So you thought you were up to date on what foods were healthier than others. But don't be too surprised if researchers force you to reshuffle your beliefs. That's their job. Be flexible enough to keep an open mind when considering the virtues and vices of various edibles. For example, is consuming caffeine good or bad for you? Is poultry healthier than red meat? Are plant-based foods healthier than meat or dairy? Do you know the right answers? Are there any?



Shelf Life Advice has often discussed the health benefits that can come to those who drink (but not excessively) caffeinated coffee.  (See links at the end of this article.) But, just recently, I came upon the other side of the story--an online slide show on the disadvantages of consuming caffeine-laced coffee. Some of them you probably already know.  For example, beverages with significant quantities of caffeine can raise your blood pressure and keep you awake long past your desired sleep-time. Here are some other positives I found on WebMD in a slide show entitled "What Happens When You Give Up Caffeine":


YOUNGER-LOOKING SKIN:  You want your body to produce collagen, a protein contained in your connective tissue and bones. It gives your skin tightness and elasticity.  Too little collagen leads to skin that sags and wrinkles more than it otherwise might. Caffeine, the WebMD article says, "slows down the rate at which your body produces collagen," a clear-cut disadvantage for the woman striving to be glamorous (and doesn't that include almost all women?).


BETTER ABSORPTION OF VITAMINS AND MINERALS:  If you're a big coffee-drinker, your beverage of choice may  keep your multi-vitamins from giving you the benefits you want from them--especially if you're washing the pills down with your caffeinated morning joe. Instead, try taking those pills with water, accompanied by food.


A CALMER YOU: Yes, the article's  text admits, when you give up coffee, short-term you may  suffer from fatigue, irritability, and other withdrawal symptoms.  But there are also a lot of good things to lose when you withdraw from caffeine.  Gone will be that jittery restlessness, those heart palpitations, those moments of panic that come when a  "fight or flight" response kicks in. 


LONGER, DEEPER SLEEP: You probably know that coffee can help you stay alert and awake, but  did you realize that caffeine can have those effects for as long as 12 hours after drinking it? The cup of coffee you drink at 3 p.m. to get you through your work day may also keep you tossing and turning in bed long after midnight. Do the coffee jolt and/or the delicious taste of  Starbucks specialties make it worth enduring those low-sleep (or no sleep) nights, followed by the struggle to function the next day?


FEWER TRIPS TO THE BATHROOM:  You may have noticed that caffeine is a diuretic.  It can interrupt your sleep, work, and/or leisure time enjoyment.  Learn to live without it, and you'll have more time to stay in the game.


TIPS: But how to get through life without caffeine?  Herbal tea and exercise help. Herbal tea (such as chamomile, my favorite) can keep you hydrated and calm. Exercise can give you a serotonin boost that raises both your energy level and your spirits. There is joy in life even without caffeine, but there are losses, too.  Use the links listed at the end of this article to find out what those are. Then accept the fact that the chemistry of food is a complicated matter.



The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently published some startling research.  The wide-spread  scientific conclusion is that most of us are eating too much red meat and that we'd be healthier if we substituted white meat (such as poultry).  But this recent (admittedly small) study suggests that we may to rethink this advice, according to Harvard Health Publishing.  


As we all know, consuming a lot of red meat is likely to raise the diner's bad (LDL) cholesterol level.  So along comes a 4-week study which set out to prove that eating high levels of red meat will lead to a higher LDL than eating  high levels of chicken and turkey or plant-based protein such as nuts, whole gains, soy products, and legumes. Surprise! The results didn't turn out exactly as expected.  After 113 healthy adults (ages 21 to 65) stayed on the diet for 4 weeks, yes, the red meat group's LDL increased, but the poultry group didn't do any better! What about those eating plant protein?  In the same time period, the plant-based protein group's LDL levels declined about 7%. One might guess that a year-long study would reveal even better statistics for the plant-eaters. 


This same study was the topic of a short article in the October 2019 University of California  Wellness Letter. which concluded with this comment:  "Large population studies suggest that consumption of red meat is associated with CVD in ways that may have nothing to do with its saturated fat content and its effect  on blood cholesterol. This association has not been seen with poultry intake, however." In other words, the evidence is strong enough to advise consumers to dine on white meat more often than red.  But, the article assures those who love red meat, there's no necessity to banish red meat altogether from your dinner plate.  


What has this research taught me? What do I regret? 1) For years, I've been eating Wendy's grilled chicken sandwiches instead of the beef burgers I yearned for., but evidently I accomplished nothing positive for my cholesterol.  Luckily, my cholesterol is in the normal range anyway 2) Recently, I was emailed a video showing a vegan octogenarian I know well tap dancing vigorously with her grandson. ˆIf I had a tap dancing grandson, I couldn't keep up with him. Years ago,  instead of scoffing at my friend's limited and not-so-delicious plant diet, perhaps I should have adopted it. 




Of course, the answer is "It depends."   As the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter pointed out in its April 2019 issue, plant-based does not necessarily mean healthy.  "Foods made from refined flour, sugar, and hydrogenated vegetable oils are technically 'plant-based'--but that doesn't make tem healthy."  




The  Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter lists plant roots (such as carrots), stems (such as asparagus), leaves (such as lettuce), seeds  (including whole grains) flowers (for example, broccoli and artichoke) and the seed-bearing "fruits" of  vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans. However, a plant-based diet heavy on French fries, macaroni and cheese, cake, and cola is obviously not healthy. 


Furthermore, Tufts points out, many animal-based foods are healthy or neutral, such as fish, yogurt, eggs, and cheese.  Yes, cheese is high in saturated fat, but it's also a good source of protein and calcium as well as other nutrients. 




The Tufts  article says, (as reported by the EAT-Lancet Commission, ) ..."global consumption of red meat and sugar needs to be cut in half and intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes needs to double in order to achieve a dietary pattern that is both healthful and environmentally sustainable." The article concludes with the reminder to minimize the consumption of highly processed foods, whether they are animal- or plant-based. 


Foods may be good for you or not depending upon several factors, including these: how often you eat it/them per week; if you cook the item or not and, if you do,  how; what you eat with it, and the general state of your health. In light of all these conditions, in the near future, Shelf Life Advice will discuss eggs. Watch this site. Meanwhile, enjoy some healthy eating.  





WebMD "What Happens When You Give Up Caffeine"

July 2019.


Harvard Health Publishing  "White meat raises " 'bad' cholesterol levels just like red meat" September 2019.


Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter  "Plant-Based and Unhealthy?" April 2019.


University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter  "Battle of the meats: red vs. white" October 2019.




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