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Today we're asking if some of the foods you thought were healthy
could actually be doing you all manner of harm.
Quite a few scary reports claim that's the case
so we've been finding out if you really need to worry.
Every day we're bombarded with conflicting information
about our favourite foods.
One minute we're told something's good for us.
The next it's not, and we're left feeling guilty
about what we're eating.
We've been wading through the confusion
to separate the scare stories from the truth,
so you can choose your food with confidence.
Hello and welcome to Food: Truth or Scare,
the series that's here to tackle those scare stories head-on
and find out once and for all if they really stack up.
Do you know, today we're getting to the bottom of more than a few
very alarming reports claiming that certain foods or diets
aren't just bad for us, but they're downright dangerous.
And we're not talking here about calorie-laden processed foods that
we all know we shouldn't eat too often.
The ones we'll be discovering the truth about are foods
long considered to be a healthy option.
So we'll be asking whether it's time to rethink some of the food choices
we might have assumed were the right ones or if the reports that made you
think that are just scaremongering nonsense.
Coming up -
can fresh fish, something we've been told to eat more of,
actually be poisoning us?
You've got to weigh up the benefits of the omega-3
with the dangers of the mercury.
And is a plant-based vegan diet the healthy alternative some
people claim or are vegan parents risking their children's health?
If you're on a vegan diet, then you're going to end up
quite likely to be deficient in vitamin B12.
Now as someone who eats fish twice every week,
just as the doctor ordered, I was particularly worried by a report
that hit the news last year which said that mercury levels
in some fish were so high that it could pose a danger to our health.
Now that's a bit of a scary proposition and it goes against
what we're often told by our doctors, and indeed the government,
that as a nation, we don't eat as much fish as we should.
So to find out if my twice-weekly servings are doing me
the world of good or indeed putting dangerous amounts of mercury into my body,
there was only one way for it, to get tested.
At home, my husband Stephen and I eat fish of one kind or another
at least twice a week, and I have to say Stephen has it almost every day.
But recently I've noticed some reports that have made me question
whether we're doing the right thing.
I have never really, particularly thought about mercury in fish
and yet everybody seems to be writing about it.
-Have you ever thought about it?
-No, not really.
I mean, why is it so...
-..dangerous for you?
-I don't know.
The reports all seem to be saying that some fish contain high levels
of mercury which can seriously damage our nervous systems,
our brains and may even lead to conditions like
motor neurone disease.
It's enough to put some people off fish and chip Friday for good.
I probably would stay away from that if I knew, but I didn't know that.
I think you have to eat an awful lot to have any sort of mercury poisoning.
If you stop eating stuff for every scare,
you'd end up eating nothing, I think.
Faced with health messages about how good fish can be,
and the scare stories about how dangerous mercury is,
it can be very hard to know what to do for the best.
So with the help of nutritionist Yvonne Bishop-Weston,
I want to sort out the fish we should be taking seriously
from the ones we should be avoiding.
All these headlines about mercury,
is there mercury, to a degree, in all fish?
There is, and mercury matters.
I have to be honest and say the only time I've ever seen mercury is in a
thermometer, so what does it do to us?
Mercury is mostly associated with problems in the brain,
and the nervous system and in the kidneys.
It tends to get stored in the brain so it's due to things like memory
and cognition and fine motor movement.
It's anything to do with the nervous system.
Mercury occurs naturally all over the planet but the main source of
mercury in fish is from industrial waste that's pumped into rivers and
seas, where bacteria turns it into what is known as methylmercury,
which is much more toxic.
And it's this that could eventually end up on our dinner plates.
But as Yvonne explains,
the amount of mercury depends on the type of fish.
Fish absorb it as methylmercury and then they accumulate it up the food
chain, so the biggest risk is going to be
the bigger they are, the older they are.
For instance if we're looking at the halibut here, it's a really big fish
-and halibut can live to about 150 years.
So, the age and the size of the fish is key.
Larger, older ones will have absorbed more mercury over their lives.
The smaller, younger fish will have less.
So if we start with things like the anchovies and sardines.
You know, people often forget that sardines are a really healthy fish.
They are low in mercury levels,
lower levels of other toxins as well.
Then we start to get to things like the herring, the Atlantic mackerel.
Up until about the size of a salmon
we're feeling pretty safe on mercury levels.
-So that would be low risk in your eyes?
Small equals safe.
Yvonne says if they are low down the food chain,
you can eat them as often as you like.
The same can be said of salmon,
squid and most white fish,
the sort you get down the fish and chip shop or inside fish fingers.
But be a bit more careful with the three fish on the high risk list,
swordfish, shark and marlin.
They're big, they live long lives and they absorb a lot of mercury.
So they are only safe to eat once a week.
Almost everything else,
including that halibut and firm favourites like tuna,
fall into the medium risk list.
For most adults, these are safe to eat multiple times every week.
But if all this makes you wary about eating any fish at all,
then in many cases, you'll be missing out
on the very thing that makes it so good for you, omega-3.
We can't make omega-3 fatty acid ourselves
so we have to get it from fish, from plants, from nuts,
from seeds, from algae.
There's all sorts of places that will provide us with omega-3
and we have to get it to be well.
Let's say you were going to do your fish shopping for the week.
-So, what would you buy?
-If I wanted to minimise my mercury,
and if I wanted to get my omega-3 fatty acids,
then I would be looking at anchovy, I'd be looking at spratts
or little herring, mackerel.
You have no salmon in your shopping at all, whereas I would.
Yes, salmon would come in there because of the omega-3 fatty acids
so yes, you're right, you could put salmon into that group.
There is one fish that confuses matters, tuna.
When it's fresh, it's packed with omega-3
but its mercury levels are some of the highest
on the acceptable list.
Canned tuna tends to be younger so has less mercury
but the canning process itself removes the omega-3.
Tuna is something that we need to be wary of.
You've got to weigh up the benefits of the omega-3
with the dangers of the mercury,
and it depends on how much of it you're having as a whole.
So if you're having lots of middle ground fish like sea bass and skate,
and then you're adding tuna on top, that's going to accumulate.
But if you're having it on its own,
fresh tuna is safe to eat up to four times a week.
Stephen and I mostly eat the fish that Yvonne says is either safe or
medium risk, but the idea of mercury accumulating in our bodies
is a worrying one.
To find out if the fish we eat is posing a risk to our health,
Yvonne is running some tests and they will show exactly
how high our levels of mercury are.
In the meantime, here's a group of people who should know more about
mercury than many of us.
Pregnant women are told to limit their fish intake to avoid mercury
so Yvonne and I are unearthing how much these recently pregnant mums
know about the subject.
So, what do you know about mercury in fish?
-They tell you not to have too much oily fish...
..but having white fish because there is less mercury in white fish.
We have white fish mainly.
Prawns, things like that.
He has fish but we don't do too much of it.
He likes sardines so it's great that he likes fish,
although I'm not really sure if it's great
if you're talking to me about mercury.
Do you know how much mercury might be in fish?
Well, it's to do with the size of the fish so the bigger the fish,
the less mercury, I think.
-The bigger the fish, the less mercury?
Oh, dear, that's the wrong way round.
It's time for Yvonne to give the mums a bit of a masterclass.
Which ones do you think would be the safest from a mercury point of view,
to give yourself or your children?
I think it's the white fish.
-Like fish and chips?
What about the salmon?
-I would put that quite high.
-Yeah, high in mercuries.
And that one, tuna, high as well.
The government gives recommendations for us as adults.
We're told that we should eat, at minimum, two portions of fish
a week, one of which, as a minimum, should be oily.
And we're told we can have the fish that have the highest levels
of mercury, which is the shark, swordfish and the marlin, once a week,
and that's within what the government considers to be safe.
The official advice for pregnant and breast-feeding women is to avoid
shark, swordfish or marlin altogether,
and limit portions of oily fish to a maximum of two per week.
All the mums knew that mercury poses a danger
but they were confused about which fish are safe to eat
and which are not.
That's the problem with reports like this one.
The headlines make it look as if all fish is bad for you.
Professor John Stein has been studying the effects fish
has on development for over 40 years.
And he thinks warnings about the risks of eating too much
only tell one side of the story.
John, suddenly there seems to be a lot of scaremongering
about the amount of mercury in our fish in this country.
Are we absorbing enough mercury in fish to worry about it?
No, not at all, I don't think,
because the safe level is what's called
one part per million.
The average fish that we eat here has 100 times less than that
and salmon, the sort that we eat in this country,
has something like a hundredth of the amount that is regarded
as the amount that might be dangerous.
So, most of the fish we eat in the UK is perfectly safe,
but even in countries where they eat fish with higher mercury levels,
there have been some really surprising findings.
There's a study from Norway, where they eat a lot of fish,
where they have shown that actually,
the more mercury there is in their blood,
the better their children do.
And that's not because mercury is helpful at all,
but because mercury comes from fish which also provide omega-3s
which are vital for your brain.
Just like a car engine is oiled by oil,
omega-3s oil your brain, and it speeds up reactions
and helps the brain to work properly.
But while omega-3s positive effects on the brain
seem hard to argue with, anyone faced with these stories
about mercury's negative effects could still be left confused.
Eating fish and seafood riddled with mercury
raises the risk of motor neurone disease. True or false?
It's true but it's a tiny effect.
This particular study showed that you increased your risk by 20%
-in a pretty rare disease.
-That's high, though, isn't it?
No, it's not. Motor neurone disease occurs in about one in 10,000 people
so this is raising it from one in 10,000 to 1.2.
But there's a lot of evidence that omega-3s
actually help people with motor neurone disease.
John says that anyone who avoids fish because they're scared
about mercury is doing so unnecessarily
and missing out on vital omega-3.
I get the impression that you're not worried about mercury at all?
I'm not at all, no, because I think the levels are so low
and yet the importance of eating enough omega-3s,
consuming enough omega-3s is so large,
that it far outweighs the minimal risks from the mercury.
Despite that, there's no escaping the mercury content,
especially from high-risk fish like swordfish and marlin.
So where do my husband Stephen and I stand
after eating years of eating fish?
Well, Yvonne has got the results of our tests.
So, all I know, Yvonne, is that you were doing some form
of hair analysis to do with mercury.
So what does that hair analysis show?
Well, you didn't do too badly because if we look
at your test results, we shouldn't have more than one part per million
and you were 0.8, so you came below what is considered to be
-a potentially toxic level.
-So, that's good?
-That's good, yes, absolutely.
-Well done, me, then.
-He came above.
Stephen actually eats more fish proportionately than I do.
And we can see that. His came above that threshold so his mercury level
was just a little bit higher than we would want in a perfect world.
Now, there's no easy way to remove mercury from your body
but over time, it does disappear.
While Stephen is not in any danger,
if he sticks to fish that have very low levels of mercury,
his reading will drop.
So, any advice then to pass on to Stephen?
I would talk to him about what are the high mercury fish?
How often he should be having the higher ones as opposed to the lower
mercury fish, maybe sort of suggest he works a little bit lower down the
food chain, going more for your sardines and your herring.
Well, I have a lot to tell him tonight over dinner
so thank you very much, Yvonne. Great advice, thank you.
And I did tell him. Even though Stephen isn't at risk,
certain fish will be off the menu for him for a while,
just to get those mercury levels down to below the ideal level.
It's a huge relief, though,
to hear that our favourite fish is still overwhelmingly good for us and
Stephen and I are delighted that we can still enjoy a nice bit of salmon
with a glass of wine on the side.
If you'd like ideas for recipes including oily fish that are rich in
omega-3, you can visit...
..where you'll also find details of some of the other things
that we're talking about in this series.
Now, sometimes an eye-catching report might make you feel
just that bit nervous about eating too much of a particular food
or following a special diet.
But when it's a story that focuses on the way you and your family
eat every single day, well, to me, that can be very worrying indeed.
And that's very much the case for the topic we're talking about next,
veganism, which, to those who follow it, I think anyway,
is a bit of a religion or certainly a way of life.
But oh, boy, can it polarise opinion!
It absolutely can.
It's an incredibly divisive subject and I have to say
there's no shortage of mixed messages about veganism.
Some say that if you get it right,
it can be one of the healthiest choices you can make
but others go to the opposite extreme and say that meat and dairy
contain so many vital nutrients, it's easy for veganism
to actually become an unhealthy way of life.
So I went to find out if it's really possible that a diet based on fruit
and veg can be bad for you and your family.
Before I got a job on the telly,
I spent more than a decade working with fruit and veg every day.
I love the stuff, and at home there is one very good reason
we get through tonnes of it.
My wife's a vegetarian so that means a lot of the meals
we eat at home are veggie.
In fact, I can go days without eating any sort of meat at all.
But I couldn't go veggie full time and I certainly couldn't go vegan.
It means cutting out everything that has come from an animal,
so no meat, fish or dairy, or indeed some surprising foods
that often contain animal products too like jelly, sweets, cakes
and certain types of bread, honey and even some wines.
It's a big commitment and it's a choice that's being made
by more people now than ever before.
I feel really empowered by making that choice
because before I was just eating whatever.
Now I'm like, I need to eat this much to get this much magnesium
and this much iron, and if I eat chickpeas and beans,
-I'm getting all the protein I need.
I actually find it really empowering.
While some reports say it's supremely healthy,
others say it's downright dangerous.
I have never recommended any of my patients follow a vegan diet.
It would be very hard for me on a day-to-day basis to make sure I was
meeting all my nutritional requirements.
Very difficult, very challenging to be fully nutritionally adequate
on a vegan diet.
And the debate gets really heated when it comes to children,
with some reports suggesting parents are irresponsibly gambling
with their family's health.
Why, you look delicious.
I think I shall have to eat you!
Holly Driver and her boyfriend, Ben, have been vegan for eight months.
Did it bite you?
Four months ago, Holly decided to put kids on a vegan diet, too.
Well, we went vegan initially for the ethical side, for the animals,
and every good thing that you can get from animal products,
you can get elsewhere.
I felt it was the right thing to do.
Like many kids their age, two-year-old Morgan
and four-year-old Jay used to get through lots of things like milk,
chicken and a toddler favourite, ham and cheese sandwiches,
but of course, now that's all changed.
-So your children are four and two, aren't they?
Are you worried about your children getting enough nutrients
-and vitamins from the food they're eating?
-I have been initially.
I think the first thing is having to learn what it is
that they are missing, what was good about meat and dairy,
and it's calories.
They need a lot of physical energy.
I do have concerns sometimes that perhaps the amount they eat
just isn't enough.
And also calcium and protein.
I try my best but it is a bit of a concern sometimes.
And it's easy to see why Holly often struggles.
Take for example a typical kids' favourite,
fish fingers with mash and two veg, a glass of milk and a yoghurt.
A vegan equivalent will have less protein and calcium,
which can easily be replaced by adding enriched soya milk.
But Holly's most concerned that Morgan and Jay
are missing out on energy.
This vegan meal has a third fewer calories than the fish finger meal.
Replacing those could mean as much as a whole extra veggie burger.
That's a lot for a four-year-old.
As any parent knows,
getting children to eat what they're told isn't always easy.
When they're so young, they can be quite picky
and, for example, my son will not eat beans if he knows there's beans.
If they've been blended up, he'll eat them.
Holly's seen the reports that criticise parents
who choose to bring their kids up vegan,
and she's desperate to make sure Morgan and Jay
aren't missing out nutritionally.
There's some things they're happy to eat, sort of,
if bribed with a treat.
You know, you'll get your biscuit if you eat your broccoli and that sort of thing.
But that's not a long-term solution so Holly wants to find out what she
needs to do to make sure the kids are getting all they need.
She'll be keeping a video diary of the family meals and we'll meet up
in a week to put it under some expert scrutiny.
This is what I've made for dinner on Wednesday, a salad.
And there's some couscous with hummus mixed in.
So, yeah, hopefully this will go OK.
They've had rice before and they usually don't make a fuss about it.
While Holly is determined to find a way to make sure her family is healthy,
some of the reports about the potential side effects
of going vegan are enough to make many people think again.
They're warnings that dietitian Alison Clark is familiar with.
Some have a little bit of truth in them, in the fact that you can
become deficient in certain nutrients if you don't plan
your diet well.
And you need to pay particular attention to the calcium, omega-3,
fatty acids, iodine, selenium and B12.
They're all nutrients that non-vegans easily get
from animal products, and being deficient in them
can have serious consequences, ranging from slowed mental health
and physical development in children,
to osteoporosis and neurological problems in adults.
But with the right foods, and in some cases the right supplements,
a vegan diet can be extremely healthy.
We know that people following a good, healthy,
well-balanced vegan diet will have more fruit and veg in their diet,
will have more whole grains, so generally more fibre
and this leads on to actually reducing health risks
such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease,
cardiovascular disease, strokes as well.
They're just some of the reasons that Holly decided
to make the whole family go vegan.
But back in Southampton, it's proving easier said than done.
So, Morgan is tucking into her mac and cheese-style dinner
and Jay is currently in a time out
because he had such a big strop about it and is refusing to eat it.
This is the kind of thing that when I was a meat eater,
I probably would have just said, never mind, have a slice of ham
and some cheese or something.
So, I'm at a bit of a loss when he just refuses to eat dinner.
When Morgan or Jay refuse to eat, it just adds to Holly's concerns
that they're not getting the right nutrients.
So she and I are on our way to meet dietitian Priya Tew,
who's been scrutinising Holly's food diaries
to see how much she's getting right.
So what does Holly and her family need to be doing to make sure
they're getting all their vitamins and nutrients?
It looks like you've been doing really well.
There's some lovely variety in there and I can see that you've been
spending some time planning out some of those meals.
While Priya is not overly concerned the kids are missing out,
there are some holes in the family's diet.
Although you did have a range of protein,
you were kind of reliant on the same ones perhaps for the children.
I wondered about whether you could try some different protein sources
with them, so whether they might like tofu or tempeh.
Nuts can be a really great addition.
You don't have to have them whole,
so you could try sliced almonds for example.
That would also help with another of Holly's big concerns,
that Morgan and Jay aren't getting enough calories.
I find it hard to work out how to get those extra calories in.
Seeds are also good, so you can sprinkle seeds into a flapjack
for example, putting them onto cereals,
if you were to add some dried fruit.
-But it's just making a little bit more out of what you're having.
Priya says Holly has the building blocks of a healthy diet in place
but there is one essential nutrient every vegan
needs to pay attention to, vitamin B12.
And it's behind one of the most alarming stories about the risks
of following a vegan diet.
If you're on a vegan diet, then you're going to end up quite likely
to be deficient in vitamin B12.
So a large-scale study that was done found that up to 50% of vegans and
vegetarians had an increased risk of depression.
So not having enough vitamin B12 can have a detrimental effect
-on your mood potentially?
-It could do, yes.
But Priya says there's an easy fix as dairy alternatives
fortified with vitamins and minerals are a great way
to boost your level of B12.
I must admit, I've never been a fan of dairy substitutes
but Priya has laid on a taste test of some of the most popular options.
Here we have some...
..coconut milk, almond milk and we've got oat milk.
Let's try it then. Come on then.
Coconut is very flavoursome, isn't it?
On its own, that's actually quite pleasant.
So now we have got the almond milk.
It's quite strong.
That's not for me.
-What's the last one?
Yeah, it's quite sweet.
The oat milk is a lot nicer.
It's got a real sweetness, a natural sort of creaminess to it.
The great thing about these milks is they're fortified,
so they've got vitamin D in, we've got calcium, we've got B12 in there
so they're providing you with those nutrients
that you might otherwise be missing out on.
The importance to research it and make sure
you're replacing like-for-like is even more important, isn't it?
It can be harder on a vegan diet to get all of the nutrition
that you need but there's no reason you can't do it.
It's just the planning and the thinking it through.
As well as tips for increasing protein, healthy fats and B12,
Holly is also leaving armed with advice for how to ensure the kids
eat more calcium and iron, and she's keen to get started.
So after meeting with Priya,
I think she had a lot of really useful things to say
and she gave me a lot of advice like,
ground almonds and sesame seeds were two things
that I'm definitely going to get hold of.
Holly is optimistic she's now armed with tips to help ensure Morgan
and Jay get everything they need.
But some reports suggest that not all vegan parents
are in such a good position,
and that vegan diets can leave children malnourished
and with irreversible health problems.
Nicole Rothband is a specialist paediatric dietitian.
-If you want to take a seat here.
It can hamper a child's growth and they may not actually achieve
their full growth potential.
It can also slow down and affect their intellectual development
and that can obviously have impacts long-term on their life chances.
Nichole sees patients who have a whole host of nutritional issues
and vegans make up just a tiny proportion of them.
Sometimes children on a vegan diet will be referred to us
because their growth is faltering.
We can do an assessment of the diet and then advise parents
on how to make sure that those elements, those nutrients
that are missing are supplemented or added into the diet.
But while Nicole does see children who are being brought up vegan,
she says she sees the very same problems with other children too.
We have to be very careful that we don't tar every vegan with the same
brush and decide that veganism is going to, inevitably,
lead to malnutrition because that's not the case at all.
Most parents that choose to do it,
do it really responsibly because it's a lifestyle choice that they're
making, and normally they are very aware of the nutrition deficiencies
that might be a consequence of following a vegan diet.
So with the right guidance,
Nicole is confident a vegan diet won't leave children malnourished.
But back in Southampton,
putting Priya's advice into action isn't going too smoothly for Holly.
For lunch they had the usual, like, peanut butter sandwich.
There was a bit of a failure there because they wouldn't eat
their banana with it, but they did eat an apple later.
When Priya took a look at Holly's food diaries,
she could see Holly was relying on many of the same meals.
So to help her vary Morgan and Jay's diet,
she's come to meet fellow vegan mum and food writer, Lizzie Tighe,
who first started cooking vegan food four years ago.
Hi, come in.
As well as practical tips,
Lizzie's going to show Holly some of the ways she gets her kids to eat
nutrient rich vegan foods, starting with a snack rich in protein,
calcium and good fats.
So what actually is in this?
One avocado and then some oats, we've got some hemp seeds here,
and you've got sesame seeds which are really good
for calcium and protein.
I do think these will be really good for the kids actually
because they do love joining in in the kitchen.
And Lizzie has another trick up her sleeve for sneaking extra nutrition
into her kids' diets.
So in here we have got frozen banana, pumpkin seed butter,
a little bit of maple syrup, organic cacao powder, cashew butter,
hemp seeds and a little bit of almond milk.
So we're going to whizz this up.
Yeah, that's really nice. It's really cold and really banana-y,
-and I think the kids will really like that because they already love bananas.
So it's kind of like a special chocolate sundae-type treat.
In no time, Holly was whizzing up Lizzie's recipes at home.
I've just made this as like a post-lunch snack.
The kids helped me make it and I'm going to put
some walnuts on the top.
And a month later, I'm giving her a call to see how things are going.
-Hello, Holly, how are you?
-Hi, I'm doing really well, thanks.
Excellent. And how's the vegan diet going?
-How have the kids been getting on?
-Yeah, we're doing really well now.
I'm feeling really confident that the calories are being met,
they're getting all their fats.
They have a lot of energy and they sleep well so I think, yeah,
they must be feeling good in themselves.
As a result, I'm eating a bigger variety of things as well.
Proof then that with the right planning and determination,
there's nothing a vegan diet has to miss out,
which is great news for these two.
Did you like that?
Yeah? Looks like you did.
Was it yummy? Yeah?
Did you like yours, Jay?
Still to come -
We're a nation of Cheddar lovers but is it possible
we're addicted to cheese?
The brain's response to food, alcohol and cigarettes
involves the same areas of the brain.
All week we're tackling some of the trendiest food fads head-on
to find out if the health claims that make these things so popular
really stack up. So what have you got for me today then, Gloria?
Oh, let me think. I'm going to give you some clues, is that OK?
Once they were known as alligator pears.
Then their colour inspired many a '70s bathroom suite.
I think I might have had one of those myself.
Last autumn, one supermarket started selling stoneless versions to cut
down the number of people injuring their hands when they were trying to
-eat them. So, got any answers?
-No, I think I'm at a loss. What is it?
It is the avocado, and it's now so popular that you can find entire
restaurants devoted to serving only these.
But are their much-celebrated benefits for real
or is the avocado craze just a fashionable fleeting fad?
Once the favourite of '80s dinner party menus,
avocados have exploded in popularity and become the go-to food
for the health-conscious.
It's really good, it's fresh, it's healthy.
They're pretty healthy, they make you feel good when you eat them.
I don't know whether it's the colour, the texture, the taste
but it just gives me the impression that when I'm eating it, I'm doing a healthy thing.
I like making guacamole.
I try making some into salads, yeah.
But they're a huge thing at the moment, aren't they?
Everyone's going crazy for them.
The avocado craze shows no sign of stopping.
Sales have increased nearly 200% in the last five years
and if you believe the hype,
there's no end to the knobbly fruit's superpowers,
and for the most part, dietitian Linia Patel says
this is a fad we can believe in.
Avocados contain monounsaturated fats,
which is basically a good type of fat,
that has been linked to helping prevent heart disease.
Avocados also claim to be very high in antioxidants such as vitamin E.
Vitamin E has a role in your immune system but it also has a role in
helping prevent diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.
With credentials like that, there's no wonder avocados are so popular
but it turns out there can be too much of a good thing.
Because all those healthy fats come alongside a serving
of more than 300 calories.
So do these shoppers know what the recommended portion size is?
For a day, avocado, say half an avocado?
They're quite fattening, aren't they?
Yeah, lots of calories.
Whilst avocados are full of lots of good nutrients,
what we've got to remember is they also contain a lot of fat.
So this avocado for example, a whole avocado,
contains about 22 grams of fat.
Now that's a lot, so what's important to remember
is you've got to get the portion size right.
And the recommended amount is half an avocado per day.
I don't eat it every day so perhaps that's a good thing.
Ah, but before you say, but it's good fat, isn't it,
too much of any fat can lead to weight gain
so it's very important to get your nutrients from a variety
of foods that don't always come with as much fat.
The vitamins and minerals that you get in avocado,
you can get in other foods.
So for example, the potassium you find in avocado
can also be found in a banana.
The key is that you get a varied diet
rather than what we're doing now with this fad,
having an avocado a day, or two,
because we think it's the right thing to do.
It might not quite be a super food, but within reason there's no need
to avoid the avocado, however you prefer it.
I like them in a guacamole with a tequila!
Whatever your favourite type and however you like it,
I bet many of us think the most dangerous thing about cheese
can be the way the strongest ones smell.
But some reports claim that this kitchen staple has a dark side,
that it could increase your risk of heart attacks or cancer
and might even be as addictive as some hard drugs.
But don't panic yet because, as usual,
for every scare story saying cheese is extremely bad for us,
there's another report saying just the opposite.
So we asked Danny Crates to find out which we should really believe.
To say this lot love cheese would be an understatement.
Where shall I sit? I'll sit here where I normally sit.
The Colchester Cheese Appreciation Society meet once a month
to pay homage to the fromage.
And over the years, they've tasted and tested
over 500 different varieties.
Four yummy cheeses that have been sitting there breathing for, oh,
about two hours now so they should be nice and ripe.
So come and fill your boots.
The wine this evening is a Rio Rica Malbec.
So as a self-professed cheese lover, what is your favourite cheese?
-Probably a Jarlsberg.
Soft, runny, pungent, brie-style.
The more it's running off the plate, the happier I am.
They might eat more than their fair share but we are definitely a nation
of cheese lovers.
In the UK, we spend almost £3 billion on the stuff each year,
eating around ten kilos per person.
And although our favourite by some distance is the humble cheddar,
we make around 700 different varieties here in the UK,
perhaps spurred on by claims that cheese has all manner of superpowers.
Some say it can help you live longer.
Others, that it's the key to a healthy heart.
Is it even better if it tastes good and it can do you good at the same
-We love it.
-Yes, that would be great news, wouldn't it, really?
We already know it's a good source of calcium. If it proved to be a super food as well,
that would be absolutely superb. I could eat even more often than I do now.
But the news isn't all great
because some reports paint a much more dangerous picture,
even linking cheese to cancer.
What does that make you think about cheese?
Don't know whether I believe it or not, though.
No, but... I'd want to read the research.
Without seeing research and there being lots of it,
-would it affect your cheese eating habits?
-Probably not in the short-term.
No, probably not in the short-term, so I'll have it back!
I eat what I like, to be honest, and I like cheese.
So loving cheese as much as you do, if those headlines were proven true,
how hard would it be for you to cut cheese out of your diet?
If they were proven 100% true, I think it would be a no-brainer,
but it would be difficult, yeah.
They're just two headlines from a huge selection of stories
that are enough to leave the best of us baffled.
So is cheese a super food, as some say,
or could it cause cancer as other reports claim?
I'm meeting up with dietitian Monika Siemicka
to see which, if any, of those stories stack up.
First up, those scary claims linking the nation's favourite
with breast cancer.
This is the one we know and love best
but there's concerns about cheddar.
Yeah, a recent study did say that cheddar cheese has been linked to
breast cancer, but the study that we're talking about
is a little bit flawed.
It was actually conducted in the United States
and what they did was ask participants to recall
what they'd eaten over the past year.
And it's difficult to draw a conclusion because
there are lots of things that the study didn't look at
like alcohol intake or how much exercise the participants were doing.
You need to look at it in the context as a whole
in terms of lifestyle.
As ever, more research is needed to conclusively prove
any link between cheese and cancer.
So if it's not as simple as some of those reports make out,
what about the ones that any cheese lover would read with glee?
There is a headline that cheese could be a super food.
Please, please, tell me it's true.
There are scientists in South Korea that fed roundworm some Swiss cheese
and what they found is that they actually live longer.
So they think that's all down to a probiotic which is really good
at balancing out the gut bacteria
and that can boost your immune system, so you're better off at
But it's still very early in the research so there's a lot more
that needs to be done before we can be sure about the health benefits.
Not only is the research in its infancy,
the scientists behind it only found the probiotic,
which the headlines claim make cheese a super food,
in a few cheeses.
With hundreds of varieties on sale in the UK,
it's impossible to say they're all good or bad.
Not all cheeses are equal.
So we have a huge array of cheeses in front of us
but is there a healthier end of the spectrum?
Some are going to be slightly higher in salts like halloumi.
Some will be naturally lower in fat like cottage cheese,
and then the processed cheeses, so the ones that have had extra
salt and fat added, are probably not the best ones to go for.
The ingredients in cheese are simple - milk, salt and rennet,
or an acid-like vinegar or lemon juice.
The type of milk and the amount used changes the fat content,
and with some cheeses requiring up to ten litres of milk to make just one kilo of cheese,
the high level of fat means that whatever cheese you choose,
the key is not to have too much.
What people don't realise is that when you're eating cheese,
a portion is actually 30 grams, which is a matchbox size.
-I call that a mouthful.
-That is kind of a mouthful, yes.
30 grams a day really isn't very much.
It's less than it takes to make one slice of cheese on toast.
It might not go very far on top of a jacket potato,
and it's less than half a portion of macaroni cheese.
But the good news is, you can save up your allowance.
If you fancy a cheese covered pizza,
you'd need to have four days with no cheese to make up for it.
But that might send the most ardent cheese lovers into cold sweats
according to these reports,
which say cheese could be as addictive as hard drugs.
To find out if they've got it right,
I've come to meet Dr Tony Goldstone
who's a specialist in the science of addiction.
-Lovely to meet you. Come on through.
He's studied the brain scans of over 1,000 subjects.
The brain's response to food, alcohol and cigarettes
involves the same areas of the brain.
When you eat foods that you individually like,
you tend to release more dopamine in the brain.
Now that happens if you take many drugs as well.
But even though food causes your brain to release the same chemicals
as something that is addictive, that doesn't mean that food is.
The amount of dopamine that's released with these drugs
is very much greater.
It is ten to a hundred times greater than it would be with the food.
Dr Goldstone says it's not addiction but a different reason entirely
that we often crave some foods.
We've evolved to like foods that are high in fat, like cheese.
Those foods give us energy that we need to maintain a life
and reproduce and be resistant against disease.
In your opinion, could there be any scientific evidence that there is
something in cheese that could be addictive?
I'm not aware of any studies in humans that have in any way
directly proven that that is a true statement.
So, while the cheese lovers back in Colchester might crave their monthly
tastings, they're not hooked.
You know, as someone who loves their cheese and eats a fair bit of the stuff,
I was quite surprised to find out that a portion size
should be no bigger than a matchbox.
I think I eat more than that every time I eat cheese.
I must say I was very surprised at that.
You must have been relieved to find out that all the fish you've been
eating haven't left you with high levels of mercury in your blood?
I thought that study of mercury and fish, it's a really topical story
and very interesting, but I wasn't at all surprised that Stephen
had far more mercury than me in his body because all the time
he would eat more fish than I would in restaurants or even at home.
But I think what I took away from that film more than anything else
was just how much the benefits of the omega-3,
particularly in oily fish, outweigh the risks of mercury
and unless you're pregnant, there's really nothing to worry about
with the vast majority of the fish we eat here in the UK.
On that note, we've just about run out of time for today.
But don't forget, you can get in touch with us by e-mailing:
So, until the next time, thank you very much indeed for your company
and we hope we've given you some food for thought!
Gloria Hunniford and Chris Bavin get to the bottom of worrying reports that claim some of our favourite foods aren't just bad for us, but could even be dangerous. Gloria and her husband Steven discover if their fish-rich diets have deposited high levels of mercury in their blood.
Chris investigates if it's true that parents could be risking the health of their children by bringing them up as vegan. Plus Danny Crates asks whether claims that cheese could cause cancer, or even be as addictive as hard drugs, really stand up to scrutiny.