A Westchester Dietician Weighs In on Whether Pricey Health Food Alternatives Are Worth It
As pricey food alternatives formerly relegated to gerbil-food-peddling health stores flood our grocers’ shelves, we have to ask—are they worth it?
There they are—those pricey, gourmet-ish foods on your supermarket shelves. They promise to make you healthy. They promise to keep you slim. They promise to help you live longer. Snap ’em up, or stay with the tried-and-true products that have been around forever? Registered dietitian Elizabeth DeRobertis, president and founder of Westchester Nutrition Consultants and head dietitian at Scarsdale Medical Group—who’s shared her expertise on Dateline, CBS news, and Fox 5 News—weighs in.
SOY/ALMOND MILK vs. Cow’s Milk
Many alternative health practitioners recommend that their clients avoid cow’s milk for a host of reasons, DeRobertis notes. But cow’s milk is an excellent source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. DeRobertis recommends choosing fat-free milk, ideally organic, to ensure there were no artificial growth hormones used. As for almond milk? “It does not provide the protein that cow’s milk does.” It is, however, lower in calories. Winner: fat-free organic cow’s milk.
ALMOND BUTTER vs. Peanut Butter
Many of the nut butters have the same amount of protein and calories, about 90 to 100 calories per tablespoon, DeRobertis says. Almond butter, however, does have some small nutritional advantages, including slightly less saturated fat. When choosing almond or peanut butter, be mindful of portion size—“reduced fat” does not mean fewer calories (just filler carbs and doubled sugar in place of healthy fat). Winner: 100% pure nut butter (i.e., with zero added ingredients)—almond butter is better, but peanut butter is a very close runner-up.
GLUTEN-FREE PASTA vs. Whole-Wheat Pasta
Gluten-free products—which often substitute dense, processed rice or tapioca flour for wheat—tend to be much higher in calories and carbohydrates, DeRobertis reports. Whole-grain and whole-wheat pasta products have the exact same calories as the white version. One way to save calories, DeRobertis says, is to swap your pasta for shirataki noodles, Japanese tofu noodles that contain 40 calories in an entire eight-ounce package! Winner: Neither. Opt for shirataki noodles instead.
AGAVE NECTAR vs. Cane Sugar
Various “natural” sugar products come in and out of vogue, from stevia to raw cane juice to agave nectar, a sweeter-than-honey syrup produced from several species of agave plants. Surprisingly, agave nectar comprises more fructose, the sugar found in fruit, than even high-fructose corn syrup. Winner: cane sugar
COCONUT WATER vs. Tap/Bottled Water
Coconut water and other “smart waters” claim, among other things, that they replenish electrolytes faster. “The problem is that the calories and high sugar content contained in these drinks negate any health benefits of the added nutrients,” DeRobertis says. “Most people are not exercising to the extent of needing a special hydration method.” Winner: regular water, enough each day so that your urine is clear in color.
ORGANIC PRODUCE vs. Non-Designated Fruits and Veggies
The upside to organic foods is fewer pesticides and no artificial growth hormones—the downside is a hefty price tag. The solution: the Dirty Dozen. Each year, the Environmental Working Group updates this list of the 12 most important foods to purchase organic, as well as the 15 “cleanest”—or least pesticide-ridden—types of produce, which are safe to save on and purchase standard. Winner: Consult the Dirty Dozen list at ewg.org/foodnews to know when to go organic.
FREE-RANGE EGGS vs. Regular Commercial Eggs
“Free-range” has not been proven to impact the nutritional content of the egg. The main difference between free-range and regular eggs is in the bird’s quality of life (being allowed to roam freely as opposed to being caged). Winner: As far as nutritional intake, regular eggs are fine. If you don’t mind spending a little more, you can opt for the organic version or even the ones enriched with omega-3.
GREEK YOGURT vs. Traditional Yogurt
Nutrition-wise, Greek yogurt has a “much higher protein content than traditional yogurt,” DeRobertis says. Greek yogurt is also naturally lower in carbohydrates and usually free of artificial sweeteners. Winner: Greek yogurt
SEA SALT vs. Table Salt
According to the American Heart Association, kosher salt and most sea salts, while typically ground coarser, are chemically the same as table salt: 40 percent sodium. You can easily find the trace amounts of minerals found in some “gourmet” salts in other healthy food choices. Winner: There is no magical salt solution other than moderation.