Butter-Eggs-Potatoes - To
Eat or Not to Eat?
By Amanda Ursell
The image of a food or drink can go in and out of fashion with the regularity of flares. And it's hardly surprising we get confused about whether we should indulge when so many go from vice to virtue and often back again.
Potatoes, wholemeal bread and eggs all spring to mind, and some foods, such as butter, are on their second time round the circuit. The following five have had the most public metamorphosis, and here's how things stand now.
In celebration of the lifting of rationing, the consumption of butter was encouraged with the advice: "Eat it up, it's good for you."
Basking in this healthy image, the post-war nation indulged in butter, eschewing margarine as the poor, manufactured relation.
So what precipitated butter's cataclysmic fall from grace? How, by the 1980s, had butter become synonymous with heart disease?
Some might say it was a simple case of spin-doctoring. That margarine-makers were eager to push the then emerging view that saturated fats (in which butter is rich) were responsible for raising cholesterol and thus heart disease.
Strangely, the fact that their products then contained trans fats, which are considered equally damaging to arteries, was ignored.
The verdict: Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition at King's College, London University, says the average consumption of yellow spreads in this country is 10g a day and it makes little difference whether this is margarine or butter. So the argument appears to have come full circle.
When Edwina Currie committed ministerial hara-kiri with her salmonella clanger in 1988, she was sealing the fate of a food already beleaguered by the nutritional press. It was well known that eggs contained cholesterol " 231mg each, to be precise.
With well-intentioned doctors banning them from the diets of those with raised levels of blood cholesterol, this scared the rest of us into limiting our intake to three a week as a precaution against future furring of our arteries.
New research from the United States now refutes the idea that eggs raise cholesterol. Wanda Howell and Donald McNamara of Arizona University analysed 224 trials conducted over the past 25 years, and discovered that dietary cholesterol eaten in foods is not a big contributor to elevated levels in the blood.
This confirms research by Dr Robert Clarke of the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, who found that reducing dietary cholesterol by 50mg a day has little effect on the reduction of blood cholesterol.
The verdict: for those who do not have an inherited propensity to high blood cholesterol, eating three to seven eggs a week makes little difference to blood cholesterol.
The potato has always maintained a strong emotional and nutritional place in our diet, but it fell from its esteemed position as a national staple in the 1960s with the introduction of the first low-carbohydrate diet. Suddenly any woman in pursuit of the Jean Shrimpton look was warned to avoid them.
This legacy lives on, and many still find it hard to indulge. Perhaps, according to a new wave of slimming diets crossing the Atlantic, they were right after all. For plotting the potato's second downfall are a batch of books that tell us they cause rapid rises in blood sugar, elicit a high production of insulin, and so cause weight gain.
The verdict: confused? Join the club. British scientific circles point out, however, that potatoes are a low-fat, high-carbohydrate food.
Current advice decrees this is the best kind of diet to follow to shed weight and keep it off. The potato earns an honorary reprieve.
Banned from the tables of Delia disciples, ketchup for many is confined to kids' chicken nuggets and roadside cafes. But according to research from North Carolina University, they are missing a trick. For people who regularly dig into pizza toppings, baked beans and ketchup apparently halve the likelihood of having a heart attack.
Professor Leonore Kohlmeier, who conducted the study, believes protection comes from the red antioxidant pigment lycopene present in tomatoes and tomato products, which stops arterial damage.
The verdict: Gary Rhodes better get a publishing deal for 101 Ways With Ketchup. The future is red, Gary. The future is ketchup.
Chewing Gum
Certain sugar-free chewing gum is sweetened with the natural sugar alternative xylitol, extracted from wood chippings of the silver birch in Finland.
Professor Edgar, president of the British Society for Dental Research, concluded in a recent review of current research that chewing xylitol-sweetened gum can help reduce tooth decay.
It inhibits the accumulation of the decay-causing bacteria streptococcus mutans, encourages remineralisation of the teeth and helps to maintain an alkaline environment in the mouth.
Furthermore, the American Paediatrics journal now reveals it can reduce middle-ear infections and, thus, antibiotic use in children.
Professor Matti Uhari, author of the study, says: "Xylitol appears to move from the mouth into the tube that joins the middle ear to the throat. Here it inhibits the growth of pneumonacocci and coats the tube lining. This helps stop bacteria attaching and multiplying, reducing the risk of infection."
The verdict: forget lingering reservations over manners. Check the labels for xylitol, stock up on sugar-free gum and get chewing. Like all things in life, moderation appears to be the key.
Take the French. They adore foie gras and rich sauces and yet boast one of the lowest rates of heart disease in Europe. The key to good health probably lies in not overdoing one particular food and washing it all down with a glass of antioxidant-rich red plonk. Perhaps it is time to follow suit.