By Janet Helm, MS, RD
You might think nutritionists flip flop as often as political candidates seem to do. Eggs are bad; no, now eggs are okay. Switch to margarine, no go back to butter. Drink eight glasses of water each day, no never mind.
Nutrition advice does change a bit over time because science evolves. Yet rarely are the changes very dramatic. Sometimes the flip flops are exaggerated due to one little study that suddenly makes headlines, or because a popular new diet book seems to completely contradict the last best-seller.
Studies often reveal that certain foods fail to live up to their hype, and sometimes research indicates that other foods do not deserve to be demonized. We’ll never get to the fantasy in Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper, where he wakes up in the future to discover that junk food is actually good for you. However, there are some vilified foods that deserve a second chance.
Why the bad rap? Spuds became synonymous with starch and were dismissed for their perceived waist-thickening carbs and high glycemic index.
Reasons to reconsider: An average potato is only 100 calories and packs in several key nutrients, including potassium and vitamin C. Recent studies indicate that potatoes contain resistant starch, a type of dietary fiber that “resists” digestion and may help boost your calorie burn and keep you feeling full.
Best ways to enjoy: Keep whole and out of the deep fryer. Watch out for the high-fat toppings that are more to blame for adding fat and calories than the potato itself. Serving potatoes cold in salads helps to amp up the resistant starch.
Why the bad rap? Viewed as fattening and devoid of nutrients compared to their whole-grain cousins, white bread got kicked to the curb.
Reasons to reconsider: Whole-grain breads are more nutrient-rich, but white breads are far from empty calories. They’re actually enriched with several essential nutrients that many of us lack, including folic acid, iron, and B-vitamins. Half our grains should be whole, but the other half can be white – primarily so we don’t miss out on these vital nutrients.
Best ways to enjoy: Choose whole-grain bread for your morning toast and sandwiches, but don’t feel bad eating bread in its white form on occasion, especially when it’s harder to substitute, such as crunchy baguettes or crispy flatbreads.
Why the bad rap? It’s become almost fashionable to say you avoid red meat, which has been shunned due to the saturated fat found in well-marbled steaks and juicy hamburgers.
Reasons to reconsider: Beef is an excellent source of protein and vitamin B-12 and is one of the richest suppliers of iron, zinc and selenium – a trio of important minerals. Portion size and cut of beef are what you need to keep in mind. Many lean cuts have less fat than a skinless chicken thigh.
Best ways to enjoy: Choose the leanest cuts with “loin” or “round” in the name, such as tenderloin, sirloin, or top round. Rather than a huge slab on your plate, aim for a portion about the size of deck of cards or combine with vegetables in stir-fries and kebabs.
Why the bad rap? There is no denying that many cheeses are high in calories and fat, especially saturated fat.
Reasons to reconsider: Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein. Newer studies indicate that cheese contains conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, a type of fat that may actually promote heart health.
Best ways to enjoy: Go for the real stuff. Nonfat cheeses don’t fully cut it. Keep portions small and savor every bite. Try strong-flavored cheeses that require only a sliver for satisfaction.
Frozen and canned vegetables
Why the bad rap? With the emphasis on locally grown fresh produce, frozen and canned vegetables have gotten a rotten reputation that’s been hard to shake.
Reasons to reconsider: Frozen and canned vegetables are picked and processed at their peak of freshness so nutrients are not lost. Studies have shown that the nutrient level is comparable to fresh produce. Plus, it’s hard to beat the convenience of having vegetables stashed in your freezer or pantry.
Best ways to enjoy: Buy the varieties without sauces and give canned veggies a quick rinse to reduce the sodium.