As the year comes to an end, we take a look back on the groundbreaking nutrition and health research from 2017 whose findings will make the greatest impact on our lives. We’ve sorted these 30 buzz-worthy studies into the best (positive news that had us jumping for joy) and worst (hard-to-hear headlines that will make us reexamine our current habits).
So, without further ado, here’s our roundup of the best and worst health lessons of 2017. Ready to turn things around in the new year? Don’t miss these 50 New Recipes for the New Year.
First… The Worst
Your diet drinks may actually cause weight gain.
There’s a common misconception that diet drinks are better for you since they don’t have the empty calories and loads of sugar that their regular counterparts have. Unfortunately, this is not the case; The Telegraph reported that drinking diet beverages is linked with weight gain. The article noted that a review of dozens of studies spanning 30 years found that there’s no evidence zero-calorie and sugar-free beverages are helpful in preventing weight gain, type 2 diabetes, or lowering BMI. Researchers believe that the artificial sweeteners can still trigger sweet receptors in the brain, which can trigger food cravings. If you’re looking to sip on a low-calorie, full-flavored beverage, try detox water instead.
Sitting all day can cancel out benefits of exercise.
If you have a desk job that requires you to sit in a chair all day (so, most of Americans), this could spell trouble for your overall health—even if you’re a regular gym rat. Results from more than 40 studies found that the more time people sit, the greater risk they are for premature death, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, even if they exercise regularly according to CNN.
It might be more dangerous to try and fail at losing weight than to never try at all.
It sounds discouraging, but a new retrospective study found that people whose weight fluctuates the most are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke compared to those who maintain a steady weight. “You are worse off if you drop your weight and gain it back than if you didn’t lose it in the first place,” chief author Dr. Sripal Bangalore, told Reuters. However, don’t take this as advice to avoid weight loss entirely; rather, you should take weight loss seriously and use this “as a motivation to lose weight and maintain weight,” according to Bangalore.
Browning fried or broiled foods exposes you to carcinogens.
Sorry to all those burnt-toast lovers. The BBC reports that a carcinogenic compound—acrylamide—is produced when starchy foods are cooked too long at high temperatures.
Stress can make you more likely to be obese.
Here’s a reason you should definitely check out these 32 Foods That Turn Off Stress Hormones: An Obesity journal study discovered that people with the highest levels of cortisol—a stress hormone—had the greatest body weight, BMI, and waist circumference.
Turmeric isn’t as healthy as we once thought.
It doesn’t mean you have to stop drinking those turmeric lattes, but a Journal of Medicinal Chemistry review found no evidence to support that curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) has any therapeutic benefits.
Just one high-fat meal can damage your metabolism.
Be wary of your cheat meals, particularly if you’re overweight or a diabetic. Scientists at the German Diabetes Center and the Helmholtz Center in Munich found that even consuming one meal high in saturated fats found in palm oil can reduce a diner’s sensitivity to insulin and cause increased fat deposits as well as changes in the metabolism in the liver. In the long term, these little metabolic changes can increase the likelihood of developing fatty liver disease.
Artificial sweeteners are screwing with your body’s metabolism.
Groundbreaking research from Yale neuroscientist, Dana Small, discovered that sweetness plays a role in your body’s metabolic response to food. Small found that when the amount of sweetness of a food doesn’t match the calories your body would expect to be associated with that sweetness, your body will end up storing any extra calories in muscle, liver, or fat. In summary: carb-laden, artificially-sweetened foods, such as low-sugar protein bars, can result in your body funnelling more calories into fat cells than converting them to energy.
Your thinness isn’t a good predictor of overall health.
Just because you’re slim doesn’t mean you’re healthy. According to a February 2017 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, excess belly fat—measured by waistline circumference—increases your risk of early death more so than being overweight or slightly obese. The difference is that the overweight and obese clasifications are dependent on BMI, which only takes height and weight into account rather than amount and placement of body fat.
Your salty diet isn’t just making you bloated—it also makes you hungry.
You know the trick: bars set out salty popcorn for free so it makes you thirsty and more likely to order another beer. Unfortunately, their trick is a bit misguided. According to a The Journal of Clinical Investigation study, a salty diet is actually more likely to make you hungry as opposed to thirsty. In fact, the researchers found that consuming a salty diet actually caused participants to drink less. So if you typically consume a salty diet, this study suggests you’re more likely to feel hungrier and could ultimately consume more calories per meal. It’s probably best you avoid these 21 Foods with More Sodium Than A Pack of Ramen.
High red meat consumption increases risk of dying from nine diseases.
Scientists aren’t trying to demonize red meat, but they are suggesting that you might want to stop eating it multiple times a day—every day. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute followed more than half a million people for an average of 16 years. They found that those who consumed the most red meat had the highest risk of dying from eight diseases: cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, infections, kidney disease, and liver disease. Alternatively, the BMJ study also found that white meat, on the other hand, could actually reduce your risk of dying from various causes by 25 percent.
Like staying up late? You’re more likely to make unhealthy food choices.
There are two types of people in the world: early birds and night owls. You probably know which you are. If you answered night owl, we have some bad news for you. A study published in Obesity found that despite consuming the same number of calories, night owls consume less protein throughout the day and more sugar in the morning and at night compared to morning people.
Low-calorie sugar alcohols aren’t as safe as we thought.
In light of the demonization of artificial sweeteners, food brands are increasingly using seemingly-safer, “low-calorie” sugar substitutes such as sugar alcohols. Once thought to bypass the body’s metabolic process, a sugar alcohol found in your favorite foods—erythritol—can be metabolized by, and even produced in, the human body, according to groundbreaking research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Translation: sugar alcohols probably do have calories after all.) Even worse? The Cornell University researchers also identified erythritol as a biomarker for increasing fat mass.
Consuming a high-fat diet is ruining your gut health.
It’s about time you cut back on all the bacon, pizza, burgers, and potato chips. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University discovered that a high fat diet changes the composition of your gut bacteria in a way that reduces their effectiveness at warding off harmful weight-gain-inducing inflammation. Besides reducing intake of high-fat foods, also consider eating more of these 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods.
Eating in front of the TV makes you more likely to be obese.
Think eating at home is healthier than eating out? Not so fast. When families eat at home with the TV on, they have a 37 percent higher risk of being obese compared to families who eat without watching a show, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The reasoning? “Adults might eat more food when they are watching TV, and meals that are not home-cooked may be less healthy than meals that are home-cooked,” lead author Rachel Tumin said in an email to Reuters.
And Now… The Best
You might not have to give up alcohol to lose weight.
Thanks to The New York Times, we can now justify that red wine indulgence during our weight loss journeys. The reviewing of the evidence, the conclusion was that “while heavy drinkers risked gaining weight, light to moderate alcohol intake is not associated with weight gain or changes in waist circumference.”
Owning a dog makes you more likely to exercise.
Cutting calories and working out consistently aren’t the only waist-whittling hacks that’ll get you into tip-top shape. According to a Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health study, being a dog parent can help you drop the pounds! The researchers found that those who walked their pets regularly had 20 percent higher activity levels and were more active for a half hour each day than those who didn’t own a furry friend.
Hot sauce lovers live longer.
We already love hot peppers for their weight-loss capabilities; they’re packed with capsaicin, the active component that give them a fiety taste. It’s been linked to blood sugar regulation and can help boost your metabolism. Now, more research has proven that hot peppers and hot sauce have another health benefit—specifically, they can help you live longer. An analysis in PLOS One found that of the 16,179 American adults that participated in a larger health study, those who ate hot peppers had a reduced risk of dying early by 13 percent, according to The New York Times.
You can take a break from your diet and still lose weight.
Staying on a strict diet day in and day out can be overwhelming, which is why most people fail and give up entirely. Fortunately, you don’t need to have a perfect diet to lose weight; in fact, taking a break can actually help boost weight loss. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity, people who dieted for two weeks, then paused for two weeks, then repeated the pattern lost more weight than those who stayed on their diet continuously for two weeks. It’s a complicated issue for dieters; as you eat less to lose weight, your body responds by increasing appetite and slowing down metabolism to conserve energy as a famine reaction. Researchers believe that by balancing out calorie restriction with a higher calorie intake, it tricks your body into not going into starvation mode.
A vegetarian diet is one of the most effective diets for weight loss.
Most people switch to a vegetarian diet for ethical or environmental concerns. But a study this year out of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that it may be the most effective diet for weight loss. The study found that people who switched to a vegetarian diet had reduced muscle fat, which improved their metabolisms. The vegetarians lost an average of 6.2 kilograms (about 13.7 pounds) compared to the meat-eating participants, who lost just 3.2 kilograms (about 7 pounds).
Whole grains will help boost your metabolism and help you lose weight.
According to nutrition scientists at Tufts University, switching from refined grains to whole-grain foods may help keep your weight in check as much as a brisk 30-minute daily walk would. “Whole grains seem to both lower the number of calories your body absorbs during digestion and speed metabolism,” study author J. Philip Karl explained to HealthDay.
Surprise! Eating veggies every day can lower psychological stress levels and slash obesity odds.
Yes, veggies are good for you. We all know that. That being said, did you know that veggies were good for you in that they could help you feel less stressed? A British Medical Journal Open study found that women who ate three to four servings of vegetables daily had a 12 percent lower risk of stress than those who only ate between zero and one serving. It gets better: A separate study presented at the European Congress on Obesity, in Portugal found that eating more fruits and vegetables can cut your risk of obesity by almost half.
Women should be strength training.
You don’t have to be a bodybuilder, but you should be aware that strength training is an important component of being healthy. In fact, strength-training actually lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease significantly for women, according to a new study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Additionally, women who engaged in any form of strength training “were more likely to have a lower BMI, more likely to engage in healthy dietary patterns, and less likely to be a current smoker,” compared with women who avoided it, according to the study authors.
Feel free to sleep in on weekends if you want to lose weight.
Feel like you need to sleep in on the weekend? Now you can do so without feeling guilty. South Korean researchers found that catching up on lost sleep over the weekend could help dieters keep their weight down.
Don’t freak out; coconut oil isn’t that bad for you.
Coconut oil made headlines this year when the American Heart Association (AHA) declared that swapping out saturated fats, like coconut oil, for vegetable fats, like canola oil, decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent. Additionally, their review stated “coconut oil […] raised LDL cholesterol the same way as other saturated fats found in butter.” While we won’t refute their findings, a comprehensive review of the study by Dr. Tania Dempsey on Observer.com reminds readers that “eating coconut oil by the spoonful is probably not the best idea—mostly because there are so many other important fats that you should be eating daily for the health of your cells and nervous system—coconut oil is certainly not the evil player it has been made out to be.” It’s worth reading the whole article, but point it: eat all fats in moderation and consume a variety of fats, not just coconut oil exclusively.
Don’t fret about being a weekend warrior.
You don’t have to beat yourself up that you only find time to work out on weekends. While it’s not ideal to concentrate the recommended weekly amount of exercise in a weekend, new findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggest that squeezing in two workout sessions may lower your risk of death similar to what regular exercise offers.
Prebiotic foods may help improve sleep quality and to cope with stress.
What do artichokes, raw garlic, leeks, and onions all have in common? They’re all prebiotic foods: fiber-rich foods that help to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut called probiotics. According to two new studies published in February 2017, prebiotic fibers may help to protect beneficial gut bacteria, improve sleep, and protect against the physiological impacts of stress. Both published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, the studies suggest that consuming a prebiotic-rich diet could help mitigate the negative effects stress has on your microbiome by helping you return to normal sleep patterns faster than if you consumed few prebiotics.
Selfies are good for you.
Next time someone reprimands you for being on your phone, tell them it’s helping you with your weight loss goals. A Journal of Interactive Marketing study published in October 2017 found that public commitment to setting and attaining weight loss goals—such as posting a selfie on Instagram after you lose five pounds—helps participants stay motivated and accountable during their weight loss journeys.
Exercising isn’t just good for health; it’s also good for your sex life.
You probably know the connection between regular exercise and general health, but did you know that getting your sweat on may also improve your sex life? CNN reports that regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of erectile problems in men and a greater sexual desire, arousal, and satisfation in women compared to when people in both genders are sedentary.
Green tea can protect your body from a poor diet.
If you have yet to hop on the green tea trend, maybe this will help convince you. A study published in The FASEB Journal suggests an active compound in green tea known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) can combat the negative health effects of a high-fat and high-fructose diet, which include weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and poor brain function.