It seems like so much of today’s health culture is focused on cutting foods out of our diet. We hear that one food is “bad” for us and it becomes a chore to remove it from our pantry permanently. But so much of the time, we are left with a void where that food used to be, and it is often filled with foods that are of equal concern. My strategy is always to focus on the delicious foods that we should be eating more of, then the nutrient-lacking varieties become easier to let go of. Here are five foods you should eat more of and their nutrient-devoid counterparts that you should try to limit.
- Eat More:Low-Glycemic Alternatives Like 100% Juice and Monk Fruit
Getting in the habit of reading ingredient labels is key for avoiding added sugar. When purchasing fruit juice, be sure to opt for those with “100% Juice” claims. And rather than adding table sugar or harmful artificial sweeteners to your beverages and baked goods, experiment with natural and low-glycemic options like monk fruit. Monk fruit sweetener is low in calories and contains mogroside V which is high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
Avoid: Added Sugar
Overconsumption of some added sugars can have seriously harmful effects such as pre-diabetes, increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular issues, negative impacts on the skin, increased cravings, mental health-related problems like anxiety and depression, liver disease, and more.
- Eat More: Chicken Thighs
Many people believe that the breast is the most nutritious part of chicken because white meat has less fat. However, the darker meat in chicken thighs and drumsticks offers unique health benefits such as high levels of vitamin K2. Chicken thigh is especially nutrient-dense when the fat is trimmed off.
Avoid: Processed Meat
Processed meat has been labeled a group I carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). Even the most nutrient-dense members of this food category such as cured ham and prosciutto have high levels of saturated fat and sodium and should be enjoyed in moderation.
- Eat More: Unprocessed & Fermented Soy
There is widespread misconception that women should avoid soy because of the incorrect thought that its phytoestrogens cause cancer. However, that is not correct. In fact, soy bioactives suppress cancer growth and prevent the growth of atherosclerotic plaque. Choose fresh and fermented forms of soy like edamame, soymilk, tofu, and tempeh.
Avoid: Ultra Processed Products
Soy is found in countless prepackaged commercial products and it is unclear whether soy used as a filler has the same benefits as fresh or fermented soy. Plus, ultra-processed foods can be extraordinarily harmful to you, so I do not recommend choosing a boxed food just because it lists soy as an ingredient. If you are unsure about what constitutes a processed vs. ultra-processed food, I recently wrote a blog on the topic where you can learn more.
- Eat More: Olive Oil
Olive oil varietals can be high in bioactive polyphenols that have antiangiogenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer effects. Research indicates that eating three to four tablespoons of olive oil each day can lead to a significantly reduced risk of esophageal, laryngeal, oral and pharyngeal, ovarian, colorectal, and breast cancer.
The same study that examined the association between olive oil and cancer risk, analyzed butter’s effect on the disease and found that butter was associated with an increased risk of esophageal, oral, and pharyngeal cancer by twofold. Butter also contains higher levels of saturated fat than olive oil.
- Drink More: Beer
Obviously, this section comes with an asterisk. Drinking any kind of alcohol in excess can have damaging effects on the body and brain. But if you are going to sip on an alcoholic beverage, you may want to consider beer. The hops from beer production contain bioactive polyphenols such as xanthohumol, which may explain the 25 percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease with moderate (one to two drinks per day) consumption of beer.
Avoid: Hard Liquor
Hard liquors such as gin and vodka are distilled alcohols that do not contain the same beneficial polyphenols as beer and are not associated with the same health benefits. In one study, men who drank beer were determined to have an increase in their circulating stem cells while men drinking gin were found to have a decrease in stem cells. Further, cocktails that contain hard liquor are often loaded with harmful added sugar.
***As a reminder, when I say to avoid a certain food, I am not telling you that in order to be healthy you must remove that item from your plate forever. Simply increase your intake of the healthful foods mentioned in this blog and notice if it becomes easier to reduce your intake of the other foods. Check out my book Eat to Beat Disease for more recommendations on nutrient-dense foods to add to your diet.