2018 gave us a lot to reflect on. The world lost some influential celebrities, including food icon Anthony Bourdain and musician Mac Miller. Ariana Grande had her biggest year in pop culture yet. Meghan Markle became the Duchess of Sussex. The whole world bickered over her wedding dress. The biggest stories in food news were wild. And (in all honesty) 2018 was kind of a mess when it came to politics and global events.
All things considered, it’s been a pretty rough year. Some days, it seemed best to just turn off the news and tune it all out. But there was one area that delivered lots of good news: health.
Health science is ever-changing, and each year brings with it a slew of groundbreaking discoveries. The world’s understanding of nutrition has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks to the dedicated research of scholars at top universities and organizations. Of course, there is still a ways to go — and some of the health news discovered this year was more of a bummer than an innovation. But taking into consideration the biggest, buzziest stories and the lessons behind them, these are the best and worst pieces of health news from 2018.
Cigarettes have had cancer warnings for decades — and in California, the law almost required coffee to be sold with a similar label. In March, courts ruled that all coffee shops and vendors would need to add these warnings to their menus and labels. But in June, a sector of the California state government called the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) intervened to prevent this mandate from becoming law. They claimed that the proponents of the label didn’t have adequate evidence that coffee is harmful — and that coffee has a number of health benefits that should be considered, as well.
In 2018, research took some of the guilt out of enjoying your favorite boozy beverages. Thanks, science! Beer evidently has some unexpected health benefits — it might ward off diabetes according to a study from the journal Scientific Reports. And wine (along with coffee) may help you live well past age 90, according to the huge 90+ study that was released this year. And yet another study showed that low levels of booze (note: low levels) could help flush your brain of toxins and calm inflammation. Cheers to that!
Mac and cheese lovers, rejoice! Cheese and other forms of full-fat dairy (such as milk, yogurt, etc.) may actually be good for your heart health, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July. Previous nutrition wisdom dictated eating full-fat dairy products sparingly out of concern that they may raise cholesterol and therefore pose a risk to heart health. However, this research suggests that full-fat dairy doesn’t have a detrimental effect on heart health at all — and may actually be preventative against heart disease and stroke. So say cheese! Because there are 17 other reasons you should eat more cheese to smile about.
An apple a day could keep your wrinkles away — at least, according to research conducted at the University of Minnesota that was presented this year. The researchers examined 10 flavonoids to see which ones were most effective at preventing aging. The most effective was fisetin, found naturally in many fruits and vegetables including apples, strawberries, onions, and cucumbers.
Turmeric has long been praised for its many health benefits, including boosting the immune system and calming inflammation. This year added two more important health benefits to the list. A study suggested that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric that gives it its distinct color, may be powerful enough to lift your mood and improve your memory. The spice is relatively easy to incorporate into your own cooking, though if you prefer takeout you can order some Indian food. Turmeric is traditionally used in South Asian cuisine. So there you have it: another great reason to visit one of America’s best Indian restaurants.
In 2017, lettuce was one of the healthiest ingredients in your lunch. But 2018 told a different story. E. coli hit the United States’ lettuce supply three times this year, resulting in nationwide outbreaks. In total, there were 278 illnesses from E. coli linked to lettuce in 2018. The largest of the outbreaks was eventually traced back to the Yuma, Arizona, region, where officials suspected the contamination occurred due to a nearby cattle farm. In December, romaine is still a grave concern. The only people who could possibly be happy about this? Those involved with the iceberg lettuce industry — their sales are thriving.
A glass of wine a day might keep the doctor away — but science isn’t the enabler you may have thought it was. In 2018, some studies showed impressive benefits of certain types of alcohol which certainly sounded promising. But other research warned against imbibing too often, for fear of some very real health risks. Some research suggests that every extra glass of wine you indulge in could take time off your life. Other research suggested that no amount of alcohol is healthy to drink. Talk about a buzzkill…
Making the switch from regular to diet soda might seem like a healthful choice — but according to a study that was presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting, zero-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame and Ace-K might actually be worse. Or they might be better. Or they might be just as bad. The bottom line? Right now, researchers just don’t know. The researchers found some alarming effects that certain artificial sweeteners seem to have on metabolism and blood vessels — which could contribute to metabolic disorders and diabetes risk.
The Food and Drug Administration released details on the bacterial contamination of fresh herbs, such as the cilantro, basil, and other herbs you buy from the grocery store or farmers market. These plants are often added to recipes without being cooked, since they are sometimes more flavorful eaten raw. But according to FDA data, herbs have been linked to 2,699 illnesses and 84 hospitalizations in 1996 to 2015. So you really need to be washing your fresh herbs — and all the other produce you buy from the grocery store. (“Pre-washed lettuce” included.)
Do you ever feel like you’re being rushed at the doctor’s office? You’re not alone. According to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, only 36 percent of patients are given the opportunity to speak up about why they came in for their visit. When patients were asked what was wrong, most only spoke for an average of 11 seconds before being interrupted by their clinician. If this study taught us anything, it’s that medical care in America still has a lot of room for improvement in 2019.
The evidence in favor of intermittent fasting piled up this year; but some studies to the contrary were released, as well. Research presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Endocrinology suggested that the trendy diet could increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. This is likely due to the effects of fasting on insulin response; more research is needed, but there is certainly cause for some concern. Of course, intermittent fasting is just one of the many health fads that happened this year — many of which were totally insane.
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