Three Common Foods: Healthy or Harmful

There are many foods that are often misunderstood. Are they healthy or not? Nutrition is a difficult science where you can “prove” two opposing theories. Here are three very common foods that I frequently get questions about. Are they good additions to a healthy diet or should they be avoided at all costs. I will try to give you some information so you can make your own personal decision about whether they are right for you.

1. Eggs:

For many years, I was afraid to eat eggs. My cholesterol was very close to 200 and I was told eggs are high in cholesterol and mine was about at the limit before my traditional medicine doctor would want to start medication. So that meant very few, if any eggs for me. I started eating egg whites because I learned that all the cholesterol and fat lived in the yolk. Well, guess what, that wasn’t the whole story. I am so happy that we have learned more over the years. I love eggs and I eat them every day, including the yolks. Here’s what the latest research says.

Eggs are an amazing source of micronutrients. They really are a super food. Each egg is about 75 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein. They are a great source of choline for brain health and are loaded with vitamins including A,E,D,K beta carotene and Omega 3 fatty acids, all good stuff. Don’t just eat the whites. While most of the fat and cholesterol lives in the yolk, so do all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Eat your yolks!

2. Coconut Oil:

Several years ago you may remember all the hype about coconut oil and the fact that it is a highly saturated fat and you should avoid it at all costs. I remember thinking I can never have movie popcorn again, so sad. Well now you may be hearing that despite being a saturated fat, coconut oil is the new health food and you should switch to cooking with coconut oil and in fact use all coconut containing products. So what’s the deal? Is coconut oil good for you?

Here are the facts. Coconut oil has been found to help normalize blood lipids and protect the liver from damage due to toxins we take in every day. It has been known to possibly help prevent kidney and gall bladder disease, and is associated with improved blood sugar and insulin control. Those benefits may even help in the prevention and management of diabetes. In addition, coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Coconut oil is thought to help strengthen mineral absorption, which is important for healthy teeth and bones, and can also help improve the condition and appearance of the scalp, hair and skin when ingested or topically applied.

Coconut oil is one of the richest sources of lauric acid. This is a fatty acid found in mother’s milk that has an antiviral effect in the body. Coconut oil is naturally stable at higher temperatures so it is a good oil to use for cooking. Newer studies are also showing that coconut oil is beneficial for the thyroid, boosts metabolism and actually does not raise cholesterol.

Other reported benefits of coconut oil include:

· Improvements in symptoms of Alzheimers

· Improvements in skin conditions and hair health

· Kills bacteria and viruses

· Improves diabetes

· Promotes weight loss and preserves muscle mass

3. Coffee/caffeine:

Some of the benefits of caffeine include enhanced concentration, increased energy and alertness and even improved mood and memory. There are also studies that show enhanced athletic performance allowing you to exercise for longer durations. Caffeine has also shown reduced muscle pain by releasing hormones that suppress the sensation of pain. There are also antioxidants in caffeine that help prevent free radical damage. Caffeine keeps dopamine levels active which could help prevent diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

With all that good stuff, you may feel like this gives you a free pass to drink as much of your favorite brew as you like. But before you go overboard, you might consider the downside before you reach for that second or third cup.

Caffeine is a stimulant and can cause increased contractions of stomach muscles causing all kinds of GI distress like abdominal pain, diarrhea and increased bowel movements. Drinking caffeine is sort of like borrowing energy. Your energy level goes up and then usually plummets which makes you feel like you need more or crave it. It’s sort of the same response as eating sugar. Also, caffeine has been shown to decrease blood flow to the heart during exercise, cause jitters, sleep problems and even heart palpitations. Caffeine has also been shown to increase blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics and be a leading cause of heartburn or acid reflux in many people. Multiple cups of coffee can raise blood pressure for several hours, which could be associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Caffeine consumption affects the body all day, magnifying stress levels by increasing stress hormones. Coffee can inhibit absorption of nutrients and cause the excretion of important minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Women can be particularly affected as PMS, osteoporosis, infertility and menopausal symptoms can all be exacerbated by caffeine consumption. As little as 1 cup a day can dehydrate the body, contribute to aging of the skin and kidneys and slow the ability of the liver to detoxify toxins.

So what should you do? Well here’s my recommendation. I would suggest that a little caffeine can’t hurt too much. However some of you are dependent on it and can’t get through the day without it. If this sounds like you, you should probably cut back. I experimented a lot with this myself. I was having problems sleeping. So I took a good look at my caffeine consumption. I was having 2 cups a day, the second one at around 3 pm. So I switched that pm cup to decaf. That helped a little with the sleep. But I also noticed I was having a little less GI distress as well. Then I went to half caffeine in the am and that was even better. So finally I decided to go completely caffeine free. That didn’t really have any effect on my sleep. But I did notice a drop in energy. So that’s about where I am today. I am down to one cup of half-caf a day in the morning. If that sounds like nothing to you, I assure you that after a few headaches and other withdrawal symptoms, you will feel better. By the way, decaf really does taste the same as regular coffee. You’ll get used to it. Occasionally I might sneak in another cup of decaf or half-caf in the afternoon. But boy, when you are taking in very little caffeine, even just a small increase makes a huge difference. One time I went to Dunkin Donuts for my afternoon decaf and they neglected to do the “decaf” piece of it. Oh my goodness. Within half an hour my heart was racing and I couldn’t even hold my hand out straight without shaking. That doesn’t really sound like something that’s good for you. So the bottom line here is this: Most people drink too much coffee and depend on it for many things, especially energy. In looking at the pros and cons, I would suggest cutting back as much as you can, especially if you suffer in any way from tummy trouble or sleep problems. Find what works for you personally, but for improved health and sleep, cut back.

I hope I’ve cleared up a few questions for you. In the end you need to make up your own mind as many of the above-mentioned foods have studies supporting their health benefits and studies supporting their negative effect on the body. Hopefully I’ve given you enough good information to make good educated choices for your own healthy diet.