Heath and nutrition is a subject that seems to get more and more attention with each passing day, and yet many advanced Western societies, the United States in particular, face increasing rates of obesity, cancer and heart disease. So what gives? The main problem is the staggering amount of misinformation that permeates the nutrition landscape. Many of the healthiest foods available have been incorrectly labeled as unhealthy or even dangerous, so here we’ll highlight 10 foods that have gotten an undeserved bad reputation.
Eggs are a fantastic nutritional choice, and not just egg whites, but the entire egg. Yolks are rich in protein, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and selenium. Many nutrition experts have warned the public against eating the cholesterol-laden yolks, but a 2007 Harvard Medical School study found no link between moderate egg consumption and heart disease. The International Journal of Obesity also cites a 2008 study that concluded eggs were a better breakfast option than a bagel.
Dark chocolate has long been touted for its health benefits, but few realize how healthy chocolate can really be in its purest form, raw cacao. Cacao is actually the world’s best source of antioxidants, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) database. David Wolfe, author of Naked Chocolate, says that unadulterated chocolate also sharpens cognitive functioning and increases feelings of love and happiness.
8. Hemp Seeds
If you think of hemp seeds only in terms of the cannabis plant, or marijuana, think again. Available in health food stores or by mail order, hemp seeds not only provide heart-healthy Omega fatty acids, but they provide omega-6 and omega-3 fats in the ideal ratio of less than 4:1. The typical Western diet is far too heavy in omega-6 fats, thus setting the stage for several degenerative diseases. An unbalanced ratio of omega fatty acids can lead to cardiovascular disease, poor development in children and cancer. These findings were announced at a 1999 workshop for the U.S. National Institute of Health. Hemp is also an excellent source of protein with a wide range of amino acids.
Honey often gets lumped in with other sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup and sugar, but in moderation it provides wonderful health benefits. Honey can be especially beneficial for athletes because it provides easily accessible carbohydrates for sustained strength and energy. This natural sweetener can also soothe headaches and stomach pains. It is important, however, that you purchase raw honey because the heating process destroys some of honey’s nutritional value.
6. Aloe Vera Juice
Most people are aware of the benefits aloe vera can have when applied to the skin, but it is even more useful as a beverage. Aloe vera juice has been touted as a health miracle by the alternative health website naturalnews.com. Website editor Mike Adams offers a litany of benefits provided by the aloe vera plant: among other things, it lowers cholesterol and high blood pressure, relieves constipation, reduces inflammation, prevents kidney stones and shields the body from oxidation stress.
Anyone who is a coffee drinker has undoubtedly heard countless warnings about the need to limit daily consumption, and while it is true that overindulgence in caffeine can be dangerous, there are recent studies with promising findings for java junkies. In April 2010 CNN.com reported that new evidence showed coffee drinkers were less likely to suffer from a wide range of diseases including: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. It is currently unknown why coffee seems to be a preventative factor in certain diseases, but the results of the study were the same for both regular and decaf brews.
Many health-conscious eaters have forsaken red meat as an artery-clogging, life-shortening, dietary disaster. Unfortunately for those folks, abstaining from beef is not only difficult, it is also a poor health choice. Eaten in moderation, lean beef is a healthy choice, but there is a catch: the beef you consume should be organic and grass-fed. Organic, grass-fed beef is loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid, which is thought to aid in the prevention of cancer. Another interesting tidbit: Mark Sisson, author of the best-selling book Primal Blueprint, claims it is nearly impossible for E-coli to exist in grass-fed beef.
Parsley isn’t just some mysterious green plant meant to increase the aesthetic appeal of cheeseburgers; it has legitimate nutritional and medicinal qualities. Parsley is a great source of iron, vitamins A, C and K and is a strong antioxidant. It also has the ability to reduce mild inflammation and offers relief from digestive difficulties.
Butter is another animal product that has been shunned by dieters in favor of low-fat alternatives that are supposedly healthier. The truth, though, is sadly ironic. The butter imitations are almost always made with hydrogenated oils, which are known to scar the heart arteries. Butter, however, is a nutritious animal product that is avoided because of its saturated fat content. Saturated fat has long been blamed for heart disease, but in January 2010 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition dispelled this myth, instead stating that the overconsumption of refined sugars and carbohydrates is the culprit for many health issues in the United States. Butter is also a good source of selenium, an often-overlooked antioxidant, and butyric acid, a fatty acid that is anti-carcinogenic. All this is not to suggest butter is a health food, but eaten in moderation, it’s a much healthier option than margarine.
1. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is certainly the most controversial item on the list, as many health organizations advise against its use because it has a high content of saturated fats. However, a growing number of natural food advocates are praising the oil’s role in promoting good health. Proponents claim coconut oil kills bacteria, reduces inflammation, helps balance the body’s cholesterol ratio, aids in the absorption of nutrients and boosts the immune system. Be sure to avoid processed, or partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which is unhealthy.