About RTÉ Television
The Afternoon Show
The Afternoon ShowRTÉ One, Weekdays, 4.00pm

Food: Should we believe what we read? With Aveen Bannon

Monday, 9 March 2009

Almost every week there is a headline telling us the most common foods in our diets are one minute killing us and the next day curing us, what are we to believe?

Nutritionist Aveen Bannon will be dispelling the myths and finding out once and for all if an egg a day is okay, and does coffee reduce diabetes, or does it just give us hallucinations?

In the last few months there have been headlines in the paper about coffee making us fat & causing hallucinations. Tea has been reported to cause diabetes, wine causes cancer and although milk can prevent Alzheimer's, are we careful about what type we give our kids.

The most important thing to focus on when discussing food is the nutrient value of food as opposed to what is good for us and what is bad for us. We can get caught up in the negative versus positive whereas in truth most foods are ok to eat on occasion.what we really need to know is how much of these foods is ok to eat.We've picked some topical foods that we often see in the media that we should eat or should avoid. So hopefully this can help dispel some of those myths.

Previous Food Headlines


"3 coffees a day reduces diabetes risk" - Irish Independent 03.12.09
"Coffee causes hallucinations" Irish Daily Mail 14.01.09

Background to hallucination study:
Researchers at Durham University in the UK found that those with a higher caffeine intake, from sources such as coffee, tea and caffeinated energy drinks, were more likely to report hallucinatory experiences, such as hearing voices and seeing things that were not there.

The study involved 200 students. All were asked about their typical intake of products containing caffeine. Their proneness to hallucinatory experiences and their stress levels were also assessed. The researchers found that 'high caffeine users' were three times more likely to have heard a person's voice when there was no one there compared with 'low caffeine users. A 'high caffeine user' was someone who drank the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day. 'Low caffeine users' consumed less than one cup of instant coffee a day.*full article below

Aveen Says:
Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee provided similar results, suggesting that an ingredient of coffee other than caffeine may have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels. One of the studies suggested that a white powder called dicinnamoylquinide, formed after roasting coffee may be responsible. The research reports that this chemical attached to and dampened the activity in rates and decreasing their risk for Type 2 diabetes. However further studies are required to establish a direct correlation between intake and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes as intakes of coffee could have other negative effects.

There are studies out there that indicate that coffee has an array of health benefits including reducing the risk of diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's. And then on the other side there is research out there stating that coffee has negative health effects e.g. studies have found that caffeine in coffee can cause heart palpitations, increased blood pressure and stress. What is widely accepted is that pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake because fetuses are sensitive to the drug. The INDI recommend that pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to no more than 300mg per day.

Caffeine is a mild stimulant that occurs naturally in coffee and cocoa beans, tea leaves. We all react differently to caffeine and those who take caffeine regularly are generally less sensitive to its effects. Caffeine has many metabolic effects; it is a central nervous system stimulant which can temporarily ward off drowsiness and restore alertness. Excessive doses >500mg daily can cause irritability, insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, headache and diarrhea. *note: people who regularly consume coffee are less sensitive to its effects.
If you drink more than 5 cups of coffee per day try cutting your intake by substituting non-caffeinated drinks for tea and coffee. E.g. water de-caffeinated coffee and herbal teas. As you cut back on the amount of caffeine you consume, you may feel tired. That will be your body telling you that you need some rest. Drink plenty of water and relax and do not hit the coffee machine! Your energy levels will return to normal within a few days.
Drink/Food Amt. of Drink/Food Amt. of Caffeine
Cup of freshly brewed tea 150mls 40mg
Cola 330mls 34.0 mg
Diet Cola 330mls 45.0 mg
Instant coffee 220mls 60mg
Brewed coffee (drip method) 220mls 115 mg*

Bone disease: Some studies indicate how caffeine can weaken bone health. It is true that each cup of coffee you drink steals a little bit of calcium from your bones; but only the amount you'd get from a teaspoon of milk. That's not a problem for café latte or cappuccino drinkers but is a little worrisome for postmenopausal women who drink lots of coffee black and don't get enough calcium. One study showed acceleration in bone loss among older women who drank as little as two or three cups of coffee a day, compared with those who drank less or none at all. On the other hand, caffeine consumption had no effect on women who got more than 800 mg of calcium a day.

The important point to remember is that caffeine, like many other substances, is not harmful when taken in moderation. However, if taken to excess, then it may cause problems in some people. My advice is to enjoy coffee in moderation and keep it to about 2-3 cups per day.
Prop: Cup of coffee & box of decaf coffee
Many people are confused about giving their children low fat milk, If it's recommended for adults, then should we give it to our kids?
"A few glasses of milk a day can prevent Alzheimer's" 02.03.09 The Irish Mirror

Aveen Says:
Milk is considered to be one of the best sources of a key vitamin B12, thought to reduce the neurological damage to the brain that can lead to forms of dementia. The
research found that Elderly patients with low levels of vitamin B12 suffer twice as much shrinkage of the brain as those with higher levels of the substance in their bodies. Trials are
being conducted to see if increasing the intake of vitamin B12 supplements among the elderly could help to slow cognitive decline. Drinking just two glasses of milk a day would be
enough to increase levels of vitamin B12 to an adequate level. Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining the sheath that forms around and insulates nerve cells. Without adequate levels of the vitamin, this sheath cannot be kept in a good functional state, leading the cells to malfunction and die.

Milk is an excellent source of dietary calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals and there is research that suggests it may protect against high blood pressure and colon cancer.
Full fat milk contains 4 percent fat, low fat milk 2 percent fat and slim line 1 percent fat. Fat soluble vitamins are lost when cream is skimmed off full fat milk which is why slimline or low fat milks are unsuitable for young children.

There are low fat milks that have been fortified with vitamins A, D, E, K and calcium which are great options for adults and kids who are over 2 years old. The national dairy council recommends that low fat milk is suitable after the age of 2 and slimline milk is suitable after the age of 5.

I would advise that once children are of school going age it is a good idea to start the whole family of low fat milk particularly one that has had the fat soluble vitamins added back in.
About 500mls per day is the recommended maximum intake once over one year old.


Green/Black Tea reduces stroke risk- The Irish Daily Star
"Drinking tea can lead to iron deficit"

Drinking three cups of tea a day reduced the risk of stroke by 21 percent. This effect was found from both black and green tea. There is uncertainty about which compounds in tea are responsible for this effect, Researchers are speculating the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) or the amino acid theanine may be what helps. These antioxidants are believed to help prevent coronary artery disease. Although green and black tea contain the same amount of the antioxidant Polyphenols green contains about twice the amount of EGCG. It is this antioxidant that is thought to have valuable heart health benefits and may reduce the risk of stroke. (important to point out this research funded by Lipton tea!!)
However tea should be drank in moderation. The tannin in tea prevents the body absorbing vitamins and minerals from your food. To avoid this it shouldn't be drank with meals. Don't forget that tea also contains caffeine so any more than three cups a day can bring you over the recommended caffeine intake.
Both green and black teas come from the tea plant; the differences in taste and aroma arise from the way the leaves are processed. Leaves for black tea are fermented and then fired black in an oven; green-tea leaves are simply steamed and dried. Green tea contains a higher level of antioxidants than black tea and is full of antioxidants called polyphenols that protect cells from free radicals and are thought to help prevent certain cancers and heart disease. Green tea generally contains about half as much caffeine as regular black tea.

Some studies in China found that tea drinkers were about half as likely to develop stomach or esophageal cancer as men who drank little tea however studies in Europe did not support these findings. Other research has found that drinking green tea may reduce the risk of heart disease. The study found that drinking green tea improves the function of the cells lining the circulatory system.

One antioxidant that green tea contains is called epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. Both black and green teas have the same total polyphenol content, but green tea has about twice the EGCG. It is this antioxidant that is thought to have valuable health benefits.


'calorific cheese causes high cholesterol'
"cheese can help regulate blood pressure" -

Cheese is a great source of protein, calcium and zinc, but is considered a high fat food. It is recommended that we limit our intake to a 30g serving (about the size of a matchbox) and no more than twice a week. Edam, feta, Gouda and goats cheese are naturally low fat cheeses. If you are a cheese lover it's a good idea to go for the stronger flavoured cheeses as you get the flavour from using a small amount! Also grating cheese can be a great way to control your serving size.

Women who drink a large glass of wine increase risk of breast/liver and rectal cancer by a quarter: Irish Daily Mail
A glass of white wine increases cancer risk 19.02.09 Irish Examiner
A moderate daily intake of wine can yield a tippler an extra four years. Irish Independent Oct 08

Aveen Says:
Drinking large quantities of alcohol can increase the chances of breast cancer in women, no matter what type of alcohol it is.

Research has found that drinking three or more alcoholic drinks a day could increase the risk of breast cancer by 30%. Researchers found that women who drank between one and two alcoholic drinks per day increased their risk of breast cancer by 10% compared with light drinkers who drank less than one drink a day.
Researchers have also found that people who had more than two drinks a day were more likely to develop cancer of the colon or rectum than people who had fewer than two drinks a day. People who had more than three drinks a day were the most likely to develop colorectal cancer.
The study didn't find any relationship between colorectal cancer and types of alcoholic drinks.

We are all familiar with the research indicating that red wine can be beneficial for your heart. In those who consume moderate amounts of alcohol (an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women) the incidence of heart disease is lower than in non-drinkers. Many link these benefits to red wine although it is not exclusive to red wine. Red wine does contain flavonoids that are good for the heart but it only contains small quantities. Alcohol is thought to increase the level of good cholesterol in the blood but the Irish Heart Foundation do not recommend alcohol consumption as part of heart health. What they advise in those who drink alcohol is that men should consume less than 21 units of alcohol per week whereas women should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

Alcohol Units
One unit = 100cc glass of wine

Red vs. White Wine
Red wine is thought have more more anti-cancer properties because the skin of the grape is maintained during the wine making process. When white wine is being made, the skin is
removed before the grapes are crushed. The skin of grapes contains antioxidant rich phytochemicals, the part of the grape thought to reduce your cancer risk. So it's not necessarily
thought that white wine increases the risk of cancer more so that it might not have health protective qualities. Although excess intake of either colour would increase your overall risk for cancer.

''Eating the right amount of dark chocolate adds two years to your life'' - Irish Independent October 2008
Going for dark chocolate with greater than 70 percent coco content can have health benefits. Research has indicated that a small intake of dark chocolate can lower high blood pressure but remember you need to balance your overall calorie intake and this would only be as part of an overall balanced diet. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that are thought to protect against heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Of course eating large amounts of chocolate is still bad for you and could cause weight gain. About 2 squares per day can provide a chocolate treat without too much fat.


"Bord Bia say an egg a day is okay" The Irish Daily Mail 20.02.09

For years we heard that we should have no more than 3 eggs per week but now we are told; an egg a day is okay.

Aveen Says:

The main misconception surrounding eggs tends to be how people perceive eggs to be high in cholesterol. What people don't realise is that 80% of cholesterol is made by our body and doesn't actually come directly from our diet. If our diets are high in saturated fat we increase our body's ability to make cholesterol. Recent research on the effect of eggs on blood cholesterol levels concludes that there is no evidence to show that eating eggs as part of a healthy balanced diet raises blood cholesterol levels and that a healthy adult can eat up to seven eggs a week.
Eggs are actually incredibly nutritious. One egg contains about 70-75 calories, 7 grams of high-quality protein and all 9 essential amino acids so are considered a complete protein food like meat. The main fat found in eggs is monounsaturated which has the capacity to lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). So even those with high blood cholesterol can eat 4-6 eggs a week.

Eggs also contain vitamins A, B, D and E and provide a good source of iron, zinc, selenium and phosphorus. Eggs are a good source of choline which helps regulate the brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system. Eggs contain lutein and zeaxanthin which can reduce the risk of age related macular degeneration.

Current Irish recommendations state that if your blood cholesterol is normal you can eat up to seven eggs a week. For those of you have a high blood cholesterol, the Irish Heart Foundation recommends you eat four to six eggs a week

Point to Note: Many people automatically reduce their dairy intake if they find out they have high cholesterol or want to lose weight. Studies have shown that people who consume dairy produce do not weigh anymore than those who avoid it.