Think, says Nikita Puri, before you eat.
Cholesterol was once the big bad wolf, then research split it up into 'good' and 'bad' components, and new studies are now pointing fingers at sugar being the puppet-master instead.
It is difficult to get experts to agree on what's good and what's potentially lethal in our everyday lives -- move around a few variables, and the results of your research stand duly transformed.
Thanks to the number of pesticides and additives present in our food today, it has become very difficult to recommend any food as totally safe for consumption, laments Sunita Choudhary, chief dietician and nutritionist at B L K Hospital in New Delhi.
"From pizza base to burger buns, everything that's readily available, including packaged chapattis, contain preservatives or some other dangerous compound."
Echoing Choudhary's thoughts, certified nutritionist Claudia Ciesla banks mainly on fresh fruit and vegetables. "Every time somebody tells me they avoid mangoes and jackfruit, but eat potato chips, I tell them to embrace what is naturally available. Controlling your food portions is better than picking up something from the bakery," says the Bollywood personality who has recently penned a book on weight loss (Keep Eating Keep Losing).
Anything taken in excess is toxic, says Ciesla, "You just have to understand your body's needs and eat accordingly."
Food pairing is another element we often turn a blind eye to. While palak paneer is a staple favourite in most households, the benefits of blanched spinach are lost when you team it with calcium.
On the other hand, having spinach with Vitamin C (tomatoes, lemon) makes it more effective, suggests Choudhary.
But besides portion control and food pairing, one must also remember that each food has a due process to be followed, cautions nutritionist Suman Agarwal.
Take, for instance, soybean. "In Indian households, soybean is very often ground together with wheat to increase nutritional benefits, but this is a very wrong thing to do because soybeans have to be duly processed to remove trypsin inhibitors and phytates," says Agarwal.
While trypsin inhibitors can cause discomfort and indigestion in the stomach and small intestine, phytates are known to prevent mineral absorption.
1. Processed/ smoked meats
The likes of ham, bacon and sausages have been long been looked down upon because they contain excessive salt, besides chemical preservatives including sodium nitrate which is a known carcinogen.
Smoking the meat is bad enough too, as the meat is likely to absorb the same tar that cigarette smoke is infamous for.
2. Bakery items
A majority of bakery goods available in your local bakery, including bread and chocolates, contain a sweetener called high-fructose corn syrup.
Used as an alternative to sucrose and often teamed with chemical toxins, HFCS is found in ready-to-eat cereals and is linked to fatty liver.
Studies also link HFCS to heart strokes, Type 2 diabetes and more.
We shouldn't choose to go further down this road.
3. Bitter almonds
Detectives in literature have often zeroed in on cyanide poisoning as the probable cause of death, and understandably so -- of the two kinds of almonds, sweet and bitter, the latter actually contains amygdalin which turns to cyanide.
Banned in the US, bitter almonds can cause light-headedness, nausea muscle aches, insomnia and more.
There's a reason grandma asked you to keep a check on your almond intake.
4. Instant food
Instant noodles have always played the villain in health stories, primarily because they are fried, often in palm oil.
But hakka, stick and handmade noodles are dried in ovens and are not fried; hence, they are healthier than fried instant noodles, says nutritionist Agarwal in her book, Super Kids: Healthy Eating For Kids And Teens.
Laden with starch, the battle for and against the hyped-for-the-right-reasons potato has been long. But the fact that you have to scoop out the last remaining green dot under the potato's skin is thoroughly backed by doctors and nutritionists.
Potatoes should have no sprouts or leafy greens because they contain solanine, the effects of which include delirium, hallucinations and diarrhoea.
6. Microwave popcorn
They might be easy to use, but research shows that popcorn bags are lined with a harmful synthetic butter flavouring called diacetyl.
Another chemical that lines the bag is an acid called PFOA, which can cause thyroid issues, high cholesterol and bladder cancer.
Stick to popping corn in the pressure cooker.
There is such a thing as 'drinking too much water' and it's called dilutional hyponatremia or water intoxication, says Ciesla.
Excess water leads to dilution of sodium levels in the body, resulting in the swelling and drowning of cells.
There have been cases where water intoxication has proved fatal too.
Never wolf down water, especially after exercise.
8. Olive oil
Perfectly fine when you are dressing a salad, but experts advise against using it for Indian cooking because it has a low smoking point and may break down to produce toxins.
Only the pomace variety can endure high heat, but some shun it because of the chemical process used to extract this variety from leftover olive pulp and pit.
Lima beans can be lethal when eaten undercooked because they break down to produce cyanide. These should be boiled for at least 10 minutes in an open stove to remove toxins.
Also, never use the water you've soaked rajma (kidney beans) in, warns Agarwal. "This happens in a lot of Indian households. That water contains indigestible components and shouldn't be had."
This well-loved spice appears to have a low margin for safety -- in the 1500s it was reportedly used as an abortifacient, and in the 1960s as a hallucinogenic drug.
Stick to well-restricted sprinkles of nutmeg in your food; large doses can lead to headaches, nausea, convulsions and hallucinations.
11. Fruit seeds
Avoid eating seeds of fruits such as apples, cherries, peaches and plums because their pits also contain compounds which can decompose to produce lethal hydrogen cyanide.
So putting the whole apple in the blender may not be a good idea -- stay away from the pits and kernels and you're good.
12. Raw honey
While it may be tempting to take up the offer when someone stands on your door with freshly-harvested honey, unpasteurised honey contains spores and pollens associated with allergic reactions, discomfort in the stomach, and food poisoning.
It does have a host of benefits, but opting for the pasteurised variety is the safer way out.