There are foods you probably don’t eat because “everybody knows” they’re bad for you—foods such as eggs (too high in cholesterol), white pasta (“empty” carbs) and soy (too high in natural estrogens, raising the risk for breast cancer).
But the truth is, what most people (including many medical experts) know about these so-called “bad” foods is…wrong. A close look at the latest research shows that they’re actually good for you. Here’s what’s really known…
How could white pasta possibly be good for you? Because it’s loaded with resistant starch, formed when starch-containing foods such as pasta, rice and potatoes are cooked and then cooled to room temperature or lower. It’s called resistant because it resists being completely digested and absorbed in the small intestine, a process that helps balance blood sugar.
Standout scientific research: Insulin is the hormone that ushers glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells—and healthy people are sensitive, not resistant, to the action of insulin. In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, insulin sensitivity in overweight men improved by up to 73% when they ate more resistant starch. And in a study of people with diabetes, four weeks of including resistant starch in the diet also improved insulin sensitivity. Tip: You don’t have to be overweight or have diabetes for resistant starch to improve your body’s ability to handle blood sugar.
Why it works: Some scientists theorize that resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity and balances blood sugar levels because it’s a prebiotic—it provides fuel for probiotics, friendly bacteria in the colon. When those friendly bacteria flourish, there’s less insulin resistance.
My recommendation: Don’t be afraid to eat white pasta salad, white rice salad or potato salad two or three times a week—as long as the pasta, rice or potatoes have been cooked and cooled. It’s OK if you reheat these foods after cooling—the starch remains resistant.
For nearly four decades, the government warned us against eating eggs because of their high level of cholesterol, a supposed risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Important update: There was never any credible evidence linking eggs to either high blood cholesterol levels or cardiovascular disease. And in the government’s latest “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” there are no limits on daily consumption of cholesterol. In fact, the most credible scientific research shows that eggs actually help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Recent finding: A study published in Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that eating eggs does not increase heart disease risk—and decreases the risk for stroke by 12%. The researchers concluded their study by noting that eggs deliver lots of protein, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Protein in eggs is an efficient muscle builder—crucial in seniors, who can lose up to 5% of their muscle mass each decade.
The antioxidants in eggs—primarily lutein and zeaxanthin—protect the eyes from age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in people age 50 and older. In one study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, eating one egg per day boosted blood levels of lutein by 26% and blood levels of zeaxanthin by 38%.
Eggs also are good for people with diabetes—a three-month study published in British Journal of Nutrition showed that people with diabetes who ate two eggs daily reduced their blood sugar and blood pressure.
And eggs can help you lose weight—a recent study from researchers at University of Minnesota shows that eating an egg at breakfast helps you feel less hungry during the morning and eat less at lunch.
My suggestion: Enjoy one egg dish daily. Look for organic eggs or eggs from chickens that are fed omega-3 fatty acids. People who ate these types of eggs had even higher blood levels of eye-protecting lutein and zeaxanthin compared with people who ate regular eggs, according to a study from researchers at Loma Linda University.
Full-fat cheese, butter and other dairy foods rich in saturated fat are bad for your heart, right? Not according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Researchers studied 92 people, giving them four different diets over four-week periods—a diet rich in saturated fatty acids, including 13% of calories from either cheese or butter…a diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in olive oil and avocados…a diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in vegetable oils…and a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. Results: Compared with the other diets, the diets with cheese or butter did not cause more inflammation, higher blood pressure or higher blood sugar—all risk factors for heart disease.
And in a landmark study published in The BMJ, researchers analyzed results from studies involving more than 300,000 people and found there was no link between saturated fat intake and getting type 2 diabetes or heart disease, having a stroke or dying from heart disease or any cause.
One possible explanation for these results: Dairy products such as full-fat cheese and butter are rich in heart-protective anti-inflammatory conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
My recommendation: Go ahead and eat organic butter and organic full-fat cheese from grass-fed cows. (Buying organic spares you the pesticides and growth hormones found in full-fat dairy products from conventionally raised cows.)
Soy foods stand accused of causing a wide range of health problems, from breast cancer to thyroid damage. But soy is a very healthy food if you pay attention to the kind of soy you consume.
Traditional soy foods such as miso (fermented soybean paste) and tofu, eaten in amounts consumed by Asian people for thousands of years (two to three times weekly), pose no threat to your health. In fact, a multitude of scientific studies shows that these soy foods—rich in health-giving isoflavones—may help protect you from many chronic diseases, including heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease.
But there are soy foods—organic or not—that are bad for you. The worst are soy margarines and shortenings made from partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which contain trans fat.
Another bad-for-you form of soy is processed soy protein, such as soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, texturized vegetable protein and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. In these forms, the soy has been stripped of nearly all nutrients.
My recommendation: Eat traditional organic soy foods two to three times weekly. Besides miso and tofu, these include edamame (green, immature soybeans), soy milk, tamari (fermented soy sauce), tempeh (fermented soybeans formed into a burgerlike patty) and natto (boiled fermented soybeans).