Navigating Food Choices
By Ann Gilligan
No food is “good” or bad”. When we use these words to describe foods, our brains assign negative and positive values to them. It is similar to how we view the hero in a movie as “good” and the villain as “bad.” Approaching food in this way can result in some fairly unhealthy perspectives. For example, if I assign the word “bad” to donuts, bagels, and ice cream, then what happens if and when I eat these foods? The result is I feel I have done something wrong, right? Then I may feel guilt and shame as a response and tell myself “no no, you can’t have any of those bad donuts again.” So what happens when once again I have a donut, which is inevitable because donuts are delicious? I feel even worse than I did the last time! This branches into a much larger topic regarding food freedom and intuitive eating that I will discuss in a later post. For now I want to address some of these commonly misidentified “good” vs “bad” foods. We can thank diets such as Whole 30, Keto, Adkin’s etc. for assigning such basic values to these foods. The take-away here: all foods are good, they may just be good for different reasons, at different times, and in different amounts. Here we go:
- What diets say: Sweet potatoes are healthier than Russet potatoes.
|Sweet Potato (medium)||Russet Potato (medium)|
|· Calories: 103 g||· Calories: 168|
|· Carbohydrates: 24 g||· Carbohydrates: 38 g|
|· Sugar: 7 g||· Sugar: 1 g|
|· Fiber: 4 g||· Fiber: 3 g|
|· Protein: 2 g||· Protein: 5 g|
|· Vitamin A: 1096 µg||· Vitamin A: 1 µg|
|· Vitamin C: 22 mg||· Vitamin C: 12 mg|
|· Magnesium: 27 mg||· Magnesium: 49 mg|
|· Potassium: 542 mg||· Potassium: 888 mg|
|· Calcium: 38 mg||· Calcium: 18 mg|
Russet potatoes are an incredibly good source of potassium, which make them great fuel for runners looking to replace lost electrolytes. While sweet potatoes are toted as being a lower carbohydrate potato, you can see they actually have more sugar than Russet potatoes. On the flip side, sweet potatoes are an incredible source of vitamin A. So vary your potato choices to get the widest array of nutrients.
- What diets say: Bananas are a high glycemic index fruit with way too many carbohydrates.
|Apple (medium)||Banana (medium)|
|· Calories: 52||· Calories: 74|
|· Carbohydrates: 13 g||· Carbohydrates: 22 g|
|· Sugar: 10 g||· Sugar: 12 g|
|· Fiber: 2.4 g||· Fiber: 2.6 g|
|· Protein: .2 g||· Protein: 1 g|
|· Potassium: 107 mg||· Potassium: 358 mg|
|· Vitamin C: 4.6 mg||· Vitamin C: 8.7 mg|
|· Magnesium: 5 mg||· Magnesium: 27 mg|
Bananas are a good source of carbohydrates and great source of potassium, making them a great choice for runners. You can see they also have more vitamin C and magnesium than apples too, so don’t let low carb diets convince you they are all bad.
- What diets say: Gluten is bad for everyone, including people with no diagnosed gluten allergy.
|Dave’s Killer Bread, 21 Whole Grains & Seeds (1 slice)||Schar, Gluten Free Artisan White Bread (1 slice)|
|· Calories: 110||· Calories: 170|
|· Total fat: 1.5 g||· Total fat: 1.5 g|
|· Polyunsaturated fat: 1 g||· Polyunsaturated fat: 0 g|
|· Sodium: 170 mg||· Sodium: 210 mg|
|· Carbohydrates: 22 g||· Carbohydrates: 38 g|
|· Sugar: 5 g||· Sugar: 4 g|
|· Fiber: 5 g||· Fiber: 4 g|
|· Protein: 5 g||· Protein: 2 g|
|· Iron: 1 mg||· Iron: 0 mg|
|· Potassium: 100 mg||· Potassium: 0 mg|
Whole grain bread contains the entire grain: the bran (outer layer), endosperm (starchy middle), and germ (nutrient-rich inner). Assuming the grain is whole and not stripped in the refining process, it is an excellent source of good fats, fiber, B vitamins, and iron. Many gluten free breads substitute rice, corn, chickpea, or potato flour for the wheat. These can vary greatly in nutrient value, but often, especially when white rice is substituted, the nutrient content is much lower. As you can see the calorie content is actually higher too. So if you have a diagnosed gluten allergy, then gluten free bread is a great alternative. But otherwise there is no need to deprive yourself of all the nutrients of whole grain bread.
As you can see, some foods may be more nutrient dense than others whereas some may be more calorically dense. You may want more carbohydrates and calories at particular times of the day, such as after exercise. Beware of any diet that lists specific foods as completely off limits forever. Variety and balance is important to long term health.
Hi all! I joined RRRC as a Running Consultant in November 2019 after moving to Las Vegas. I previously
worked in Washington, DC for six years as a government contractor but have since changed careers. I
am currently pursuing a M.S. in Nutrition Sciences – Coordinated Program in Dietetics to become a
Registered Dietitian. I competed in high school track and cross country and ran with a club team in
college. I also have experience with weightlifting as I been doing Crossfit in addition to running for six
years. I am passionate about sports nutrition and fueling our bodies properly to prevent injury and
maximize performance on the road, trails, or in the gym!