A Nutritional Scientist Praises Your Favorite Foods and Makes You Happy
Gerda Endemann, our senior director of science and research, has a BS in nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from MIT, and many hours logged in the lab. The classes Endemann taught at Stanford were on her favorite subjects: how to interpret research and the myths and misconceptions around fat nutrition.
One of the things I like best about being a nutritional scientist is being able to rationalize eating almost anything I want to eat. I mean, most foods have some valuable nutrients, right? (My Cheerios are gluten-free, whole-grain, non-GMO, and bee-friendly, with an iron content that warms my heart.) Luckily, I happen to like veggies very much. And I do feel some responsibility to give good advice, so here it is. Do what I say, not what I do.
HOT DOGS AND HAMBURGERS
I made a friend forever by saying a few kind words about hot dogs. Every time I see this person, he thanks me effusively. Why would I approve of meat at all? Because meat is a concentrated source of protein, iron, and B vitamins. Four ounces—occasionally—is enough. Moderation is important, for your health and for the planet.
My favorite brand of hot dogs is Fork in the Road because they taste amazing and are made with family-farmed uncured beef. Check labels for “never given antibiotics,” “vegetarian-fed,” and “certified under the Global Animal Partnership Program” to ensure the brand is committed to animal welfare practices. The same goes for hamburgers: When you buy ground beef, take into account that when cows are grass-fed, the meat contains more omega-3 fat and less blood-cholesterol-raising saturated fat.
What to Look for on a Label
•Read the ingredient list: Are the ingredients real foods that you recognize?
•If this is an animal product, were the animals humanely treated?
•Were the animals fed a vegetarian diet?
•How much added sugar is there? Four grams is about a teaspoon of sugar.
•Are the fats mainly healthy, mono- and polyunsaturated fats? Or are they saturated fats? (Cocoa butter is saturated but not a major health concern.)
I’m also very popular when I talk about cheese. Aged cheeses, to be specific, like Cheddar, Gouda, Camembert, and Roquefort. Since they contain little lactose and don’t cause problems for most people with lactose intolerance, aged cheeses are a great way to get protein, calcium, and vitamin B12, which many vegetarians don’t get enough of. During aging, microbes digest lactose, and they also produce vitamin K, which is at the forefront of research on bone and arterial health these days. Dairy fat is not the healthiest, but—just saying—there is a lot more vitamin K in full-fat cheeses than in low-fat ones.
POTATOES ARE VEGETABLES
That brings us to potatoes. Not sweet potatoes, just regular old inexpensive, super versatile, and unjustly criticized potatoes. (The only caveat is that you should avoid green potatoes or potato shoots, which contain the toxic compound solanine.) Potatoes provide fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and even some iron. Buy organic when you can for the farmworkers and the birds and bees.
I toss warm boiled potatoes with olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, and chopped fresh dill. Or parboil them in well-salted water, then brown in hot EVOO. Frying potatoes in oil is one of life’s great pleasures, but you don’t want the resulting oxidized fats. Here’s what recent research tells us: Pan-fry in EVOO because its antioxidants will help keep the fatty acids from becoming oxidized. And don’t reuse oil so many times that it starts smelling rancid.
One of the best combinations is, of course, potato and cheese, as in baked stuffed potatoes.
I’ve probably repeated myself as many times about eggs as I have about vitamin D. The nutritional scientists I know never supported the egg embargo. Yes, eggs contain cholesterol. But for most people, eating cholesterol shuts down the body’s own production of cholesterol, so that’s not a problem. Eggs are a wonderful, inexpensive source of protein and vitamins. This includes vitamin B12, which vegetarians get only from eggs and dairy. And choline, which is important for liver health and developing brains and is not found in many foods. B12, choline, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamins A and D are found in the yolk, not the white, so whole eggs are nutritionally preferable to egg whites.
A latke pancake with potato and egg and olive oil sounds pretty healthy—and delicious—to me.
I respect people who don’t eat sweets, but there are many of us who possess neither the inclination nor the discipline to stay away from sugar. What I try to do is make my desserts and snacks as nutritious as possible other than the sugar content. For example: a mixture of semisweet chocolate chips, walnuts, cashews, and dried cranberries. My big project for this winter is to gradually transition from semisweet to bittersweet. (Full disclosure: Just had a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Caramel Fudge dairy-free ice cream.)
My mother made us bars called Rye Happies, with whole rye flour, walnuts, eggs, oats, and brown sugar. I made many batches for my kids, too. Yes, they are sweet, but they beat ice cream or brownies for nutrient density. And they also work well with any gluten-free flour.
Sweeteners for Baking
•Dates are a whole food, so they’re among the best, with iron, potassium, small amounts of some vitamins, and even a decent amount of fiber.
•Honey has a little bit of iron and potassium and many other beneficial constituents, such as polyphenols.
•Maple syrup has some calcium, potassium, and vitamin B2.
•Brown sugar has a little bit of calcium and iron.
•Agave syrup has tiny bits of some vitamins.
•White sugar has no vitamins.
Too easy. Mayo is made from a little bit of egg and healthy plant oils that lower blood cholesterol. The fat provides slow-release energy.
If you find a carbonated drink that you like, wonderful—ideally, it doesn’t contain too much sugar or artificial sweeteners. I really like the green-tea-and-grapefruit-flavored SkinTē, which packs collagen, nettle, hawthorn berry, and passion flower into a refreshing drink. And it’s not overly carbonated. One theory (and my experience) says that too much carbonation, and the burps that result, may open the esophageal sphincter, letting acid out of the stomach.
COFFEE AND CAFFEINE
Coffee in moderation—meaning three to four cups, not huge mugs—is associated with reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Unless you overdo it and the caffeine makes you anxious or makes your heart race, there’s no need to worry about your habit. Don’t count on a significant difference in caffeine content from light- versus dark-roast beans. But it may help to know that arabica coffee is naturally lower in caffeine than robusta—around 100 milligrams per six ounces versus around 200 milligrams. goop’s new coffee is 100 percent arabica, grown by Astrid Medina, an award-winning coffee grower in Colombia.
For the perfect bit of caffeine balanced by L-theanine, I’m personally dependent on Nerd Alert. It contains the ideal ratio of these two nootropics—which promote focus and memory—in a café au lait–flavored chew.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.