7 "Healthy" Food Rules Dietitians Never Follow
There's so much healthy eating advice out there, but not all of it is worth heeding.
Pictured recipe: Spinach & Egg Scramble with Raspberries
If you often get annoyed with all of the conflicting (and sometimes obviously bogus) nutrition information floating around out there, imagine how registered dietitians feel. These experts spend years learning the nuances of food and nutrition, and yet there are people out there who would rather just trust whatever nutrition advice they read on Google, or hear from an Instagram influencer.
To clear up some confusion, we asked a few dietitians to comment on a few food "rules" that they never follow, and that they don't recommend you do, either.
1. Don't eat 'white' foods.
"There are still too many people that just say 'no' to white foods … period," says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN. "Yes, there are some white foods that should be limited, since they involve a high level of processing, stripping away many naturally occurring plant-based benefits. For instance, when you can, aim to choose whole grain bread or whole grain pasta instead of their "white" counterparts. However, there's an extensive list of wholesome white foods that can boost nutritiousness or your eating plan. These white foods include white button mushrooms, white onions, parsnips, cauliflower, white potatoes with skin, white beans and white fish."
Related: 6 Reasons You Should Be Eating Carbs
2. Skip canned and frozen vegetables.
If you're on a tight grocery budget, or if you don't have a ton of fridge space, loading up on fresh produce every week might be unrealistic. "Consider no salt or sugar added canned fruits and vegetables," says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. You can buy these in bulk and store them in your pantry for months or even years, and the nutrient profile of many is similar to fresh vegetables. Frozen vegetables are also a great option, if you have the freezer space. They're just as healthy as fresh, but try to purchase veggies with no added salt or sugar.
Related: The Top 5 Canned Veggies, Ranked
3. Eat plenty of fish.
"Dietitians are now finicky about fish—for good reason," Newgent says. "Many people may benefit from eating more fish, but dietitians no longer cast a "wide net" with just a general recommendation. While eating 8 ounces of seafood per week is a good rule of thumb based on a 2,000-calorie diet, it's important to choose a variety that's lower in mercury, especially for young children and pregnant or breastfeeding women. It's advised to simply avoid fish with high mercury levels, including king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tile fish (from Gulf of Mexico), marlin, orange roughy and bigeye tuna. Ideally, sustainability is factored into fish selection. And, of course, if you choose a 100 percent plant-based eating plan, fish is not required in the diet for it to be healthful."
4. Aim to eat a certain number of calories every day.
It's pretty well-documented that calorie counting is an imperfect science. Food labels aren't exactly accurate. Some calories might (might!) be more easily absorbed than others. It's next to impossible to know how many calories you really burn in a day—and if you did, you'd realize that the number varies pretty greatly based on things like stress, sleep and activity levels.
What's more, focusing too much on calories sometimes leads to making nutrient-poor choices, according to Nazima Qureshi, MPH, RD. If you do choose to track your food and calorie intake, make sure you're also getting a balance of carbs, fat and protein. And, steer clear of processed "low-calorie" foods (think fat-free cracker snack packs), which are also low in nutrients.
Related: What Is Intuitive Eating?
5. Choose raw produce over cooked produce.
"While it's true that some nutrients are lost during the cooking process, you don't need to follow a 100 percent raw diet," says Stephanie McKercher, MS, RDN. "The cooking process often makes it easier to digest and absorb nutrients from foods. There are benefits to both raw and cooked produce, so I recommend including both on your plate throughout the day whenever possible. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are also healthy options that are convenient and budget-friendly. Most of us just need more fruits and vegetables, in general."
6. Don't eat processed food.
Although McKercher recommends eating plenty of whole foods (duh), she doesn't think it's necessary to cut out processed foods completely. Things like energy bars made with fruits and nuts, vegetable-filled canned soups and healthy frozen meals are technically "processed," but are also packed with nutrients. And, even things like chips, crackers and breakfast cereal can be a part of an overall healthy diet (that also includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean protein and other minimally processed foods).
7. Avoid egg yolks.
"[The idea that] eggs are bad for us and raise cholesterol levels is another myth that is inaccurate," says Erik Bustillo, RD, CISSN. "Some individuals may need to be on a lower fat or lower cholesterol diets," if bloodwork shows that they have high cholesterol, and other dietary changes don't solve the problem. "But studies have shown eggs (including the yolk) are good for us as part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle."
Bottom line? Most healthy eating "rules" are actually filled with nuance.
Instead of blindly following rules and bits of advice you read on the internet, think about how the foods or eating styles in question actually make you feel. If something works for you, go for it. If not, feel free to just move along. And of course, if you see something about food or nutrition that doesn't seem quite right, you can always reach out to a dietitian for clarification.
Read more: 10 Everyday Superfoods