So often clients come to my practice with some food they believe they're not supposed to eat under any circumstances, whether because they've heard it's fattening or because they think it has bad health effects.
The problem is that much of that information is just wrong. In the last few years our knowledge about what foods are healthy has expanded, but the news hasn't always gotten out. So I want to tell you about three wonderful foods that you should stop avoiding and start eating.
Eggs: For decades doctors and health officials warned people not to eat eggs at all or to limit their egg consumption to four a week, because of their high fat and cholesterol content.
And it's true – eggs have fat and cholesterol in them. In fact, a single large egg has 186 mg of cholesterol. That's 62 percent of the recommended daily intake. Still, that doesn't mean eggs will harm your weight or your cardiovascular system.
First of all, high cholesterol in your diet isn't the cause of high serum cholesterol in your bloodstream. Recent research shows that eating eggs will not raise serum cholesterol or other risk factors in healthy people (people with diabetes and people with heart disease should, however, follow a diet recommended by their physician).
What's so great about eggs? They have protein for maintaining muscle mass, which in turn helps manage your metabolism and weight. In fact, studies show that eggs both increase satiety and help you lose weight.
They're also good for your health. Eggs are high in choline, an essential nutrient that has been associated with brain and neurological health, fetal development, and prevention of a variety of disorders from liver disease to atherosclerosis. Another benefit is that they contain carotenoid antioxidants like Lutein and Zeaxanthine, which reduce your risk of eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Like everything else, eggs are best eaten in moderation, but the most recent American Heart Association guidelines no longer limit egg consumption. Even though there are no mandated serving amounts, a good rule of thumb is two to three eggs per day. So you're going to need a lot of ideas for cooking them!
Luckily, the egg is not only one of the healthiest but also one of the most versatile of foods. Hard boil it for salads, sunny-side-up it for laying over a sweet potato hash, make it into an omelet filled with whatever's leftover in the refrigerator or poach it to lay over steamed vegetables.
Potatoes: Those who grew up in a world of white, bland potatoes have probably learned that they are "empty calories" – carbohydrate delivery machines with few actual nutrients.
On the contrary, white potatoes can be nutritious. This starchy vegetable is potassium-packed and fiber-rich, and it's a good source of vitamin C among other nutrients. Yet recent interest in food diversity in the U.S. has meant that traditional varieties of highly-nutritious colored potatoes are now available, and not just at farmer's markets, but at the supermarket.
Potatoes that are intensely purple, yellow or red in skin color, as well as those that have colored flesh (like sweet potatoes), have a much healthier nutritional profile than the potatoes that go into foods like fast-food French fries.
Growing up in Peru, we always ate colored potatoes as part of a traditional healthy diet. The color of these potatoes comes from phytonutrients in their skin. It turns out that one thing you often heard about potatoes ("always eat the skin!") turns out to be true – so long as that skin is deeply colored.
In purple potatoes, anthocyanins help stabilize your body's metabolism of glucose – meaning that, unlike a white potato, a purple potato won't spike your blood sugar so that you are immediately hungry again. Sweet potatoes have the same effect, and, when cut and roasted, they deliciously replace the useless calories of a potato chip with a boost of vitamin A (important for boosting immunity), beta-carotene (important to eye and organ health) as well as adipectonin, which helps prevent the insulin resistance associated with Type 2 diabetes.
Like eggs, potatoes can be cooked in an endless number of ways. You can quarter them, spray them with a little oil and roast them. Or boil and mash them. Grate them to make hash browns, or cube them and add to a stew.
Here's another idea: Sauté them in a pan with a little oil so they're lightly brown and then crack in an egg. Two great foods in one pan!
Bananas: This delicious fruit in its own biodegradable wrapper has come under a lot of criticism in the last few years. Clients all the time ask me specifically whether eating a banana will make them gain weight, or whether they should only eat part of the banana and throw away the rest.
On the Internet you can find endless debates about whether to only eat bananas when they're green or only when they're brown, because their starch turns to sugar as they ripen.
It's like no one has any idea anymore whether they can have a banana at all, and if so, when!
The thing about bananas is that they come in an incredible range of sizes. If you are concerned about the sugar content, I always tell my clients, just buy smaller bananas.
But don't pass up all that the banana has to offer. What is that exactly? Potassium, for one thing. A medium banana has 422 mg of potassium, a chemical element that is absolutely necessary for cellular function. Studies also show that potassium supplementation reduces blood pressure.
Potassium is lost during exercise, so a banana is the perfect pre-workout snack: It provides carbohydrates you need for energy, which is key in any workout, along with the potassium you will be losing as you sweat. It's also a great on-the-go snack or as a 4 p.m. pick-me-up. You can throw one in your gym bag, but I also love adding a banana to my pre-exercise smoothie.
Bananas have another great quality, which is exactly the thing that makes people worry about eating them: They're sweet.
In the evening, when you want a treat, a banana is much better than something with cane sugar or corn syrup. Here's one of my favorite nighttime snacks: dip a banana in melted dark chocolate and put it in the freezer. It makes the most incredible dessert snack, and it's entirely healthy. (Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants – there's a bonus fourth food you should start eating!)
Eggs, potatoes, bananas. All these foods should go back into your menu rotation right away. And, as I always say, moderation is your best friend with all foods.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.