Back-and-Forth Foods

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On some days, they are hailed for their edible health virtues; on others, their culinary curse. Some studies boast of their abundance of life-extending chocolate, which has been found to promote heart health — while also clogging its nutrition for WebMD’s Weight Loss Clinic, who also runs a private practice in Atlanta. “Generally, one study does not make a difference in the grand scheme of a certain food’s role in your diet. But that doesn’t stop it from making headlines.”

Especially when the latest findings suggest there are healthful properties in some of the most notorious vices in your kitchen, or possible dangers in foods that are generally praised for their nutritional gold.

Read Between the Headlines

So how do you know the real story behind the headlines to better determine how they should rate on your plate?

“A lot depends on how, where, and with whom the study was conducted,” says Marilyn Tanner, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and pediatric dietary study coordinator at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. When you hear the latest health finding about these or any foods, she suggests you note these factors:

  • Where it’s published. Bigger medical journals tend to publish better quality studies. “If it’s published in the big journals — TheJournal of the American Medical Association, TheNew England Journal of Medicine or the Journal of the American Dietetic Association — it means something, and you should weigh those findings more than a study posted on a food manufacturer’s web site,” Tanner tells WebMD.

  • Where it was conducted. “Studies done in university settings are more likely to be trustworthy than those done at private labs or in the sponsoring companies’ own lab,” she says. “In multicenter studies, you’ve got different races, ethnic backgrounds, and populations, which can make food findings even more important. For instance, in the East and West Coasts, there is tons of fresh seafood, which would play a role in eating habits and health effects compared to doing a fish consumption study in the Midwest.”

  • Its length and size. Generally, the larger and longer the study, the greater its credibility, and the more one can apply the results of the study to the general population.

Should You Have It or Not?

That said, here is the latest lowdown on some controversial cuisine:

Coffee

In recent decades, some 19,000 studies have examined coffee’s impact on health. “Overall, research shows that coffee is far more healthful than it is harmful,” says Tomas DePaulis, PhD, research scientist at Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Coffee Studies. Among the benefits noted in multiple studies: Compared to non-drinkers, having two to three cups a day translates to a lower risk of Parkinson’s, cancer and birth defects in even small doses. “I’ve done research on PCBs, and it’s really an issue between what the FDA believes are safe levels and what the EPA says should be looked at,” says Zelman. “Thus far, the association between salmon and potential cancer is theoretical at best.”

Advice: Unless you’re a grizzly bear in feeding season, it’s highly unlikely you’d get enough PCBs from salmon to cause problems. Many experts, including Zelman, contend salmon is safe in the often recommended two-or-so servings per week.

Eggs

Forget those worries that eggs . Despite the fact that a single egg has 213 mg of cholesterol — two-thirds the daily recommended levels — newer research indicates that it also contains a substance that, in laboratory animals at least, actually blocks the absorption of cholesterol from entering the bloodstream.

“Eggs are incredibly nutritious and can be worked into every meal,” says Zelman.

Advice: Most experts agree that it’s completely safe for most people to have one egg a day.

The bottom line of it all: “All foods can fit into your diet, but often it’s a question of how much of them you should have,” says Tanner.