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White Foods
The Worthy and the Worrisome

by Matilde Parente, MD

Cauliflower is another nonstarchy white vegetable that takes to simple food preparation methods such as steaming, braising, or boiling. And when it comes to pale plants, don’t forget cabbage, onions, and garlic.

Certain mushrooms bring an added nutritional benefit to the table: vitamin D. The California-based company Monterey Mushrooms, working with the United States Department of Agriculture, exposes mushrooms to ultraviolet light. The light converts a chemical precursor found naturally in some types of mushrooms to vitamin D itself — much like our skin converts precursor molecules to the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D in mushrooms is stable to grilling. Produce giant Dole is also bringing vitamin-D-rich portobello mushrooms to groceries nationwide.

Milk and milk products such as yogurt are sold in a range of enriched, reduced-fat, and lactose-free varieties. In addition to bone-benefiting calcium and vitamin D (when fortified), milk provides high-quality protein, hydration, and slowly released energy. Unsweetened cow’s milk, whether skim or whole, has a GI below 55, or within the low range.

Plant-based milk alternatives such as soy milk, almond milk, and others may contain added sugars or sweeteners such as barley malt syrup, rice syrup, and evaporated cane juice. These are metabolized just like white sugar, so use the overall sugar content as a guide when shopping. Smarter choices include unsweetened plant milks fortified with vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium.

When buying yogurt, beware of sweetened varieties, which can have a very high sugar content. Greek-style yogurt offers an alternative to regular yogurt, with more protein and less sugar and carbohydrate per serving. Carbohydrate and sugar counts for yogurt often vary within a brand or by flavor, so read labels. To save money and boost your nutrient intake, flavor any plain yogurt with fresh fruit. Greek yogurt also makes a good alternative to sour cream or mayonnaise in potato salads and similar dishes. Use it to add protein, creaminess, and a tangy kick to dressings.

White meats and fish are lean sources of protein. Beware of white sauces that undo leanness by adding fat, salt, and calories. Request or prepare lighter sauces made with olive oil, lemon, and herbs. Inspect labels on packaged chicken and preseasoned white meats for sodium content.

Beyond color
Like any maxim based more on simplicity than sense, the call to avoid white foods has left many people puzzled about the relationship between whiteness and nutritional value. Consider the no-white-foods slogan simply a reminder to keep sugar, refined carbohydrates, and salt in check. Meanwhile, keep your eyes and mind open to the many nutrient-rich white foods — and foods of all colors — that can be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

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