The Answers to the 13 Most Contentious Health Debates

Is red wine is healthy? Are the eggs you love so much doing more harm than good? We've got answers to your pressing health questions.

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wine glass of red wine with a corkscrew. On a black wooden background.
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Is red wine good for you?

For heart disease prevention, we don’t write prescriptions for people to start drinking red wine,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, Medical Director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. Red wine does contain resveratrol, an antioxidant which can help protect the body against damage, but drinking––especially in excess––can cause numerous health issues like raising your risk for cancer, and heart disease, liver trouble, and dementia reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For more about heart health, check out these 25 secrets cardiologists want you to know.

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Are eggs healthy for you?

A few years back, heart experts put eggs on the “bad list” thanks to their cholesterol content. Then researchers realized that cholesterol in food doesn’t have much effect on cholesterol levels in your blood. Recently, a study again raised concerns about eggs and heart issues, but dietitians say there’s no need to eliminate eggs––but don’t go overboard. “We do not need to fear having eggs in our diet,” says Emily Tills RDN, CDN. “Eggs are considered one of the purest forms of protein. They contain all of the essential amino acids that cannot be made by our bodies and must be taken in through food. The yolk and the white both contain different vitamins, minerals, and amounts of protein and fat. The yolk has a lot of the fat soluble vitamins, like vitamin D, whereas the white is higher in protein.” Eggs are listed in Canada’s food guide as an important source of protein for healthy eating. Learn more about how healthy eggs are.

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Is a gluten-free diet healthier for you?

Going gluten-free is popular but—unless you have diagnosed celiac disease or gluten sensitivity—you won’t benefit from hopping on this trend says Daniela Novotny, RD, a biomedical sciences instruction, dietitian and wellness consultant at Missouri State University. Gluten is a protein found in some carbohydrates, and some people have a bad reaction to it. For anyone else who tries to avoid gluten, they’ll end up eliminating some carbohydrate foods from their diet, says Novotny. “If you cut back on carbohydrates, you do tend to see more weight loss,” Novotny says. But she recommends watching your carbs generally—not focusing on gluten. “That’s not going to be the make-or-break. Food really is a sum of all of its ingredients.” If you do have a sensitivity, watch out for these six foods you didn’t know contain gluten.

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Are there benefits to intermittent fasting?

Researchers are still studying intermittent fasting’s benefits. “It all depends on what factors you consider and the duration of your fasts,” says Andres E. Ayesta, MS, RD, LD, CSCS, CSSD, founder of Vive Nutrition. “The typical approach of 16 hours fasting and eight hours of eating helps you have better control over your daily caloric intake for those trying to lose weight.  There are some animal studies looking at the effects in longevity and some data shows it may help. One thing that is important to understand is that this is not a magic solution for health or weight loss. You still need to be aware of your total caloric intake because eating more than what your body needs in that period of time will not help your weight goals, and ultimately health.” Learn more about intermittent fasting, including what you’re allowed to drink (yes, coffee is fine).

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Is a vegan or vegetarian diet healthier than eating meat and animal products?

“Research is mixed on the benefits of a plant-based diet and a carnivore or meat-based diet as both have shown improvements in health depending on the context they have been put it,” says Ayesta. “For example, a ketogenic diet that is usually meat-based, high in fat, and low in carbohydrates can improve health markers and insulin sensitivity. By the same token, plant-based diets promote higher consumption of vegetables and fruits, increasing the amount of dietary fiber consumed.” But for long-term health—of yourself and the planet—vegetarian plans win out, as long as people are diligent about meeting all their dietary needs, says Ayesta. “Meat-based diets, particularly ones with higher intake of processed meats, have been linked to increased risk of cancer.” Though he believes the best approach is the one that works best for you. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, here are the nutrients you might be deficient in.

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Is coconut oil really “pure poison”?

Last year, a Harvard professor set off stirs of confusion when she said coconut oil is “pure poison.” Her claim may seem a bit extreme, but coconut oil is something to be wary of. “Some benefits to coconut oil are that it gives a nice flavour to food, has higher smoke point than olive oil (meaning you can sauté better without burning), and contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs),” says Rachel Larkey CDN, CLC, a New York City-based RD. “MCTs are more easily digestible than some other types of fats, which means they might be good for people who have digestive diseases or trouble absorbing nutrients. They may also be helpful in brain function. It’s important to be aware though that coconut oil does have a lot of saturated fat, which means if you have high cholesterol you might want to use other oils in your rotation as well, instead of only using coconut oil.”

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Should you be using artificial sweeteners?

No—and you should be watching how much sugar you use in general, according to Erin Pellegrin RD, nutrition manager at Unite for HER. Artificial sweeteners are problematic because they can be hundreds of times sweeter than table sugars. “We really should not be consuming them—or do our best to consume as little as possible,” Pellegrin says of artificial sweeteners. “We want to try to limit artificial things in general. When you have something 700 times sweeter, it trains our mouth to want sweeter things. We’re training our behavior in a way we don’t want to go.” Learn about natural sweeteners that are healthier than sugar

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Fresh avocado on dark background

Should I be eating avocado if I want to stay healthy?

People often shy away from avocado due to its fat content and high calories—you can get 322 calories and 29 grams of fat from one avocado. But that doesn’t mean don’t deserve a spot in your diet. A 2015 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association says eating one avocado a day can help improve cholesterol in people who are overweight. “Avocados are a source of monounsaturated fats, fiber, and plant sterols,” says Hailey Crean, MS, RD, CDE, CSOWM of Hailey Crean Nutrition. “The plant sterols in have also been shown to have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels by competing with dietary cholesterol for absorption. It is still important to consider one’s overall diet and calorie intake,” Crean warns. She recommends swapping out other sources of saturated fat, like whole milk, cream cheese, butter, and marbled meats, if you’re eating an avocado a day. It may be worth it––eating an avocado daily can yield some of these life-changing benefits.

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Is red meat bad for you?

Most of the research on red meat suggests it will raise your risk for heart disease—this Harvard study is just one example. However, critics of the research point out that these studies don’t differentiate between processed meat—like bacon and hot dogs—and cuts like steak or lamb chops. Plus, red meat is high in iron and it supplies vitamin B12 and protein. “When it comes to red meat, you’re better off choosing lean, low-saturated fat cuts like grass-fed bison steak rather than fattier cuts, especially fatty processed meats like bacon, bologna, hot dogs, ham, and sausages,” says Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, LDN, director of nutrition with the Pritkin Longevity Center. “But even then, bison is a once-a-week choice, not an every-night choice, because it still has some saturated fat and cholesterol. ”

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What should be my daily sodium intake?

Health Canada recommends everyone get less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. “It is important to consume the right amount of sodium to maintain the electrolyte balance in your blood since sodium is important for many body functions,” says Stacy Ramirez MS, RDN, LD. “But it is rare you aren’t getting enough sodium in your diet unless you have a medical condition that requires you to need extra sodium (like salt tablets).” Too much sodium can cause bloating, puffiness, and water weight gain. In the long run, it can cause more serious side effects like increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and kidney disease, Ramirez says. Concerned about your daily amount? Here are 8 tips to help you decrease your sodium intake.

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When is the best time to work out?

Bad news, night owls: The best time to get your exercise in is in the morning, evidence suggests. Squeezing in a work out in the morning will help you better control your appetite throughout the day compared exercising at other times; you’ll also sleep sounder at night. But another study indicates that your body will adjust to whatever time you regularly workout. What’s more, fitness experts say the absolute best time to workout is when you’ll actually do it. In other words, if evenings work best for you, go for it. But do you need to eat before you workout? A recent study has the answers.

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Are there benefits to sleeping naked?

This is a personal choice. Your body’s core temperature decreases before and during sleep and extreme heat or cold can cause your brain to wake you up to regulate your temperature, explains Rose McDowell, chief research officer at Sleepopolis. “Whether or not sleeping naked is beneficial depends on your natural core temperature,” she says. “The ideal sleepwear is what’s best for you. If you sleep hot, it may be best to sleep naked to help keep your core temperature regulated. If you’re a cooler sleeper, pajamas or warm bedding might be necessary for you to stay comfortable and sleep through the night without waking.” Once you figure out your ideal outfit for sleep (or perhaps lack thereof), you can try these five ways to improve your sleep.

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How long should a nap be?

Afternoon naps can help improve your alertness and performance and help lower stress levels if you’re sleep deprived, according to Conor Heneghan, PhD, Director of Research, Algorithms for Fitbit. While it’s tempting to nap until you wake, snoozing longer than 30 minutes in the middle of the day may interfere with your sleep cycle, preventing restful slumber at night. Heneghan recommends a 10- to 20-minute nap: It will keep your sleep light, help you feel fresh and alert afterward and so much more.

Reader's Digest
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