It probably comes as no surprise that, as registered dietitians, we’re always promoting healthy foods. However, through the course of our careers, every now and then an otherwise healthy food that we recommend to include in a healthy diet unexpectedly has something worrisome turn up in it. Here are four healthy foods that fall in this category and easy fixes to avoid the hidden dangers.
1. Plain, unsalted microwave popcorn
It’s whole-grain, fiber-filled, crunchy and delicious, and makes a great snack. At 100 calories for 3 cups popped, it’s an excellent weight-loss snack.
The Hidden Danger: BPA or Bisphenol A is a chemical that has been linked with a host of negative health effects, from problems with the brain, heart and prostate to harmful effects on reproductive systems and childhood development. BPA has been reported to be found in the lining of microwave popcorn bags.
The Fix: Buy unpopped kernels and air pop your own popcorn. For extra flavor, try sprinkling with cinnamon, chili or garlic powder or a little Parmesan cheese.
2. Lean, grilled poultry and meat
When it comes to protein sources that keep you satiated, lean meat and poultry rank near the top. Grilling keeps these foods lean and tasty. Pair them with steamed veggies and you have a nutrient-packed meal that is seemingly ideal for weight loss hopefuls as well as fit athletes.
The Hidden Danger: Heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, are carcinogens that are created when you cook meats at high temperatures.
The Fix: Here are several things you can do to limit the creation of HCAs:
- Avoid charring or cooking your meat to well done; the more dried out the meat is, the more HCAs are created.
- Marinate your meat first to greatly reduce HCAs (whether you soak for minutes or hours, it helps).
- Use the “filp-a-minute” rule when grilling. If you flip your meat or burger every minute, HCAs can be slashed 75 to 90 percent, because it keeps the surface temperature lower.
- Microwaving your meat for 90 to 120 seconds and draining off the juices before grilling will eliminate 90 percent of the HCAs.
- Avoid the temptation to use the drippings, which can contain more HCAs than the meat.
Packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, salmon seems as though it’s nearly the perfect food when it comes to fighting heart disease (omega-3s appear to lower triglycerides, blood pressure, risk of stroke-and more, and prevent the inflammation that damages the vessels and leads to heart disease) and inflammatory diseases like arthritis. It’s a rich, tasty and satisfying protein that is the highlight of many meals.
The Hidden Danger: PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are environmental toxins that pollute our waters and our fish. They also are known to be cancer-causing chemicals. According to The Environmental Working Group, seven of 10 farmed salmon purchased at grocery stores in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Portland were tested and found to be contaminated with (PCBs) at levels that raise health concerns.
The Fix: Choose wild salmon over farmed-raised. On average, farmed salmon has 16 times the dangerous dioxin-like PCBs found in wild salmon due to the fishmeal that farmed salmon are fed. To reduce your exposure to PCBs, avoid frying and instead grill, bake or broil to allow the PCB-laden fat to cook off the fish. Instead of purchasing farmed salmon, choose wild and canned Alaskan salmon, and eat farmed salmon no more than once a month.
4. Dried Fruit
Packed with phytonutrients and fiber, dried fruit is portable, sturdy and ideal on-the-go. It goes perfectly in trail mix and, when combined with foods like nuts or Greek yogurt, it can be the ideal pre- or post-workout energy-boosting snack.
The Hidden Danger: Sulfites, often listed in ingredients as sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfate, sodium and potassium bisulfites, and metabisulfites, can cause reactions in sensitive individuals. These allergic reactions can be relatively mild, such as hives, or more severe—such as difficulty breathing and even fatal anaphylactic shock. People with asthma are more likely to be sensitive.
The Fix: Use a dehydrator to make your own dried fruit without sulfites, or read labels and be sure to purchase dried fruits that don’t contain sulfites.