On Your Health

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A List of Reasons To Avoid Food Lists!

Today we have a post from our guest blogger, Karen Massey, RD, LD, who is a registered dietitian at INTEGRIS, where she has been a community nutrition dietitian for more than 25 years. Karen’s primary role is helping people (employees, patients and members of the community) prevent or delay chronic disease by making healthier food choices.

Lists, Lists, and More Lists...

It seems like every headline I read these days starts with a list of things to do (or not do). Maybe I'm biased because I'm a dietitian, but this seems to be especially true when I see headlines about nutrition and foods. And yes, I On Your Health is sometimes list-happy, too!

There are lists of so-called “super” foods, and lists of foods you’re supposed to avoid. Sometimes, the lists disagree with each other! For example, potatoes may make the “Top 10 Potassium-Rich Foods You Need to Eat” list one day, only to show up on the "Top 10 Starchy Foods to Avoid” list the next.

What’s an eater to do? My answer: RELAX!

When it come to eating healthy, there is plenty of wiggle room. The best approach to a wholesome diet is to eat a variety of foods, from all food groups, in moderation. That’s because there is no one food (or food group) that is superior to all the others.

Furthermore, demonizing any one food or food group is unfair. There are certain individuals who must avoid specific foods, such as those who are allergic to peanuts, but for everyone else, peanuts are a perfectly nutritious source of plant protein... as are almonds, pecans and many other nuts and seeds.

Lists are fun to read because they are short, concise and memorable. But don’t get paranoid if a food you eat (or don’t eat) didn’t make the cut on one list or another. So, in honor of all those fun and punchy food lists out there, here  is another:

Karen Massey's Top 5 Reasons to Avoid Food Lists!

1. NO SINGLE FOOD provides all the nutrients needed to be healthy. This is the most important reason to avoid food lists.

2. There is a lot of crossover between and within food groups. Or, as I like to say, "No one can whistle in a symphony."

For example, citrus fruits (like oranges or grapefruit) are often heralded as “top” sources of Vitamin C.  Yet broccoli and red bell peppers are also high in Vitamin C despite the fact that they aren’t even in the fruit food group. In addition, individual foods, such as potatoes, can provide a combination of nutrients. As mentioned, potatoes are high in both potassium and carbohydrate -- hence the reason they would be posted on both lists.

3. All things in moderation.

Currently, there are a lot of carb-bashing lists aimed at discouraging people from eating carbohydrate, but carbohydrate is an essential nutrient that provides energy to the brain and muscle. Ditto fat-bashing lists. All humans need some fat in the diet. Eating too little good fat, such as the fat found in oils, nuts and seeds, can cause deficiencies.

4. Never say never.

While it’s true that sugary drinks, pastry and candy don’t offer much nutritional value to speak of, it’s not fair to treat them like poison, either. Eating is, and should be, pleasurable.  Non-nutritious foods like candy should be limited, but don’t have to be eliminated. Eating a Moon Pie (gasp) isn’t going to undermine your nutritional status.

5. Variety is key.

Even if you stick with the “top” foods listed on any given list, eating a variety of foods is still better. For example, if you limit yourself to the “healthiest nut” list, you will see that cashews, macadamias and Brazil nuts didn’t make the cut. That’s because they have slightly more saturated fat than the cut-off value permits to call them heart-healthy. Still, that's no reason to completely shun them! They only missed the mark by a gram or two. It’s the total amount of saturated fat in your diet that matters, not the minuscule amount found in a couple nuts.

Karen Massey, RD, LD, provides education for a number of INTEGRIS resources including Senior Health Services, PACER Fitness Services and Health Essentials programs, plus an array of community programs and organizations that serve populations who may be at risk for developing chronic disease. Karen has been involved in community nutrition since 1983, when she completed her dietetic internship at Oklahoma State University. Karen is a member of the American Dietetics Association, The Oklahoma Dietetics Association, and is a member of the Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition practice group. Karen can be reached at