Coffee is now good for you. According to a research study, it may help prevent Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's, stroke and dementia as well as help you live a little longer. But java lovers know this: Another study says that drinking three or more cups of caffeinated coffee may be linked to a higher risk of glaucoma.
From a study announced last January involving school junk food to the most recent study that demonizes black licorice, so far, this year has been one rich in food health studies. And while I don't drink coffee and don't concern myself much with the studies mentioned above, the results of a gluttony of other research studies have caused me to not only re-examine my own diet but to make me lose my appetite.
Last May, I learned that a study by German-Swiss researchers found that taking calcium supplements may increase heart attack risk by a whopping 86 percent. As one of the 44 million people who either have osteoporosis or who are at risk for the disease, I took notice.
Although my doctor — a prominent bone specialist at the University of Chicago Medical Center — isn't convinced the study is conclusive, he did advise me to stop popping calcium pills and get my daily dose of calcium from food — all 1,200 milligrams.
Sounds simple enough. It isn't. Dairy foods are the obvious go-to calcium choice. Of course, I'd prefer to load up on the stuff by chowing down on pizza and ice cream, but, alas, they're both high in saturated fat and come with the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Instead, I've been gulping down so much skim milk, along with other nonfat and low-fat dairy products, I should have my own personal cow. I also ladle plain yogurt on my, yes, salad. But when I can't stomach another spoonful, I gobble up other calcium-dense foods. Think canned salmon — with the bones (183 milligrams per serving). Or canned sardines (325 milligrams). Or turnip greens (128 milligrams). How can I describe my average dinner meal? Publican or Slurping Turtle or even McDonald's, it's not.
And just when I'm starting to settle into this mainly white diet, the results of another study sucker-punches me in the abdomen. Rice and rice products, according to a Consumer Reports investigation, contain potentially dangerous levels of arsenic. Samples of brown rice were found to contain more arsenic than white rice. And rice grown in the South had more arsenic than rice grown in California, India or Thailand.
But that's not the worst news. Recently a study — from Mayo Clinic, no less — found that a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar is associated with dementia and that eating more protein and fat may offer some protection. Confession: I'm a longtime lover of desserts. Over the years, I have been known to laugh smugly at anyone on Atkins and other low-carb diets. I'm not laughing anymore.
Still, these three studies are leaving me with a buffet of more questions than answers: Can ingesting mass quantities of dairy products — even nonfat or low-fat ones, lead to dreaded diseases such as cancer? Should I swap more nutritious brown rice for white rice or should I just give up the grain cold turkey? Are just simple carbohydrates bad, or are complex carbohydrates now a no-no too?
And the most important question of all: Would someone please tell me definitively what I should eat or, well, just shut up?
The results of these food health studies are very hard to swallow — even though I've been trying to. And every other day there's another study, leaving me to pick and choose from a menu of sometimes contradictory and confusing information. I'm willing to bet that if researchers did a study of people who hear about food health studies, they'd discover a population more likely to have anorexia, bulimia, insomnia, depression and general anxiety.
But just when I was about go on a food study fast, along comes an article from the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine that says that the higher a country's chocolate consumption, the more Nobel laureates it produces per capita. One of the findings of the author, Dr. Franz Messerli of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University in New York, is that Switzerland, which has led in chocolate consumption, also leads the pack in Nobel Prize winners.
Finally, information I could eat right up. Pass the M&M's.
Judy Marcus is a freelance writer from Palatine.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun