Food and health properties
Food makers make all sorts of claims about the remarkable health effects of their products. But what is the truth?
Wholefood simply means unrefined foods such as oats, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice, which are naturally full of vitamins and minerals, unlike processed foods from which they have been removed or destroyed. Wholefoods do not contain any additives such as artificial flavourings, colourings or preservatives. A high intake of wholegrain foods is often advocated for its disease-protective benefits in adults.
Wholefoods contain plenty of fibre, or roughage, which has a stimulating effect on the digestive system. They also carry less risk of chemical residues, less nitrates, and more vitamin C. As wholefoods are often eaten fresher they are more likely to have retained more essential vitamins and minerals. This type of food takes longer to grow, thus the natural sugars are generally easier to digest.
Wholegrain intake has been associated with a reduced risk of insulin resistance. This condition, in which the body fails to respond properly to the blood-sugar-regulating hormone insulin, is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes in the longer term.
Functional foods, also known as neutraceuticals, first took off in Japan, and then spread to the United States and Europe. They are foods (often cereals, milk drinks, yoghurts and snacks) with added ingredients that are supposed to provide health benefits to consumers, and are often marketed with express health claims such as: 'for healthy hearts and minds'; 'actively lowers cholesterol'; 'bacteria believed to promote a healthy digestion'.
Look around any food shop and you'll soon see a functional food. It could have added vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre, fish oil, omega-3 oils, proteins, bacterial cultures, or strange 'cholesterol-lowering' ingredients.
There is very little research to back up the majority of the supposed health-giving properties of the 'active' ingredients. Just because a diet rich in beta-carotene is thought to protect against some cancers, it doesn't necessarily mean that taking artificial doses of beta-carotene will reduce your cancer risk. In fact two large studies found that taking high dose beta-carotene tablets was linked with a slight increase in cancer risk, so perhaps some functional foods could end up doing more harm than good.
The Food Safety Act prohibits'medicinal' claims: claims to treat a disease correct or modifyphysiological functions. However, 'health maintenance' claims that donot refer specifically to a disease may be lawful. There is no specificlaw that applies to adverts for functional foods.
If dishonest claims are made, local trading standards officers andself-regulatory bodies carry out enforcement of the law. Voluntarycodes have not been effective at preventing misleading advertising.
Suggestionsto improve the current situation include a mandatory (non-optional)code of practice for manufacturers that should be enforced by anofficial body such as the Food Standards Agency. Labels could also haveto state the exact amount of functional ingredient.
It depends on the quality. Eat processed burgers and cheap sausagesand you know that it's not doing you any good. Eat some good cuts of red meat and you'll be tucking into a convenient source of iron,vitamin B12, and protein containing a full range of amino acids. Their on in red meat is in the form of haem iron, which is absorbed more easily than non-haem iron from non-meat sources. However, red meat is also a source of saturated fats, which the average person in the UK should be eating less of so, we shouldn't be overdosing on it.
Eating red meat is a useful way of getting certain nutrients, but it is not essential for good health. If you do decide not to eat red meat, you will have to remember to eat other foods containing iron (eg cereals,green vegetables and pulses) and B12. Non-haem iron will be better absorbed if you eat foods that are rich in Vitamin C at the same meal. Avoid drinking tea and coffee with meals as these can interfere with iron absorption. Men need 8.7mg of iron per day and, women need 14.8mg per day.
Here's the good news - chocolate contains essential trace elements and nutrients such as iron, calciumand potassium, and vitamins A, B1, C, D and E. Cocoa powder is also the highest natural source for Magnesium, deficiency of which is linked with hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, joint problems and pre-menstrual tension (PMT or PMS).
Chocolate is good for our mental health, it contains serotonin and phenylethylamine both of which are mood lifting agents found naturally in the human brain and released when we are feeling happy or in love. Eating chocolate releases these agents into the system, thus it canprovide a 'lift' when we are feeling down or depressed.
And the bad news? Most of us choose 'brand name' milk chocolate, lowin chocolate solids but extremely high in sugar content. This isn't healthy, but does little harm in small doses. Try to opt for plain chocolate containing a minimum of 70% cocoa solids, or if you prefer milk chocolate it should contain a minimum of 30% cocoa solids.
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