Olive oil or coconut oil? Tofu or tempeh? Ever wondered which of your health food decisions are actually healthiest? With all of the choices (and conflicting information) out there, it can be confusing. So we called in Elissa Goodman, a certified holistic nutritionist with a long list of celebrity clientele, and asked her to make the final call on a variety of health food match-ups.
Scroll through to find out how your choices stack up!
Winner: Almond milk
For this match-up, Goodman says it depends what you're looking for. “In comparison to soy, almond milk provides fewer calories and unlike soy, almond milk does not contain saturated fat,” Goodman says. “Within an 8-ounce glass, almond milk provides more calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E.” However, Goodman notes that soy milk contains more protein, and almond milk often contains carrageenan, which has been linked to increased inflammation.
“It's worth mentioning that 90 to 95 percent of soybeans grown in the U.S. have been genetically modified,” Goodman says. “Considering GMOs have been linked to numerous health risks, almond milk is your best bet.”
Winner: Kale has a slight edge
“This is a tricky one, only because both leafy greens are great choices,” Goodman says. “Although kale may have a slight upper edge, don't let that deter you from consuming spinach as well. Kale does in fact provide more vitamin K (a whopping 680 percent per cup), vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber, but it also contains high concentration of two extremely beneficial antioxidants: flavonoids and carotenoids.” Another reason Goodman gives this one to kale? It targets oxidative stress in your body, thanks to its 45 flavonoids, lutein, and beta-carotene.
But Goodman assures us spinach has its benefits too. “Since spinach provides your body with more iron and magnesium, why not add both to your salad or smoothie?” And great news for vegetarians and vegans: Goodman says 180 grams of spinach provides your body with more iron than a 6-ounce beef patty.
Winner: This is a tie
“Both of these oils are beneficial, so for me this is a tie,” Goodman says. “There's been a lot of confusion surrounding coconut oil and its high saturated fat content, however not all saturated fats are equal. Many vegetable and seed oils have been artificially manipulated into saturated fats. This is the key, as coconut oil is a naturally occurring source.”
In terms of calories, Goodman says they’re about the same. She also notes that neither contain cholesterol or trans fat. “Since majority of individuals use oils to cook with, it's crucial that you understand heat-induced damage and oxidation. This is directly linked to increased levels of free radicals, which directly damage your cells.” So if you’re cooking with oil, choose coconut oil—it’s less susceptible to heat damage.
“There is no doubt that olive oil is healthy, it's just not the healthiest option when heated,” Goodman says. “When used in a non-heated form, such as homemade salad dressings, olive oil is a great choice.” She also added that it’s important to look for certified organic coconut oil because many commercial coconut oils have been refined and in the process have added chemicals.
“Stevia is the obvious choice for me within this round,” Goodman says. “Stevia is a natural sweetener and traditional herb, which has been used for many years throughout South and Central America. As long as you choose a 100 percent pure option, you will not be consuming any fillers. Some of my favorites are Omica ($19), Sweet Leaf ($15), and Body Ecology ($17).”
Many people think Truvia is the same things as Stevia, but Goodman says Truvia contains a variety of fillers. “Unlike Stevia, Truvia is made with erythritol; a sugar alcohol that's derived from genetically modified corn,” she says.
Winner: Whole egg
“A whole egg trumps egg whites, specifically when the yolk is runny (overcooking an egg decreases its nutritional benefits),” Goodman says. “Sure, the white does not contain as many calories, cholesterol, or fat, but it's also void of all the vitamins and minerals in which make eggs so healthy. When you opt for egg whites only, you're missing out on multiple B-vitamins, vitamin D, and iron.”
For most people, cholesterol is the concern around egg yolks, but Goodman says it’s actually nothing to worry about. “Our bodies naturally make cholesterol. Each and every day, you produce much more cholesterol than you'd find in a large egg. When you consume more cholesterol within your diet, your body compensates by making less.”
“Although the whole egg is the clear winner, it's important to note that not all eggs are equal,” Goodman says. “Free-range organic eggs are superior in terms of their nutritional content. Conventionally raised hens are fed genetically modified corn feed, which accumulates pesticides. There’s also three times more vitamin E, seven times more beta carotene, and two times more omega-3 fatty acids in free-range eggs.”
“Fish are a lean source of protein, which provide you with essential omega-3 fatty acids,” Goodman says. “Although all three are high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, tuna tends to contain the highest concentration of mercury. Both sardines and salmon are so good for you, but of these two options, salmon provides more B-vitamins, vitamin D, and choline.” There’s just caveat: Goodman says you need to make sure you're purchasing WILD salmon. Since salmon farming can expose the fish to large amounts of antibiotics, wild salmon end up being the healthier option. “In comparison to wild caught, farmed salmon has less protein, less flavor, more fat, and an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio that's less desirable,” adds Goodman.
“Although tofu and tempeh are both derived from soybean plants, I award tempeh the gold medal in this round,” Goodman says. “The production of tempeh is fairly simple, while providing the benefits of fermentation.” Fermented foods improve digestive health and so much more (click here to learn more about the benefits of fermentation). “In comparison to tofu, tempeh offers the whole soybean, increasing your intake of protein (which is about double that of tofu), fiber, and vitamins. This is all due to the fermentation process, in which preserves the whole bean.” Her final note? “Once again, choose organic in order to avoid genetically modified soy.”
Have you been making the right choices? Tell us below!