What we know about nutrition and healthy foods has changed a lot over the last two decades, but even with this increased knowledge, nutrition experts still disagree on whether particular foods are healthy or not.
For example, a handful of foods get mixed reviews from nutritionists, according to a New York Times survey
. Popcorn, pork chops, whole milk, steak and cheddar cheese are iffy, with half of nutritionists surveyed considering these foods healthy, and the other half considering them unhealthy.
The primary reason for the disagreement is fat. Fat is a topic few experts can agree on. In previous decades, the general consensus was that all fat — particularly saturated fat — was bad for the heart. In recent years, new research suggests that perhaps not all fat is bad. Nutritionists simply can’t agree on just how much protein and fat constitutes a healthy diet.
The New York Times study also revealed that the general public considers some foods healthy, while nutritionists say otherwise. Granola bars showed the widest gap, with more than 70 percent of Americans considering them healthy. Frozen yogurt and SlimFast shakes are also widely believed to be healthy. However, more than two-thirds of nutrition experts disagree, primarily because these foods contain considerable amounts of sugar. Americans also consider coconut oil and American cheese healthy, but again, most nutritionists disagree.
Experts do agree that quinoa, tofu, sushi, hummus, red wine and shrimp are all healthy. But the general public isn't so sure, probably because some of these foods, like quinoa, are relatively new to us.
Dietary guidelines have also changed, making it difficult for people to keep up with which foods are considered healthy and which are not. New federal guidelines released last year urged Americans to cut back on sugar and reduced the amount of protein recommended for teenage boys and men. The guidelines, issued by the Agriculture and Health and Human Services Department, also dropped longstanding limits on dietary cholesterol.
So what constitutes a healthy diet? Nutrition experts generally agree that the emphasis should be less on individual nutrients and more on broad patterns of healthy eating, such as consuming a vegetarian or Mediterranean-style diet high in plant-based foods.
As a general rule of thumb, when shopping for your groceries, stick to the outside sections of the grocery store. This is where you’ll find what are considered “whole” or “real” foods, such as produce, fish, poultry and meat. Fill your basket in the produce section first, and then move on to fish, poultry and lean meats. When it comes to the middle aisles of the store, avoid processed foods as much as possible. Dried beans, frozen vegetables and unprocessed whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal are all smart choices that can usually be found in these middle aisles.
If you’d like to learn more about how to eat healthy, ask your primary care physician to refer you to a registered dietitian
at Goshen Hospital.