Scientists Warn That Eating Eggs Every Day May Affect Your Body In An Alarming Way

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If you’re an egg lover, you’re certainly not alone. According to statistics portal Statistica, Americans ate 284 eggs each in 2018 – and that figure is only likely to rise in the years to come. Yet it’s perhaps no surprise that the food remains popular given the many nutritional benefits of a single egg. But what exactly happens to your body when you consume more than one egg regularly? Well, in 2019 the results of a study into this very subject were released – and they could make for startling reading.

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Eggs are, of course, a versatile food that can be prepared in many different ways – and pretty easily, too. If you decide on having a couple of eggs for breakfast, for instance, you’ll have to ponder whether to fry, poach or boil them. And these are only the methods that cater to the runny-yolk crowd.

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If you’re not a fan of runny yolks, then, scrambled eggs are a solid alternative. Alternatively, you may just decide to whip up an omelet, which naturally uses eggs as its base. But regardless of how you prefer to incorporate the food into your diet, you should take note of the worrying conclusion that researcher Victor Zhong and his colleagues have drawn.

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You see, according to Zhong and his fellow experts’ study – the results of which emerged in March 2019 – there could be a real impact upon your health if you like to eat an egg or two every day. It’s true, too, that eggs have long been a contentious and divisive topic in the dietary world.

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So let’s take a closer look at the popular culinary item. And make no mistake about it, eggs are indeed popular – as the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) revealed in 2018. In fact, you may just be stunned at the sheer numbers involved.

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Incredibly, the NASS announced that more than 92 billion eggs were purchased by consumers in America in 2017. It’s also believed that over 105 billion shells were laid that year by hens in the U.S. And as it happens, certain states are more responsible for that astonishing total than others.

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The NASS reported that, in 2016, close to 16 million eggs were laid in Iowa alone. Indiana, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania weren’t far behind, though, with the Hoosier State said to have produced over nine and a half million eggs that year. But what is it that makes so many people keen to have eggs in their diet?

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Well, the taste of eggs no doubt plays a part. Yet there is one other reason for the demand for this humble food. Yes, as we suggested earlier, the product is packed with healthy nutrients that can help the human body. And to explain more, an expert in the field dived into the subject while writing for the BBC Good Food website.

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Jo Lewin, who plies her trade as a professional nutritionist, revealed, “Both the white and yolk of an egg are rich in nutrients, including proteins, vitamins and minerals. The yolk also contains fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins D and E) and essential fatty acids.”

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Lewin also went on to explain why eggs are sometimes found in other dishes. And as you may have already guessed, they’re often an essential mixing ingredient. The nutritionist continued, “Eggs are also an important and versatile ingredient for cooking, as their particular chemical make-up is literally the glue of many important baking reactions.”

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Even if you’re not consuming eggs by themselves, then, you may be able to reap the nutritional benefits. After all, not many people can resist the temptations of baked food. Yet you may be surprised by just how much goodness is packed inside a single shell, as Lewin went on to explain to BBC Good Food.

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Lewin revealed, “Eggs are a very good source of inexpensive, high-quality protein. More than half the protein of an egg is found in the egg white, which includes vitamin B2 and lower amounts of fat than the yolk. Eggs are [also] rich sources of selenium, vitamin D, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper.”

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The nutritionist continued, “Egg yolks contain more calories and fat than the whites. They are a source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and lecithin – the compound that enables emulsification in recipes such as hollandaise or mayonnaise.” And that isn’t all. Lewin added, “Eggs are regarded as a ‘complete’ source of protein as they contain all nine essential amino acids.”

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But while eggs aren’t calorie-free, they’re surprisingly healthy in that respect, too. According to Lewin, a single medium egg that has been boiled contains only around 84 calories, with less than a third of the fat that it contains being saturated. And a research project that was unveiled back in June 2017 raises yet another intriguing point about the foodstuff.

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The study in question was detailed in a 2017 edition of the medical journal Pediatrics. Specifically, the researchers involved wanted to see if eggs would aid in the growth of very young children. And to test this hypothesis out, the group targeted kids in Ecuador who were between six and nine months old.

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Testing took place between March and December 2015, with the children being fed a single egg a day for around six of those months. Then, some two years on from the experiment, the results of the process were revealed in Pediatrics. And what emerged was particularly significant for youngsters suffering from stunted growth.

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You see, the researchers believed that consuming eggs had a positive impact on how their test subjects had developed. The experts explained in their paper, “The findings supported our hypothesis that early introduction of eggs significantly improved growth in young children. Generally accessible to vulnerable groups, eggs have the potential to contribute to global targets to reduce stunting.”

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Lewin had a few more facts up her sleeve that she wanted to share, too. After touching upon all of the different properties contained within eggs, the nutritionist focused on a couple in particular. And these elements were again essential for the growth of young children.

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“Eggs are rich in several nutrients that promote heart health, such as betaine and choline,” Lewin wrote for the BBC Good Food website. “During pregnancy and breastfeeding, an adequate supply of choline is particularly important, since choline is essential for normal brain development [in children].” Then the nutritionist focused on the vitamins found in eggs.

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Specifically, the specialist turned her attention to a vitamin that often becomes more difficult to get enough of as you get older. Lewin said, “Eggs are a useful source of vitamin D, which helps to protect bones and prevent osteoporosis and rickets. Shop wisely, because the method of production – free-range, organic or barn-raised – can make a difference to vitamin D content.”

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That said, in 2019 another study came to light that hinted at some of the unforeseen consequences of eating eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And unlike the previous project in Ecuador, the research on which these conclusions were based used data that had been accumulated over a substantial period.

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Head researcher Zhong and his team had looked back over six past experiments that had taken place in the U.S. Those studies all spanned an average of 17 and a half years and monitored more than 29,500 people. And after bringing all of the figures together, the group came to a somewhat worrying conclusion.

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According to the study’s results – which were published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association – you could be in danger of developing heart disease if you consume between three and four eggs each day. That’s principally down to the high levels of cholesterol found in egg yolks. But just how did Zhong and his colleagues come to this conclusion?

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Well, using the data that they had acquired from the previous studies, the researchers discovered that around 5,400 “cardiovascular events” had taken place during the years in which the participants were surveyed. To break things down even further, more than 1,300 of those individuals had suffered strokes, while close to 1,900 people had experienced heart failure. Some of those health events proved fatal, too.

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In addition to those numbers, more than 110 test subjects were found to have passed away from different forms of heart disease. And if that wasn’t startling enough, the researchers uncovered yet another eye-opening statistic during the study. Yes, after reading through all of the results, they made a significant connection.

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Specifically, the specialists realized that adding just an extra half an egg to the daily diet of a person who already consumes the foodstuff would raise their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by 6 percent. And one of the researchers involved with the study would go on to speak more about these findings with Reuters.

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Professor Norrina Allen from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine explained, “The take-home message [from our study] is that individuals who consume higher levels of dietary cholesterol are at increased risk for the development of heart disease and mortality later in life. In the U.S. diet, eggs are one of the top sources of cholesterol.”

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However, Allen wanted to make something else clear during her interview with Reuters. She continued, “I’m not advocating people [to] take [eggs] completely out of their diets. I’m just suggesting that people eat them in moderation.” The associate professor also shone a light on the unpredictable nature of cholesterol.

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Because although cholesterol is often viewed negatively, we’ve all got it in our systems. This form of fat originates in our intestines and livers, and it plays a vital part in helping our bodies create vitamin D, estrogen and testosterone.

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The real issue with cholesterol, then, is that certain foods are often packed with the stuff. And by eating that excess fat, you run the risk of developing health problems down the road. Yet keeping all that in mind, Allen admitted that there was no easy way to advise people about eggs beyond her “moderation” plea.

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Allen went on to explain to Reuters, “The amount of cholesterol you consume isn’t linked in a straightforward way with the amount found in your blood. That depends on a lot of factors, including your genes and how you metabolize cholesterol.” She isn’t the only one to have weighed in with their opinion on the matter, either.

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The University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Robert Eckel, for instance, commented on the study in the same edition of JAMA. And in the column, he urged that everyone needed to be aware of its findings – especially those who have previously dismissed the connection between cholesterol and ill health.

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Eckel wrote, “The association of egg consumption and dietary cholesterol with [cardiovascular disease], although debated for decades, has more recently been thought to be less important. [But this new study] is far more comprehensive, with enough data to make a strong statement that eggs and overall dietary cholesterol intake remain important in affecting the risk of [cardiovascular disease].”

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“And [that’s even] more so [with] the risk of all-cause mortality,” Eckel added. “Considering the negative consequences of egg consumption and dietary cholesterol in the setting of heart-healthy dietary patterns, the importance of limiting intake of cholesterol-rich foods should not be dismissed.” The potential ramifications of the project were enough to provoke a response from across the pond, too.

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In particular, the British Heart Foundation’s dietitians opened up about the research while in conversation with the U.K.’s Science Media Center. Apparently, though, the organization believed that its results weren’t altogether proven beyond doubt. Victoria Taylor said, “This type of study can only show an association rather than cause and effect, and more research is needed for us to understand the reasons behind this link.”

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Taylor added, “Eggs are a nutritious food. And while this study focuses on the amount we’re eating, it’s just as important to pay attention to how the eggs are cooked and to the trimmings that come with them. Eating healthily is all about balance.”

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So, after hearing the conclusions of Zhong and his colleagues, you may now feel a little bit wary about overindulging in eggs – particularly on a day-to-day basis. And if you’ve been spurred on to give your eating habits an overhaul, then rest assured: there are healthy alternatives out there. One of the most notable is the Mediterranean diet.

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This particular regime encourages people to introduce more nutritionally beneficial foods such as fish, nuts, olive oil, fruits and vegetables into their diets. And while eggs can also be found on the list, they must be eaten in moderation. There’s some good news, too, for those who are anxious about maintaining their heart health.

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According to a Spanish study that was published in 2013, the Mediterranean diet could help ward off the development of heart problems. Not only that, but the research also intimated that the regimen could even be a healthier option than other, more “low-fat” plans. And off the back of these findings, a nutrition expert from the Harvard School of Public Health provided further insight.

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While speaking to USA Today in February 2013, Walter Willett said, “Fat in the diet continues to be demonized, even though the evidence is clear that some types of fat improve blood cholesterol. This [Spanish] study adds further proof that diets high in healthy fats can be superior to a low-fat diet.”

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Another breakfast food that is on-trend for the fit and healthy is oatmeal. These days everybody loves oatmeal. That’s not just our opinion, either; it’s a certifiable fact. Don’t believe us? Well, according to Zion Market Research, in 2016 the international oatmeal industry was worth approximately $2 billion – and will be valued at $2.5 billion in 2022. Part of the reason for this, the experts argue, is people’s current desire to lead healthy lifestyles. And when we think of oatmeal, we seemingly automatically equate it with good nutrition. But is this delicious breakfast staple really that great for you?

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It certainly seems that the question is worth consideration – particularly as consumers in the U.S. are buying oats in droves. In fact, data released via Information Resources, Inc. stated that Americans forked out over $1.3 billion on oatmeal or hot cereal over the course of 2018. This figure also represents a 1.3 percent increase from the previous year. And that’s almost double the amount that was spent two decades ago.

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Yet anybody who’s traveled up the aisles of grocery stores knows that there are a number of different oatmeal varieties available from which to choose. The most common names that you’re likely to see in your local shop are, then, oat groats, rolled oats, steel-cut oats, instant oats and Scottish oats. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, each type serves a different purpose.

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But don’t worry too much about the names. After all, each variety is derived from the same basic hulled oats. So why the different types? Well, it actually comes down to how much the grain has been processed. And the various health benefits or side effects will differ, of course, depending on which sort is your preference.

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It’s worth pointing out, though, that all kinds of oats need at least some form of processing. This is because you simply cannot consume them as they are when they’ve just been plucked from a farmer’s field. And the reason for this is fairly self-evident: unprocessed oats are surrounded by tough outer shells. That’s why the husks need to be removed prior to eating.

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Once the shells have been taken away, then, you’re left with your oat groats. You can, of course, purchase whole oat groats from the grocery store to make your oatmeal in the morning. There’s a chance you won’t do that, however, as this variety takes longer to cook and can still maintain a notable fibrous consistency.

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And that extra cooking time is why other varieties of oats are subject to further processing. Take steel-cut oats, for example. As the name suggests, steel-cut oats have been – you guessed it – sliced into small sizes with a steel instrument. This procedure obviously makes the grains smaller and therefore easier to turn into oatmeal.

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Another kind of processing, meanwhile, results in rolled oats. These are steamed and then squashed until level. And the rolled – or old-fashioned – oats are subsequently left to dry so that they can happily sit in your cupboard for extended periods of time. Again, this process also means that they don’t take as long to cook.

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There are, of course, two other kinds of oats: Scottish and instant. For the former, the oats are simply reduced to meal. And for the latter, you likely won’t be surprised to hear, the groats are put through a longer steaming and leveling process. In addition, they’re potentially even cooked a little, so that you can get oatmeal in a flash at home.

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Yet while this level of understanding is certainly interesting, you shouldn’t be put off any one of kind of oats based on the processing that goes into it. After all, no matter which variety you choose, you’ll still be consuming whole grains. And on the balance of things, this means that the nutritional aspects of the oats are in fact roughly the same.

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You can also use any of these oat varieties to make your breakfast. Typically, this would involve cooking the oats in milk or water until you get the kind of consistency that you like. You can obviously also add all sorts of flavors and toppings to your oatmeal, including fruit, yogurt and nut butters. But we’re only concerned with the actual oatmeal here.

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So, let’s deal with the good stuff first. After all, in 2018 Professor Shengmin Sang of A & T State University in North Carolina told Time magazine, “Based on the existing evidence, eating whole grain oats is definitely good for our health.” Specifically, Sang noted that oats can help keep diabetes and cholesterol levels in check.

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But why are oats so good for these particular health issues? Well, it’s partly down to beta-glucan fiber – something that the grain has in abundance. “Fiber is good for so many things throughout the digestive tract,” Minnesota University’s Professor Joanne Slavin, an expert in nutrition and food science, confirmed to Time magazine.

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In fact, oats have significantly more beta-glucan fiber than many other grains. Which could explain why they are considered to be so beneficial for your gut. But how does it work? Well, according to Harvard’s The Nutrition Source website, this soluble fiber attracts cholesterol-stuffed bile acids and helps us to pass them.

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Of course, this has led to the consumption of oats being associated with lowering cholesterol levels. The Nutrition Source does state, however, that the evidence to support this is not so clear-cut. That’s because while some studies have indeed concluded that eating beta-glucan can decrease cholesterol, others have not declared particularly significant results.

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Yet, as we’ve heard, beta-glucan is useful for a number of other reasons. For one thing, it helps to prevent your digestive system from working so quickly. This in turn means that the speed with which nutrients are processed by the body is also decreased. And so, eating oats won’t provide a quick hit of energy followed by a slump – like, say, snacking on a chocolate bar might.

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Plus, this wonderful fiber slows down digestion because it absorbs water on its way through your gut. This then makes the food that you’ve eaten thicker and more voluminous. And as well as resulting in the slow release of energy, the process can also allow you to feel fuller for longer.

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It’s no doubt for this reason that oatmeal is often suggested as a good breakfast for those seeking to lose weight. In fact, there’s even a quick-fix fad out there known as the “oatmeal diet.” Practitioners are initially encouraged to eat nothing but oatmeal three times a day. But such a low-calorie, restrictive diet is not actually advised by experts – and could even be harmful.

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In any case, the point is that if oatmeal – as part of a healthy, balanced diet – slows down your digestion, it could leave you feeling more satisfied. This, in turn, makes you less likely to eat unhealthy snacks throughout the day. And that’s why the grain can be helpful in controlling waist lines across the world.

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There are other healthy benefits to consuming oatmeal as well. First and foremost among these is its ability to aid in the fight against diabetes. This could be particularly good news, considering that the CDC announced in 2017 that over 100 million U.S. citizens could currently have diabetes or be pre-diabetic.

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The CDC also advised that of the 30 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, around 27 million of them suffer with type 2 diabetes. And that particular form of the condition means that the sufferer’s body can’t cope well with glucose, which is a kind of sugar. So, someone with type 2 diabetes needs to be wary of foods that could quickly increase their blood sugar levels.

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Of course, some foods with large amounts of sugar are easy to spot. These could include, say, white chocolate, candy, cakes or desserts. But sufferers may also need to watch out for the naturally occurring sugars in dairy, veg and fruit. And then there is also the possibility of having to watch out for carbohydrate-rich foods that have high glycemic loads.

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What is a glycemic load, you ask? Essentially, it lets you know how fast the portion of carbohydrates in your food will spike your blood sugar levels. So foods with high glycemic loads will boost those levels very quickly, while foods with low glycemic loads will be more gentle. And this is where oats come in.

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So while all kinds of oats are packed with carbohydrates, steel-cut oats have a relatively low glycemic load. This means that even those suffering from diabetes can likely consume them because the beta-glucan fiber just might stop those spikes in blood glucose levels. The Nutrition Source website, however, advises against eating instant oats.

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This could be particularly welcome news for those with type 2 diabetes. That’s because the condition – which can be extremely serious – can in some cases be reversible through careful diet and work out regimes. It’s always worth consulting a medical professional before undertaking any lifestyle changes, mind you.

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There are a couple of other noteworthy oat-related benefits, too. And the first is likely evident for anyone who has been paying attention. That is to say that oats are good for your gut. In fact, The Nutrition Source states that consuming oats regularly will probably help you to poop easier than ever before.

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This is due to the oats’ high fiber content, which is reportedly even better than that found in vegetables or fruit. And what’s more, oats’ beta-glucans could improve the microbial population of your digestive system – which, believe it or not, is very a good thing. But it’s not just the inside of your body that can be improved by the consumption of oats.

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You see, the final benefit that we’ll discuss here concerns a pair of chemicals that are found within the oats. These are known as phytoestrogens and phenolic compounds. And while these words seem pretty science-y and hard to pronounce, they may actually help you to improve the appearance of your skin.

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Specifically, these plant chemicals may work to decrease organ inflammation that could reoccur due to conditions such as diabetes. And according to SFGate, a 2013 study suggested that oats may also fight the signs of aging on the skin. So, as you can see, consuming oats has a wealth of potential health benefits. But is the food purely a force for good?

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Well, as you can probably tell, the evidence is all for a resounding yes to this question. But it’s worth bearing in mind that there are a few provisos to the above advice. So before you head down to the oats aisle of your local grocery store, read on for some sage oatmeal-perfection suggestions.

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Of particular concern to those who are sensitive to gluten is the possibility of the substance contaminating their oats. On their own, the whole grains are, of course, naturally free from gluten. But as researcher Ronald Fritz told Time magazine, there is always the chance that they could be befouled with the substance during the journey from field to spoon.

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Fritz clarified, “Oats can be contaminated with gluten containing kernels of wheat, barley and rye at the field during storage or during transportation.” Why should this matter? Well, for the 1 percent of people suffering from celiac disease, consumption of gluten is very bad news for their guts. But those with gluten sensitivities could also be affected.

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That’s because those with non-celiac sensitivities can still suffer from grievances of the gut immediately after eating gluten. It seems as though scientists don’t truly understand how this works, but it is clear that it can be uncomfortable for those with the condition. There’s also one other thing to take into consideration when selecting oats.

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And that is how you prepare them prior to consumption. It sounds obvious, but the health benefits outlined previously will all come to nothing if you then pile your oatmeal high with sugars or various other additives. And for the experts, it seems to be the instant-oat varieties that are the worst culprits.

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For instance, The Independent reported a shocking statistic in 2017. It said that a single pot of Quaker Oats So Simple’s golden syrup instant porridge – available in the U.K. – contained more than four teaspoons of added sugar. Unbelievably, that equates to over 50 percent of an adult’s recommended day-to-day quota of sugar intake.

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As we’ve seen, too, this increased sugar would certainly not be a good thing for anyone suffering with, or predisposed to, type 2 diabetes. But being cautious with your choices can combat this easily. For instance, the “original” flavor of Quaker’s instant oatmeal range contains no added sugar at all.

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Another method of keeping your sugar consumption in check is simply preparing your oatmeal at home from scratch. This is normally quick and pretty straight-forward, and there is no shortage of oatmeal ideas available online. So here we’ll just outline two popular ways of making healthy, balanced breakfasts with everyday ingredients.

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The first is using the instructions on the packet of your chosen (sugar-free) oats to prepare the oatmeal, usually using milk or water or a combination of the two. And then, once the oats are done, you can incorporate healthy extras such as fruit, seeds or nuts. For rolled oats, this will take around five minutes. Steel-cuts oats will take longer and instant oats will be done in no time at all.

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But if this still sounds like too much work, you can always go down the overnight oats route. This involves simply popping your oats, chosen liquid and additional extras together in a jar, bowl or other container the night before you want to eat your oatmeal. Then mix and cover your serving and pop it into the fridge until morning. Just be aware that you can’t use instant oats for this method.

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So is oatmeal a good breakfast that you can eat every day? The short answer is, of course, yes. Whether you choose instant, steel-cut or rolled, oats offer a myriad of health benefits that are difficult to argue against. The only things to be wary of are gluten contamination and added sugar.

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But what of other everyday foods with secret health benefits? Well, according to experts, pickles are hiding some unexpected advantageous qualities. So as with oatmeal, you may want to add these little vegetables to your daily diet. In fact, they may even change the way your brain works.

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Back in the summer of 2015, the journal Psychiatry Research published an intriguing study on fermented foods. And the paper, which was compiled following some in-depth research at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, had some rather stunning findings – especially for those who love the taste of pickles. In fact, even if you’re not a pickle fan, it may just be worth you holding your nose and chowing down on the sweet and sour vegetables, as it turns out that they could have startling benefits for your health.

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And perhaps you could begin by adding a pickle to a meal or two. After all, just as certain foods are a little bland without some seasoning or sides to liven them up, a pickle’s tartness could provide just the kick you’re looking for to take a dish to the next level.

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That said, thanks to their incredibly strong taste, pickles are often a rather love-or-hate food. Yet even if you fall down firmly on the hate side, you may just have to acquire an appreciation. You see, in August 2015, fans of fermented foods received some good news that could just be a game-changer.

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That month, the latest issue of Psychiatry Research hit the shelves. And the medical journal contained details of an interesting research project covering fermented foods’ health benefits – of which, it seems, there could be several. Yes, as it turns out, products such as pickles may have a significant effect on our brains.

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As a result, then, pickles may be a good option for a handy go-to snack when you’re feeling peckish. But, of course, they’re not the only food said to boost our well-being. And while fruit and vegetables are naturally among the healthiest options out there to nibble on between meals, nuts are pretty beneficial, too.

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Yes, certain types of nuts – such as Brazil nuts and almonds – are loaded with vitamins. Brazil nuts, for example, contain zinc and magnesium as well as an important mineral called selenium that aids in the good functioning of the thyroid gland.

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Almonds, meanwhile, are a great source of fiber, iron and calcium – but that’s not all. Back in 2011, a research paper published in the journal Nutrition Reviews suggested that the tree nut can also play an important role in keeping cholesterol levels down.

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Indeed, the medical study revealed, “Consumption of tree nuts has been shown to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) – a primary target for coronary disease prevention – by 3 to 19 percent. Almonds have been found to have a consistent LDL-C-lowering effect in healthy individuals and in individuals with high cholesterol and diabetes.”

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The research paper suggested, too, that this revelation needed to be shared on a wider scale, adding, “The message that almonds in and of themselves are a heart-healthy snack should be emphasized to consumers. Moreover, when almonds are incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet, the benefits are even greater.”

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Foods such as lentils and oatmeal are good for our health, too. Much like almonds, the breakfast favorite can keep high cholesterol at bay thanks to its levels of fiber. And oatmeal contains plenty of potassium and vitamin B to boot.

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But when it comes to talking about healthy-eating options, you naturally can’t forget about vegetables. Take broccoli, for example; the cruciferous green is loaded with nutrients that can help us maintain our wellbeing. The phytonutrients within broccoli can even play a vital role in staving off serious medical issues such as diabetes and heart disease.

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The vegetable boasts high levels of vitamin C, too, which is handy when we need a boost. In fact, it’s believed that a regular portion of broccoli could cover our daily intake of the important vitamin quite comfortably. And, of course, there are plenty of benefits to be had in fruit as well.

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Blueberries, for instance, are not only full of phytonutrients and fiber, but they can also keep our blood pressure down. And that’s certainly not all; researchers at Texas Woman’s University discovered that consumption of the small, round fruit can actually help tackle obesity as well. But don’t entirely write off meat in the bid to become healthier.

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Indeed, both fish and chicken are fine choices if you’re looking to improve your diet. White meat contains a lot of protein, for example, while fish such as herring, salmon, sardines and trout boast omega-3 fatty acids that can be very beneficial for the heart.

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In amongst the usual suspects, however, there are a whole host of other foods that are similarly good for health. And, yes, fermented items such as sauerkraut, yogurt and pickles are among their number, as nutrition expert Casey Seidenberg explained in a 2012 article for The Washington Post.

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Seidenberg explained, “Fermented foods aid in digestion and thus support the immune system. Imagine a fermented food as a partially digested food. For instance, many people have difficulty digesting the lactose in milk. When milk is fermented and becomes yogurt or kefir, [however], the lactose is partially broken down so it becomes more digestible.” But there was more.

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Seidenberg added, “Organic or lactic-acid fermented foods – such as dill pickles and sauerkraut – are rich in enzyme activity that aids in the breakdown of our food. [This helps] us absorb the important nutrients we rely on to stay healthy.” And there are apparently long-term benefits of consuming such foods, too.

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The nutrition specialist revealed in her Washington Post piece, “When our digestion is functioning properly and we are absorbing and assimilating all the nutrients we need, our immune system tends to be happy and thus better equipped to wage war against disease and illness.” And three years later, a fascinating report appeared to further emphasize fermented foods’ health benefits.

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The study in question was headed up by a trio of researchers: the University of Maryland’s Jordan DeVylder and Catherine Forestell and Matthew Hilimire from the College of William & Mary. And their close examination of fermented foods found that they have the potential to bolster more than just people’s physical health.

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Yes, crucially DeVylder, Forestell and Hilimire looked to see if mental health – in particular, any experience of neuroticism and social anxiety – could also be improved by eating such foods. And there was already some scientific basis for the study, as similar experiments involving animals had previously taken place – with some incredibly interesting results.

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On William & Mary’s official website, Hilimire explained, “These studies with animal models showed that if you give them certain kinds of bacteria, which we call probiotics – the beneficial microorganisms that help our health like lactobacilli – these animals tend to be less depressed or less anxious.”

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Now, as probiotics can be found in fermented food, Hilimire, DeVylder and Forestell were curious to see if the same results could be reached with humans. But before their test got under way, Hilimire reflected on the previous figures – particularly the GABA levels on show.

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In essence, gamma aminobutyric acid – or GABA – is a neurotransmitter that helps keep our anxieties in check. And while there are medicines out there that replicate its effects, it turned out that levels of GABA may well be able to be boosted naturally – at least, according to the findings of the animal experiments.

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Hilimire went on to explain, “Giving these animals these probiotics increased GABA. It’s almost like giving them these drugs, but it’s their own bodies producing GABA. So, your own body is increasing this neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety.” There would be a key difference, however, in the approach that the assistant professor and his colleagues would take for their assessment.

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“Given that background, we were interested in doing a naturalistic study,” Hilimire admitted. “So, we didn’t actually give people probiotics; we just asked them in their day-to-day life how much fermented foods they were eating.” And as it turned out, the researchers’ experiment would be pretty extensive.

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In fact, DeVylder, Forestell and Hilimire opted to interrogate more than 700 people at the College of William & Mary. Fortuitously, these students were already about to take a “mass testing” survey – which included elements on personality types and anxieties – at the start of their respective degree courses. In addition, then, the trio threw in a questionnaire of their own.

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And Forestell later explained how she and her fellow researchers had come to the conclusion to do this, telling the college’s website, “It was an ideal situation to get a good cross-section of the students at William & Mary, because many students take [the] Introduction to Psychology [module]. They were not selected based on their social anxiety or the types of foods that they ate.”

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So, the survey from the research trio not only included questions about diet and exercise, but it also queried whether members of the group had eaten any fermented food – such as pickles – in the previous month. Then, once the results had come in, they were subsequently measured against the answers from the mass testing survey.

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And after the data had been compiled, Hilimire divulged exactly what it had revealed. He told the William & Mary website, “The main finding was that individuals who had consumed more fermented foods had reduced social anxiety, but that was qualified by an interaction by neuroticism.”

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Hilimire went on, “What that means is that that relationship was strongest amongst people that were high in neuroticism [tendency to be anxious or negative]. The people that benefited the most from fermented foods were high in neuroticism. And the secondary finding was that more exercise was related to reduced social anxiety as well.”

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Those intriguing results were subsequently included in the August 2015 edition of the Psychiatry Research journal, after which they were covered by a number of media outlets. And in an attempt to sum up his and his colleagues’ work, Hilimire revealed why the findings excited him so much.

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As the assistant professor went on to explain, “It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut. And changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety. I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”

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However, the trio’s work didn’t come to an end after the report was submitted. You see, DeVylder, Forestell and Hilimire intended to run yet another experiment in an attempt to clarify the findings from the study – although, on this occasion, their sole focus would be on fermented food and social anxiety.

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“If we use a naturally fermented food – we give people yogurt instead of isolated probiotics – it will be among the first experimental studies that use these fermented foods,” Hilimire told the William & Mary college website. “So they’ll get the benefits of the probiotics but also the peptides as well.”

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And while the results from the previous study suggested that there was a connection between fermented foods and mental health, a practical experiment was also needed to further determine any links. Yet in Hilimire’s mind, the past tests involving the animals suggested that he and his fellow researchers were already on the right track.

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The academic continued, “If we rely on the animal models that have come before us and the human experimental work that has come before us in other anxiety and depression studies, it does seem that there is a causative mechanism.” He also made a bold claim on what this could mean for mental health therapy going forward.

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Hilimire explained, “Assuming [there are] similar findings in the experimental follow-up, what it would suggest is that you could augment more traditional therapies (like medications, psychotherapy or a combination of the two) with fermented foods – dietary changes – and exercise as well.”

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Traditionally, drugs such as benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants are utilized to help battle anxiety. According to Hilimire, though, introducing fermented foods as part of a mental health treatment plan could potentially do away with a number of the side effects of such medication – including, in some cases, addiction.

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Yet while Hilimire and his colleagues were working hard to make the connection between fermented foods and anxiety, there’s apparently still some way to go before such a link is accepted by the scientific community at large. Nevertheless, the associate professor had faith that more people would start to listen in the near future.

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Indeed, Hilimire concluded, “I think there is some skepticism that there can be such a profound influence [between fermented foods and anxiety], but the data is quite substantial now. I think people would be accepting if they looked at the data, but the connection between the mind and gut is not something you typically think about as a psychologist.”

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