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Certain white foods can be healthy, too

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 11:30 a.m. CDT

You may have heard the dietary advice: Avoid white food. This recommendation puts complex information into a catchy phrase without providing enough details. While colorful foods are nutrient-rich, there are foods that lack color that are healthy too.

The white foods that the slogan above refers to are sugar and white flour, primarily. Common sources of sugar and white flour are candy, cookies, pastries and white bread, which all are low nutrient foods. Regular sugar in small amounts is acceptable  (emphasis on small).

Salt also may show up on that list of white foods to avoid. Most recent studies have confirmed that Americans consume too much salt. A 2012 study reported the average intake of 3,330 mg of sodium per day, not counting salt added at the table. The recommendation for the general population is to limit salt to no more than 2,300 mg per day. For those over the age of 51, people with diabetes, chronic kidney disease or high blood pressure the recommendation is to limit sodium to 1,500 mg per day. Consuming too much salt has been linked to an increased risk of death or disability from high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.

The nutrient-dense white foods list is extensive:

• Beans — Cannelloni, Great Northern, Garbanzo. Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber along with numerous other nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and magnesium.

• Cheeses — 1 percent cottage, goat, part-skim mozzarella. Cheese is a good source of protein and calcium, yet contains saturated fat. Therefore, be conservative with your portion.

• Fruits (white-fleshed) — Apples, bananas, pears. Fruits supply a variety of phytochemicals and antioxidants that provide many health benefits along with vitamin C and fiber.

• Milk — Skim, 1 percent or non-dairy (soy, almond). Milk is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D.

• Potatoes — Potatoes have gotten a bad rap, yet they contain no fat and are rich in fiber, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin C, iron and magnesium. Avoid frying your potatoes and be sure to eat the fiber-rich skins (after scrubbing). Top a baked potato with plain, non-fat Greek yogurt and/or a healthy tub margarine.

• Vegetables — Cabbage, cauliflower, celery root, coleslaw, garlic, jicama, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, water chestnuts. Vegetables supply a variety of phytochemicals and antioxidants that provide many health benefits along with vitamin A and fiber.

• Yogurt — Greek and lite. Yogurt is a good source of protein (Greek contains twice the protein as regular), calcium, vitamin D and beneficial bacteria.

There are foods that appear white that have been fortified or made with white whole-wheat flour. Two examples are whole grain pasta and white whole-wheat bread. Many of the whole grain pastas include a grain and legume flour blend that includes lentils, chickpeas, egg whites, spelt, barley, flaxseed, oat fiber and oats. The egg whites and legumes boost the protein, the barley and oats boost fiber and the flaxseed provides some healthy plant omega-3s. White whole-wheat bread is made with white wheat, which lacks bran color. It also has a milder flavor and softer texture. These products are healthy alternatives that are especially nice for individuals who do not care for the taste and texture of the whole-wheat counterparts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website features a new fruit and vegetable each month, along with recipes, nutrient content, calculators and more. Check out www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov for more information.

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