruit) a week remained.
Long considered “natural” and nutritious, a glass or two of juice — including freshly-squeezed juice — a day causes weight gain and raised diabetes risk. Each glass (200 ml) of unsweetened juice has 200 to 300 calories, with a glass a day adding upwards of 1 kg each month.