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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 April, 2004, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
How to digest healthy eating advice

It seems we're ready to swallow any story about a foodstuff having miraculous medicinal properties. But what with all the conflicting scientific advice, it's all a bit of a dog's dinner.

Eat a worm every day and you will be fighting fit and suffer nothing worse than a bout of mild flu every 30 years.

Before you going digging up the lawn, be advised that this health tip comes not from scientists at a fancy teaching hospital, but from Paisit Chanta, a Thai firefighter.

"It's strange and disgusting," said Mr Chanta's colleagues, when his slimy secret to warding off illness was reported in a Thai newspaper.

But is the dietary advice from scientists - which is regularly given prominence in our newspapers and TV bulletins - any easier to follow than Mr Chanta's?

This week, curry has been praised for its ability to combat Alzheimer's and other forms of neurodegenerative diseases.

Curcumin found in the spice turmeric has excited researchers from the New York Medical College, who think it could bolster our natural defences against free radicals. Tumeric has also been linked to reduced rates of colon cancer enjoyed by British Asians.

Brain food?
So should you book a regular table at the Taj Mahal Tandoori? You can, if you don't mind the damage you will do to your heart from the fats contained in the poppadoms and naan bread.

And then beware the cancer-causing imported food dyes which have slipped into the UK, much to the dismay of Trading Standards officers.

And that's even before you've started to worry about the butter most curries are cooked in and the pints of beer many diners wash them down with.

Though, that said, the milk fats in butter may prevent children from developing asthma, according to recent Dutch research.

And beer drunk in "moderation" lowers cholesterol, prevents cancer and keeps the heart healthy, at least according to Roger Protz, the editor of the Good Beer Guide.

This is not just self-interest, stout and sherry have also just been given the partial thumbs-up by proper white-coated scientists to the delight of the newspaper headline writers. "Guinness IS good for you, after all."

Good health!
No wonder that - despite the constant warnings about the toll alcohol can take on your body - 26% of confused Britons currently drink booze because of its "health benefits".

With food health stories, context is everything. Take the great salmon scare which erupted in January 2004.

"Only Eat Salmon Three Times a Year!" bellowed the Daily Mail, quoting scientists who suggested that the farmed variety of the fish contained dangerous levels of toxic chemicals.

But, as the Food Standards Agency was quick to point out, oily fish such as salmon offer a vast array health benefits once in human tums. Benefits far outweighing the risks of ingesting toxins.

Fishy advice
Oily fish, say scientists, can prevent strokes, heart attacks, asthma, dementia, prostate cancer and premature births.

Much the same has happened to tea, apples and eggs - praised one moment, damned the next, only to be rehabilitated again.

So the best advice seems to be, take most things with a pinch of salt (except your dinner, it's bad for you).


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