Image by Jarkko Laine
Are there foods out there you’re not so sure about? You’ve heard they’re unhealthy to eat regularly and you’ve been avoiding them like the plague, only to hear on the news that they’re actually good for you. As a dietitian, it’s something I’m asked about all the time, especially when I’m the one being seen happily enjoying these said foods. “YOU eat that?! I thought it was bad for you?” is a common phrase I hear.
So today I’m bringing to light the nutrition prowess of all those guilty-pleasure foods you’ve been avoiding, in hopes you’ll start adding them back onto your plate.
When was the last time you had real butter? I bet it’s been a while. Butter is a food that gets a bad rap due to it saturated fat content, but it’s not all bad news. I’ve always said that in a duel with margarine, butter wins out every time. Why? Butter is natural, for one. Margarine is a man-made concoction that I never understood.
I also appreciate that butter contains two types of fatty acids that aren’t prevalent in the diet: butyrate and CLA. Butyrate provides energy for the bacteria in our gut, helping to keep your intestinal tract functioning at its best. CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, is a fatty acid found in the milk of cows that graze on grass. CLA has been well studied as an effective fat burner. Butter also contains vitamins A D, and K and has some anti-cancer properties. I believe that with a hand for moderation, you can have your sourdough bread, and butter it, too!
Eggs have gotten a bad rap for decades, mostly due to their cholesterol content (one large egg contains 212 mg of cholesterol). That seems like a lot when you consider the American Heart Association has been recommending getting no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day for the last 20 years (in 2016 they switched their focus to sugar and removed the limit on cholesterol). The truth is, the major factor affecting blood cholesterol levels is not the cholesterol in food, it’s the Saturated and Trans fat content.
In fact, eggs are actually loaded with goodness. Not only are they super versatile, they’re an inexpensive high quality protein. They also contain choline, an important nutrient for the brain, and lutein, which protects the eyes.
Coffee gets a bad name mostly because of what people put in it, but not from the coffee itself. Some concerns around coffee are that it’s acidic, and acid can aggravate digestive issues, acid reflux/GERD or ulcers. The caffeine in coffee can also interfere with your sleep, especially if you’re a slow metabolizer.
But there are some good things to say about coffee. Caffeine has been well proven to aid in physical performance, partly due to its stimulant effect, which raises metabolism and increases the oxidation of fatty acids. Other compounds in coffee also help lower your risk of diabetes. One meta-analysis looked at 18 studies with over 455,000 people and found that for every additional cup of coffee per day they drank, their risk of diabetes was lowered by 7%. I usually recommend sticking with up to 3 cups of coffee per day.
Full Fat Dairy
Choosing fat free or low fat dairy has been the mainstay nutritional advice for decades. Indeed, the type of fat in dairy products is the kind shown to increase cholesterol levels. The problem is that now, decades later, studies have found conflicting results from this advice. It seems that when we reduced the fat in our diet, we replaced it with sugar and other carbohydrates, leading to an increase in diabetes.
Now you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, full fat dairy has a lot more calories than the fat free kind,” and this may be true. But it doesn’t make a difference when it comes to diabetes risk. This association is so clear that when the researchers adjusted for weight, they found the same thing: full-fat dairy intake lowers diabetes risk, independent of weight gain
. Similar research blows up other long-held beliefs around full fat dairy. A recent review showed that people who eat full-fat dairy are no more likely to develop cardiovascular disease either.
Potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables, and it makes me sad that they’re often eaten with guilt and shame. Yes, they are a starchy vegetable but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed in moderation. When it comes to potatoes, it’s all about the portion size.
You might be thinking, why even bother? Well, let me tell you why. Potatoes are a very good source of vitamin C, B-Vitamins, and important minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. They’re also loaded with fiber, which is important for maintaining a healthy gut. If you love sweet potatoes versus the white ones, even better! Sweet potatoes provide 400% of your daily needs for vitamin A, have less calories, and contain a bit more fiber!
Many of my clients are surprised that I eat “white” bread. But sourdough is fermented and that makes a difference. The type of fermentation used to make sourdough bread has been shown to greatly reduce phytate production, which improves mineral absorption. Fermentation of grains also makes the bread easier to digest!
Avocados are the second most popular food my clients fear most. They always tell me how scared they are to eat avocado because it’s “so high in fat.” But here’s the thing: it’s the GOOD fat!
Avocados are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, a fat that isn’t super easy to find in the diet. They also have loads of potassium––even more than bananas!––and they’re also high in soluble fiber, about 7 grams per 100 calories serving.
There are many kinds of nuts to choose from, and yes, most of them contain a lot of fat. However, similar to avocado, most nuts are heart-healthy, either due to the type of fat they contain (mostly unsaturated, and some contain omegas 3s), their fiber content (which helps lower cholesterol), or from vitamin E.
The bad side of nuts is that they’re high in calories, and these calories can add up fast. So I usually recommend using nuts as condiments, toss them in salads, sprinkle on roasted veggies, blend nut butter into smoothies, or whip them up into fun sauces. If you want to eat them as a snack, stick to a 1-ounce portion.
Were you avoiding any of these foods? Tell me about it in the comments!