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June 3, 2012

7 foods you shouldn't fear

Are you shying away from bad foods that are actually good for you? With all the hoopla about healthful eating, it's hard to separate fact from fiction. As a nutrition consultant, I've come to realize there is no shortage of surprises and superstitions in the world of nutrition. Here are reasons to enjoy some of your favorites.

Gluten and wheat

They are "the most demonized ingredients beyond high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil," said Melissa Abbott, culinary director at the Hartman Group, a company specializing in consumer research.

Yet decades of studies have found that gluten-containing foods, such as whole wheat, rye and barley, are vital for good health, and are associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and excess weight.

"Wheat is a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals," said Joanne Slavin, nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota. She added that the confusion about gluten, a protein, has caused some people to avoid eating wheat and other grains.

Only about 1 percent of the population, or less, cannot tolerate gluten and must eradicate it from their diet to ease abdominal pain and other symptoms, including the ability to fully absorb vitamins.

One reason wheat-free or gluten-free diets are popular is that people who don't eat wheat often end up bypassing excess calories in sweets and snack foods. Then they start feeling better, lose weight, and mistakenly attribute their success to gluten or wheat avoidance.

Eggs

Eggs also don't deserve their bad reputation. In recent decades, their high cholesterol content has been thought to play a role in increasing LDL ("bad") cholesterol and heart disease risk.

But cholesterol in food is a minor factor contributing to high blood cholesterol for most people, and studies have not confirmed a correlation between eggs and increased heart disease risk. The major determinant of LDL (bad) cholesterol is saturated fat, and while eggs are high in cholesterol — 184 milligrams in the yolk — they're relatively low in saturated fat — about 1.6 grams in the yolk.

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