Is your healthy diet killing you?

Recent evidence has suggested that staple foods in a healthy diet such as wholegrain breads and meat can actually do more harm than good. Is what we consider to be safe and healthy food actually contributing to global obesity and cardiovascular issues?

Negative health consequences of fast foods such as McDonalds and Burger King are a matter of public knowledge. However nutritional studies from across the globe are giving credence to the argument that brown bread can be just as damaging for our bodies as a big Mac and fries.

Wheat based products like brown bread are the main source of gluten in our diet. Gluten is a protein, which needs to be avoided by those with coeliac disease as it causes significant gastrointestinal problems. Up until quite recently it was believed that it was only ceoliacs who needed to eliminate it from their diets.

Products that contain gluten (brown bread, whole wheat bagels and wraps etc) are routinely promoted as being healthy food options by nutritionists, despite worrying evidence to the contrary. Ireland’s food advisory body, Safefood, state on their website that we should have whole grain bread with every meal as it is “great for keeping the gut healthy”.

A trial at the Monash University Department of Medicine and Gastroenterology linked gluten to cases of damaged stomach lining (so much for keeping the gut healthy), cardiovascular disease, digestive issues and bloating. Even more worrying was the connection between gluten and schizophrenia, autism and cerebellar ataxia. (It is worth noting that this trial was carried out on subjects who did not have Coeliac disease.)

It is not just wheat that we should be wary of – processed meats have also come under fire recently. The World Cancer Research Fund’s latest study “recommends avoiding processed meat” as it poses a risk of causing bowel cancer, and they are not alone in their findings. A review by University of Zurich has highlighted links between pancreatic cancer and heart disease and the consumption of processed meat.  The conclusion of the review was to recommend that if you are to indulge in processed meat, then you should eat no more than 20 grams per day. That is roughly the equivalent to three quarters of an average sized rasher.

But why are processed meats so bad? Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm believe that the chemicals used to preserve processed meats are turned into harmful chemicals in our bodies when we ingest them, which in turn affects our DNA, thus increasing our chances of cancer. This will come as bad news for those of us who like a fry up in the morning!

Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom;  the University of Connecticut’s Dept. of Nutritional Sciences has given eggs the all clear. Eggs were previously linked to heart disease due to their high cholesterol content. This myth has since been debunked in many recent studies which prove that eggs contain good cholesterol which is essential to healthy living and no links whatsoever to heart disease were found.

Similarly, sodium was traditionally given a bad wrap. Sodium was long associated with high blood pressure causing health authorities to advise us to reduce our intake to a maximum of one teaspoon of salt a day. However, scientists at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth conducted studies and showed that a reduction in sodium intake has no effect on cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure rates. Interestingly, too little sodium can in fact be harmful, with links to insulin resistance, an increase of bad cholesterol and a greater risk in type II diabetes reported .

While these reports are certainly food for thought (pun intended), it is best to keep in mind that moderation with everything is always the key.

By James Creagh

Image: Arlo B via 

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