main article image

Where The American Public & Nutritionists Disagree On Food Health

Posted on 2017-03-01

Food fads and hard science don’t always line up. Is quinoa really a superfood? How reliable is the term superfood anyway? How about butter, that’s the worst, right?

It’s easy to make assumptions about the nutritional value of food based on marketing, trends, and public opinion, but that doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

According to a New York Times study that compared the perceptions held by the public and those of nutritional sciences, we’ve got a lot to learn. Here’s an in-depth rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly:

The Good

These are rated highly by nutritionists, but the general public seemed more wary or uninformed about the health benefits.

Quinoa: Practically a superfood cliché, actually lives up to its reputation: highly nutritious and a hardy grower. This doesn’t stop it from becoming the butt of jokes or hard-to-pronounce. Protip: It’s pronounced “Keen-Waah”.

Tofu: It may still carry a perception as a strange meat substitute, but a history of research shows it’s beneficial to more than just vegetarians. There are plenty of appetizing ways to cook it too.

Sushi: No need to fear this uncooked delicacy. Sushi – we’re talking Nigiri and Sashimi, not Tempura – is high in protein and omega-3s. Stick to Mackerel and Salmon for the best nutritional value.

Hummus: The core of this alternative spread is the chickpea, which grants a list of beneficial nutrients, vitamins, and positive health benefits. Thankfully, hummus is made with only a few additional herbs and olive oil (which has it’s own health benefits).

Wine: The health benefits of alcohol have been heavily debated, but moderation seems to be the way to go. While wine-specific positives like resveratrol have been proposed, science still hasn’t decided that wine is better than liquor or beer. In fact, the differences between the three may have more to do with the socio-economic differences among those who prefer them.

The Bad

Hate to break it to you, but the health benefits of these foods may be overstated.

Granola: This staple of on-the-go nutrition and cereal isn’t exactly part of a balanced diet. While high in fiber and iron, a lot of granola products are loaded with added sugar. High serving sizes (more than ⅓ of a cup) also have us overdoing the beneficial carbs and unsaturated fats as well.

Coconut oil: A current phenomenon with many proposed uses – from topical to edible. However, nutritionally it’s just fat; one ounce contains 24 grams of saturated fat (the bad kind). Not a smart replacement for healthy unsaturated fats like nuts. There’s no scientific studies yet for all the anecdotal claims of extraordinary mental and physical benefits either.

Frozen yogurt: Yogurt may be a healthy snack, but frozen yogurt isn’t. One cup gives you 35 grams of carbs and 6 grams of protein, but you’re also getting 35 grams of sugar! That’s without considering the additional toppings you’re adding at your favorite frozen yogurt shop.

Slimfast shake: It’s a processed “nutritional” meal-replacement shake, but the cultural perception as a health product greatly influences the disparity in this study. Also, due to added sugars and flavorings, you’re better off just drinking a glass of milk and taking a multivitamin.

Orange juice: An 8-oz. serving gets you 100% of your daily vitamin C, but it also packs 23 grams of sugar (often the high-fructose variety). You can eat broccoli, red bell peppers, or kale and receive the same – if not more – vitamin C with less sugars.

The Ugly

Seems the jury is still out for these, with a middling consensus for both nutritionists and the general public.

Popcorn: It depends how you prepare it. One cup of plain air-popped popcorn actually only has 31 calories, 0.3 grams of fat, and is packed with antioxidants. Oil-popped (like the microwaveable or cinema kind) doubles the calories and sends the fat content to 4.5 grams! Not to mention the harmful synthetic chemicals found in store-bought popcorn. Make it yourself!

Pork chops: A leaner alternative to red meat, but you have to be careful when comparing it to the main white meat: chicken. It is relatively high in fat and cholesterol, so you want to get a good cut and trim the fat before you eat it.

Whole milk: Whole fat milk has not actually been observed to promote obesity. In fact, low-fat dairy may actually contribute more than whole milk. What’s more, recent studies find healthy omega-3s compared to low-fat alternatives.

Steak: Red meat seems to be one of the most divisive foods out there. Is it bad for you? Is it good for you? Is it not as bad as we think? There has been a public change in red meat consumption, but we still haven’t nailed it down.

Cheddar cheese: Cheese is on the fence with its pros and cons. The downsides? A single 1oz slice has 9.3 grams of fat, 29mg of cholesterol, and 174 mg of sodium. Yikes. On the other hand, you get 7 grams of protein and a list of essential vitamins and minerals. Other factors like cultural significance and lactose intolerance may play a part in unsure perceptions as well.

How To Stay Healthy Long-Term

In the end, the only way to really know what’s healthy for you is to keep up with the research and understand how your body works. No one diet is right for everyone, so figure out what’s going to work best for you. Plus, diet isn’t everything. Don’t forget the other two agreed upon foundations of good health: exercise and sleep.

Jump on the treadmill, maybe lift a few weights, and hit the hay around eight hours a day. Then, once you’ve taken care of those things, go back to worrying about what you’re going to have for breakfast.