Surprising Food Facts Miavita Features

by Sara Ryba, R.D., C.D.N. and Janine Mojica

Too often, "common knowledge" about food takes a long time to catch up with new research. Check out some surprising food facts that defy the conventional wisdom.

Old news: Nuts make you fat; don't eat them.

New news: Nuts can help prevent heart disease.

It's true that nuts can promote weight gain if you eat a lot of them. But in moderation, they provide omega-3s, aka "good fat." Omega-3s, also found in fish, may reduce heart disease risk.

A recent study at the University of California, Davis, found that adding walnuts to both regular and low-fat diets significantly cut total cholesterol and LDL (or "bad") cholesterol.

Old news: Use margarine instead of butter; it's better for your heart.

New news: Stick margarine has as much artery-clogging fat as butter.

Stick margarine contains trans fatty acids, which are just as dangerous to your heart as the saturated fat in butter. Trans fats are added to margarine to produce a firmer consistency.

A recent study in The Netherlands found that blood vessels' ability to dilate was reduced by nearly a third in people who ate a diet high in trans fatty acids (margarine) compared to those who ate saturated fats (butter).

Tub margarine has less trans fatty acids than stick margarine. You're better off using either tub margarine or butter sparingly than stick margarine.

Old news: Don't use table salt. It causes high blood pressure.

New news: If you don't have high blood pressure, table salt isn't likely to give it to you.

Research shows that unless you are sensitive to sodium, salt may not raise blood pressure - and salt sensitivity is rare, even among individuals with high blood pressure.

Eating a healthy diet, with at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, is much more important in controlling blood pressure than sodium intake.

"When you're on the correct diet, sodium plays little role in elevating blood pressure," says David McCarron, M.D., professor of medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University.

Old news: A glass of red wine with dinner is good for your heart.

New news: Moderate consumption of any alcoholic beverage can be good for you.

Moderate consumption of alcohol - 1 - 2 drinks per day - has been shown to support good health, not just diminish the risk of heart disease.

A study referenced in the April 2001 issue of JAMA suggests alcohol may reduce heart-related death risk by raising the levels of "good" HDL cholesterol in the blood and by thinning the blood modestly by inhibiting clotting factors.

Old news: Coffee and caffeinated beverages are bad for you.

New news: Caffeine may have health benefits.

Over the years, researchers have explored caffeine's supposed links to heart disease, pancreatic cancer, osteoporosis, infertility, intestinal problems and miscarriages. But none of it has been borne out.

Health experts now report that unless you overdo it, coffee and caffeine may not be so bad for you after all. In fact, caffeine may help with pain relief, Parkinson's disease, brain function, depression, colon cancer and gallstones.

Old news: I need to eat red meat for protein.

New news: You'd be hard-pressed to find vegetarians in the United States with protein deficiency.

Protein is abundant in non-animal sources. Soy, beans and nuts are all great sources of protein. Many nutrition experts believe Americans may eat too much protein, and not getting enough is not a concern with today's typical diets.

Janine Mojica has written about health and lifestyle issues for several Web sites, including, and