food as with fashion, tastes change. Today, bread cubes dipped
in a cheddar cheese fondue seems about as dated as bell
bottoms. Nutritional advice changes too. Foods that were once
touted as healthful can suddenly gain unsavory reputations,
and vice versa.
a single study — and the media reports that go with it —
can make or break a food’s reputation, says Dr. David Heber,
chief of clinical nutrition at UCLA. And sometimes all it
takes is a few vocal experts with ulterior motives. When you
hear an expert raise alarms about a particular food, Heber
recommends considering the source. "Foods get vilified
because food is never politically neutral," he says.
time when everyone agrees that the A merican diet could use a
serious upgrade, certain foods make for easy scapegoats, says
Melinda Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition
and Dietetics and a nutritional lecturer at Arizona State
University in Tempe. "We tend to zone in on specific
foods because people want simple tips." But, she adds,
good nutrition is too complicated for a simple blame game.
closer inspection, some foods with unhealthy reputations are
ready for a little redemption. Here are some supposed dietary
offenders that are more healthful than you might think.
Perhaps more than any other food, eggs have been caught in the
revolving door of nutritional advice. In 2012, a
much-publicized Canadian study concluded that eating a single
egg yolk every day was almost as bad for the heart as smoking.
But that study drew sharp and immediate criticism from
cardiologists and nutritionists alike. Among other things, the
researchers admitted that they had only a vague idea of how
many yolks subjects were actually eating. Eggs are now largely
back in favor.
are a lot healthier than people realize," says Maria Luz
Fernandez, professor of nutritional sciences at the University
of Connecticut in Storrs. She says that egg yolks contain
highly absorbable lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants that are
also anti-inflammatory), and the white is loaded with
high-quality protein. Besides, she adds, the often-maligned
cholesterol in eggs seems to have little effect on a person’s
levels of cholesterol or triglycerides. "An average
person can have one or two eggs a day" with no worries,
be an especially smart way to start the day, Heber says.
"There’s a lot of evidence that eating protein at
breakfast is good for you," he says. "It will
satisfy hunger more than a cup of coffee and a bagel."
When even Domino’s offers a gluten-free pizza crust, you
know that gluten — protein found in wheat and some other
grains — has a serious image problem. Many people believe
that gluten can sap their energy, cloud their thinking and,
above all, mess with their digestive system. But for most
people, those fears seem to be misplaced, Heber says. By
latest estimates, about 1 percent of Americans, or even fewer,
have celiac disease, a condition that makes any bit of gluten
a serious threat to health. Some unknown number of people are
sensitive to gluten in other ways, but most people can eat and
digest gluten without problems, Heber says. "Americans
eat so poorly that they have a lot of gastrointestinal
problems," he says. "A lot of people think they have
gluten sensitivity, but they really have irritable bowel
breads, pastas and cereals are a good source of fiber and
vitamins, Johnson says, and gluten-free options don’t always
pack the same nutritional punch. "It’s certainly
possible to eat a junky gluten-free diet," she says.
meat: Steaks, chops and even burgers can be a healthful diet
choice, Johnson says. As she explains, reasonable portions of
lean meat can provide protein, iron, zinc and other nutrients
without much downside. A 2013 study of nearly 450,000 European
adults found no evidence that eating 6 ounces of red meat, or
more, every day could shorten anyone’s life. That same study
did suggest that large amounts of cured, processed meats could
lead to an early death, another reminder that there is such a
thing as too much bacon.
part, Heber is reluctant to say much positive about red meat,
mainly because it’s so easy to go overboard. He notes that a
slab of prime rib at a restaurant can contain more than 1,000
calories, enough to blow up just about anyone’s daily
budget. He recommends avoiding corn-fed beef because it’s
loaded with omega 6 fatty acids that can promote inflammation.
Lean, grass-fed beef is a much smarter choice, he says.
Coffee is the second-most popular beverage in America after
water, but a lot of people still think of it as a vice. If so,
it’s one vice that’s actually good for you. A February
study in the journal Circulation found that people who drank
three to five cups of coffee each day actually had a lower
risk of heart trouble than people who didn’t drink coffee.
Previous studies suggest that regular coffee drinkers also
enjoy protection from Type 2 diabetes.
If they haven’t been slathered in butter and sour cream or
infused with oil from a deep-fat frier, white potatoes can be
valuable little packets of nutrition, Johnson says. She notes
that they’re good sources of fiber, vitamin C, potassium and
other nutrients, especially if you eat the skin too. Some
nutritionists warn that potatoes can cause a surge in blood
sugar, but Johnson says that’s only likely to be a problem
when potatoes are eaten by themselves. When potatoes are
combined with some protein and vegetables, the effect on blood
sugar is much less dramatic. "We don’t eat individual
foods," she says. "We eat meals."