Fad diets come and go and often demonise specific foods or cut out whole food groups. But unnecessarily avoiding foods means you might be missing out on essential nutrients. Healthy Food Guide looks at four commonly shunned foods to see what their nutrition value is and what makes them good for you.
With the rise of low-carb and gluten-free diets, bread gets a bad rap and is often the first food people decide to avoid.
But wholegrain breads, especially with visible seeds and grains, such as soy-linseed or mixed grain, are rich in dietary fibre and heart-healthy fats.
Seeds and grains also provide a variety of vitamins and minerals and release their energy slowly, helping us feel satisfied for longer.
Fibre is essential to maintaining bowel health, preventing constipation and helping grow good gut bacteria. Slow energy release helps control blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels.
In some countries, bread is fortified with folic acid which can help reduce the risk, during pregnancy, of neural tube defects in developing babies.
How healthy bread is for you depends on the type you choose. Highly refined fluffy white bread has significantly less fibre than whole grain, so look for options with 7g or more fibre per 100g. Also look for ingredients such as whole wheat, barley, brown rice, granary, kibbled grains, oats, rye and seeds.
As a carb-rich food, potatoes often get unfairly blamed for unwanted weight gain. But spuds are very nutritious and are a great source of immunity-boosting vitamin C, gut-loving fibre, and potassium for better heart and muscle function.
As a starchy vegetable, we only count them as one vegetable serve, but they can definitely be a healthy and delicious part of a balanced meal.
Plus, if you cook, then cool potatoes, before eating, such as in potato salad, they develop resistant starch which is a special type of fibre our gut bacteria is particularly fond of.
Another food that some people avoid is dairy, but unless you have lactose intolerance, or are vegan for ethical reasons, there are a host of health benefits you’ll unnecessarily miss out on.
There is a mistaken belief dairy is ‘fattening’, but as a good source of protein, and due to their mouthfeel and creaminess, dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, are actually satisfying, keeping you full for longer, meaning you’re less likely to overeat.
High-protein foods, such as dairy, help you maintain a healthy amount of muscle which is good for metabolism and staying injury free.
Also, dairy consumption is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Finally, as we all know, dairy is an excellent source of calcium which is vital for building and maintaining strong bones.
If you can’t stomach dairy, always choose plant options that are fortified with calcium and contain protein, so you’re not missing out.
There are a number of reasons some people choose not to eat meat, such as animal welfare or environmental effects of farming, but if you don’t have strong feelings about those issues there’s no reason to completely cut meat out of your diet.
Red meat, eaten in moderation (no more than 500g cooked meat per week) is an excellent source of protein, zinc, B vitamins and absorbable iron.
Protein is important for building muscle, and it keeps you feeling full, meaning you’re less likely to overeat between meals.
The iron in meat is much more easily absorbed than plant sources, so eating it is a great way to keep your levels topped up.
If you choose lean cuts and stick to small portions, it’s easy to stay within safe saturated fat limits and enjoy the health benefits of meat as part of a balanced diet.
Article sources and references
- Springman et al. 2015. Analysis and evaluation of the health and climate co-benefits of dietary change. PNAS. 113:4146-51https://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146
- University of Otago and Ministry of Health. 2011. A focus on nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand adult nutrition survey. Wellington: Ministry of Healthhttps://www.health.govt.nz/publication/focus-nutrition-key-findings-2008-09-nz-adult-nutrition-survey
- Ministry of Health. 2015. Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults. Wellington: Ministry of Healthhttps://www.health.govt.nz/publication/eating-and-activity-guidelines-new-zealand-adults
- Flint HJ et al. 2015. Links between diet, gut microbiota composition and gut metabolism. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 74:13-22https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25268552
- Brownlee IA. 2011. The physiological roles of dietary fibre. Food Hydrocolloids 25:238-50https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0268005X09002501
- Ha MA et al. 2000. A definition for dietary fibre. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 54:861https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11114682
- Reynolds A et al. 2019. Carbohydrate quality and human health: A series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Lancet 393:434-45https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30638909
- Ericson U et al. 2015. Food sources of fat may clarify the inconsistent role of dietary fat intake for incidence of type 2 diabetes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 101:1065-80https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25832335
- Josse AR et al. 2011. Increased consumption of dairy foods and protein during diet- and exercise-induced weight loss promotes fat mass loss and lean mass gain in overweight and obese premenopausal women. Journal of Nutrition 141:1626-34https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21775530
- Wham CA & Worsley A. 2003. New Zealanders’ attitudes to milk: Implications for public health. Public Health Nutrition 6:73-8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12581468
- Ministry for Primary Industries. Folic acid fortification of bread - voluntary standard, mpi.govt.nz Accessed June 2019https://www.mpi.govt.nz/processing/food-and-beverages/food-and-beverage-manufacturing-requirements/bakery-and-grain-based-product-processing/folic-acid-fortification/