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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Food Fight: Who Can You Believe?

LONDON -- Butter is bad for you -- but so is margarine. Coffee raises blood pressure, but may protect against cancer. Alcohol is acceptable, but only if it's wine.


The confusing studies on what it is safe to eat and drink are enough to send anyone screaming to the nearest burger joint. But are the studies really contradictory, or does the media oversimplify and over-hype?


"It is obviously a confusing world out there and certainly there is a lot of information that appears to the consumer to be contradictory," said Ursula Arens, a nutrition scientist with the British Nutrition Foundation.


The margarine versus butter debate has been especially confusing. Studies that linked saturated fat -- found mostly in animal products such as meat and butter -- with cancer and heart disease sent millions rushing to buy margarine. But then another study found that people who ate a lot of margarine also had high levels of heart disease.


Back to the butter dish, or so it seemed.


But many doctors point out that their advice has never been conflicting. For years, and in various countries, they have recommended cutting overall fat intake. People in Western industrialized countries such as Britain and the United States get about 40 percent of their calories from fat. Doctors say this should be 30 or even 25 percent.


This means cutting down on meat, and not just to make room for the extra vegetables and grains. Dr. Alan Boobis of the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London says various studies have shown a link between eating red meat and bowel cancer.


So if you can't eat meat, should you eat fish?


Fish oil has been linked with reduced risks of disease -- specifically, its content of omega-three fatty acids, which seem to reduce cholesterol buildup. But a survey of 45,000 men found that those who ate five or six servings of fish a week had as much heart disease as those who ate two or three servings.


In general, nutritionists conclude, variety truly is the spice of life. "The general advice is pretty much the same advice that nutritionists have been rabbiting on about for donkey's years -- a varied diet, a mixture of foods and not too much of any one," Arens said.