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The Gossiping Gourmet: Debunking false claims, setting the record on health straight

I am always looking for articles about food and health that debunk some of the falsehoods or unproven claims that certain products aid our well-being.

We hear all the time that fish is good for us, and it is if it isn't fried or in the form of fish sticks — or anytime it's not broiled, grilled, poached or baked. Frying essentially negates the healthful qualities of seafood. A study using ultrasound images of 5,000 older adults found that those who regularly ate fried fish showed greater evidence of arteriosclerosis and other heart problems.

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Trans fats have been in the headlines for a while now, and you may be thinking about how much trans fat in your diet is too much. Surprisingly, the answer in a recent study said that almost any is bad for you. An increase of just 2% in caloric intake was associated with 23% higher risk of coronary heart disease.

Bayer has come under fire for claims made in connection with its One–a-Day vitamins. When it comes to cholesterol supplements, a new study that said policosanol, a natural supplement extracted from sugar cane, is no more effective in lowering unhealthy LDL than a placebo.

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Herbal weight-loss products are not often tested to prove that they are safe or even that they work, according to the National Institutes of Health-connected Weight–control Information Network. The products containing ephedra, which are now banned, have caused serious health problems.

Newer formulas that claim to be ephedra-free are not necessarily danger-free, because they may contain ingredients similar to ephedra.

Of course, as a food writer, I am most interested in the food-related studies. Coconut oil has been getting a lot of press for its healing power, but there is no scientific evidence to back those claims. Also, since coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, it can raise your unhealthy LDL cholesterol, which can contribute to heart disease. The USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory says 1 teaspoon of coconut oil contains 11.7 milligrams of saturated fat.

Apple cider vinegar in tablet form has been marketed as effective in treating dozens of health issues including arthritis, osteoporosis, a sore throat, hypertension, an enlarged prostate, nasal congestion and more. However, there is no evidence that plain cider vinegar is miraculous. In fact, it may even cause injury to the esophagus, and at best the pills may contain dubious ingredients, if they contain any actual cider vinegar at all.

Power bars are popular, but it is advised that unless you are an endurance athlete, skip these glorified candy bars, which are supposed to refuel your body. They are packed with calories that most people do not need, which means the only part of the body that you are really powering up is your waistline.

If you have concerns about osteoporosis, cut back on the cola drinks. Tufts University, in Massachusetts, has new research that links drinking cola to lower bone density, which increases the risk for osteoporosis.

Package labeling these days is often useless because it can be very misleading. Clever marketing can trick you into thinking that certain products are whole grain when they aren't. Words like multigrain, cracked wheat, seven grain, stone-ground, bran and 100% wheat are often not whole-grain products. Look instead for products that say brown rice, bulgar, graham flour, oatmeal, whole grain corn, whole oats, whole rye, whole wheat or wild rice.

If you are watching your salt intake to combat hypertension, know that you may be consuming "hidden" sodium in the form of sodium-based food additives. Britain's Medical Research Council suggests that people beware of preservatives, sweeteners and substitutes like sodium citrate, monosodium bicarbonate and sodium nitrate.

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TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at themarkos755@gmail.com.

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