Nutrition Counseling

Do We Vilify Healthful, Affordable Foods?

Affordability and convenience rank high on consumers’ lists of ideal qualities when choosing foods. Yet sometimes, well-meaning health professionals, including RDs, inadvertently steer shoppers away from nutrient-dense foods that check the boxes of both affordability and convenience. Encouraging people to eat fresh, whole foods, and avoid processed and white foods may have negative effects. I chatted with colleagues about foods we might disparage without fully realizing the financial or nutritional consequences of our comments.

White potato: The white potato is frequently insulted, yet it’s a favorite among many consumers who likely don’t even recognize its nutritional value. The spud provides underconsumed potassium and fiber; it’s one of the least expensive sources of potassium in the supermarket. In addition, white foods like potatoes are an important source of quercetin and other phenolic compounds.

Flavored milk and yogurt: “When my 11-year-old son wants a snack, I’m so glad that flavored yogurt is always his first choice,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE, host of the Sound Bites podcast. “Our pediatrician discourages flavored milk and yogurt because of the added sugars, but as a dietitian I know that he’s getting all of the same important nutrients in flavored milk and yogurt that the plain versions provide, including calcium and potassium, which are nutrients of public health concern because they’re often underconsumed. Leading health and wellness organizations agree that limited amounts of added sugars in nutrient-rich foods can help improve the quality of children’s diets,” she adds.

Cereal: Amy Cohn, RD, CDM, CFPP, nutrition and external affairs manager at General Mills told a group of RDs at a sponsored meeting that 1 in 7 children in the United States lives in hunger. On average, a bowl of Big G cereal with milk costs about 50 cents per serving and provides whole grains, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals, and is a vehicle for both milk and fruit. Cohn further provided dietary intake data showing that low-income consumers who eat ready-to-eat cereal have greater intakes of calcium, vitamin D, fiber, potassium, and iron, as well as other underconsumed nutrients when compared with similar individuals who don’t eat ready-to-eat cereals. In addition, they have higher intakes of whole grains, milk, and fruit and slightly lower intakes of added sugars.

Canned fruits and vegetables: Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club took on this category. Canned produce isn’t nutritionally inferior to fresh, she says. “Because they’re canned at the peak of freshness within hours of harvest, they retain nutrients for a long time and allow people to enjoy their favorites out of season.” Compared with those who don’t eat canned fruits and vegetables, adults and kids who do consume more dietary fiber and potassium and less fat and saturated fat.

100% fruit juice: Here’s another source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging. However, fruit juice is a concentrated source of calories, so if clients are watching their weight, recommend they limit their intake to no more than 1 cup per day. Adding small amounts to a glass of sparkling water can be a great substitute for soda and other sweet drinks, she adds.

Let’s start a conversation about this topic. What other healthful, affordable foods do you think we need to check our messaging on? I welcome your thoughts.

— Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDCES, FAND, CHWC, is a freelance writer and nutrition and diabetes consultant to the food industry, including the Norwegian Seafood Council and The Dairy Alliance. She lives in southeastern Virginia and is the author of four books, including Prediabetes: A Complete Guide.

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