How many of you have been told somewhere along the line that white foods are bad for you? When you think of “white” foods, you probably conjure up images of white flour, white bread, white pasta, white rice, sugar, and perhaps even those little snack cakes that are yellow with white frosting…
In those cases, the term “white” is really referring to processed foods or foods that have been stripped of their goodness and nutritional value. And yes, these foods are typically carbohydrate foods, so they earn the distinction of the “bad carb” award. Why? These foods are blamed for a whole host of maladies, including obesity and diabetes. Some white foods also have a higher glycemic index than their whole-grain counterparts: for instance, white bread and white rice can sometimes raise blood glucose levels faster and/or higher than, say, cracked wheat kernel bread or brown rice.
But it’s never wise to generalize. In other words, there are some white foods that are actually very good for us. And these foods are those that we should be sure to include in our eating plan. How do you tell a “good” white food from a “bad” white food? Most healthful white foods are naturally white in color. In other words, they didn’t start out as a whole-grain food or as a plant food that was then refined to remove all the good stuff. What are these foods? Read on.
Apples and pears. Yes, their skins have color to them, but the flesh of these two delicious fruits is white. Apples are part of the rose family and they contain phytonutrients (plant-derived chemicals that may have health benefits) called polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants, and antioxidants are what we want more of. In the case of apples, these polyphenols may help lower the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and asthma. They also seem to help regulate blood glucose levels. One small apple has 77 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrate. Prefer pears? No problem. Pears are also part of the rose family and they too contain antioxidants. They’re also a fiber powerhouse. The fiber in pears may help protect against colon and breast cancer. One small pear contains 81 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrate. And what better season to enjoy apples and pears than fall?
Cauliflower. I’m going to be somewhat hypocritical here because I really don’t like cauliflower. But I really should because it’s good for you. Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable (along with cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts). It’s super-rich in vitamin C, and contains a bunch of other antioxidants. Because of cauliflower’s antioxidant content, it may help protect against a host of inflammation-related diseases, like heart disease and cancer. Cauliflower actually comes in other colors, including green, orange, and purple. But most of us are familiar with the white variety. If you’re looking for a low-carb version of “mashed potatoes,” try steaming and mashing up cauliflower, instead. (Editor’s note: Click here for a cauliflower-based low-carb “potato” salad.) One half-cup of cauliflower pieces has only 13 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrate. You can pretty much eat this veggie to your heart’s content.
Mushrooms. Mushrooms are sometimes overlooked and treated like a second-class vegetable. They don’t usually have much flavor and they can have a rubbery texture. But hidden inside these fungi are important nutrients, such as B vitamins, selenium, copper, potassium, antioxidants, and substances called beta glucans. Beta glucans are types of carbohydrate that can give the immune system a boost and also help manage blood glucose. Also, mushrooms are the only vegetable that contains vitamin D. Another advantage to eating mushrooms is that they’re so low in calories and carbohydrate that you really can eat your fill of them: One cup of whole white mushrooms has just 21 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrate.
Potatoes. Poor potatoes. They really get picked on. Just last week, the USDA announced that it was considering banning potatoes from school lunches. Maybe it makes sense to do away with French fries and Tater Tots. But a baked potato is no nutrition slouch. Potatoes contain vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, iron, and fiber, along with antioxidants. The downside of a potato is its glycemic index, which is about 76, putting it into the “high” category. Yet there are ways to counteract the high glycemic index — eating a smaller amount, eating the skin (which contains fiber), and eating it with a source of protein, fat, or acid (such as vinegar), all of which lower its glycemic impact. One medium potato has about 150 calories and 30 grams of carbohydrate.
Cannellini beans. These are my favorite beans. Sometimes referred to as white kidney beans, cannellini beans are low in fat and high in fiber; plus, they contain protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals. The fiber in cannellini beans is mostly soluble fiber, important for lowering cholesterol and blood glucose levels and even helping to blast belly fat. Plus, they’re inexpensive and versatile. Add cannellini beans to soups, stews, pasta, rice, and salads. One-half cup of cannellini beans contains 110 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrate, 6 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein.
The moral of the story? Never judge a food by its color!