You ordered the egg-white omelet, skipped the toast and switched from coffee to tea. You’re making healthy changes, right? Think again.
Dietitians have changed their stances on certain health topics based on new research and evolving dietary guidelines. Learn the truth behind these five “healthy” habits that actually aren’t…
Millions of people have cut out gluten to lose weight, gain energy and/or reduce gastrointestinal distress after eating. Contrary to popular belief, however, gluten-free does not equal healthy.
Only 1% of the population has celiac disease, a condition in which gluten damages the lining of the small intestine. Treatment of this disease requires a strict gluten-free diet. Some other people experience nonceliac gluten sensitivity in which they test negative for celiac disease but still experience gastrointestinal distress or other inflammatory reactions after eating gluten. This also is relatively rare. Everyone else has fallen into the fad-diet trap.
While a gluten-free diet may help people lose weight, it’s not because they’ve said good-bye to gluten. It’s because they’re eating more whole, unprocessed foods and reducing simple carbohydrates such as chips, cookies and white grains.
Foods made from the three common gluten-containing grains—wheat, barley and rye—are nutritious as long as they aren’t highly processed, and they won’t cause stomach distress for most people. They can be good sources of dietary fiber and other vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, iron and zinc. People on a gluten-free diet run the risk of falling short in these nutrients when they cut out whole grains.
Unless you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, instead of eliminating gluten, replace your simple carbohydrates with complex carbs from vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains. Choose brown or wild rice instead of white rice. Buy 100% whole-grain breads and cereals instead of white breads, dinner rolls, partially whole-grain breads and sugary cereals. When dining out, ditch the white bun and ask for a whole-wheat bun. Instead of fries or chips, choose a side salad, fresh fruit or steamed vegetables.
Supermarkets are filled with low-fat and fat-free foods. But food fats can provide satiety, or fullness, after a meal and are important for heart health. The key is to differentiate between the different types of fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial types of fat that can help reduce cholesterol levels and lower your risk for heart disease. The best sources of healthy fats are salmon and other fatty fish such as mackerel, herring, trout and sardines, olive oil and other vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocado and eggs.
While saturated fat—found in donuts, baked goods, fried foods, red meats and butter—may not be as bad as previously thought, it is not actually beneficial. When saturated fat is replaced with unsaturated fats, rates of heart disease drop significantly. It’s OK to have some saturated fat in your diet as long as you also are eating plenty of unsaturated fats, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. As for full-fat dairy products, there is a growing amount of research showing that these have health benefits, such as a lower risk for diabetes, over fat-free dairy. For my clients, I generally recommend reduced-fat (not fat-free) dairy. Based on what we know now, I believe it’s the best of both worlds for fewer calories and less saturated fat but with the health benefits and satiety provided by some fat.
A whopping 83% of American adults drink coffee, yet many still view it as a bad habit. Here’s the good news: Research indicates that coffee actually is quite good for you. People who drink coffee regularly are less likely to be obese or have high blood pressure or diabetes, according to various studies. Coffee may protect against DNA damage, and multiple studies link coffee to lower rates of stomach and skin cancers and reduced risk for heart failure. The compounds found in coffee also have been linked to reduced risk for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
The caffeine in coffee may be beneficial, too. It works as a mild stimulant to the nervous system and can increase alertness, concentration and focus. Research has linked drinking caffeinated coffee to reduced risk for depression.
Coffee also may have a positive impact on your workout. According to multiple studies, drinking coffee can enhance performance and make your workouts feel easier by reducing perceived exertion. Most studies show beneficial effects when coffee is consumed about an hour before a workout.
Coffee’s health benefits do have their caveats. Caffeinated coffee can disrupt sleep and make people feel jittery. Sticking to no more than three to four cups of coffee per day and avoiding caffeinated coffee within four to six hours of bedtime can help manage these effects.
Choosing Egg Whites
Egg whites may be lower in calories than whole eggs, but they’re also lower in nutrition. That’s because the yolk contains most of the egg’s nutritional value. Eating eggs for protein? The yolk contains more than 40% of an egg’s protein. Research has linked protein at breakfast with reduced appetite and fewer cravings later in the day.
The yolk also contains most of the vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Interestingly, these fats boost your body’s absorption of antioxidants from vegetables. A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adding three whole eggs to a mixed-vegetable salad increased the antioxidant absorption of vegetables by three to eight times. You might not want to add three eggs to your salad, but even one hard-boiled egg (you can slice it or chop it up) can boost antioxidant absorption. Another study found that adding just three to five grams of fat to a meal improved absorption of the antioxidant beta-carotene. One large whole egg contains five grams of fat, almost all of which is found in the yolk.
Replacing Dairy with Soy
Some people have soured on cow’s milk due to concerns over the use of hormones and antibiotics. These fears are unfounded, however, as dairy farmers rarely use hormones and must follow strict rules to dispose of milk that contains any trace of antibiotics. Nutritionally, cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, nutrients that most Americans lack. It also is a good source of protein—eight grams per cup—which helps with satiety and appetite control.
Almond milk and other nut milks and soy milk may have the “cool” factor, but they’re often less nutritious choices.
Almond and cashew milks are very low in protein and calcium, although store-bought options often are fortified with calcium. Soy milk has the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, and the calories in unsweetened soy milk are equivalent to the calories in 2% milk. Soy milk also lacks calcium and vitamin D, although some manufacturers now add both nutrients during processing.
There’s no need to cut out cow’s milk unless you are lactose intolerant, lactose sensitive or have cultural or moral objections. If you do opt for alternative milk, be aware of potential nutritional gaps and look for fortified versions.