Going to the grocery store has long been tedious, but now it’s become downright befuddling. Shoppers are bombarded with labels touting foods as everything from “organic” to “sugar-free” to “heart-healthy,” but what should we really be having for dinner?
“There are so many competing notions about what to eat: The science is confusing, the government guidelines don’t make sense, industry is funding science, and it’s just a mess,” says Dr. Mark Hyman, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine.
Hyman, a family practitioner, hopes to end that confusion. In his new book, “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?,” he breaks down current research on nutrition, offering a guide to healthy foods that have been shown to help keep weight down, while dispelling common myths about nutrition and diet.
It won’t come as a surprise that vegetables are high on the list of Hyman’s “eat this” items, but, surprisingly, he suggests laying off supposedly healthy foods such as oatmeal, kidney beans and items with a “whole grain” label that are, he says, loaded with carbs and sugars that can spike insulin and make the body store fat.
Hyman calls his approach the “Pegan diet” because it’s vegetable heavy, like veganism, while also making room on the plate for high-protein, high-fat meat dishes beloved by the Paleo crowd.
But, although apt, he says the name is a bit of a joke. It’s “mostly a spoof on the fanaticism of my Paleo and vegan friends,” he writes in the book.
Instead of labels and diets, the best guide is to look for foods without a long list of nutritional information.
“The food we should be eating shouldn’t have labels,” he says. “Does an egg have a nutritional label? Do you see the ingredients list on an almond?”
“How close to its original state is the food? And, if it’s pretty close, it’s probably good for you,” he says.
Read on for more about what you really should — and shouldn’t — be eating.
Don’t eat: Oatmeal
Do eat: Eggs, or oatmeal with nuts and seeds
Starting out a morning with a comforting bowl of oats is generally seen as the fiberful, healthy option, but Hyman says you “should not be eating a lot of carbohydrates for breakfast,” as you’ll be left feeling hungry soon after.
Instead, opt for eggs, Hyman says, referring to a 2016 study published in the journal Eating Behaviors, which found that an egg breakfast fills children up longer than oatmeal. If you really can’t give up your oats, at least amp them up with some nuts and seeds for added protein and healthy fat.
Don’t eat: Egg whites
Do eat: Whole eggs
Calorie-counters may shy away from the yolks, but they’re missing out on valuable and satiating nutrients.
“[Yolks are] a great source of protein,” Hyman says. “They have a lot of good fats, they have choline, which is great for the brain, and they have lots of nutrients.”
Don’t eat: lean meat
Do eat: beef
It’s what’s for dinner for a good reason, Hyman says of red meat, which he prefers to be grass-fed and organic. Although lean meats, such as chicken breasts, can be part of a healthy diet, a juicy, fatty rib-eye is better.
“Meat has a lot of nutrients that chicken doesn’t have, [like] iron, and it has more powerful anti-oxidants and different kinds of minerals,” Hyman says.
Don’t eat: White fish
Do eat: Dark fish
Fish with white flesh, such as halibut, tilapia and sea bass, may be many’s go-to for a virtuous meal, but Hyman says otherwise.
Such swimmers are low in omega-3 fats, which have a long list of benefits, including maintaining heart and brain health. Though less popular, dark fish such as sardines, anchovies and mackerel are higher in omega-3s.
“[They’re] much better for you,” Hyman says.
Don’t eat: Sushi rolls
Do eat: Sashimi
Grabbing a spicy tuna roll at the deli isn’t much better than a sandwich.
“If you just take a sushi roll, unroll it and put the rice in the bowl, you’d probably get a cup of rice, which is not great for your blood sugar,” Hyman says. Plus, sushi rice is often seasoned with sugar. Sashimi — raw fish with no rice — is a better option for your sushi outings, he says.
Don’t eat: Skim milk
Do eat: Whole milk, sparingly
Skim milk “actually [leads to] more weight gain … because it removes the fat and doesn’t satisfy hunger,” Hyman says. Plus, unlike whole milk, much of skim contains sugar and additives.
He notes that milk of any type isn’t as integral to a healthy skeletal system as we’ve been led to believe. There’s no evidence that the calcium in milk actually promotes strong bones, according to a 2006 meta-analysis in the British Medical Journal. Some vegetables, such as broccoli, are a better source of calcium, Hyman writes.
Don’t eat: Five servings of fruit a day
Do eat: Two servings of fruit and seven servings of veggies a day
“Fruit is an amazing source of healing compounds [but] I just think [people] should be aware of what they can tolerate in terms of [their] metabolism,” Hyman says, noting that apples, oranges and the like are high in sugar and carbs.
Instead, load up on veggies, especially dark, leafy greens. His rule of thumb is that vegetables should make up 50 to 75 percent of your plate.
Don’t eat: Vegetable oil
Do eat: Butter
Vegetable oils are loaded with the bad kind of omega-6 fat, which can cause inflammation, while the type of saturated fat found in butter “may not be the boogeyman we once thought it was,” Hyman says. A 2010 meta-analysis found there was not enough evidence to conclude that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased heart disease risk.
“You shouldn’t be eating tablespoons and tablespoons of butter and lard a day, but I don’t shy away from it,” he says.
Don’t eat: Beans
Do eat: Meat
Legumes and the like aren’t all they’re boiled up to be, says Hyman. Sure, they’re high in fiber and nutrients, but they’re relatively low in protein, which is crucial to building muscle, especially as we age, and high in carbs.
“To eat the equivalent [protein] of a 6-ounce piece of chicken or fish, you need three cups of beans,” he says.
For vegetarians and vegans, he recommends soybean-based foods such as organic tofu and tempeh or lentils and peas, which are lower in starch than many beans.