The truth about nutrition is always in flux. One day coffee is a carcinogen, the next it’s a potent antioxidant. Carbs used to be the devil, now (the right kinds) are the staple of a well-balanced diet.
What’s healthy seems to change regularly, and 2016 was no exception, which is why we’re looking back at the biggest nutrition discoveries of the year.
It’s confirmed: saturated fat really is bad
Butter lovers went bananas when science (momentarily) said saturated fats are healthier than they’ve been made out to be. Update: They aren’t. A second study confirmed that we were actually right all along—and saturated fats are definitely not a superfood. The research, published in The British Medical Journal, found that a reduced intake of saturated fats can lower one’s risk of coronary heart disease, while swapping in unsaturated fats (from good-for-you sources like vegetable-based oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and seafood) actually works to boost heart health. Luckily, topping your toast with avocado instead of butter isn’t the worst sacrifice (and we have the delicious avocado toast recipes to prove it).
A Japanese diet is advised
That all-you-can eat sushi buffet sounds like a pretty good idea right now. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that Japanese people who closely followed their national food guidelines—lots of rice, veggies, fish, meat, and soybean products—had a 15% lower mortality rate than their peers who didn’t adhere as strictly to the classic Japanese diet.
Pulses keep pounds off
Without making any other efforts to slim down, people who added three-quarters of a cup of pulses (think: peas, lentils, chickpeas or beans) to their diet every day for six weeks lost .75 pounds, according to a review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this year. Eat beans, lose weight, repeat. Try these bean recipes to get started.
Carbs could be linked to some cancers
You don’t have to go cold turkey on carbs, but do know this: A recent study found that a diet high on the glycemic index—that is, one that’s full of refined carbohydrates that cause blood sugar levels to spike—may be associated with a greater risk of lung cancer, even among non-smokers. The good news is that you’d need to eat a lot of the stuff to put yourself in danger, said Health’s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, RD, in a previous interview:
You should watch what you eat—literally
What you see is what you eat, according to recent research from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. The 2016 study found that women who kept packaged foods and sugary drinks on their kitchen counters weighed up to 26 pounds more than those who didn’t. What’s more, women who had a bowl of fruit out were shown to weigh almost 13 pounds fewer than those who didn’t. Expert tip: Keep health-boosting bites within reach and stash splurges far out of sight if you’re trying to stick to a slim-down plan.
If you’re nuts about your health, eat them
Well this is nutty. An analysis of 29 studies about nut-eaters and their health outcomes found that the benefits of eating the good fat-packed snack are abundant. That is, people who ate a handful of nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts—you name it) every day had a 30% lower likelihood of having heart disease than their peers whose diets were nut-free. And that’s not all. Those who regularly noshed on nuts had a 15% lower risk of cancer, as well as a 22% lower risk of premature death. Does that mean we can feel less bad about spooning PB straight from the jar now?
You should add insects to your diet (yes, really)
Forget green juice; bugs may be the new “it” food. Why? When researchers in the UK and China teamed up to study the nutritional content of insects, they found that creepy crawlers actually offered more nutrients than steak. In particular, grasshopper, cricket, mealworm, and buffalo worm samples were all shown to have a higher concentration of calcium, copper, zinc, and magnesium than a sample of sirloin. Plus, all of the insects had higher iron solubility than steak, meaning the body was better able to absorb and use the critical mineral when it consumed it from bugs rather than beef. Burger, meet bug-sandwich.
You don’t actually need to drink 8 glasses of H2O every day
We’ve all been told that drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day is the key to staying healthy and hydrated, but new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States says it’s not totally necessary.
The dangers of dietary supplements are real
Just because something’s sold in a health food store doesn’t mean it’s good for you. An article published in Consumer Reports this summer found that tons of dietary supplements are contaminated with dangerous bacteria and ingredients that may cause scary health outcomes from vomiting and nausea to liver damage and heart problems.