A few weeks ago, we wrote about some headlines describing research on diet and health that may have had you scratching your head. Here are a few more.
Olive oil prevents Alzheimer’s?
“Extra virgin olive oil is the key ingredient of the Mediterranean diet that protects the brain from Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline, scientists have discovered,” announced Newsweek in June.
Case closed? Hardly…unless you happen to be a mouse.
Don’t get us wrong. The study was exciting. The scientists used mice that are genetically engineered to get not just memory loss but the plaques and tau tangles that occur in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.1 And mice that were given extra-virgin olive oil—the researchers didn’t say how much—for six months did better on mazes that test memory and learning than those that got no olive oil.
What’s more, the mice fed olive oil had healthier synapses (links between nerve cells), fewer plaques, and less abnormal tau, probably because their nerve cells were better at getting rid of debris.
Exciting, yes. But it’s a long way from a mouse study to preventing Alzheimer’s in humans.
Bottom Line: Extra-virgin olive oil is good for your heart. Will it also preserve your memory? It’s far too early to say.
Non-dairy milk stunts growth?
“Children who drink alternatives to dairy milk, including soy, almond or rice milks, appear to be slightly shorter than their peers who drink cow’s milk, according to new research,” reported CBSNews.com in June.
What is “slightly”?
“For each cup of non-cow’s milk children drank per day, they were 0.4 centimeters shorter than average,” noted CBS.2 That’s about a sixth of an inch.
To its credit, CBS explained that the study doesn’t prove that non-dairy milk stunts growth, and that the authors didn’t ask parents what else their kids ate—which could have explained the difference.
But CBS repeated the authors’ claim that “non-cow’s milk contains less protein and fat than cow’s milk,” without explaining that soy milk has about as much protein as cow’s milk, while almond and rice have much less. (The study didn’t ask which one the kids drank.)
Bottom Line: Before you buy non-dairy milk, compare its protein, sugar, and calcium to cow’s milk.
Diet foods make you fat?
“You may want to be careful the next time you reach for a ‘diet’ food—unless you’re looking to go up a pant size,” declared U.S. News & World Report in April.
“The study tried to assess the impact of popular diet foods that market no or low-fat content, but add more sugar,” said U.S. News.
The result: “Rats eating foods with high sugar content and minimal fat content actually added to their body fat as opposed to those eating ‘a balanced rodent diet,’ according to a news release.”
Perhaps if someone at U.S. News had read the study, they might have noticed that the rats that gained the most body fat were fed a diet high in sugar and fat.3
Maybe that doesn’t fit with the popular notion that low-fat “diet” foods spur more overeating than “satiating” high-fat foods. Not in these rats.
Bottom Line: Limit sugary foods whether they’re high or low in fat. And don’t assume that low-fat foods have more sugar than their fatty counterparts. A cup of a super-premium ice cream like Häagen-Dazs has about as much sugar as—and roughly twice the calories (500 to 600) of—a cup of Breyers or Edy’s.
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