It is always helpful to keep updated with how food and drink affect our bodies, so today we are looking at a range of food and the effects on the body.

The official health advice to follow a low-fat diet had been one of the biggest mistakes in modern medical history. It was partly fuelled by commercial interests.  The diet, based on flawed science, has escalated the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the very conditions it was meant to prevent.

There is a need to avoid low-fat, processed foods, and instead, eat whole foods, such as meat, fish and dairy, say the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration, which is a UK-based charity.

The charity says that it is sugar, not fat, that is the real cause of obesity and heart disease. Not only does eating fat not make us fat, but full-fat foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese, can even protect the heart.

The current advice, which has been official policy since 1983, has resulted in many people eating junk and processed foods and ‘bad’ carbohydrates high in sugar.

Aseem Malhtra, a cardiologist and member of the charity, says the advice to eat a low-fat diet was “perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history, resulting in devastating consequences for public health”.

The obesity epidemic alone is costing western health services billions. The UK’s National Health Service estimates it’s costing £6 billion pounds.

The advice is based on flawed science. However, it has also been fuelled by the processed foods industry, which has funded research, as well as individual scientists, behind the advice over the years, says Dr Malhtra. Aside from eating fats and avoiding sugars and processed foods, people should also be advised to avoid snacking between meals.

Speaking of carbohydrates, consider potatoes. They are most definitely not one of your five a day, in terms of vegetables. Eating them four times a week increases your chances of hypertension, or high blood pressure, a new study has found.

Four servings a week of baked, boiled or mashed potatoes raise the risk by 11 per cent, or 17 per cent if they are chips or French fries. Just cutting out potatoes for one day a week, in favour of a non-starchy vegetable, will reduce the risk.

Surprisingly, eating crisps (potato chips) doesn’t raise blood pressure, say researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. They discovered the health risks of potatoes when they analysed the diets of more than 150,000 women and nearly 37,000 men whose blood pressure was normal at the beginning of the study. Risk levels were compared with those of people who ate potatoes less than once a month.  (BMJ, 2016)

Not only does eating fat not make us fat, but full-fat foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese, can even protect the heart

The diet in France is a paradox.  Although the typical diet is high in fat and sugar, the country has a lower rate of heart disease.   Researchers at Georgetown University (a private research university in Washington, US) tested the effects of resveratrol on rhesus monkeys, half of which were fed a healthy diet while the rest ate a diet high in sugar and fat. Half of those on the high fat/sugar diet were also given a resveratrol supplement.

In these animals, resveratrol showed positive changes in fatigue resistant type muscles with daily activity, and especially with a high fat/sugar diet.

Resveratrol is found in the grapes of red wine. It is also found in blueberries, raspberries, mulberries and grape skins. So rather than become a heavy wine drinker, these berries could be added to the diet. In any case, it is not an excuse to eat a ‘bad’ diet and top it up with wine!

Where do you get your calcium from? If calcium is good for our bones, consuming large amounts should give us extra protection against osteoporosis and fractures? Is that right?

Well, actually, no. Consuming moderate amounts of calcium every day (from plants rather than dairy) is more effective, new research has found.

The optimal daily amount to get the best protection is around 275-780mg for men and 250-650mg for women. Strangely, people whose intakes were over these levels seemed to have a higher risk of fractures and osteoporosis, say the researchers running the China Health and Nutrition Survey.

The source of the calcium also seems to be of importance. Rather than getting it from milk and dairy products, as we are often encouraged to, the 6,210 participants in the survey who had the most protection were those who got their calcium mostly from vegetables.

These findings, yet again, point to the same recommendations that are continually emphasised – eat more greens.

More news on the alcohol front, not that I am condoning this.  Apparently, regularly drinking a pint or two of beer seems to protect against the build-up of the sticky plaques in the brain associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Researchers from Finland and Sweden found the possible connection between beer consumed and protection against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s when they analysed the autopsy reports on 125 men, aged 35 to 70, who had died suddenly in Helsinki.

As dementia and Alzheimer’s develop over many years, the researchers say that drinking from middle age onwards could have protective effects. However, they warn that excessive drinking also has damaging effects on the brain and other organs. It seems, as with everything, that moderation is key (Alcohol Clin. Exp. Res., 2016).

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