Good or Bad? Gluten, Avocados, Granola + More, Part 2

Last week we examined why the mind-body connection is so important in determining which foods are “good” or “bad,” prompted by this New York Times article. Today, we’ll take a look at some foods that commonly called into question for their healthiness — granola, nightshades, avocados, gluten, and grains – and dispel some myths when necessary.

Granola

When we were young, choosing a granola bar over a candy bar meant that you were choosing wisely.  That’s mostly true. But it doesn’t mean a granola bar, bound with sticky sweet stuff, is actually good for you… it just might not be as bad as a Snickers bar. To really understand granola and its “healthiness” you need to look at the core: the oats used. You also need to look at how the oats are processed. Steel cut oats are coarsely chopped, giving them a lower Glycemic Index, while Rolled Oats are steamed, rolled, steamed again then toasted, resulting in a higher Glycemic Index.

Also, watch how you eat your granola. Plain? With organic milk? With white sugar? Or in a bar? As is always the case, the simpler, more whole approach is better. Also watch for late night carbohydrate consumption.

Bottom line: Healthy, with care.

Nightshades

You may have read the Boston Globe article, or the zillion blog posts it inspired, about what Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen’s personal chef prepares for them, and that Tom avoids nightshades “because they aren’t anti-inflammatory.” What are nightshades, you may ask?  They are those vegetables that find their roots in the Solanaceae family of plants, and include a host of reputable veggies and spices: eggplant, potatoes (yes, we know, not so reputable), peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, pimentos, paprika, cayenne pepper, Tabasco sauce, et al.

Nightshades have tons of nutrients and antioxidants, and despite the bad rap they get, contain only a very small fraction of the alkaloid levels found in other “toxic” nightshade plants. In fact, very minute amounts of some nightshade components are prescribed to successfully treat a few kinds of allergic reactions or chemical poisoning, as well as nausea related to certain conditions.

If you are concerned, try small amounts and see if you feel any ill effects, symptoms like stomach discomfort, digestive difficulties, joint pain, and muscle tremors. It’s generally accepted that some people are much more sensitive to them than others, and media reports have been enough to influence medical care professionals and some organizations to advise those with certain conditions like GERD, gout, or arthritis to avoid nightshades.

Otherwise, enjoy them in moderation if you don’t feel any ill effects.

Bottom line: Healthy, with care.

Avocados

The knock of avocados is that they are highly caloric, and this is not untrue. But avocados also contain tons of nutrients. They also increase the nutrient absorption of the foods we eat with them. For example, you may be chomping on whole carrots. Yet dipping them in avocado you will not only make it taste better, you will also help your body absorb up to 5x more goodness from the carrots.

One-fifth of a medium avocado (1oz) has 50 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, making it a great nutrient-dense food choice.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 recommends that Americans increase their intake of dietary fiber and states that dietary fiber that occurs naturally in foods may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, as well as help provide a feeling of fullness and promote healthy laxation. One-fifth of a medium California avocado provides 8 percent of the Daily Value for fiber, while enjoying one-half of a medium California avocado provides 20 percent of the Daily Value for fiber.

There are 13 vitamins that the body absolutely needs: vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate). Avocados naturally contain many of these vitamins.

I personally eat one avocado every day. I eat them with carrots, on every lunch dish, and sometimes dinner too. Our kids love them and often find we are reaching for more. Avocado aficionados will add them to brownies, cookies, pancakes, and pretty much every food item possible.

Bottom line: Healthy!

Gluten

Gluten is a large, water-soluble protein that creates the elasticity in dough. It’s found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and oats. These days it’s also found in additives like thickeners and fillers used in everything from lunch meat to soup to candy.

Gluten is still relatively new to the American diet, so is still fairly unclear the effects it has on the general population. Those with gluten sensitivity can experience a variety of discomforts from gastrointestinal symptoms to fatigue and headaches. Those with Celiac disease must avoid gluten completely to avoid permanently damaging the lining of the small intestine, making it harder for the body to absorb nutrients. That can lead to malnutrition and weight loss.

Like with nightshades, if you suspect you are sensitive to gluten, avoid it and see if you feel better.

Bottom line: Unhealthy for some, ok for others.

Grains

If you know someone on the paleo diet, you know that grains are forbidden… and that corn is included as a grain (no tacos!). On the one hand, whatever the carbohydrate, it will eventually be broken down into glucose, in the gut or in the liver. Carbohydrates trigger a physiological hormonal response that favors fat storage. This whole hormonal process taxes the adrenal system, the pancreas, the immune system, and results in a tiny amount of inflammation.

On the other, grains taste good, are chewy, feel great in your mouth, and some nutritionist will tell you they are good on the gut.

Bottom line: The jury on this one will be out for a while mainly because the two schools of thought are worlds apart on the value of food. The two are passionate and can cite dozens of studies to support their case.

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