Mumbai, get fitter: Nutritionists reveal the truth behind diet and food myths

Nutritionists explain why some popular diet myths that are just that: myths.

In the era of Internet and information overload, we can be easily misled and misinformed. We are surrounded by myths about certain foods and more often than not we believe whatever we read without questioning it. For example, “granolas and flavoured yogurt are healthy” or “salt only increases the risk of high blood pressure”. These statements are not necessarily true. To get a clearer picture, we spoke to nutritionists to reveal the facts about certain foods that we assume to be healthy or unhealthy for us.

Unhealthy? So you thought!

Potatoes

Potatoes are actually much healthier than you would think. (HT Photo)

Potatoes have been infamous for being unhealthy for way too long. However, according to dietician Priya Palan, they are a good source of potassium and vitamin C. “Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that have antioxidants. Potatoes are low-calorie, with a medium-sized baked potato containing only about 110 calories,” says Krishnan.

Margarine

Margarine is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which help control cholesterol levels. (HT Photo)

Manjiri Puranik, weight loss expert says, “Margarine when taken in adequate amounts has health benefits. Margarine has alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid. Omega 3 fatty acids have been proven to lower total cholesterol levels, triglycerides and reduce inflammation.”

Salt

Salt is widely considered to cause high blood pressure, but it’s a vital ingredient to your well-being. (HT Photo)

For ages, doctors have been telling us to cut on salt or risk high blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease. However, Dr Nupur Krishnan, nutritionist says, “Salt is essential for sustaining the hydration levels of the body. It is extremely vital to maintain the electrolyte balance for the smooth functioning of the organ systems.”

 

Eggs

Eggs are very nutritious and can even help you lose body fat. (Mark Cornelison)

“Eggs are so nutritious that they’re often referred to as ‘nature’s multivitamin.’ They also have unique antioxidants and powerful brain nutrients that many people are deficient in. Eggs for breakfast can also help you lose body fat,” says Manisha Mehta, nutritionist.

Avocados

Avocados are considered to be too fatty, but are rich in potassium and fibre. (HT Photo)

The fruit has been tarnished because it is considered to be too fatty. But nutritionist Khushboo Sahijwani says, “This is truly a miracle fruit. All other fruits are rich in carbohydrates but this one is exceptionally rich in fats, and most importantly the healthy mono unsaturated fatty acids. Avocados are super rich in potassium which is good for people with high blood pressure. Being rich in fibre, it aids in weight loss and to lower cholesterol.”

What we thought was healthy

Wheat bread

Wheat bread may contain enriched flour, which is high in sugar but doesn’t have much nutrition value. (HT Photo)

Krishnan highlights, “If it isn’t 100% whole wheat, bread can contain enriched flour, which gives you a sugar spike without any nutritional value. Basically, enriched flour means nutrients are stripped from the bread.”

Flavoured soy milk

Soy milk may actually not be as healthy as popular wisdom states it to be. (HT Photo)

Some health-conscious people prefer soy milk because they are considered a heart-healthy low fat option. Mehta counters, “Almost every ingredient in soy milk is a cause for serious concern. It contains cane sugar, carrageenan, calcium carbonate, vitamin A, palmitate, vitamin D2, riboflavin (B2), vitamin B12 and phytic acid. Soy contains high levels of phytic acid, a compound, which reduces your body’s ability to absorb minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc.”

 

Granola

Granola bars may not be the best way to start your day. (HT Photo)

“One might think of granola as one of the healthiest breakfast options to start the day with. But it tends to be low on fibre and protein, and high on fat and sugar, which is the opposite of a healthy breakfast. Stick to granola that has healthy nuts, and a little sugar,” says Puranik.

Light salad dressings

“Low-fat salad dressings prevent the body’s ability to absorb the carotenoid antioxidants in salad greens and tomatoes, thus greatly diminishing a major health benefit of eating salad. ‘Light’ and ‘fat-free’ dressings are often the most common places to find high-fructose corn syrup which is not too good for health,” says Mehta.

Flavoured, fat-free yogurt

Flavoured yogurt is high in sugar, corn syrup and a host of other sweeteners. (Shakti Yadav/HT Photo)

Puranik states, “Yogurt has always been considered as a health food but if you are into fruit flavoured yogurt, it is more likely that you are consuming plenty of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and a host of other sweeteners, and not so much fruit. So when it comes to yogurt, stick to the plain variety.”

C-section rates reveal need for smarter healthcare policy

In 2011-12, over 50 per cent of deliveries in nine of 10 Telangana districts were caesarean section deliveries (C-sections), according to district-level health data. In comparison, none of the districts in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar had C-section rates of more than 25 per cent.

C-section is a specialised procedure that is needed to deal with complicated delivery cases. The healthy rates of C-section should range from 10 to 15 per cent, according to a WHO estimate. The procedure brings risk of infection and can cause complications in future pregnancies, so it should be used only when medically necessary. At the national level, while India lies near the healthy range, around 8.5 per cent as per WHO data, it is deceptive of the underlying inequalities and variations.

Image result for C-section rates reveal need for smarter healthcare policy

In many districts in India, the C-section rate is either too low or too high, according to the analysis we conducted at Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) of district-level estimates for C-section rates across the country — in both public and private healthcare institutions — from the District Level Household Survey Round 4 and the Annual Health Survey. Higher than necessary C-section rates can be presented as a case of “market failure”, an economic term used to describe cases where allocation of goods or services is not efficient.

In this case, market failure could arise due to “information asymmetry” — doctors generally know more about the treatments than the patients. Combine that with potential incentives for doctors to provide expensive treatments, and you are looking at a healthcare market that is inclined to over-treat. In private facilities, where incentives for over-treatment are potentially higher, C-section rates were higher than 20 per cent in nearly 85 per cent of the districts in the country. In public institutions, C-sections rates were more varied.

In several districts in south India, we found high rates of caesarean deliveries even in public institutions. For instance, C-section rates in public institutions were higher than 20 per cent in all the districts of Telangana, which is a rare example of extremely high C-section deliveries overall.

India spent 1.4 per cent of its GDP on public healthcare in 2014. In comparison, OECD, a group of 35 advanced economies, spent an average of 7.7 per cent. Low spending could be one reason behind the poor health outcomes in India compared to other countries.

The answer to this is not a blanket approach of investing in healthcare facilities and personnel. The outcome budget of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare follows this as a solution with an overarching emphasis on quantity: The underlying assumption being that more public health facilities would lead to increased access to public facilities, which would be followed by more people accessing public facilities, and eventually better health outcomes.

There is a need to indulge in preliminary diagnostics to determine site-specific needs and strategies. One way to approach a diagnosis of India’s ailing public healthcare system is to identify cases where outcomes vary widely. The extent to which C-section is available and availed by women is a good proxy of the performance of the healthcare system.

Challenges in the low C-section districts are quite different from those with very high rates, and the healthcare policy should reflect such differences. For districts with low rates, there is a possible case for greater investments in public healthcare infrastructure and facilities, and more qualified medical personnel.

It is not clear if this approach would be appropriate for some of the regions with high C-section rates. For one, it ignores the critical role of the private sector, which is the more dominant health service provider in India. More appropriate solutions for these areas could be to invest more in quality of care rather than quantity, and to design regulatory frameworks to ensure that healthcare institutions — both public and private — are held more accountable.

There is a need to better understand the landscape before indulging in target-oriented policy design and solutions. While there are data to understand the problems — that are different in different regions of the country — there is a need for more information to decipher the underlying factors driving these differences. For instance, there are not enough data that can help us gauge quality of care, without which we do not have a clear sense of what drives perception of quality. Building on that, we will need more robust evidence on what works in different contexts.

Eyeing that donut? Your food choice may reveal struggle to resist temptation

Wondering what to order the next time you eat out? Pick wisely, as it may tell a lot about you. A study has recently revealed that people, who choose unhealthy food over healthy food in real time, had a lower self-control to resist temptation.

Researchers from Ohio State University in Columbus, USA watched in real time as people’s hands revealed the struggle they were under to choose the long-term goal over short-term temptation. But for those with higher levels of self-control, the path to the healthy food was more direct, indicating that they experienced less conflict.

The results of the study showed that those who chose the candy bar at the end of the experiment were those with lower self-control.

“Our hand movements reveal the process of exercising self-control,” said co-author of the study Paul Stillman.

“You can see the struggle as it happens. For those with low self-control, the temptation is actually drawing their hand closer to the less-healthy choice,” Stillman added.

The study involved 81 college students, who made 100 decisions involving healthy versus unhealthy food choices. In each trial, they clicked a “Start” button at the bottom of the screen. As soon as they did, two images appeared in the upper-left and upper-right corners of the screen, one a healthy food (such as Brussels sprouts) and the other an unhealthy one (such as a brownie).

For those with higher levels of self-control, the path to the healthy food was more direct, indicating that they experienced less conflict. (Shutterstock)

People who moved the cursor closer to the unhealthy treat (even when they ultimately made the healthy choice) later showed less self-control than did those who made a more direct path to the healthy snack. The results showed that those who chose the candy bar at the end of the experiment were those with lower self-control.

“The more they were pulled toward the temptation on the computer screen, the more they actually chose the temptations and failed at self-control,” Stillman noted. Those with lower levels of self-control had mouse trajectories that were clearly different from those with higher self-control, suggesting differences in how they were dealing with the decisions.

“This mouse-tracking metric could be a powerful new tool to investigate real-time conflict when people have to make decisions related to self-control,” he said. The findings also offer new evidence in a debate about how decision-making in self-control situations unfolds, Stillman said.

The research will appear in the journal Psychological Science.

Researchers reveal new insights into rare chronic pain condition

People suffering from chronic pain can now heave a sigh of relief as findings from a new study can help researchers develop new treatments for those affected by the condition.

The findings by researchers at the universities of Bath and Oxford (UK) suggest that a rare chronic pain condition might involve changes in the way that the brain processes visual information, which in turn could provide new insights into how to treat the condition.

Approximately 16,000 people in the UK are affected by a poorly understood condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Individuals with CRPS report debilitating pain in an arm or leg, as well as swelling, temperature changes and movement difficulties.

Symptoms include burning, stabbing, stinging or throbbing pain in the affected limb, and everyday sensations such as a breeze blowing across the skin can feel very painful.

Individuals with this condition report debilitating pain in an arm or leg, as well as swelling, temperature changes and movement difficulties. (Shutterstock)

While its exact causes are not yet known, it is thought that abnormal brain signals about the limb play an important part. CRPS usually follows limb damage from injury or surgery, but the pain experienced is disproportionate and may last longer than would be expected for the damage itself.

For one case in every 10 there is no obvious trigger. And whereas most people recover well within a year, some people have some or all of the symptoms for many weeks, months or even years.

For their study, scientists at Bath and Oxford were keen to understand more about how and why individuals suffering from CRPS report losing track of the position of their painful limb and not being able to move it.

The team tested how quickly people with CRPS processed visual information in the side of their environment nearer to their painful limb compared to the other side of the environment.

Using laser pointers controlled by a computer, they projected two flashes of light onto the left and right side of a board that was placed in front of the patients, and the patients had to say which light appeared first.

Their results showed that people with CRPS processed the light on the affected side of the board more slowly than the light on the unaffected side, suggesting that information that is nearer to the affected side of the body is not well processed by the brain.

Lead author, Dr Janet Bultitude from the University of Bath’s Centre for Pain Research, explained: “People with CRPS are usually in constant pain that they can’t ignore. Yet paradoxically they often report that they are not sure where their painful limb is unless they look at it directly, and that movements are not automatic – they have to ‘tell’ their limb to move. The odd sensations they experience suggest there could be a change in mechanisms that normally allow us to process information at different locations in the space around us.

“Our results show that people with CRPS are slower to process visual information that comes from the side of their environment where their painful limb is normally located. Since we used a test of vision, the slower processing can’t be because of changes in the limb itself, but must be due to the way the brain processes information. We’re excited that these results can help propel us forward to developing new treatments for those affected by the condition.”

Current treatments for CRPS include pain medications and rehabilitation therapies which are vital to normalise sensation in the limb and improve function and mobility.

Dr Bultitude and her team are now investigating whether symptoms of CRPS could be reduced by therapies that are used to treat attention problems in people with brain injuries such as stroke.

The findings have been published in the journal Brain.

 

 

Researchers reveal new insights into rare chronic pain condition

People suffering from chronic pain can now heave a sigh of relief as findings from a new study can help researchers develop new treatments for those affected by the condition.

The findings by researchers at the universities of Bath and Oxford (UK) suggest that a rare chronic pain condition might involve changes in the way that the brain processes visual information, which in turn could provide new insights into how to treat the condition.

Approximately 16,000 people in the UK are affected by a poorly understood condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Individuals with CRPS report debilitating pain in an arm or leg, as well as swelling, temperature changes and movement difficulties.

Symptoms include burning, stabbing, stinging or throbbing pain in the affected limb, and everyday sensations such as a breeze blowing across the skin can feel very painful.

Individuals with this condition report debilitating pain in an arm or leg, as well as swelling, temperature changes and movement difficulties. (Shutterstock)

While its exact causes are not yet known, it is thought that abnormal brain signals about the limb play an important part. CRPS usually follows limb damage from injury or surgery, but the pain experienced is disproportionate and may last longer than would be expected for the damage itself.

For one case in every 10 there is no obvious trigger. And whereas most people recover well within a year, some people have some or all of the symptoms for many weeks, months or even years.

For their study, scientists at Bath and Oxford were keen to understand more about how and why individuals suffering from CRPS report losing track of the position of their painful limb and not being able to move it.

The team tested how quickly people with CRPS processed visual information in the side of their environment nearer to their painful limb compared to the other side of the environment.

Using laser pointers controlled by a computer, they projected two flashes of light onto the left and right side of a board that was placed in front of the patients, and the patients had to say which light appeared first.

Their results showed that people with CRPS processed the light on the affected side of the board more slowly than the light on

Lead author, Dr Janet Bultitude from the University of Bath’s Centre for Pain Research, explained: “People with CRPS are usually in constant pain that they can’t ignore. Yet paradoxically they often report that they are not sure where their painful limb is unless they look at it directly, and that movements are not automatic – they have to ‘tell’ their limb to move. The odd sensations they experience suggest there could be a change in mechanisms that normally allow us to process information at different locations in the space around us.

“Our results show that people with CRPS are slower to process visual information that comes from the side of their environment where their painful limb is normally located. Since we used a test of vision, the slower processing can’t be because of changes in the limb itself, but must be due to the way the brain processes information. We’re excited that these results can help propel us forward to developing new treatments for those affected by the condition.”

Current treatments for CRPS include pain medications and rehabilitation therapies which are vital to normalise sensation in the limb and improve function and mobility.

Dr Bultitude and her team are now investigating whether symptoms of CRPS could be reduced by therapies that are used to treat attention problems in people with brain injuries such as stroke.

The findings have been published in the journal Brain.