It's not always easy for those of us who want to be healthy to know which foods are beneficial and which ones aren't. From chocolate to gluten, here's a look at some of the most notable gastronomic controversies to help you to decide what should be part of your everyday diet.
Considered a good source of antioxidants, a small amount of dark chocolate may even help reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow. It also stimulates serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter in our brain. Moreover, a recent study found that when highly stressed participants ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks, the level of stress hormones in their bodies were significantly lowered. Additionally, theobromine, an ingredient in dark chocolate, has been shown to suppress a cough.
The problem is that for chocolate to be beneficial, the amount must be kept to a minimum (studies are mixed, but for the most part they say 30g a week is optimal). Further, you have to pay attention to the quality of the dark chocolate. Most chocolate is overly processed and full of fat and sugar. Make sure the chocolate your are buying has at least 72 percent cacao and preferably that it is raw and unprocessed (see fine & raw for great options).
In moderation, caffeine can help sooth sore muscles and increase energy (and along with that, increase physical performance). However, it can also cause anxiety, nausea, irritability, and sleeplessness. It's also important to note that coffee is often heavily sprayed with pesticides, which can be toxic to the body.
Many people have a sensitivity to dairy. It has been shown to be difficult to digest and many find that it causes excess mucus, which can worsen existing allergies. Further, milk that isn't whole (i.e. the least humanly altered) and isn't organic is very likely to contain antibiotics and hormones (farmers pump hormones to increase milk production). When I spoke with Dr. Lipman, he stressed that there are a number of plant sources with which to get our calcium fill and that contrary to the popular belief that dairy helps ensure bone health, some studies seem to indicate that dairy consumption may lead to osteoporotic fracture.
While there are people who avoid gluten — a grain found in wheat, rye, barley, along with a slew of other products like malt, beer, flavorings… — because they have celiac disease (destruction of the lining in the small intestine after gluten is ingested), an increasing amount of people are avoiding it because they deam it unhealthy. Dr. Lipman told me that he believes it's not that gluten is inherently unhealthy, but it's what we've done to it that is unhealthy. To that end he tells all of his patients to avoid gluten whenever they can. The reason Dr. Lipman and many nutritionists are gluten averse is because it's difficult to digest, even for those that do not suffer from celiac disease. Some studies have also fond that reactions to gluten can often include headaches, fatigue, and depression, which is why cutting it out to test if you have a sensitivity is often recommended. The good news is that because of increased gluten awareness, alternatives like quinoa, millet, and amaranth abound.
Unfortunately a gluten-free label does not necessarily mean the product in question is healthy and the typical gluten-free diet may be low in essential vitamins and dietary fiber, while being high in fat and sugar. When buying a product labeled as gluten-free make sure to read the nutrition label.