Let’s lay some groundwork.
There’s no one food that will make or break your diet on its own. There’s no one magical food. No one food is life shattering. Unless of course you have an allergy, intolerance or the food has expired, obviously.
One meal on it’s own is not most critical. That donut for breakfast last week…your body already forgot it.
Focusing on one food or one nutrient to eat or not eat isn’t helpful.
What’s most important is an overall quality of your diet and a healthful eating pattern, based on mostly whole, nutrient-rich foods.
These are the foods that are basic, nutritious, with minimal processing and packed with health boosting nutrients. I’m talking spinach, berries, bananas, nuts, oatmeal, chickpeas, tuna, eggs, turkey, potatoes, milk, peanuts. You get the picture.
So why do some whole foods get an undeserved bad rap while others shine?
There are lots of reasons like old science, misconceptions, misinformation, media headlines, misunderstandings, diet culture, fitness culture and celebrity culture.
Let’s start with three foods that get top marks in my books for nutritional value but are sometimes maligned for one or more of these reasons.
Three Foods That Get an Undeserved Bad Rap
Fitness fanatics and fad diet trends have us thinking that bananas are too high in sugar to be good for you. This truly baffles me – fruit, with naturally occurring sugar, is not the problem with our sugar intake.
If there’s anything you want to be eating less of when it comes to sugar, it’s highly sugary, ultra-processed, nutrient poor foods (packaged cookies, cakes and candy) and sugary beverages (pop, ice tea, frothy caramel coffee beverages).
So here’s the banana scoop.
YES bananas have natural occurring sugar and starch. They are richer in carbohydrates than some fruits, like berries.
But, like all fruit, that natural sugar is packaged up with good-for-you nutrients including potassium (booster of heart health), and fibre (booster of gut health).
And a medium banana only has about 100 calories.
Plus, that sugar is what makes bananas super as quick energy before a workout. Pair that banana with protein and healthy fat (hello peanut butter!), and it slows digestion and gives you longer lasting energy.
Cool fact: Unripe bananas have resistant starch, which is not fully broken down and absorbed, but fermented by large intestine bacteria, and that’s linked with improved blood sugar levels and better gut and digestive health. As those bananas ripen, starches turn to sugars. So…eating your bananas a little on the green side may offer even more health benefits.
Eggs are good for you.
Eggs are bad for you.
Eggs are good for you.
Yep, we’ve done some flip-flopping in the nutrition world when it comes to eggs. Sorry about that.
Here’s why: over the years our science has gotten better and we’ve taken a closer look at various nutrients and how they impact health. As we learn, we adjust our advice. And that’s a good thing! We don’t want to get stuck in old recommendations.
Which brings me to eggs.
Eggs used to have a bad reputation because the yolks contain dietary cholesterol. And that dietary cholesterol was thought to increase your blood cholesterol, which is not great for heart health.
But over the years, scientific evidence has proven that dietary cholesterol in foods has little impact on a person’s blood cholesterol levels.
We now know that less nutritious foods with a lot of saturated and industrially produced trans fats have a greater impact (e.g. stick margarine, processed baked goods).
Now, dietitians and credible health authorities, including Heart and Stroke, no longer recommend a limit on dietary cholesterol. Instead, we focus on an overall healthy balanced diet and cooking/eating more at home with whole foods.
BONUS: Eggs have nutrients that may actually protect your heart, such as omega-3 fats and B vitamins (including folate, B6 and B12).
Two eggs is a serving and like all whole foods, can be part of a heart healthy diet. Generally speaking, research shows an egg a day or 7 eggs a week is okay for healthy folks. Some newer research shows more is okay too. While there’s no one-size-fits-all, for someone with heart health issues or diabetes, it's best to get advice from their doctor or dietitian.
Cool fact: brown and white eggs are exactly the same nutritionally. The only difference is the colour of the hen. Seriously. A brown hen lays brown eggs. And, almost all of the nutrients are in the yolks – including antioxidants so make sure to eat those yolks!
Nuts have actually made a HUGE comeback as a “healthy” food after taking a big-time bashing for years because of their fat content.
Now, nuts are everywhere being promoted as an energizing snack and boasting heart health benefits and even touted as being good for your brain.
Except for peanuts.
They tend to take a back seat to trendier nuts like walnuts and almonds. Maybe that’s because they’ve been enjoyed as a cocktail snack?
They’re also being bashed a bit in the keto dieting world; followers avoid peanuts, claiming they are “high” in carbohydrate. But almonds are okay.
I guess keto followers assume that since botanically a peanut is a legume, that it is high in carbs. And if you’re trying to get as low as you can in carbohydrates a whole lot of nutritious foods will literally be off the table.
1 ounce of peanuts has 5 grams of carbohydrate.
1 ounce of almonds has 6 grams of carbohydrate.
1 ounce of chickpeas has 8 grams of carbohydrate.
REGARDLESS…peanuts also have the most protein out of all the nuts and the most folate, which is important for heart and brain health. They contain the same types of healthy fats as other nuts.
Think peanuts are fattening? Scientific evidence is mounting that eating peanuts and other nuts as part of a healhty eating pattern may help to manage weight. It’s likely due to the satiety factor from the protein, fat and fibre combo in nuts.
Can you get too much of a good thing?
So you don’t want to sit down in front of the TV with a big bag of peanuts, or any nuts for that matter. They are calorically (and nutritionally) dense. About ¼ cup, or a small handful is a generally a healthy portion.
Peanuts make a great snack and are super as a replacement for sugary, highly processed snacks. Try peanuts in the shell – helps you to slowly savour versus mindlessly munch.
Cool fact: peanuts are botanically in the legume family. They grow in the ground, not on trees like most other nuts. But, they are nutritionally very similar to tree nuts and so are classified as a nut. Their other name? Goober pea. Best name EVER for a food.
Canadian Nutrient File v. 2015
Fernandez, ML; Calle M. Revisiting dietary cholesterol recommendations: does the evidence support a limit of 300 mg/d? Curr Atheroscler Rep 12(6):377-83, 2010.
Scrafford, CG; Tran, NL; et al. Egg consumption and CHD and stroke mortality: a prospective study of US adults. Public Health Nutrition 14(2):261-70, 2011.
Heart and Stroke. Eat to lower your cholesterol. http://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/eat-to-lower-your-cholesterol
Fuller et al. Effects of a high-egg diet on cardiometabolic risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes: the Diabetes and Egg (DIABEGG) Study – randomoized weight-loss and follow-up phase. Am J Clin Nutr 2018 Jun; 107 (6) 921-931.
Tan SY et al. A review of the effects of nuts on appetite, food intake, metabolism, and body weight. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 July; 100 Suppl 1:412S-22S.
Mattes RD, Drehler ML. Nuts and healthy body weight maintanence mechanisms. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2010; 19(1):137-41.