As 2022 draws to a close, I thought it would be nice to clarify some nutrition questions I received this year that I probably won’t be writing an entire column about, or at least not anytime soon. So without further ado:
I don’t like brown rice. Is it bad to eat white rice?
The answer largely depends on what you prefer, how often you eat it, and who you feed it too. Brown rice contains 1-3 grams more fiber than an equivalent amount of white rice, which isn’t a huge difference. There are different types of brown rice, but on average it has about 3.5% fiber, which is naturally much lower in fiber than, say, quinoa, which has 7% fiber, oats, which contains 10% fiber, and whole wheat, which contains is 12.2% fiber, according to the Oldways Whole Grains Council.
You may have heard that rice, especially brown rice, contains arsenic, and it’s true. According to Consumer Reports, brown rice contains about 80% more inorganic arsenic – which is carcinogenic – than white rice. But unless you and/or your family eat a lot of rice, especially brown rice, that’s not a problem. Personally, I keep both types in my kitchen. I generally use a white rice when cooking cuisines that traditionally use it, and I use brown rice when cooking on the fly or want something with a more earthy flavor. I also don’t rely on rice as the main cereal. There are so many cereals to choose from — including gluten-free cereals if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten/wheat sensitivity — and diversifying your grain intake provides better nutrition, more fiber, and fewer worries about arsenic.
Are sweet potatoes better than “regular” potatoes?
They are different. Sweet potatoes, which can have orange, purple, or pale yellow flesh, depending on the variety, are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin B6. They are also good sources of some of the other B vitamins and potassium. Sweet potato cultivars with dark orange flesh contain more beta-carotene, which our bodies convert into vitamin A, than those with light flesh.
Potatoes, which include white, yellow, red, blue/purple and russet varieties, are rich in vitamin C – at various times in history they may have prevented scurvy – and are better sources of potassium than bananas . They also contain several B vitamins, iron and other important nutrients. Red and blue/purple potatoes contain anthocyanins, a group of antioxidant phytochemicals also found in blueberries, strawberries, purple cabbage, and other fruits and vegetables with red, blue, and purple hues.
I prefer tilapia to salmon. Is tilapia really a disgusting fish that should not be eaten?
Many people love tilapia for its affordability and mild flavor – it’s not “fishy” and goes well with almost any recipe. However, it has a bad reputation because of a questionable study over a dozen years ago, as well as some ongoing questionable farming practices. Most tilapia are farmed, and it is the highest farmed fish in the world, in part because it can survive in poor quality (read: polluted) waters and crowded conditions, such as those that the found in China, where most tilapia are grown.
When tilapia is raised in the right conditions, it is perfectly safe to eat. Wise Ocean (seafood.ocean.org) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (seawatch.org) have searchable lists to help you identify safe choices. As a general rule, avoid any tilapia from China and be cautious about choices high in Taiwan or Indonesia. Safety aside, one of the disadvantages of tilapia is that it contains less heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than some fish, but an advantage is that it contains less mercury. This last point can be reassuring for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Are fruits really too high in sugar?
There was a time when we didn’t wonder if fruit was good for us. Today, many people avoid fruit (“There’s so much sugar!”) while others tell me, “I don’t like vegetables, but I eat a lot of fruit!” Fruit occupies a unique place in a nutritious diet. In terms of nutrients, it is more like a vegetable. In terms of carbohydrate and energy (calorie) content, it is more like a cereal or starch. A slice of bread or 1/3 cup of cooked cereal contains about the same amount of carbs as half a large banana or 12 cherries.
It’s true that whole fruits contain a fair amount of sugar, but it’s natural sugar, wrapped in a fiber, water, and nutrient-rich wrapper. And most people don’t eat enough. From a nutritional standpoint, many fruits are rich not only in vitamins and minerals, but also in phytochemicals, those natural plant-based compounds that may have various health benefits, including cancer prevention and cardiovascular health. Pigment-rich berries and cherries are especially good sources of phytochemicals.
What are some handy phrases I can use when someone comments on my body or what I eat?
Before deciding what to say – or whether to say anything – clarify your limits. For example, do you have a zero-tolerance policy regarding participating in discussions about weight and food choices – your own and those of others? If so, and if just not answering and not engaging doesn’t seem like enough, here are some answers that may help end a series of questions – or send the question back to the person who is downright inappropriate:
- “Please don’t comment on my body…it looks scary and weird.” »
- “What a strange thing to ask/say out loud.”
- “I don’t know why it’s funny. Can you explain which part is the most fun part? »
- “I’m curious why you ask me that?”
- “I am not interested in discussing my/his/their body with you.”
- “I’d rather enjoy my food than talk about it.”
- “Hmmm…that’s a very personal question to ask someone.”
- “Did you mean that out loud?
- “I have to stop you there. I’m serious… STOP!