As a health journalist who has followed nutrition news for decades, I’ve seen plenty of trends that made waves and then tanked. Remember olestra, the Paleo diet, and celery juice?
Watch enough food fads come and go and you’ll realize that the most valuable nutritional guidance is based on decades of research, in which scientists have looked at an issue from multiple perspectives and reached something resembling a consensus.
Here are 10 science-backed pearls to guide you into the new year.
1. The Mediterranean diet is actually very good for you.
Decades of research support the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, nuts, herbs and spices, as one of the healthiest ways to eat. Its heart health benefits are numerous and it has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, and certain types of cancer.
If you’re interested in adopting the Mediterranean diet but aren’t sure where to start, stay tuned. Starting January 15, we’ll be sharing a week of practical guidance and recipes for Mediterranean-style eating in the Well newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.
2. It’s okay to drink coffee on an empty stomach.
Some people may experience heartburn, but there is no evidence that drinking coffee on an empty stomach can damage the gastric lining or harm the digestive system, experts say. And there are reasons to feel good about your morning brew: Drinking coffee has been linked to a longer life and a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
3. Start your day with a healthy breakfast.
Mornings can be hectic and it can be tempting to grab a quick muffin or skip breakfast altogether. But nutrition experts say it’s worth prioritizing breakfast, especially if it contains a balanced mix of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. It will energize your day, and studies have found that breakfast eaters tend to enjoy a variety of health benefits, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
4. Take good care of your intestine.
Keeping your digestive system healthy and running smoothly can protect you from life’s discomforts, such as heartburn, bloating, and constipation, as well as improve your overall health. Unsurprisingly, the best way to take care of your gut is to feed yourself (and, by extension, your gut microbes) well, prioritizing fiber and consuming a variety of plant-based and fermented foods.
5. You probably don’t need protein bars.
They are often marketed as a health food or essential fuel for sports performance, but most protein bars are loaded with sugar. According to experts, it’s best to meet your protein needs with whole foods like yogurt, nuts, beans, or eggs.
6. Go easy on the dark chocolate.
Feature this as one of the saddest nutrition news stories of 2023. Dark chocolate has some of the highest levels of lead and cadmium (heavy metals that can harm the body) compared to other foods. Fortunately, you don’t have to completely give up your dark chocolate habit. Enjoying it in moderation (no more than an ounce a day, experts say) will keep the risk low.
7. Mixing fruits and vegetables will not destroy their nutrients.
Pureeing fruits and vegetables in a blender will not strip them of their vitamins, minerals, or fiber. And, somewhat surprisingly, several small studies suggest that drinking fruit in blended form won’t raise your blood sugar any more than when you eat it whole. So go ahead and enjoy your smoothie. And check out our tips to make yours more nutritious.
8. Cottage cheese is back.
You might associate cottage cheese with the fad diets of the 1970s, but it’s a food that has stood the test of time. Cottage cheese was a big hit on TikTok this summer, and for good reason. You can eat it alone or use it as a versatile ingredient in sweet and savory snacks, and it offers an impressive array of nutrients including protein, calcium, selenium, and more.
9. Tofu is good for you too.
In decades past, people were concerned that tofu and other soy foods could be linked to cancer or fertility problems because they contain estrogen-like compounds. But studies have allayed those fears, scientists say. In fact, research suggests that eating soy-based foods may reduce the risk of heart disease and even some types of cancer.
10. It’s a challenge to separate nutrition myths from facts.
Nutrition myths tend to persist in American culture and in our minds, leaving us confused and sometimes even anxious about our food decisions. We asked 10 nutrition experts what myths they wish would disappear like plates of fresh cookies at a holiday party.