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10 Foods That Were Touted As Health Miracles, Then Vilified As Health Hazards

No wonder people in the U.S. are confused about what to eat.

Photo Credit: Carlos Horta /


It isn’t hard to understand why some Americans rebel against trying to maintain a healthy diet: they are bombarded with so many conflicting studies, opinions and articles on nutrition that “food information overload” inevitably sets in.

Fed up with all of the conflicting information on everything from red wine to coffee to soy, they tune out the noise, develop a fatalistic attitude and say, “When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. I’m going to eat what I want when I want.” And a 2010 study conducted by Rebekah Nagler, assistant professor for the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Minneapolis, shows just how inundated people are.

Nagler found that — of the 631 adults who were surveyed — over 71 percent of them said they heard moderate or high levels of conflicting information about nutrition from the media. According to Nagler, people might become so fed up with all that food information overload that they start ignoring nutrition-related articles in general.

Sorting through all the mountains of studies and articles that contradict one another can be overwhelming: soy is a miracle food — no, soy is terrible for you. Red wine will lower your LDL cholesterol and help you live longer — no, red wine will give you cancer. Orange juice boosts your immune system — no, it gives you diabetes and is almost as bad as diet soda. It’s no wonder that consumers have a hard time trying to figure out where the truth lies.

Below are 10 foods and beverages that have been praised by nutritionists one minute and demonized the next.

1. Coffee

Studies on the health benefits — or hazards — of coffee are all over the place. In August 2013, the results of two studies on coffee (one by Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the other by Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School) came out around the same time — and while Mayo equated coffee consumption with premature death, the other described it as a way to live longer. Mayo’s study of 40,000 people found that “drinking large amounts of coffee may be bad” for those under 55 and noted “a statistically significant 21 percent increased mortality in those drinking more than 28 cups of coffee a week.”

But Duke-NUS found that consuming 28 cups of coffee per week could decrease the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a.k.a. NAFLD. And the contradictions don’t end with those two studies. A 2013 study by the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) and the University of Western Australia’s School of Medicine and Pharmacology linked the consumption of five or six cups of coffee per day to weight gain and metabolic syndrome, but a 2012 study by the French scientific review Phytothérapie linked regular coffee consumption with weight loss and diabetes prevention.

A study released earlier this year by the American Association of Cancer Researchers found that those who consumed one to three cups of coffee per day were 29 percent less likely to develop liver cancer and that those who consumed at least four cups per day were 42 percent less likely to develop liver cancer, but back in 1981, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health linked coffee consumption and pancreatic cancer.

2. Olive Oil

Whenever a type of food receives an abundance of good publicity, there will likely be other researchers telling us just how awful it really is. A case in point is olive oil, which is wildly popular in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal and is a prominent part of the Mediterranean diet. Under the supervision of Dr. Ramon Estruch of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona’s Department of Internal Medicine, researchers in Spain spent five years studying the effects of olive oil — and their research, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, found that those who ate a diet high in extra-virgin olive oil were 30 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.

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