By Brian Sodoma
Remember when low-fat diets were the rage? Now fats — or some of them, anyway — are considered crucial to a healthy diet. The fact is that recent years have seen dramatic changes in which foods dietary science considers good for you and which it doesn’t.
Here are seven foods that once got mixed reviews, but that experts now say you can’t live without.
Avocados: A Luscious Nutritional Powerhouse
In the low-fat diet era of a generation ago, dietitians considered avocados suspect because of their high fat content. They do have a lot of fat, of course: A cup of avocado logs about 21 grams of the stuff. But monounsaturated fats account for 14 grams of that, and studies have shown that such fats may actually reduce our low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or so-called bad cholesterol. “You want to keep in mind the type of fats you’re consuming. It’s important to incorporate good fats,” said Ashley Amaral, a dietitian with Banner Health in Arizona.
Avocados are packed with vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium and folate. They’re also rich in vitamins K, C, E, B-5 and B-6.They offer other benefits, as well. “Avocados have a higher satiety value, which means you’ll feel fuller for longer,” explained Samantha Coogan, a dietitian and the director of the didactic program in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Avocados are a higher-calorie food, so Coogan recommends eating them in moderation.
Eggs: An Old-School Protein Source Has Its Day
Excessive egg consumption has long been tied to increased cholesterol and cardiovascular concerns. But now experts acknowledge that eggs have a healthy side. The American Heart Association allows up to four whole eggs with yolks per week, Amaral noted. If you want to eat them regularly, she suggests mixing one full egg yolk for every four egg whites, up to the AHA’s four-yolk weekly maximum. The yolk’s dense yellow center houses just about every vitamin the human body needs, including folate and vitamins D and B-12. “You don’t want to eliminate the yolk entirely from your diet,” Coogan said. “That’s where so many of those vital nutrients are.”
Potatoes: Brain And Muscle Food
When low-carbohydrate diets became popular, certain fruits and vegetables started getting a bad rap for their high sugar or starch contents. Root vegetables had an especially tough go of it for a while. They didn’t deserve it, Coogan maintains. The potato is a potassium powerhouse, offering about twice as much of that critical mineral per serving as a banana does. It’s fat- and cholesterol-free, too. So you can feel good about enjoying non-fried versions of this carbohydrate-rich food — in moderation, of course. The humble spud is also good for your brain, which Coogan explained needs 130 grams of carbohydrate-provided glucose to function at a baseline level. Potatoes can give you that glucose. Carb-rich foods such as potatoes are also great for rebuilding muscle glycogen stores after you work out, Coogan added.
White Rice: Quick Energy With Benefits
Naturally low-fat white rice contains vitamin B-6, magnesium and some protein as well. That’s good news, since its mild, go-with-everything taste appeals to just about everybody.
“There’s no reason to replace it with brown rice, especially to refuel after exercise,” Coogan said.
While not every nutrition expert would agree with Coogan — many still prefer brown rice’s overall nutritional profile — it’s safe to integrate white rice into your diet as a weekly side-dish option.
Nuts: Good Fats In Small Packages
High-fat nuts drew a lot of criticism in the low-fat years. But current research has rehabilitated them. Nuts are brimming with mono- and polyunsaturated fats — the good kind. They also offer plenty of fiber and protein.
How can you sneak nuts into your daily routine? You can chop them up and sprinkle them on savory or sweet dishes just before serving or grab a handful for a super-portable hunger tamer when you’re on the go.
Popcorn: A Snack You Can Celebrate
In its simplest form as an air-popped treat, popcorn is a healthy snack packed with whole-grain fiber and antioxidants, including polyphenols, nutrients reported to promote brain health.
So go ahead and indulge your popcorn craving. Whether plain or in any number of taste-forward variations, a standard popcorn serving of three full, satisfying cups is a great choice.
Dark Chocolate: A Virtuous Dessert Choice
Dark chocolate is rich with antioxidants called flavonoids, which are great for your heart and may improve cognitive functioning. The trick is to keep your portions small (to about an ounce): Dark chocolate is still a high-calorie food.
The higher the percentage of cocoa in dark chocolate, the greater the nutrient concentration it will contain and the less sugary-sweet it will taste. For a good balance between nutrition and taste, 72 percent dark chocolate is the way to go.
Nutrition experts Coogan and Amaral both stress the importance of moderation to any healthy eating strategy. Overdoing it with even a healthful food can be bad for you. That said, you’ll find each of these foodstuffs to be an unquestionably tasty and nourishing element in your well-rounded diet.
Brian Sodoma is a journalist who covers business and health. He lives in Arizona.