White Food Counts Too
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE
One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people say that white food is bad and white fruits and vegetables aren’t nutrient dense. It’s time to stop judging a food by its color!
Yes, whole-grain bread and brown rice naturally contain more nutrients than white bread and white rice. But white bread and white rice aren’t without nutritional value. In fact, they frequently contain additional folic acid, a B vitamin critical for the prevention of neural tube defects in newborns. On average, Americans consume twice as much refined grains as recommended and only 15 percent of the recommended amount of whole grains (1). Major sources of refined grains are yeast breads (26% of total refined grain intake), pizza (11%), grain-based desserts (10%), and tortillas, burritos, and tacos (8%) (2). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans “consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains” (3). This advice is far more specific and meaningful than “don’t eat white foods.” To illustrate, in an effort to avoid white food, one person doused white rice with soy sauce to make it brown.
White produce also gets an undeserved bad rap. On average, Americans consume only 59 percent of the recommended amount of vegetables and only 42 percent of the recommend amount of fruit. To malign cauliflower, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, cabbage, bananas, and more simply because they lack color does nothing to encourage additional fruit and vegetable intake. Even though we often hear that colorful fruits and vegetables contain the most health-boosting phytochemicals, these phytochemicals are also present in white produce. The following are a few examples of what we get from white produce.
- Potatoes are an economical source of potassium (4), an under-consumed nutrient (5) important in blood pressure regulation. Potatoes are also sources of dietary fiber, another under-consumed nutrient. Nearly 25 percent of vegetable phenolic compounds (a group of health-shielding phytochemicals) in the American diet come from the potato (6).
- Cauliflower and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables that contain glucosinolates, phytochemicals that form isothiocyanates and indoles (7). Cruciferous vegetables are studied for their potential role in cancer prevention.
- Apples are a good source of vitamin C and dietary fiber. They also contain the phytochemical quercetin, which exhibits both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (8). One study found that a high consumption of white fruits and vegetables, mainly comprising apples and pears, may protect against stroke (9).
- Bananas are a good source of vitamins B6 and C, dietary fiber and potassium.
- Onions and garlic are part of the allium family. A joint report from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund finds that allium vegetables probably protect against stomach cancer and that garlic, in particular, probably lowers the risk of developing colorectal cancer (10).
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE
- Building Healthy Eating Patterns. In: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Agricultural, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010: 46.
- Foods and Food Components to Reduce. In: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Agricultural, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010: 30.
- Foods and Nutrients to Increase. In: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Agricultural, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010: 34.
- Drewnowski A, Rehm C. White potatoes are among the most affordable sources of potassium in the American diet. J Amer Diet Assoc. 2011; 111(9S): A90.
- Foods and Nutrients to Increase. In: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Agricultural, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010: 35.
- Weaver C and Marr ET. White vegetables: a forgotten source of nutrients: Purdue Roundtable executive summary. Adv. Nutr. 4: 318S–326S, 2013.
- AICR’s Foods That Fight Cancer: Broccoli and Cruciferous Vegetables. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/broccoli-cruciferous.html Accessed May 25, 2013.
- AICR’s Foods That Fight Cancer: Apples. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/apples.htmlAccessed May 25, 2013.
- Song et al. Cellular antioxidant activity of common vegetables. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2010, 58, 6621–6629 6621.
- AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer: Garlic. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/foodsthatfightcancer_garlic.html Accessed June 10, 2013
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