Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best and Worst Foods For You

A lot of people ask me one of two questions:
1. What is the worst food for you?
2. What is the best food for you?

I have a lot of trouble answering these types of questions for the mere fact that it is hard to label one food as being "the worst" or "the best". It's like asking who is the "best" person that ever lived, and who is the "worst." There are a lot of contenders, and you have to look at all aspects of their lives, not just what they did in the spotlight. Likewise, when people ask me what healthy foods are, I have trouble answering that too, simply because it depends what you are looking for when you want something "healthy." 

What is healthy to one person might not be considered healthy by another. For example, I think almonds are a "healthy" food. However, one on a diet might say they do not meet their definition of healthy because almonds are high in calories and fat. In my dietitian head, I feel like I go through complex logarithms and analyses to determine if a food is healthy. Last night I tried to explain to my clients how I look at a food label and determine if the food is "healthy"... but again, it's way too complicated for me to tell them simple steps: Look at: 1) calories 2) fat 3) fiber 4) sodium, etc. If you look at the nutrition label of a peach, one might think it is unhealthy because it will show up as 60 calories, all from carbohydrate (mostly sugars and maybe 1-2 g fiber), so no protein and no healthy fats.Thus It is much more complicated than simply looking at calories, fat, sugars, and protein on a food label. One must consider the quality of the calories you are receiving. 200 calories from raw almonds is different than 200 calories from cotton candy. With the almonds you are getting mono-unsaturated fats, some polyunsaturated fats (a little saturated too, but in this case I waive that- another exception), fiber, protein, Vitamin E, etc. With the cotton candy all you are getting refined sugars and all sorts of additives to make it those funky colors.

Anyway, I could spend hours trying to stress how difficult it is to determine if a food is healthy or unhealthy. It depends what you are looking for in a meal or snack. Is it protein you need? Do you need just a filler food (in which case I would look to fiber, protein, and some fat)? However, if I had to break it down to the top best and worst foods, my list would start off something like this (in no particular order):

Oat Bran (not oat bran muffins, the hot cereal in the oatmeal aisle)
Sweet Potatoes
Tuna Steak
Chia Seeds
Beans (navy, kidney, garbanzo, black, etc.)
Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, etc.)

Sausages and other heavily processed high-fat meats (Brats, hot dogs, bologna, salami, bacon, etc)
Klondike Bars and Super-premium ice creams (Haagen-dazs, Ben & Jerry's, etc.)
Anything with cheese + high-fat meat in one (cheese-steak, stromboli)
Cream and cheese-based soups, pastas, meals (Alfredo, chowders, chicken pot pie etc.)
Cheesecake and other rich cakes

So, you see, I can barely list a single food that is the "worst" it has to do with all the ingredients that go into it.... I hope this post gets your mind thinking about how YOU evaluate foods, and determine what "healthy" means to YOU. I'm sure this post will also cause some controversy, as many people like to challenge me when it comes to processed meats and cheese. I welcome a challenge, and remember, this is MY opinion of what is healthy- I'm just trying to get you thinking and let you have a nutrition experts opinion ;-)

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