Healthy or Harmful? Experts Can’t Agree on These 5 Food Products

Even with all we know about nutrition these days, there are still some foods that raise heated debates among experts in the field. Although many foods obvious nutritional value (or obvious lack thereof), others lie in a nutritional gray area, with many inconclusive studies backing the claims on either side.

These 5 food products are notoriously controversial in the world of nutrition. See for yourself what the experts have to say on the matter!

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

1. Eggs

From the Mayo Clinic, to the Harvard School of Public Health, and Healthline, when discussing eggs, experts often point to the high cholesterol content. But some studies have concluded that they’re even more dangerous than we think. One recent report published in the journal Atherosclerosis even claimed that eggs are as bad for us as smoking! Researchers from Western University in Canada found a correlation between between buildup of carotid plaque in the arteries — a heart disease- and stroke-causing phenomenon often linked with cigarette smoking — and egg consumption.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic believe eggs to be a positive part of your balanced diet, citing a 2011 study which found that the regular consumption of antioxidant-rich eggs actually helped reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Eggs may also reduce blood pressure, notes a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Source: Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images for vitaminwater

Source: Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images for vitaminwater

2. Enhanced water and sports drinks

“Drinks such as Vitaminwater are essentially sugary drinks with a vitamin pill,” registered dietitian and author Katherine Tallmadge writes in the Washington Post. Her claims are backed by Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health, who posits that these drinks are “unequivocally harmful to health.” Researchers in Tallmadge and Willett’s corner encourage individuals to drink tap water in lieu of slickly-marketed sports drinks.

On the other side of the spectrum, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise indicated that “athletes can stave off fatigue 37% longer if they drink sports drinks.” In backing this claim, WebMD points to Steven Zeisel, MD, Ph.D., chairman of nutrition at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who agrees that electrolyte-containing drinks such as Gatorade offer athletes an advantage over water.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

3. Snack bars

“The reputation of these bars, also known as meal replacement bars, is that they are healthy, aid in weight loss or help build muscle. In fact, they are calorie bombs,” Katherine Tallmadge writes in the Washington Post. These “nutrition supplement” bars are barely more than glorified candy bars, registered dietitian Sari Greaves tells Real Simple. Each energy bar adds about 300-400 calories to your daily intake, and tend to be high in saturated fat while also low in fiber.

Meanwhile, other researchers tout the health benefits these bars can provide: Sports dietitian Tara Gidus tells Runner’s World that these bars can serve as handy and helpful solutions for individuals — particularly athletes — in need of an energy boost. She notes that different energy bars serve different purposes, pointing out the advantages of bars containing maltodextrin (which raises blood sugar) and certain types of carbohydrates (which release energy at varying intervals).

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

4. Potatoes

A study led by the Harvard School of Public Health — published in the New England Journal of Medicine — concluded that each additional serving of potatoes that individuals added to their diet made them gain around 1 pound over 4 years. This data referred to both the obvious diet-destroyers (French fries, potato chips) — but also to mashed, baked, and boiled varieties. The Washington Post speculates that this is due to the dish’s effects on the hormone insulin.

The Cleveland Clinic, however, doesn’t think potatoes deserve such a bad wrap, citing a 2012 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry which concluded that potatoes help lower blood pressure in hypertensive and obese individuals — all without causing weight gain. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data confirms that the crop is naturally high in fiber while also low in fat (just leave off the butter, cheese, bacon, and sour cream when preparing!). In addition to these advantages, Health notes that potatoes are a good source of B vitamins, ironc, Vitamin C, calcium, and potassium

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

5. Coffee

A study published in the journal Hypertension found a direct link between coffee intake and elevated blood pressure, which puts individuals at greater risk for heart attack and stroke. Time suggests that some reports have tentatively linked consumption of the beverage with an increase in LDL cholesterol (known colloquially as “bad cholesterol”), all due to the presence of a compound called cafestol. Well-known nutritionist and doctor Mark Hyman — a New York Times bestselling author — has a detailed catalogue of coffee’s negative effects, attributing everything from heightened stress to compromised liver function to the drink.

That said, a great deal of recent research has tended to favor coffee, with outlets such as the Huffington Post even urging their readers to drink the stuff every day. The Harvard School of Public Health tied the beverage to a lower risk of suicide among men and women. The scientific news service Phys.org notes that coffee is a leading source of antioxidants, and the drink has even been linked to a reduced risk of Parkinson’s Disease by the American Academy of Neurology.

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