We all hear the warnings about eating undercooked or raw meat and eggs. Salmonella and E.coli make the headline news almost every month. From spinach and green onions to alfalfa spouts, peanut butter and even baby food—foods that we normally associate with eating healthy have made headline news in recent years and make us seriously consider the meaning of true “health foods.”
Foods that were once advertised as being good for you or you thought were healthy and good for you are now placed on your own personal “Do Not Eat” list. Years ago I remember watching commercials about the goodness and wholeness of eating eggs….even showing you that eggs can be eaten anytime of day and not just for breakfast. But with heart disease being the number killer of men and women in the United States, with the onslaught of new cholesterol lowering medications being developed every year and advertised incessantly on television and with the barrage of food disclaimers on everything from dinner menus to recipes, we are constantly being bombarded with the horrors of eating eggs.
Now for some individuals eggs are avoided for personal beliefs—to avoid eating any animal products but other individuals avoid eggs for reported health reasons—“my doctor told me to stop eating eggs because my cholesterol is high.” Now as a physician and practitioner of medicine, I’m only going to address the health aspects of food and leave any personal belief systems aside.
The first food myth that I want to dispel is—“Eggs are bad for your health.” Eating eggs—in moderation—is NOT bad for your health. Eggs are a great source of protein, the building block for muscle. The egg yolk is the major source of cholesterol in whole eggs with one large egg (with yolk included) containing about 213mg of cholesterol.
The daily recommended amount of cholesterol is less than 300mg a day.
That means if you ate two whole large eggs for breakfast who would have consumed about 142% of the total amount of cholesterol that you should eat in a day. Now I don’t know anyone who eats a hearty breakfast and only eats 2 eggs—where’s the biscuit, the sausage, the buttered toast, the grits with cheese? A homemade—made from scratch—biscuit will also contain cholesterol from the shortening, butter or buttermilk added to it and the sausage, cheese and butter all contain cholesterol which will undoubtedly catapult your daily intake of cholesterol into the stratosphere and way over the 300mg mark when it comes to your daily cholesterol intake.
So if you still want to eat eggs and eat the rest of your meals throughout the day all while maintaining a daily intake of cholesterol of less than 300mg, you will need to modify the way you eat eggs.
You can lower your daily intake of cholesterol by eating egg whites instead of the whole egg so that you can have that 4 ounce steak for dinner or you can request an egg substitute for your omelet instead of eating your usual 3 large egg omelet with 639mg of cholesterol—which is over 2 times your daily recommended intake of cholesterol!
Using your knowledge about eggs you can make healthier and wiser decisions about how you’ll take your eggs the next time you’re ordering breakfast.
The second food myth that I want to correct is “Carbohydrates are bad when you’re trying to lose weight.”
All carbohydrates are not created equal.
Some carbohydrates are considered “simple carbohydrates” because they are easily digested and broken down to glucose, the key tool used by your body to produce energy. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits, fruit juices, honey, molasses, corn syrup and sugar. Refined sugar found in many processed foods such as snack cakes, candy bars provide a large amount of simple carbohydrates but have very few, if any, essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
Complex carbohydrates on the other hand take longer for your body to digest, resulting in a more steady flow of usable energy in the form of glucose. The body takes time to digest whole grain breads, cereals and pastas and vegetables giving you more energy over a longer period of time and avoiding that all too common “post-sugar slump” that is so predictable after eating a significant amount of simple sugar. In addition, these complex carbohydrates also come packed with necessary vitamins and minerals that your body needs to perform properly.
Many of you may have heard of the “glycemic index” being purported as the key to measuring how a certain food will affect your blood sugar level. The glycemic index is just a measure of whether a food is a simple carbohydrate or a complex carbohydrate.
A low glycemic index food will have a small or low effect on your blood glucose level because the carbohydrate is broken down slowly—so this is a complex carbohydrate. A high glycemic index food results in a large swing in your blood glucose level—because the food is quickly and readily broken down to glucose after ingestion—this is a simple carbohydrate.
But don’t worry….you don’t need to take a class on the glycemic index to figure out what’s a simple carbohydrate and what’s not. Just follow this simple rule—if the food tastes sweet—it’s a simple carbohydrate with a high glycemic index and should be eaten in moderation.
Now you’re probably asking yourself right now, “So what’s the big deal with simple carbohydrates?” Simple carbohydrates that come in the form of refined sugars found in candy, table sugar, regular sodas increase your overall caloric intake without providing you with any nutritional benefit and increase your overall risk for obesity related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
And the third most common food myth is “All fats are the same—bad for you.” Certain animal based fats such as lard and shortening contain high levels of saturated fat which can increase your LDL cholesterol level—your “bad cholesterol” level. High levels of LDL cause cholesterol plaques to form in your arteries affecting the arteries that supply your limbs, your brain, your heart and even your kidneys. With continued cholesterol deposition in your arteries, these arteries will become narrower over time and ultimately, the arteries can become so small that blood and therefore oxygen and other nutrients can’t travel to parts of your body, leading to poor blood circulation and increasing your risk for amputation, strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure.
Unsaturated fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils are found in fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Unsaturated fat does not raise your “bad cholesterol” (LDL). In fact, oils derived from plant and nut sources don’t contain any cholesterol at all! These unsaturated fats are the preferred type of fat/oil you should consume because it contains essential fatty acids—omega-3 and omega-6—that your body needs. Most people get their recommended amount of oil by eating fish and nuts and using salad dressing and cooking oils.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture young adults should average 6 to 7 teaspoons of oil daily and older adults should average about 5 to 6 teaspoons of oil daily depending on their daily physical activity level. To give you a better idea of what exactly is a teaspoon of oil….one tablespoon of vegetable oil is equivalent to about 3 teaspoons of oil; 1 ounce of nuts is equal to about 3 to 4 teaspoons of oil; and 2 tablespoons of salad dressing yields about 2 teaspoons of oil. So you can see, if you eat about a small handful of nuts—about 2 ounces—you’ve already reached your recommended allotment of oil for the day and any other oil containing products such as salad dressing, mayonnaise or margarine would be in excess.
So read the nutrition label on foods and choose unsaturated fats and oils in recommended quantities to avoid raising your “bad” cholesterol…this is a healthier option to getting the essential fatty acids that your body needs to regulate inflammation and your immune system.
To your wellness,
Dr. Traci Ferguson, The Health and Wellness Queen
P.S. Pick up a copy of the Backyard Workout Manual and get your copy of the World’s Easiest Food plan that makes picking the right foods a piece of cake!