7 So Called “Bad” Foods That Are Actually Good For You

Are you shying away from bad foods that are actually good for you? With all the hoopla about healthful eating, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.

As a nutrition consultant, I’ve come to realize there is no shortage of surprises and superstitions in the world of nutrition. As a follow-up to my recent Washington Post article, “5 So-Called Health Foods You Should Avoid,” I thought it would be fun to give you reasons to enjoy some of your favorite so-called “bad” foods that could actually be good for you, originally published in The Washington Post

Gluten and Wheat

They are “the most demonized ingredients beyond high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil,” said Melissa Abbott, culinary director at the Hartman Group, a company specializing in consumer research.

Yet decades of studies have found that gluten-containing foods, such as whole wheat, rye and barley, are vital for good health, and are associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and excess weight.

“Wheat is a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals,” said Joanne Slavin, nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota. She added that the confusion about gluten, a protein, has caused some people to avoid eating wheat and other grains.

Only about 1 percent of the population  - those with celiac disease or wheat allergy – cannot tolerate gluten and must eradicate it from their diet to ease abdominal pain and other symptoms, including the ability to fully absorb vitamins.

One reason wheat-free or gluten-free diets are popular is that people who don’t eat wheat often end up bypassing excess calories in sweets and snack foods. Then they start feeling better, lose weight, and mistakenly attribute their success to gluten or wheat avoidance. Learn more about a gluten free diet and who may benefit from it…

Eggs

Eggs also don’t deserve their bad reputation. In recent decades, their high cholesterol content has been thought to play a role in increasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and heart disease risk. But cholesterol in food is a minor factor contributing to high blood cholesterol for most people, and studies have not confirmed a correlation between eggs and increased heart disease risk. The major determinant of LDL (bad) cholesterol is saturated fat, and while eggs are high in cholesterol – 184 milligrams in the yolk – they’re relatively low in saturated fat – about 1.6 grams in the yolk.

Interestingly, some of the biggest egg eaters in the world, the Japanese, have low cholesterol and heart disease rates, in part because they eat a diet low in saturated fat. In contrast, Americans eat eggs alongside sausage, bacon, and buttered toast.

“The amount that one egg a day raises cholesterol in the blood is extremely small,” says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “Elevations in LDL (bad) cholesterol of this small magnitude could easily be countered by other healthy aspects of eggs.” Learn more about eggs…

Potatoes

Potatoes have been blamed for increasing blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, excess weight and Type 2 diabetes. A recent Harvard study that followed large populations and their disease rates linked potato eating with being overweight, blaming  it on the blood glucose rise.

But many foods, including whole-wheat bread and whole-grain cereals, cause similar spikes in blood glucose, and are correlated with superior health and lower body weights. How could the higher body weight in the Harvard study be explained? The study lumped all potato products together, including potato chips and french fries, very fattening versions of potatoes usually eaten in large portions alongside hamburgers, hot dogs, and sodas.

“It’s an easy food to attack; but the meal pattern may be the culprit,” said David Baer, a research leader at the Agricultural Research Service of the Department of Agriculture. “Other epidemiological studies have not verified a connection between potatoes and weight gain or any diseases, and no clinical studies have shown a connection.” Learn more about the Harvard study…

Potatoes are a great source of potassium, Vitamin C and fiber that many cultures – Scandinavians, Russians, Irish, and Peruvians – relied on as a nutritious staple for centuries. And they were not fat.

Fruits

People often ask me if fruit is too high in sugar, especially for diabetics. This fear of fruit, I believe, is left over from the Atkins craze, which discouraged eating some fruits on the grounds that they are high in carbohydrates.

Avoiding fruit could actually damage your health. Study after study over many decades shows that eating fruit can reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease, blood pressure and fruit. Lean how fruit reduces diabetes risk

Fruit is high in water and fiber, which help you feel full with fewer calories, one reason why eating it is correlated with lower body weight. Even though they contain simple sugars, most fruits have a relatively low glycemic index. That is, when you eat fruit, your blood sugar raises only moderately, especially when compared with refined sugar or flour products.

Several health organizations, including the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Heart Association, recommend Americans eat at least five cups of fruits and vegetables a day because of their superior health benefits.

Soy

Though popular for centuries in many Asian cuisines, soy is sometimes seen as dangerous after studies found elevated rates of breast cancer among rats when they were fed a concentrated soy derivative. But studies looking at whole soy foods in humans have not found a connection. In fact, the reverse may be true.

Soy, “when consumed in childhood or adolescence may make breast tissue less vulnerable to cancer development later in life and probably has no effect on breast cancer risk when consumption begins in adulthood,” said Karen Collins, registered dietitian and nutrition adviser with the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Actually, Collins said, the evidence is so strong for protection against heart disease that the FDA allowed a health claim for labels on soy food products.

 Alcohol

Alcohol is feared because of the potential for abuse and alcoholism and complications such as liver disease, which are valid concerns.

But decades’ worth of research shows that moderate alcohol consumption “can reduce deaths from most causes, particularly heart disease, and it raises HDL (good) cholesterol,” the USDA’s David Baer said.

Wine may have additional benefits because its grapes are filled with nutrients called polyphenols, which reduce blood-clotting, inflammation and oxidation.

The key is to drink alcohol moderately and with meals. What’s moderation? One serving daily for women and two servings for men, with a serving being 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Learn more about wine…

Fried Foods

While it’s true that frying food usually increases its caloric content, that doesn’t necessarily make it unhealthful.

As long as food is fried in healthful oil instead of butter, shortening, or trans fat, and it’s eaten in moderation, it isn’t less healthy. In fact, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and heart-healthy, cancer-preventive carotenoids such as beta-carotene (e.g., carrots, sweet potatoes), lycopene (e.g., tomatoes) and lutein/zeaxanthin (deep-green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale), need fat in order to be absorbed by the body.

“The consumption of certain fats, such as saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids [fats that are solid at room temperature],is associated with an . . . increased risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, the unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids [canola, safflower and olive oils] have significant metabolic benefits and are health promoting,” said the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Learn more about healthy fats…

Read my Washington Post “Local Living” cover story 24 May 2012

and

 Read the Washington Post Web Chat Transcript

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Harvard Study: Fruit Reduces Diabetes Risk

Swedish Strawberries (Photo: Swedish Embassy)

People are always asking me if fruit is too high in sugar to eat, especially if you have diabetes. This fear of fruit, I believe, is leftover from the Atkins craze, making foods like fruits, and even vegetables like carrots, verboten. This is one of the most tragic consequences of this diet fad, because avoiding fruit can actually damage your health.

People who eat fruit have a lower incidence of Type 2 Diabetes, the most common form of the disease, according to a recently published Harvard study. But this study isn’t alone in its conclusions. It corroborates decades of research showing the nutritional value and health benefits of fruits.

Fruit is high in water content and fiber, which help you feel full with fewer calories. Even though it contains simple sugars and carbohydrates, most fruits have a relatively low glycemic index, that is, when you eat it, your blood sugar raises only moderately, especially when compared with refined sugar or flour products.

Fruit is loaded with nutrients scientists believe protect people from major chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and more. The potassium in fruit helps lower blood pressure and actually helps neutralize the blood pressure-raising affects of sodium.

Eating more fruits and vegetables – as high as 5 cups per day or more – is a habit which could help you stabilize and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes. Yes, it is possible!

And, the best part of fruit? It’s delicious! It’s easy to eat, to pack in your lunch box for the office or school, and it’s such a refreshing snack or dessert. What could be better?

The study:

Dietary flavonoid intakes and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women

Nicole M Wedick, An Pan, Aedín Cassidy, Eric B Rimm, Laura Sampson, Bernard Rosner, Walter Willett, Frank B Hu, Qi Sun, and Rob M van Dam

From the Departments of Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA; Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; the Department of Nutrition, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom; and the Departments of Epidemiology and Public Health and Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Supported by NIH grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Abstract

Background: Data from mechanistic studies support a beneficial effect of specific flavonoids on insulin sensitivity. However, few studies have evaluated the relation between intakes of different flavonoid subclasses and type 2 diabetes.

Objective: The objective was to evaluate whether dietary intakes of major flavonoid subclasses (ie, flavonols, flavones, flavanones, flavan-3-ols, and anthocyanins) are associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes in US adults.

Design: We followed up a total of 70,359 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, 89,201 women in the NHS II, and 41,334 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were free of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at baseline.

Results: During 3,645,585 person-years of follow-up, we documented 12,611 incident cases of type 2 diabetes. Higher intakes of anthocyanins were significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes after multivariate adjustment for age, BMI, and lifestyle and dietary factors. Consumption of anthocyanin-rich foods, particularly blueberries and apples/pears, was also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. No significant associations were found for total flavonoid intake or other flavonoid subclasses.

Conclusion: A higher consumption of anthocyanins and anthocyanin-rich fruit was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

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New Study Finds Certain Foods Lead to Living Longer

Eating Healthier Means Living Longer

According to New Study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association

Researchers found that diets favoring certain foods were associated with reduced mortality.

The leading causes of death have shifted from infectious diseases to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. These illnesses may be affected by diet. In a study published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that diets favoring certain foods were associated with reduced mortality. Scientists investigated empirical data regarding the associations of dietary patterns with mortality through analysis of the eating patterns of over 2500 adults between the ages of 70 and 79 over a ten-year period.

By 2030, an estimated 973 million adults will be aged 65 or older worldwide. The objective of this study was to determine the dietary patterns of a large and diverse group of older adults, and to explore associations of these dietary patterns with survival over a 10-year period. A secondary goal was to evaluate participants’ quality of life and nutritional status according to their dietary patterns.

By determining the consumption frequency of 108 different food items, researchers were able to group the participants into six different clusters according to predominant food choices:

  • “Healthy foods” (374 participants)
  • “High-fat dairy products” (332)
  • “Meat, fried foods, and alcohol” (693)
  • “Breakfast cereal” (386)
  • “Refined grains” (458)
  • “Sweets and desserts” (339).

The “Healthy foods” cluster was characterized by relatively higher intake of low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables, and lower consumption of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks, and added fat. The “High fat dairy products” cluster had higher intake of foods such as ice cream, cheese, and 2% and whole milk and yogurt, and lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice, and pasta.

The study was unique in that it evaluated participants’ quality of life and nutritional status, through detailed biochemical measures, according to their dietary patterns. After controlling for gender, age, race, clinical site, education, physical activity, smoking, and total calorie intake, the “High-fat dairy products” cluster had a 40% higher risk of mortality than the “Healthy foods” cluster. The “Sweets and desserts” cluster had a 37% higher risk. No significant differences in risk of mortality were seen between the “Healthy foods” cluster and the “Breakfast cereal” or “Refined grains” clusters.

Photo by Polly Wiedmaier

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