Indulgences of a Registered Dietitian

Even the strictest of eating routines deserve occasional exceptions.

Even the strictest of eating routines deserve occasional exceptions. Even in these times where fad diets are de rigueur and constantly coming in and out of style, there are some foods that have unnecessarily become taboo and that are really just misunderstood and may be indulged in occasionally in my view. It is quite literally my job to teach oncology patients and their families to eat well, and I try daily to lead by example.

It is equally important to train yourself to enjoy these and other indulgences, in moderation and openly, to minimize the secretive, guilt-ridden, shame-spiral that easily forces the strongest among us into unhealthy binge/purge cycles. After all, food is meant to be enjoyed.

Some of my favorite, misunderstood foods are:

Butter: I love butter. I’m a registered dietitian/nutritionist and I don’t have it daily, but really, it’s the stuff of dreams. Fat is probably the most misunderstood macronutrient. Fats are absolutely essential to our health and choosing healthy options like olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, must not be shunned or feared. While trans fats cause serious health damage, butter may be enjoyed occasionally and in moderation. I strongly recommend grass-fed butter or ghee, which is clarified butter. Grass-fed options are better quality products. While these are indeed sources of saturated fat, they also have monounsaturated fatty acids like butyric acid and can be enjoyed in moderation.

Potatoes: Potatoes have gotten such a bad reputation since the low-carb craze. I always encouraged carbohydrates from whole foods like barley, quinoa, wild rice, fruit, squash and potatoes among others. They’re especially great for those who may have celiac disease or those who may be gluten-sensitive. Eating a potato is not the same thing as eating a gluten-free product made with potato flour, however. Potatoes, even the white ones, are great sources of potassium and B6 and have more vitamin C than an orange! The key to enjoying potatoes and other whole starches is to combine them with healthy proteins and fats to temper the natural spike in blood sugar. Loading up with bacon and sour cream outweigh any benefits, however.

Chocolate: While milk chocolate is high in sugar and should be limited, dark chocolate is high in antioxidants like flavonoids, which may help improve blood flow and help lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate was a difficult transition for me, but I’ve found it satisfying to mix it with salty mixed nuts or naturally sweet dried fruit, without added sugars.

Red meat: Not everyone is a meat-eater and I encourage a plant-based, if not vegetarian diet. I personally enjoy red meat a few times a year, too. For those who enjoy it and want to eat it, there’s a way to do it right. Red meat, which includes pork, provides essential proteins for maintaining muscle and promoting healing. I strongly encourage ethically raised grass-fed beef and ethically sourced organic meat whenever possible. I continue to encourage limiting red meat to 18 ounces per week, but the grass-fed versions also provide better quality product.

Full-fat ice cream: If I’m going to splurge on sweets, I go ahead and reach for the real stuff. Fat slows the rise in blood sugar, blunting the body’s absorption of carbs and sugar. Diet ice cream is a sham. Low-fat alternatives are often packed with chemicals and other synthetic ingredients like artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers and fillers—aka junk. You’re probably better off noshing on a small portion of the five-ingredient real stuff. A good rule of thumb—if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, skip it.

Amanda Bontempo, M.S. R.D. C.D.N.

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