We all do it. We eat foods that we think are healthy, or at the very least harmless, but aren’t. We all make what I call common food mistakes — all of which can take a big toll on your health. Here are four foods you should avoid or , at the very least, consume in moderation:
As a nutritionist, I love the fact that fish is low in fat and high in protein. Problem is, some types of fish are also loaded with mercury and other contaminants, like PCBs, dioxins, and pesticides.
The main reason mercury is bad for your health is that it negatively affects the brain and nervous system. It’s worse for fetuses and young children, because their brains are still developing and absorbing nutrients very rapidly. However, mercury poisoning can adversely affect vision, kidney function, fertility, and blood pressure regulation in people of all ages. It is also thought to be a risk factor for heart disease.
High mercury fish to avoid: swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel (a little mackerel is fine). Tuna’s not great. If you buy canned tuna, you’re better off with the chunk light kind versus albacore or white.
When it comes to PCBs and pesticides, you want to avoid bluefish, wild striped bass, and American eel. The worst for “dioxins” is farm-raised Atlantic salmon, which is also high in PCBs and pesticides.
Here’s the good news: Some of the very, very safest and best fish to eat are anchovies, herring, Atlantic mackerel, wild salmon, and sardines. I like these the most, because they also contain omega-3 fats, and they’re not over-fished. Crab, halibut, scallops, shrimp, and tilapia are also good choices.
For more information, visit the Environmental Defense’s Oceans Alive Web site, www.oceansalive.org. It's a great Web site that provides a wonderful seafood pocket guide you can print out, and take with you to the supermarket (or restaurant).
It may be obvious, and it’s something we’ve known about for a long time, but it seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle lately. Years ago, when it was discovered that eating lots of saturated fat really increased bad cholesterol levels, people switched from butter to margarine, and manufacturers started using margarine and other types of hydrogenated fats in their products.
Now we know that hydrogenated fats — a.k.a. trans fats — are even worse for you than saturated fat. But that doesn’t mean sat fat is suddenly good for you. People are so worried about trans fat these days that they’re sometimes giving saturated fat a pass.
To avoid saturated fat use olive oil instead of butter, and substitute low-fat or nonfat animal products for their high-fat counterparts. For instance, use skim milk instead of whole milk, low-fat cheese instead of whole milk cheese, and choose lean cuts of meat, skinless chicken and turkey breast. Also, be sure to read packaged products and limit your intake of prepared foods with more than two grams of saturated fat per serving. Of course, we should still avoid trans fat as well.
Unfiltered coffee contains cafestol, a natural chemical that can increase your bad cholesterol levels. Coffee filters significantly reduce the amount of cafestol that ends up in your cup, so all you have to do to avoid this food mistake is to make sure you drink filtered coffee. That means lay off of excessive amounts of espresso, or drinks made from espresso — like cappuccino. You should also avoid Turkish coffee, and those French press coffee makers.right/msnbc/Components/Photos/070403/070403_JoyBauer_vmed_1p.jpg2779100000right#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.com
It’s true that certain types of chocolate are good for the cardiovascular system, but certainly not all chocolate. When it comes to good health, the most important thing is to choose dark chocolate versus milk chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the richer it is in flavonoid, which are responsible for most of chocolate’s health benefits. Milk inhibits intestinal absorption of flavonoids, so you lose even more of these fabulous plant chemicals during digestion, if you choose milk chocolate.
When buying dark chocolate look for 70 percent cocoa content. Very dark chocolate can be an acquired taste, though, so play around with different brands until you hit on one you like. Plus, the type of fat listed in the ingredients is important. You want to avoid products that contain palm oil or coconut oil. Instead, choose ones that are made from cocoa butter.Even though they’re all saturated fats, “cocoa butter” has a neutral effect on cholesterol levels, while the other two can raise your blood cholesterol.
And most importantly, even the darkest of dark chocolate is a treat you should eat in moderation because it’s high in calories. One ounce contains about 150 calories.
Joy Bauer is the author of “Food Cures.” For more information on healthy eating, check out Joy’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com.