Five foods you thought were bad
Some of our favourite foods have been given a bad rap over the years — but now, experts say that not only are they fine in moderation, but they’re actually good for you. Here are 5 foods that have been redeemed because of their healthy benefits. So go ahead and live a little — and indulge (a little).
In recent years, dark chocolate has been in the news for its healthy benefits. It contains an abundance of flavonoids — the same powerful antioxidants found in red wine, green tea, fruits and vegetables — which have been associated with a decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and stroke. (See Have a little chocolate for your health.)
And now there’s more good news for chocolate lovers. According to a new study out of Germany, small doses of dark chocolate can decrease your risk for heart attack or stroke by nearly 40 per cent. The reason? The flavonols found in chocolate help the muscles in blood vessels to widen, which can lead to a drop in blood pressure, experts say.
For the study, published in the European Heart Journal, researchers followed 20,000 people over eight years. It’s the first study to track the health benefits of chocolate over this long of a period of time.
But, alas, now for the caveat: When it comes to chocolate, it’s all too easy to have too much of a good thing. Overindulgence can lead to weight gain, which is a major risk factor for heart problems and strokes. Participants in the German study, for example, consumed only about six grams of chocolate per day — or the equivalent of about one square of a chocolate bar.
And in case you’re wondering why chocolate seems to be so universally loved — apparently, this has to do with the mood-altering chemicals found in chocolate, which experts say trip the serotonin receptors and create a feeling of “falling in love”.
Have you been avoiding eggs because you’re worried about high cholesterol or heart disease? Research has shown that healthy adults can enjoy an egg every day without increasing their risk of heart disease — and according to the American Heart Association, the lutein found in egg yolks actually protects against the progress of early heart disease.
Eggs, which contain only about 70 calories per egg, are loaded with vitamins and minerals that help, among other things, to maintain good vision and foster brain development and function, experts say. They are also a good source of high quality protein and one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. (In case you were wondering, there are no nutritional differences between brown and white eggs.)
The avocado, once banished for its high fat content, has also made a comeback. While it’s true that this delicious buttery fruit is indeed high in fat — with about 30 grams of fat for a medium-sized avocado — nutritionists say that most of the fat is monounsaturated or the ‘good’ kind that can actually lower your cholesterol.
Studies have also shown that avocados are rich in beta-sitosterol, a natural substance shown to significantly lower blood cholesterol levels. But while adding avocados to your diet can provide some healthy benefits as well as great flavour, remember that moderation is key to prevent weight gain. (Tasty tip: Replace the mayo on your sandwich with avocado slices.)
Another benefit? Like chocolate, avocados are thought to be an aphrodisiac. (See Foods to put you in the mood.)
While this tasty topping for pancakes may be loaded with sugar and calories, real maple syrup also contains lots of healthy antioxidants. In fact, researchers from the University of Rhode Island found no fewer than 20 antioxidants in 20 litres of maple syrup from Quebec, including 13 never before found in maple syrup.
These healthy compounds include lignans that are also found in flax seed and whole wheat, a stilbene, which is in the same chemical class as the red wine extract resveratrol. Maple syrup also contains flavonoids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties, and phenolic acids, commonly found in berries and coffee.
Not surprisingly, researchers caution to use maple syrup in moderation to avoid weight gain — and to keep in mind that the health benefits are associated only with real maple syrup, not commercial syrups with maple flavouring. (For more on the study see The Zoomer Report.)
Worried about the fat content in nuts? Again, if eaten in moderation, nuts can be a healthy and delicious addition to your diet. Many nuts, including almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, and chestnuts, are good sources of monounsaturated fat, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that can help to prevent heart disease and cancer. Also, experts say that a few nuts can even facilitate weight loss, by preventing hunger and feelings of deprivation. (See Healthy snacking.)
Sources: European Heart Journal; American Heart Association; Heart and Stroke Foundation; WebMD; BBC: Eggs.ca
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Roman Sigaev