By Nicci Micco, M.S.
Spend enough time with a friend who is a registered dietitian, and sooner or later, she’ll probably reach for the peanut-butter jar — the full-fat, natural kind. You might be shocked — after all, isn’t peanut butter high in fat? — but just because peanut butter is high in fat doesn’t meant it’s fattening. Remember that gaining or losing weight, and body fat, basically comes down to balancing calories. And peanut butter is a nutritious choice that provides protein as well as folate, a B vitamin important for the healthy development of new cells.
That said, peanut butter is a concentrated source of calories, so you don’t want to go overboard. But you also don’t need to eat tons of the stuff to feel satisfied: just a tablespoon (90 calories) or two of peanut butter goes a long way. It’s a perfect example of a healthful food that has gotten a bad rep it just can’t shake. Here are four more “misunderstood” foods and why you should eat them — in moderation, of course.
The bad rep: A significant source of dietary cholesterol, egg yolks are off-limits for those concerned about heart health.
The good news: Medical experts now emphasize that saturated fats and trans fats are bigger culprits in raising blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol is. Plus, eggs are super-satisfying: in one study, people who ate a scrambled-egg-and-toast breakfast felt more satisfied, and ate less at lunch, than they did when they ate a bagel that had the same number of calories. Egg yolks contain lutein and zeaxanthin, compounds that research links with reduced risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over 50.
The bad rep: Beef is full of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, so people who care about their hearts should avoid it.
The good news: Lean cuts of beef are a low-fat source of protein and iron, a mineral essential for getting oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body — and one that many women (of childbearing age) are deficient in. There are many lean cuts of steaks: filet mignon, sirloin, strip steak, flank steak. If you can’t remember the names, pick steaks that are deep red with a relatively small amount of marbling — a fancy name for visible fat distributed throughout the meat — to find lean cuts.
The bad rep: Chocolate has lots of fat, lots of sugar — and it tastes amazing, so it must be bad for you.
The good news: Dark chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants that seem to have a blood-thinning effect, which can benefit cardiovascular health. And, researchers in Switzerland reported that eating dark chocolate (1.4 ounces of it) every day for two weeks reduced stress hormones, including cortisol, in highly stressed people. But be sure to account for the calories (1.4 ounces delivers 235) — or you may be stressed to see extra pounds creeping on.
The bad rep: Potatoes rank high on the glycemic index, which measures how quickly different foods raise your blood sugar. Foods with a high GI value tend to cause a higher spike in blood sugar — and in insulin, the hormone that helps glucose get into cells — which can be a problem for some people, particularly those with diabetes.
The good news: Potatoes are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C. And unless you’re eating an absolutely plain potato all by itself, its GI value doesn’t matter. (It’s also worth noting that the glycemic index is an imperfect and controversial scale.) A high-GI potato becomes a low-GI meal if you simply add a little olive oil, because the added fat helps slow the absorption of the potato’s carbohydrates.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)