Almonds (and other nuts) are high in calories—or are they? USDA research found that almonds actually supply fewer calories than nutrition labels indicate—130 per ounce rather than 170—because not all the calories in the nuts get absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. The same is probably true of other nuts as well as peanuts (technically legumes), the researchers said. But even at 130 calories an ounce (just a small handful), almonds are still a calorie-dense food that you should eat in moderation.
For a leaner and more environmentally sustainable meat, consider buffalo (bison). The animals are grass-fed on ranches, with regulations banning hormones and antibiotics. Some producers, however, grain-finish bison in feedlots, similar to cattle. And bison feedlots can have the same health and environmental problems as cattle feedlots. Bison meat is leaner than beef and, like all meat, it’s rich in protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and other nutrients. It is promoted as a good source of omega-3 fats, but the amount is minimal compared to fatty fish.
While many people love this leafy herb, others think it tastes terrible (IHateCilantro.com calls it “the most offensive food known to man”). In addition to pleasant aromatic factors (described by some as fresh, grassy, and citrusy), there are aldehyde chemicals, the same as in soap. People who hate cilantro may detect the unpleasant soapy compounds more than the pleasant ones, possibly due to genetics. Crushing the leaves and letting them stand a while may make the herb more tolerable to cilantro haters, since this allows enzymes to break down the aldehydes.
Dried plums (that is, prunes) help promote digestive regularity. They may also enhance bone health, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition of postmenopausal women, which found that consuming 3.5 ounces of prunes (about 10) a day for one year significantly increased bone density. According to the researchers, prunes may help suppress bone breakdown. They are especially rich in vitamin K (an important bone nutrient), as well as antioxidants (which may help shield bones from oxidative damage). And they have more boron—which also plays a key role in bone health—than most fruits.
Eggplant is a good source of fiber and is rich in anthocyanins (in the purple skin) and other antioxidants. But because it's so spongy, it absorbs a lot of fat when fried. In a Greek study, eggplant (3.5 ounces) absorbed 42 grams of the olive oil it was pan-fried in, with calories increasing from 25 to over 400. Coating the eggplant with flour or batter before frying reduced oil absorption and thus calories (to 193), compared to plain pan-frying. If you fry eggplant (or other veggies), get the oil hot enough so that it quickly creates a thin crust that seals in moisture but limits oil absorption.
This label is popular but misleading. You may envision happy chickens foraging for seeds and other goodies—but all the label means is that the chickens must have access to an outside area. There is no requirement that the chickens go outside. Some small-scale farmers do raise their chickens on pasture in more humane and eco-friendly ways, but much free-range poultry comes from large factory farms, similar in many ways to regular industrial poultry production. Keep in mind also that free-range chicken is neither more nutritious nor safer from Salmonella or other bacteria than conventional chicken.
Grapefruit can interact with many drugs, including some statins and antidepressants. The list now exceeds 85, according to a review in the Canadian journal CMAJ. Substances in grapefruit inhibit enzymes that metabolize the drugs, so you end up with more active ingredient in your bloodstream. Depending on the drug, this can potentially lead to acute kidney failure, heart arrhythmias, and other adverse effects. In some cases, grapefruit can reduce absorption of a drug. Many drugs carry a warning label about interactions; if not, check with your pharmacist.
The term hydroponics was coined about 80 years ago by a UC Berkeley scientist who grew tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and beans in water, not soil. Today you can also find hydroponic leafy greens, eggplants, strawberries, and other vegetables and fruits. Since no soil is involved, you don’t need large tracts of land; less water and pesticides are used, plants grow faster, and crop yields are higher. But a lot of energy is needed to control the indoor environment, and because hydroponics is time- and labor-intensive, the produce tends to cost more. It is not more nutritious overall than field-grown produce either.
The health benefits of coffee come largely from its antioxidants, and instant coffees seem to be loaded with them, despite the additional processing they undergo. In one study, people who drank instant coffee for five days had reduced oxidative stress, which suggests the coffee may offer some protection against chronic diseases linked with oxidation such as heart disease. Some (but not all) studies have also found that instant coffee, like regular coffee, has blood sugar benefits. More research is needed, but in the meantime there may be health benefits to making instant coffee your daily brew if you like it.
This root vegetable, native to Mexico and Central America, is shaped like a turnip and has a yellow-brown skin and starchy white inside. Also called Mexican potato, Mexican turnip, and yam bean, jicama is crunchy, juicy, and mildly sweet, similar to water chestnuts. It's 90 percent water, so it’s low in calories (45 per cup, sliced). It’s rich in fiber (6 grams per cup), vitamin C, and potassium. To prepare, peel and then slice or cube it. Eat it raw—for example, in salads or, as in Mexico, with lime juice and chili powder. Or cook it, as in a stir-fry with other vegetables.
Kosher foods are produced in accordance with strict religious dietary laws at specialized facilities under rabbinical supervision. But contrary to popular belief, the kosher symbol is not a guarantee of safety. For instance, though the salt used in kosher meat production kills some bacteria, this is not a sterilization process. One study found even more Listeria in kosher poultry than in conventional poultry. Also keep in mind that kosher foods are not necessarily more nutritious or flavorful than nonkosher foods, and they have just as much sugar and fat.
Good news: Ounce for ounce, liver is probably more nutritious than any other food. It's rich in B vitamins, zinc, copper, iron, and even vitamin C, with only 180 calories and 6 grams of fat per 3.5 ounce serving. Bad news: Liver is extremely rich in vitamin A. Over time, excess amounts of vitamin A may increase the risk of fractures in older people. Liver is also high in cholesterol and is more likely than other meat products to contain high levels of pesticides and antibiotics. It’s okay to eat small portions of liver on occasion, but don't go overboard.
MyPlate was unveiled in 2011 by the USDA as part of Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign. It's not perfect, but it’s an improvement on the outdated Food Pyramid. This nutritional guide is a dinner plate divided into four compartments: vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein—with a small circle off to the side representing dairy. It’s recommended that you fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit. Grains (preferably whole grains such as whole-wheat pasta) and protein (fish, poultry, meat, eggs, beans, tofu) should each take up about a quarter of the plate.
Natural flavorings are derived from plants, animals, or minerals. But “natural” can be misleading, since they seldom come straight from nature; rather, they are extracted and processed in labs. Moreover, there may be little or no difference between natural and artificial flavors, since they contain the same key chemicals. For example, natural and artificial "banana flavor" both get their recognizable taste from amyl acetate. Artificial flavorings actually have some advantages: They're easier and cheaper to make, can save endangered plants, and have a longer shelf life.
Foods fortified with omega-3 fats may sound like a good idea, especially if you don’t eat fish. But it depends. The omega-3s in fish (EPA, DHA) are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, among other benefits. But fortified foods typically contain an omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), from such foods as flaxseeds and canola oil. The body converts ALA into EPA and DHA only to a very limited degree. Some products do contain omega-3s from fish oil, but usually only a fraction of what’s in fatty fish.
Ounce for ounce, the skin is the most healthful part of the potato, with lots of fiber, plus iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin C, and other nutrients and phytochemicals. Before eating it, wash the potato well and pare away any green areas, sprouts, or other blemishes, which indicate that bitter glycoalkaloids may be present in increased amounts. Potatoes develop these toxins as a defense against fungi, insects, and animals. If a potato tastes bitter, don’t eat it. Same goes if it is green beneath the skin, has gone soft, or is excessively cracked, bruised, or sprouted.
Quorn is the brand name for a meat substitute made from fungus fermented in vats that is then mixed with egg whites and flavorings and shaped into forms such as cutlets. It's a good source of protein, selenium, zinc, and fiber, but it is also high in sodium and has been the subject of much controversy. More than 1,700 adverse reactions have been reported to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), including vomiting, diarrhea, hives, difficulty breathing, and even anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction). CSPI has been urging the FDA to at least to require warning labels.
It has been claimed that red palm oil can fight heart disease, belly fat, dementia, liver disease, and bone loss, as well as stop aging “inside and out.” Because red palm oil is minimally processed, it's rich in vitamin E, sterols, phenolic compounds, and carotenoids. But there are too few studies on the effects of palm oil (red or refined) to know if it is detrimental, neutral, or beneficial to health. There are better ways to get carotenoids (like colorful fruits and vegetables) and vitamin E (whole grains, seeds, nuts). Plus, palm oil production is leading to deforestation and destruction of orangutan habitats in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Sardines, a name given to many small fish in the herring family, are rich in omega-3 fats and calcium (in the bones) and a natural source of vtamin D. They're a good ecological choice too, since sardine populations are abundant—and contaminants are much less of a concern than with most other fatty fish. Compare nutrition labels of canned sardines. Depending on the type, where they come from, and what they are packed in, they can vary a lot in calories (90 to 275), fat (5 to 15 grams), and sodium (100 to 400 milligrams) per serving.
Tahini is a creamy paste made from sesame seeds and is used in Middle Eastern cooking to flavor hummus and other dishes. Because sesame seeds are high in fat and calories, so is tahini: One tablespoon has about 90 calories and 8 grams of fat, though 85 percent of it is healthy unsaturated fat. Tahini also provides protein, fiber, small amounts of vitamins and minerals, along with other potentially beneficial compounds, notably lignans and phytosterols. You can spread tahini on toast, or add it to sandwiches, soups, stews, salad dressings, and sauces.
This milk has been heated to at least 280°F for at least two seconds, a process that destroys virtually all bacteria. When sealed in near-sterile containers and refrigerated, ultra-pasteurized (UP) milk lasts up to two months unopened (and about 7-10 after opening). Ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk is heated to slightly higher temperature for longer and sealed in sterile containers, which makes it "shelf-stabile" for at least six months. Once opened, it must be refrigerated and used within a week or so, like other milks.
Volumetrics is based on the idea that people eat about the same amount of food (by weight) a day, regardless of calories. Choosing foods that are low in energy density—that is, low in calories but high in volume—allows you fill up on fewer calories. In general, the best way to lower the energy density of your diet is to eat more low-fat or nonfat foods with a high water content (fruits, vegetables, broths, cooked whole grains) in place of low-moisture or high-fat foods (such as cheese, crackers, chocolate, fries).
Whole grains are more healthful because they retain the bran and germ and thus all (or nearly all) of the nutrients and fiber of the grain. Look for foods that have a whole grain listed as the first ingredient. Harvard researchers say also to look for less than a 10-to-1 ratio of “total carbohydrates” to “fiber” on the nutrition label of whole-grain products, which is the ratio found naturally in whole-wheat flour. An easy shortcut: Multiply the fiber grams by 10; the result should be more than the grams of “total carbohydrates.”
Sugar alcohols—which include xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and erythritol—are reduced-calorie sweeteners used in many foods, from candies and jams to yogurts and ice cream, as well as in sugar-free gums and toothpastes. They are actually carbohydrates that the body does not fully digest, so they provide fewer calories than sugars. Sugar alcohols also have less effect on blood sugar, so they can be helpful for people with diabetes. But large amounts can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
For a great source of protein, choose nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt. Made by straining off much of the whey (the liquid), Greek yogurt is thicker than regular yogurt and has up to twice as much protein (15 to 20 grams in 6 ounces). It’s also lower in carbohydrates and thus lactose (though most lactose-sensitive people find that yogurts in general are easier to digest than other dairy foods). One downside: It tends to have less calcium (about 200 milligrams in 6 ounces) than regular yogurt (about 300 milligrams)—but it’s still a great source.
Many substances in the pulp of lemons and other citrus fruits are also in the peel, which consists of the outer flavedo or "zest" (a source of carotenoid pigments and fragrant volatile oils) and the inner spongy white albedo (a source of pectin). Some nutrients in the pulp are also in the peel. Though lab studies have found that citrus peel has some antibacterial and anti-cancer effects, don’t count on it to regulate blood pressure, fight cancer, alleviate depression, cure bladder infections, or help you lose weight, despite the claims.