The amount of conflicting nutritional information on the world wide web can drive a good samaritan insane. With so many different diet trends and dubious official recommendations, navigating nutrition information can be a bit of a rough sail.
That is why I decided to compile a short list of foods that people usually consume the “wrong” way (even though I know the nutritional line between right and wrong can be a fairly tenuous one.)
Low-fat dairy products
With our low-fat craze came along a slew of low-fat products readily available to consumers. However, when a nutrient (fat) is removed, another (sugar!) needs to be added in order to make it palatable to the masses. This trade-off, while seemingly innocuous, could be in fact more deleterious to our health.
The fat provides not only the creamy flavor, but also essential fatty acids, fat soluble vitamins, lowers the glycemic response and increases satiety.
The added sugar, on the other hand, increases your waistline.
A review article published in the European Journal of Nutrition found either no association or an inverse association between high-fat dairy consumption and metabolic disease.
In other words, individuals that consumed high-fat dairy were no more likely to be obese or have cardiometabolic disease than those who consumed low-fat dairy, or they were even less likely to be obese or have cardiometabolic disease than their counterparts.
The review concluded that the consumption of high-fat dairy was inversely associated with obesity and cardiometabolic risk.
But just because full-fat dairy is potentially healthier than low-fat dairy it doesn’t mean you need to eat it like it’s going out of style. Remember: balance is key.
While eating “raw” is one of the major health food trends at the moment, nuts in particular are best enjoyed not-so-raw.
Raw nuts are a great source of vitamins and minerals, but their nutritional content won’t make much of a difference if they are not properly prepared.
Nuts naturally contain anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid that bind other nutrients present in the food (particularly iron and zinc) and prevent them from being properly digested. These compounds not only decrease the amount of nutrients absorbed, they can also cause irritation in the gut (1).
In order to reduce the amount of anti-nutrient in nuts, soak them and dry them prior to consumption. You can soak pecans, walnuts and peanuts for up to 12 hours; almonds and macadamias for up to 7 hours; and cashews for no more than 4-6 hours. After soaking, dry the nuts in a 150F oven or a dehydrator for about 24 hours (2).
If watching Popeye ever taught me something, it was that eating spinach makes me strong. And he ate it raw.
Raw foodists, as the name implies, advocate the consumption of 75-100% of foods in its raw, uncooked, form. While they argue that cooking destroys enzymes, nutrients and creates toxic byproducts (3), generalization often breeds ignorance.
When people think of spinach they usually see it as a good source source of iron, its most notorious nutrient. But the iron in spinach is more readily available to the body when the leafy green is lightly cooked – not when it’s raw. If only Popeye knew.
Additionally, cooking spinach also decreases oxalic acid and increases the bioavailability of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, calcium (4). But you’ll want to use a gentle cooking method, such as steaming, to avoid loosing any of the other nutrients.
In conclusion, if you want to get the best of both worlds – and as many nutrients as possible – rotating between raw and steamed spinach (and greens in general) seems to be a reasonable approach.
We praise garlic for its antimicrobial, anti-fungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties (5); however, most of us are not eating it in a way that potentiates its health benefits.
Considering the majority of garlic consumption is in its cooked form, a lot of people slice/chop/mince the garlic and immediately throw it in the heat – big mistake.
What happens is that alliin and the enzyme alliinase that catalyzes the conversion of alliin to allicin (one of its main health promoting compounds), are physically separated and only come into contact once the garlic is crushed. If you immediately apply heat to the garlic after crushing it, there is not enough time for this reaction to take place.
Therefore, in order to take full advantage of its beneficial properties, garlic is best left to sit for 5-10 min after being sliced/chopped/minced. Alternatively, if you’re feeling adventurous you can enjoy it raw – just don’t forget to chew it throughougly before swallowing (not recommended prior to a date).
I honestly want to shake people who discard the egg yolk because of its cholesterol content. In case you’ve been living under a rock, allow me enlighten you:
(The discussion about dietary cholesterol is beyond the scope of this article, and will soon have a post of its own.)
But going back to the yolk, this (ideally) orange nutritional powerhouse is a good source of protein and omega 3. They also provide important nutrients such as vitamin A, D, E, K, folate, B5, B6, B12, biotin, calcium, iron phosphorus, zinc and selenium (6).
Another key nutrient in egg yolks is choline, a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which plays a role in muscle movement, regulation of neuroendocrine function and REM sleep cycles, and the process of learning and memory (7). Additionally, decreased acetylcholine levels have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease (8).
So if it comes down to comparing eggs yolks with egg whites, it is mostly the yolks that give it its nutritional value (9). So do yourself a favor and keep the egg yolks next time.
Your body will appreciate it.