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Food-aceuticals: Drink - and Eat - to Your Health

Every day there seems to be another story touting the amazing health benefits found in everyday foods. Is the recipe for better health found in the pantry instead of the medicine cabinet?

Flavonoids: What Makes Chocolate and Wine Good for You continued...

Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, professor of nutritional science and policy at Tufts University, says although the research is reasonably good in showing that drinking a moderate amount of wine, defined as one or two glasses per day for men and no more than one glass per day for women, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, it is also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

"There is still some confusion over alcohol, and I think that's understandable because it has potentially good and bad effects," says Lichtenstein. "One should not start drinking if they don't already, and they have to really weigh the risks and benefits."

She says it's difficult to make a broad recommendation for drinking wine or other types of alcohol based on its potential health benefits because there are also some people who may be more likely to have substance abuse problems with alcohol.

The "Good" Fat (Fatty Acids)

Fat also got a healthy image makeover this year thanks to new research on omega-3 fatty acids and their ability to reduce the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, lake trout, and herring. In September, the FDA approved a new qualified health claim that allows foods and supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids to advertise the fact that eating the product may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Although health organizations, such as the American Heart Association, already recommend fish as a part of a heart-healthy diet based on earlier findings of epidemiological studies, Lichtenstein says new research this year offers new proof of the heart-healthy benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

In Lichtenstein's study, women whose arteries already showed evidence of atherosclerosis who ate fish twice a week or dark fish once a week had a slower progression of their disease, as shown by X-ray images.

"Probably what happens is that when people consume more fish, they're not eating as much steak and hamburgers. So they are displacing foods high in saturated fat for one high in unsaturated fat," says Lichtenstein.

In November, the FDA also approved another new qualified health claim for olive oil based on studies that show eating about two tablespoons of olive oil a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Olive oil contains a type of fat known as monounsaturated fat that can lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol levels when eaten instead of saturated fats. However, olive oil contains about the same amount of total fat grams and calories as other types of fat.

Antioxidants: We Hardly Knew Ye

New research released this year also helped explain the role of antioxidants, for better and for worse.

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