Eggs,butter,cheese,shellfish,ghee,nuts,tea,coffee,coconut and spices have long been considered to be bad for the heart,blood pressure and weight by low-fat,low-cholesterol and anti-saturated fat campaigns. The food industry has responded with fancy labels like ‘fat-free,cholesterol-free and sugar-free,compelling you to buy a supposedly healthier product and give up foods rooted in our culture like ghee,butter,milk,coconut and spices. This has resulted in an increased intake of harmful industrial trans-fats,refined carbohydrates and nutritionally inferior diets.
But ongoing research has established that we must return to these foods to avail the health benefits they confer. For instance,several studies have shown that regular egg consumption induces little or modest changes in blood cholesterol both in people with normal cholesterol levels or high cholesterol. Other heart-protective nutrients in eggs include antioxidants (lutein and zeaxanthin),vitamins B6,B12 and E,folic acid,selenium,zinc,lecithin and choline.
Shellfish,which was given up by many due to being rich in cholesterol,has been found to be rich in omega-3 fats. Despite their cholesterol content,the benefits of omega-3 fats in shellfish far outweigh any risks. Omega-3 fats help keep the arteries open and allow blood to flow smoothly.
Dairy products too have been reviewed extensively. Low-fat dairy (up to three servings) has been recommended as a part of a healthy diet and even for those who have coronary artery disease,high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Contrary to fears regarding its obesity-promoting property,dairy seems to be doing completely the opposite. Benefits seem to be owing to its high calcium content and presence of branched chain amino acids,fatty acids and whey proteins.
High-fat foods like nuts and seeds have been found to have several beneficial components for heart diseases including hypertension and diabetes. Their role in weight management too has been clearly established. Nuts have special amino acids (building blocks of protein) which control appetite and prevent craving. Research shows that frequent seed consumption is associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein,interleukin -6 and fibrinogen) which are responsible for cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk.
Saturated fats like ghee,butter and coconut too have been found to have a place in a healthy diet. With no adverse effects on health if taken in moderation,cardio-protective role and immuno-boosting properties are being suggested. Epidemiological and experimental data regarding coconut-eating groups note that dietary coconut oil does not lead to high serum cholesterol or to high coronary artery disease mortality. Some studies have shown that when coconut oil is added to otherwise normal diets,there is either no change or a decrease in total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol).
Those with a spicy palate need not worry either. Several cardio-protective and other health benefits lie in your spice box. Right from turmeric,cinnamon,fenugreek seeds,peppers,fennel and cardamom to red chillies and nigella seeds,each one has been found to have healthy properties,particularly useful in heart disease,diabetes and obesity.
Similarly,tea and chocolates have been found by researchers to contain polyphenolic compounds called flavanoids,known for their health benefits including antioxidant activity,preventing oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol,anticancer effects,lowering blood pressure and inhibition of platelet activity and inflammation. In addition,tea contains significant amounts of folic acid,which helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Several health concerns have been attributed to drinking coffee. Numerous studies now,however,reveal that coffee consumption and caffeine do not contribute to cardiovascular disease,including high blood pressure and stroke,even in people who drink more than four cups of coffee a day. A recent study reports that coffee is a major source of dietary anti-oxidants and may inhibit inflammation and thereby lower the risk of cardio-vascular and other inflammatory diseases.