Best-selling author Michael Pollan became famous telling us that to eat healthy is to eat simply-just like our grandmothers did. Problem is, Grandma didn't live in the Information Age, the age of the 25,000-product supermarket, Dietary Guidelines, and all those superfood health claims. It should be simple. But it really isn't-not with this much daily nutrition noise to contend with.
Consider nutrition science, flip-flopping over the humble egg: villainized as an artery-clogging cholesterol bomb in the 1980s, now a centerpiece of the healthy breakfast (or dinner) plate while activists focus on the well-being of the chickens.
Pollan is right, mostly: The basic rules of healthy eating are simple. But diet is also in the details, as our nutrition mistakes illustrate. In the crazy modern food world, you want to keep your eye on the big picture, but pay attention to the small print, too.
1. You pick brown eggs over less-nutritious white
Result: Up to a 25% price premium paid for what is, basically, an aesthetic choice.
Even in the era of fancy omega-3 eggs, brown eggs retain a certain rustic allure. But a large brown egg contains the exact same proportion of white and yolk, and the same nutrients, as a white egg. Brown eggs simply come from a different breed of hens, which are often bigger birds and require more feed than standard white-egg-laying hens. Those costs are usually passed on, adding to brown eggs' "specialness."
What to do: Choose by wallet or style sensibility; either way, you'll pick a good egg.
2. You drink soy milk for the calcium, but you don't shake it.
Result: When sludge forms at the bottom of the carton, you toss it-and a whole lot of good-for-you calcium goes down the drain.
Calcium added to soy milk is good for bones. But it tends to settle and then can be quite tough to redistribute into the milk. According to a study from Creighton University in Nebraska, fortified soy milks may deliver only 25% to 79% of the promised calcium, depending on the type used and the way it's added. In cow's milk, calcium is naturally suspended throughout the liquid.
What to do: Shake that soy milk each time. And consume calcium from a variety of sources to get the full amount you need daily: 1,000 to 1,200mg.
3. You favor peanut butter fortified with omega-3s to get your share of those good fats.
Result: Good idea, but you're probably not getting as much omega-3s as you may think.
Fortification of foods is sometimes good but also marketed a bit ... enthusiastically. You'd have to eat 1 cup of that peanut butter to equal the amount of omega-3s in a single serving of salmon-a whopping 1,520 calories versus about 200 calories in a 4-ounce piece of fish.
What to do: Enjoy the PB, but favor the fish.
4. You trade ground turkey for ground beef in recipes to save sat fat.
Result: Unless you're careful, not much savings over lean beef.
Turkey breast is lean, but dark meat isn't, and some ground turkey contains both. A quarter pound of regular ground turkey contains 3g sat fat. Compare that to only 2.5g in the same amount of sirloin. Ground turkey breast, on the other hand, has just half a gram of sat fat, so the right cut of turkey is a significant fat-cutter.
What to do: Read the label; buy the lean.
5. Watching your weight, you pull way back on snacking.
Result: Less weight-loss success, more hunger, fatigue.
It's a long stretch from a noontime lunch to a 7 p.m. dinner. Snacking helps manage hunger by keeping your metabolic engine running at a more constant pace. Any healthy-eating plan should allow for one or two snacks per day: something nutritious and satisfying.
What to snack on: Calcium-rich low-fat dairy foods, full-of-fiber nuts, or naturally sweet, low-calorie fruit.
Continue Reading: Find 17 more nutrition mistakes.