You Are What You Eat: The Truth About Soy, Caffeine, and Other Controversial Foods

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.


Dark Chocolate

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.


Many consider soy whole foods like tofu, tempeh, and soy milk to be vital for healthy living and studies have found that they may help protect against breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. Further, soy whole foods have phytoestrogens (chemicals, similar to human estrogen, that plants make) which help balance female hormones. Soy is also one of the only plant proteins (it contains all nine essential amino acids our bodies need to function properly), making it a great substitute for meat if you're a vegetarian. However, over 90% of soy in the U.S. has been genetically modified and some believe that the aforementioned estrogen-like substance may contribute to the onset of certain cancers and mood swings when eaten in high qualities. For more on this topic click here.

Red Wine

Of all wines, red wine has the highest concentration of the heart-healthy antioxidant resveratrol which has been shown to prevent blood vessel damage and reduce LDL cholesterol. Unfortunately, what most people don't know is that most red wine-related studies have been on animals and studies have also shown that red wine may increase the levels of triglycerides in the blood.


White Wine

Research has shown that drinking white wine can help keep lung tissues healthy, but wine wine is also the most acidic of all wines (i.e. it's bad for your teeth) and for the same amount of calories as red wine you get considerably less resveratrol.


Sparkling Wine

Since sparkling wine/champagne is often made with both red and white grapes, it has a high level of resveratrol and fewer calories than other types of wine. Unfortunately, it's also considered to be a common migraine trigger.

For all wines, it's important to remember that moderation is key. While one glass can reduce your risk of having a heart attack, raise heart healthy omega-3, reduce your risk of a stroke, increase bone strength, and improve your memory, two or more can weaken bones, may hasten the onset of Alzheimer's, can increase your risk for a stroke, and increase your chance for developing breast cancer. Lastly, years worth of studies have shown that alcohol, in general, has been associated with various forms of cancer.

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