Making a healthy choice for the new year is as simple as eliminating just one thing from your everyday diet. But what exactly should you eliminate – and why? We posed this question to top health and nutrition experts at UCLA, Mount Sinai, NYU Langone, and Massachusetts General Hospital and received a flurry of impassioned responses. Some of the food choices are surprising, others are no-brainers, but after reading the experts’ cases against them, you may want to cut quite a few items from your grocery list in 2017.
“If I could advise people to give up one thing, I recommend to stop the use of sugar for 2017. Sugar is toxic and addictive. Sugar holds no nutritional value or benefit and adds calories to our diet which leads to increased risk for weight gain and other co-morbidities, such as heart disease and diabetes. Obesity, a worldwide epidemic, is largely at fault for sugar. As consumers, we know sugar is in many foods we eat without adding more. How many sugars do you add to your a.m. coffee or tea?
There are 23 calories in one individual packet of sugar. Calorie breakdown: 0% fat, 100% carbs, 0% protein. Pass on the sugar packs and you’ll save yourself many calories. Reading food labels is also an important skill I advise my patients to do. This will allow them to become more educated consumers and choose foods wisely. When calculating carbs or sugar, for every four grams of carbs that equals one teaspoon of sugar. Next time you reach for a soft drink, smoothie, pastry, or bag of chips or cookies—turn and read the nutrition label and calculate how much sugar you are drinking or eating.” —Maria Elena Rodriguez, RD, CDN, CDE, Diabetes Program Manager at The Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.
“In 2017 my hope is that people stop eating açaí bowls. Açaí itself may have a lot antioxidant properties, however one cup of just the açaí has about six grams of sugar and 30 grams of carbohydrates. The problem is that most people are not just eating the açaí. The bowls are more popularly eaten with add-ons such as nut butters, seeds, and more fruit. With the addition of some of these foods, calories and sugar increase significantly. Before purchasing any açaí bowl, I would warn patients to check your nutrition facts label – you may be surprised to see how many calories you are actually consuming.” —Leah Kaufman, MS, registered dietician at NYU Langone’s Weight Management Program in New York City.
Red Meat and Dairy
“The one thing I want us to stop consuming in 2017 is cow products: red meat and dairy, and for a few reasons. The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies processed meats as class I carcinogens– strong evidence that they cause cancer. Red meat in general has also been classified by the WHO as a probable carcinogen. High intake of red meat is also associated with a number of chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The casein in dairy products is also a possible carcinogen, and has been shown in rats to increase tumor growth.
[Also consider] the environment. Red meat and dairy are some of the most environmentally-disastrous foods around. Consuming one hamburger is equivalent to showering for three months. It takes around 2,000 gallons of water to rear one pound of meat. Red meat and dairy produce tons of pounds of methane every year, a greenhouse gas 23-times more potent than CO2, contributing significantly to climate change.” —Dana Hunnes, PhD, senior dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA in Los Angeles.
“While I prefer to focus on what people can eat, there is one genre of foods I would like to see less of both on supermarket shelves and in people’s daily meals and snacks. And that is diet foods. These are the foods labeled “lite or light,” “100 calorie,” “fat free,” “sugar free,” etc. or those marketed by weight loss or weight management companies. Think Weight Watchers, Snackwells, 100 Calorie Packs, Lean Cuisine, etc. If you take a look at the ingredients lists in the majority of these foods, they are a mile long and full of junk – chemicals, dyes, artificial sweeteners, sodium, trans fats, sugar, and preservatives to make them feel and taste like the real thing. This junk is not only hard for the body to digest and rarely satisfying, but these foods—if we can call them foods—are devoid of the nutrition that we not only need for our body to function, but are essential for weight maintenance and satiety. Protein, fibre, and healthy fats are the satiating nutrients missing here and when consumed from whole foods like plants, are natural appetite regulators.
We dieticians know that diets don’t work in the long-term, and the availability of such a huge variety of diet foods fuels this common misconception that we need to be counting calories and eating unsatisfying special foods or horrible tasting foods to lose weight. What we can do is shift the focus to eating more whole, real foods (fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, etc.) that will nourish our bodies and support our goals.”—Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Dubin Breast Center of The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
STARCH AND CARBS
“I would recommend not to have more than one serving of starch at each meal. Americans consume too many carbohydrates that include starch (complex form) and sugar (simple form). We not only need to limit added sugar but also portion control our starch intake. The best carbohydrates come from fruits and vegetables.”— Dr. Zhaoping Li, MD, director at UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition in Los Angeles.
“Any dietitian worth her ‘salt’ (pun intended!) will want to highlight positive and proactive behaviours…and not focus on demonising any one particular food item. Having said that, it’s never a bad idea to limit or try to avoid sugar sweetened and high-calorie beverages. Even ones that have a health halo around them such as fruit juice based smoothies. The calories add up quickly, they may cause profound spikes to blood sugar levels, and they are never really all that satisfying afterwards.” —Stacy Nelson, MS, RD, LDN, Manager, Clinical Nutrition, Massachusetts General Hospital Nutrition Services in Boston.
“Highly processed foods with minimal nutritional benefit – the more highly processed food is, the more likely it is to contribute to weight gain and poor overall metabolic health. If all possible, I would avoid highly processed foods such as cookies, cakes, pies, chips and candy. However, it is important to note that even these foods may be consumed on rare occasions.” —Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MPA, Obesity Medicine & Nutrition, Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center in Boston.