There is a lot of misinformation, and people’s opinions, that float around about food and nutrition. The thing is though that nutrition should not be based on opinion. Nutrition is a science and is about scientific facts. I think it is easy to lose sight of this, especially in this day and age of information overload on the internet and social media.
Just because someone speaks loudly or often and is really convincing about something doesn’t necessarily mean that what they are saying is true or fact or that we should heed their recommendation. One of my favorite sayings that I learned from my husband is, “Often wrong, but never uncertain.” Many people who preach the latest fad diet, book, product, or supplement fit that bill. This is why it is so important to base nutrition advice and information on evidence-based information and not just opinion or hearsay.
On that note, there are certain foods that I often get asked about that are seen as “bad” for us. Maybe they were on a “do not eat” list of some diet or another. But, for whatever reason many people see these foods as “bad.”
Here is a list of a few perfectly healthy foods we tend to think of as “bad” and the reasons why they aren’t:
Carrots: Ever since the Sugar Busters diet was introduced in the mid 90’s people have had issue with carrots. Just this week I was asked what my opinion on them is. Sugar Busters claimed they were full of sugar and to be avoided. In reality, carrots are nutrition packed and low calorie – with 1 cup having only about 50 calories – and are a perfectly acceptable choice. They are full of fiber, beta-carotene, potassium, and antioxidants. They are a great crunchy snack paired with a little hummus or dip or roasted in the oven. I particularly like the tricolor purple, yellow, and orange ones. So forget that old notion that carrots are to be avoided. I can assure you that no one gains weight or develops any chronic disease from eating too many carrots.
Bananas: Some of the issue over bananas seems to come from the concern that they are a high glycemic food – meaning they cause our blood sugar and insulin levels to spike, even more so for ripe bananas. In actuality, even fully ripe bananas are not considered high glycemic, with a glycemic load of 11, with foods with a glycemic load of 20 or above being considered high.
Bananas are full of nutritional benefits. We all know of one of their beneficial nutrients, potassium. A medium banana has about 420 mg of potassium. Getting plenty of potassium is important in combating high blood pressure because potassium lessens the effect of sodium. Eating bananas as well as plenty of other fruits and vegetables is an easy way to boost your potassium. Bananas are also good sources of fiber, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, all at about 105 calories for the medium size.
Grapes: Grapes are another fruit that are often maligned and avoided because they are believed to be a high glycemic food. Again, grapes have a glycemic load of 11, not considered anywhere close to high. The more you eat, of course, the higher the impact on your blood sugar. In moderate, healthy portions, though, grapes can be and are, a perfectly healthy choice. For reference, a half cup is around 16 grapes and has only 55 calories along with a healthy dose of vitamin C and K, fiber, as well as the cancer and heart disease fighting antioxidant resveratrol.
Nuts and nut butters: Another nutritional powerhouse that despite loads of evidence supporting the positive benefits of it, still gets a bad rap. Nuts and nut butters supply a boat load of nutrition, providing a good dose of protein, good fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals. The calories can add up quickly, mainly because of their high content of fat. Even though they are mostly good fats, fat is higher in calories per gram, with 9 calories per gram, versus carbs and protein, which have 4 calories per gram. A 1/4 cup of nuts has around 160 calories and 2 Tablespoons of nut butter has about the same. So, it is important to be mindful of portions when you are eating nuts and nut butters to avoid overdoing it calorie wise, but because they are full of nutrients they are satisfying and definitely are a good choice.
Starchy vegetables- like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and beans. A large portion of my time with clients is spent convincing them that all carbs are not “bad” and in fact can be a healthy and necessary part of a healthy diet. Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes (of all kinds, not just sweet), corn, peas, and beans are all complex, slow-burning real-food carbs. They are vastly different than simple, quick burning carbs like white bread, white pasta or rice, sweets, and candy (all what I like to call sugar bombs). Eaten in the right healthy portion starchy vegetables are a healthy choice that can give your body the slow burning energy your body needs. A good rule of thumb is to make 1/4 of your plate starchy vegetables (while making the other 1/4 protein, and filling half with non-starchy vegetables and fruit).
Dietitians are often associated with being the food police and taking all the good stuff out of our diet. One of my favorite things though is to hear a client proclaim, “What?! I can actually eat _______. I love them but thought they were off limits!” I have said it before and will say it again, eating well for a lifetime is not about a long list of restrictions, but more about being well informed about the abundance of options of good foods we need to be including more of.
The interesting thing is that the longer your list of “can’t haves” and “don’t eats” is the more limiting and restricting it becomes, which then creates more desire for those off-limit foods. The more we can change our relationship and mindset with food to a more positive one, and weed out the chatter and nonsense, the better.