There is often conflicting information about whether a food is good for you and your heart, and if it should be added to your diet or avoided.
To start with, most foods require a context which can be used to help define whether or not its consumption is healthy. It’s important to look at the bigger picture and assess a food within the whole diet – not just on its own, in isolation.
For example, carrots are commonly regarded as being healthy. They contain fibre, beta-carotene (converted into vitamin A by the body), vitamin C and other antioxidants and phytochemicals. Eating one to two carrots per day, as part of a balanced diet, is a healthy thing to do. However, if all you ate was carrots or you ate kilos of them every day, that would be unhealthy.
The main point here is that health (from a dietary perspective) is not the result of eating one type of food. It’s the result of eating a variety of different, health-promoting foods consistently each day.
So in this context, here are six foods that have been sorely misunderstood.
Soy products have often been blamed for poor health due to the presence of chemicals that are similar in structure to human reproductive hormones. Claims have also been made that the way soy is farmed and processed poses a risk to our health as well. Food regulation laws are very different across countries, which is the basis for some of this conflicting information. In addition, the ‘evidence’ for these claims is often taken out of context or from a poorly conducted study.
Tip: A serving of tofu three to four times per week, for example, is perfectly healthy and can be a great protein source, particularly for vegetarians or vegans. Tofu is versatile and with a bit of practice you can create lots of different, satisfying meals.
The fear of eating nuts most likely dates back to the low-fat era of the 80s and 90s. Nuts are rich in fats, among other nutrients, and as such are energy dense. This means that only a small serving can contain higher amounts of energy when compared to other foods. Old school weight-loss programs saw this energy density as a problem and warned their clients against eating these foods, particularly for weight loss.
What these recommendations fail to recognise, again, is the context. Yes, if you consume too many nuts day-to-day, you may exceed your energy needs and find it difficult to lose weight. However, a small handful, consumed as part of a balanced diet is perfectly fine.
Tip: Plenty of evidence suggests that due to the types of fat found in nuts, not to mention the dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, that nuts are cardio-protective – meaning they decrease your risk of heart disease.
Often lumped into the white bread and refined carb basket, wholegrain bread, despite its fibre and nutrient content, is commonly thought of as unhealthy. You don’t want to build your whole diet out of bread, but including a couple of slices in your day can be a great way to get an important amount of dietary fibre, B vitamins and complex carbohydrates.
Tip: Serve wholegrain bread with protein and vegetables and you’ve got a winner of a balanced meal.
Eggs are a great source of protein and fat, along with other vitamins and minerals. Again, you don’t want to build your whole diet out of eggs (which would make you rather gassy and backed up) but including one or two per day is perfectly healthy.
Tip: Eggs on wholegrain bread make a filling breakfast that will get you through the morning.
Bananas are a great source of dietary fibre for a healthy gut and carbohydrate (in the form of sugar) for energy, while only containing a smidgen more than other fruits. They are also full of potassium and other vitamins and minerals. Experts recommend that two serves of fruit per day is sufficient for most of us. If your day consists of minimal activity, sticking to a maximum of two serves of fruit per day (including bananas) is a good idea.
Tip: 1 serve of fruit = 1 banana or 1 apple or 1 cup of berries. So, don’t build your whole diet out of bananas, but certainly include them daily as part of your healthy, balanced day.
While you don’t have to drink milk if you don’t want to, don’t stop drinking it because you’ve been told it’s unhealthy or unnatural. It’s not a good idea to build your whole diet out of dairy, but a milky coffee or bowl of cereal and milk per day is fine.
Tip: As part of a healthy diet, milk offers protein, calcium, vitamin B12, potassium and other nutrients.
About the author
The Healthy Eating Hub
This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.