As the year 2016 comes to a close, most people, healthcare professionals or patients alike, are ready to welcome the new year with new health resolutions. Before starting to trim off fats or spare the sweets, let’s look at some key dietary findings to make sure that any sacrifices made are truly worthwhile.

1. Saturated fat is unhealthy

There has been a long-running debate on saturated fats – and at one point, we nearly believed that it was a superfood that could boost our health.

However, a study published in The British Medical Journal confirmed that reducing the intake of saturated fats actually lowers one’s risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, replacing 1% of saturated fats with equal amounts of poly- or monounsaturated fats is estimated to reduce the risk of heart disease by 4 – 8%.

Contrary to extreme no-fat diets however, some fats are essential to health. A separate study by the University of Barcelona revealed that the key was to eat the right type of fats, instead of eliminating fats completely.

2. Longevity lies in a Japanese diet

The well-known longevity in the Japanese population has been credited to their healthy lifestyles.

A recent study that spanned over 15 years, published in the British Medical Journal, revealed that a closer adherence to the Japanese dietary guidelines resulted in lower risks of death from cardiovascular disease.

Findings revealed that people who consumed a balanced diet of soybean products, veggies, meat, fish, and grains have a 15% lower mortality rate over 15 years than those who did not.

However, balance is the key – and an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet is probably not the best solution.

3. Pulses keep your pounds away

Be generous with nutrient-rich beans.

According to a review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who added three-quarters of a cup of pulses, such as chickpeas and lentils, to their daily diet for six weeks lost an average of 0.34kg – without any effort to reduce other food groups.

"Though the weight loss was small, our findings suggest that simply including pulses in your diet may help you lose weight, and we think more importantly, prevent you from gaining it back after you lose it," said lead author, Dr. Russell de Souza.

4. Carbs may increase the risk of cancer

Researchers from the University of Texas found that among non-smokers, those who consumed a diet with high glycemic index (GI) had a 49% increased risk of developing lung cancer compared to those with lower daily GI. 

While the risk from eating a single doughnut is not the same as smoking a cigarette, eating large amounts for an extended period may swing you to the danger zone, not just for lung cancer but for other metabolic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.

A wholesome diet should not eliminate carbohydrates completely. Instead, select healthy sources of carbohydrates found in whole grains, vegetables or pulses.

5. Honey: Not all that sweet for health

Despite the hype about the all-natural, powerful antioxidant qualities in honey, researchers now say that sugar is still sugar, regardless of the form it takes.

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that honey is made up of 82% sugar. Just like white-cane sugars or high fructose syrup, honey can raise blood glucose levels, insulin, weight, cholesterol and blood pressure after consumption.

6. Take it with a – larger - pinch of salt

A recent 25-year study revealed that increasing salt intake – as little as less than half a teaspoon each day – can lead to a 12% increased risk of premature death.

On the contrary, a separate study by researchers from McMaster University involving over 130,000 people highlighted that low-salt diets may not be beneficial and instead, may actually increase risks of cardiovascular disease. Researchers also revealed that only those with hypertension should reduce their sodium intake.

Regardless, the best advice would be to consume all foods in moderation. For richer flavoured foods, trade salt for natural herbs and spices instead. 

7. Plant-based protein is better than that from animal sources

Individuals who consume diets rich in animal protein, especially red meat, face a higher risk of premature mortality, according to a research by the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The study also revealed that a high intake of plant-based protein linked to a lower risk of death.

Though other lifestyle habits like alcohol consumption and lack of exercise may be manipulative factors, a research fellow in MGH, Dr Mingyang Song, said: "Our findings suggest that people should consider eating more plant proteins than animal proteins, and when they do choose among sources of animal protein, fish and chicken are probably better choices.” research fellow in MGH.

8. A balanced diet trumps supplementary pills

Most people take vitamin supplements, not just to replace a nutrient that is lacking, but also for an extra health boost.

However, a recent article from Consumer Reports found that many supplements are contaminated with dangerous bacteria that may increase health risks like liver damage and heart problems in the long run. Some supplements have also been revealed to be ineffective.

"Usually it is best to try to get these vitamins and minerals and nutrients from food as opposed to supplements," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. MIMS

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