You’ve Been Thinking About These Foods All Wrong

Brace yourself


The moment I found out cereal wasn’t healthy, I was crushed. My teen realization about the sugar content in my Cheerios would be the first of many blows to my food worldviews. Cheese sandwiches and juice were next. Slowly, everything I’d deemed healthy was tossed off its pedestal. But now those seem obvious, right? Today, the litmus test for what is and isn’t healthy has grown increasingly nuanced, with food trends coming and going faster that we can keep track. It seems like every day news breaks that something seemingly benign might actually be killing us. It’s annoying at best, anxiety-inducing at worst.

Dr. Robin Berzin MD is the founder of Parsley Health, a medical practice where she and her team use their expertise and the latest research to help people map out an approach to nutrition and health that’s conducive to their lifestyle. Looking at fads and “health foods” with a critical eye is not just part of Dr. Berzin’s job, it’s a passion. In an effort to share some of her wisdom, below she’s broken down a list of foods that she believes get too much or too little flack. Some of them may surprise you. –Haley Nahman

You Thought They Were Unhealthy, But They’re Actually Great for You

Egg yolks: Somewhere along the line, the egg-white omelette became the go-to healthy breakfast. I’m here to tell you that you can and should add the color back into your omelette. Egg yolks are one of the richest sources of choline, a nutrient essential for neurological function, and a natural anti-inflammatory. Choline aids in the production of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that boost mood, focus and sex drive. Egg yolks are also nature’s B-vitamin. It’s a great way to get your vitamins from food, not supplements.

Butter: For a long time butter got a bad rap. But grass-fed butter is a great source of brain-building omega-3 fatty acids, as well as short and medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs) like n-butyrate. These feed the lining of the digestive tract, lower inflammation, reduce heart disease and boost metabolism — MCTs are also an appetite suppressant. Butter can be a great source of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D and K2, which support bone, brain, skin and immune health. Why grass-fed butter? Because it’s much higher in all of the above fatty acids, vitamins and nutrients than butter from grain-fed cows.

Salt: Salt has been vilified for decades as contributing to chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and heart disease. However, a healthy amount of sodium is necessary to prevent dehydration and to keep our brains functioning normally. Quality and type do matter. Table salt is just sodium chloride and often has iodine added, too much of which can be harmful for thyroid health. Choosing a high-grade mineral or Himalayan sea salt ensures a more complete nutritional profile providing essential minerals like potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorous and trace elements.

Popcorn: Popcorn can be a low-calorie food when cooked right (the bags filled with the kettle and caramel-corn varieties in the grocery store aisle are definitely to be avoided). The best way to cook it is the old-fashioned stovetop way to avoid additional preservatives found in the microwave bags. After popping, you can add natural flavors like a drizzle of coconut oil or a sprinkle of kelp granules.

White Potatoes: White potatoes can get overlooked for the sweet potato, which is often marketed as the healthier alternative. However, they contain up to twice the amount of potassium — essential for heart health and balancing blood sugar. They also contain more fiber and less sugar than their sweeter counterparts. They are not as bad as they’ve been made out to be! (This is not a license to go all-out with French fries, FWIW.)

You Thought They Were Healthy…But They Aren’t

Granola: Granola may seem like a healthy option, but most brands are usually full of unnecessary preservatives, oils and sugar. Check out the serving size on most packaging, and you’ll see that it’s usually only a fourth of a cup. If you can stick to that serving size, then you are in the minority. Most of us are filling up a bowl — anywhere from 400 to 600 calories plus add-ons like milk or yogurt. You’re better off just sprinkling a tablespoon of oats or nuts over your yogurt in the morning, providing you with plenty of dietary fiber yet a low glycemic index.

Acai Bowl: Yes, these bowls are beautiful and oh so Instagram-worthy, but many store-bought versions contain an upwards of 60 gram of sugar per bowl, equivalent to 12 teaspoons of sugar! Yes, some of this sugar comes from fruit, but frozen acai isn’t sweet at all, and typically, additional processed sugar such as agave syrup or coconut nectar is added.

Tofu/Soy: Tofu is an incredible source of plant-based protein. Unfortunately, it comes with plenty of downsides. Soy crops are heavily sprayed with chemical herbicides like glyphosate, shown to damage neurological and immune health. Soybeans also contain phytic acid and trypsin inhibitors, which can interfere with nutrient absorption. Soy’s anti-nutrient qualities are enough to merit it a food we should avoid, unless you’re getting organic, fermented soy. Be aware that soy is not just found in tofu, but also in many vegan protein foods, vegetable oils and protein powders.

Coconut Chips: Although coconut is a good source of fat and a potent anti-inflammatory, coconut chips are not as healthy of a snack as you might think. Dried coconut is naturally sweet, with about half a teaspoon of sugar per ounce, however the second ingredient in these packaged treats is often cane sugar, which adds more than six times the amount of naturally occurring sugars. When eating a package in one sitting (it can be hard not to!) this can cause blood glucose levels to spike and crash leading to fatigue and brain fog.

Agave: This has been touted as a healthy alternative to cane sugar, and is often thought of as a low-glycemic sweetener. Unfortunately, because of the way agave is chemically structured, it is less than ideal. Agave is made of mostly fructose. Unlike glucose, which converts to sugar in the blood immediately and can be used for fuel, fructose is processed through the liver. When the liver breaks down fructose, it produces fat in the blood, known as triglycerides. In addition to more work for your major detox organ, too much fat in the blood leads to blood sugar imbalances, weight gain and digestive issues.

Parsley Health is a modern primary care practice in NY, LA and San Francisco that combines nutrition, prevention and wellness with cutting-edge medicine from top doctors. Dr. Berzin went to medical school at Columbia University and later trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. Collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.

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  • Alex S

    What about kombucha? I love it but I’m convinced it’s wayyyyy overhyped.

    • Abby

      I homebrew kombucha and I think it’s a decent alternative to fruit juice or other drinks, but not a miracle beverage. Most of the sugar you add in the brewing process (and sometimes basically all of it, if you ferment it long enough) is there to feed the mother, so it’s not a sugary beverage at all. It really depends on the flavorings you use in the 2nd fermentation stage. For store bought, if you read the ingredients and don’t see any unnecessary additives, it’s fine. It’s just not the fountain of youth/miracle beverage/whatever this week’s claim is.

    • Cristina

      Gah, the daily debate I have with myself It’s definitely a new (well, few years) new miracle beverage. While I enjoy the fizzy flavor so that I don’t drink soda, I also want to know the exact impact drinking a bottle of kombucha has on my gut health. I’m talking immediate impact after consuming. I have a feeling.. nothing. Our ancestors fermented and consumed actual food on a regular basis, they didn’t supplement a kombucha to correct damage after a large pizza. ::or maybe that’s just me:: hah.

    • gracesface

      Some of us do not react well to fermented foods and I’m one of them, so kombucha (even though I have triied to make it happen) is not something I drink at all anymore. You’re just gonna have to try it to find out!

  • Hayley


    • Bo

      Well now I need that on a t-shirt immediately

  • Luarnaiz

    Am I starving or those eggs look amazing?

  • Cristina

    Oh man, I can’t wait to go home and put kelp sprinkles on my popcorn! — said no one ever. Hahaha. Jk. I mean I wouldn’t eat kelp sprinkles, but I do need to take a crack at popping my own corn. I surprisingly didn’t know that white potatoes had more fiber and I feel so much better about myself because I really hate, like loathe, sweet pots. Also, gawdiloveyolks.

    • Julie

      I had just copied the ‘kelp granules’ bit in order to say pretty much the same thing 😀 I love some butter/cinnamon/salt/sugar on my popcorn though so maybe I should investigate healthier alternatives! ……buuuuut still no to the kelp.

      As an Irish person, I can never sing the praises of real butter enough. And spuds. Also an enormous egg fan. Basically yes to err’thang but the kelp sprinkles! I like this confirmation of all my favourite things, Haley!

      • Cristina

        When I read your popcorn toppings, I literally PAUSED AT PUTTING ON MY LIP BALM. Yummm. We have this local spice shop that sells a “popcorn pack” and it’s full of all homemade popcorn spices without junk which should be motivation enough to start trying it myself!
        I looooooveeeee real butter. I use Kerrygold and go through at least one pack a week hahahaha

        • gracesface

          kerrygold for life! though i’ve heard good things about trader joe’s butter.

          • Cristina

            Reeealllyyy?? Like their store brand cultured butter? I’ve seen that but always get my KG there because it’s so cheap. I can’t imagine a plain ol butter being better than Kerrygold lol! I also saw water buffalo butter there last time… strange…. but maybe good? I’m about to Google that.

          • gracesface

            the food people at bon appetit think so! and i’m big fans of them soooo…

          • Cristina

            They even mention the water buffalo butter! That’s it. I’m dropping at least $20 on butter this weekend. #butterbuffet

          • Katie Lucchesi

            The buffalo butter is neauseating. KerryGold is the best store bought butter taste wise. so you’re right on

        • Julie

          Atta girl, that’s the only brand to have! I read recently that Kerrygold has been banned in Wisconsin because it’s produced outside the U.S. and doesn’t fit their butter rules in some really old law. Lots of hilarious news headlines!

          • Jade-Yue-Ryu

            Considering that there is (edit: or was, this was when my mom was young) a law in Youngstown OH that says wearing patent leather shoes is against municipal decency laws because men could use them to see up women’s skirts….that really doesn’t surprise me.

        • Adrianna

          If you think Kerrygold is good, try Isigny Butter. I decided it’s worth spending some more money for the flavor and possible nutrients

  • Teresa

    I have always been of the mind that if my mom fed it to me, it’s healthy. This confirms that.
    Keep in mind, she also fed us ice cream every night so this thinking enables bad behavior, too!

  • Adrianna

    I feel ready to conquer the world whenever I eat eggs and potatoes cooked in butter for breakfast.

    Also, adding eggs to my diet was absolutely life-changing.

    • ihaveacooch

      i had never had eggs up until a few years ago. how did i live? how did i do breakfast?! i love eggs now.

      • Adrianna

        The smell of eggs used to make me dry-heave. I forced myself to eat them once I realized that I felt much better. Not only was I fuller longer, I didn’t feel like I was going to pass out by lunch time

  • Spanky

    It appears that the link associated with “…glyphosate, shown to damage neurological and immune health” is in fact a critique of that claim being made.

    • Vera

      That’s hilarious. I would love to read a rebuttal to some of the claims made in these pseudoscience-y functional medicine posts (written by a scientist or doctor practicing evidence-based medicine).

  • Lindsay D

    I like to cook my eggs in a pan of butter! Nom nom nom

  • SpiritAndCourage

    “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” – Michael Pollan

    Basically all you need to know

    • Sarah

      i agree, this is the best way to sum up nutrition!

  • Habaloo

    Completely worth getting a zippy stovetop popper for popcorn. Let’s not pretend that air popped popcorn is good. I’m not exaggerating when I say we use our stovetop popper 4 times a week. Best $50 bucks I’ve ever spent!

    • chouette

      My mom uses a 50 year old Whirleypop she bought at a yardsale. Those things are amazing.

      • Habaloo

        Your mom’s a smart lady!!

  • frannypaul

    Popcorn. Well. When I showed up at my emergency dental appointment with a tooth split in half vertically and told the dentist how it happened, he said: “popcorn, huh? You’re the second one this hour.” Lost the tooth. The dentist is still racking up payouts fo the extraction and prophylaxis. There’s a reason they don’t tell you.

  • Sarah

    another great MR article. I have been having a lot of food issues lately…I will eat dinner, and then be starving again, and have to eat a protein bar to be able to go to sleep. I just ate lunch at 12:30, its now 2:10, i just ate a cliff bar cuz i’m hungry. its getting pretty lame…it might be stress related…but after talking with a naturopath, she thinks i need to up my healthy fats and proteins, and that I probably eat way more sugar than I realize. My go to before a big workout was a smoothie full of fruit and some protein powder. Turns out thats just a blast of sugar (not sure why I just i figured that out…”its fruit…its healthy!!!”)….I’m struggling to give up my smoothies but I have cut sugar out of a lot of other places…and when I think about all those grams added up, I realize it was probably a LOT!, things like butter, egg yolks, etc are probably way butter than a bunch of sugar, but the food industry just convinced us otherwise awhile back.

    • Adrianna

      I had a lot of trouble with feeling hungry all the time in college. I assumed I wasn’t eating enough, so I increased my intake of pasta, grains, etc. That’s what was cheap in the grocery store, and I kept thinking about the food triangle we all learned in school. I gained weight and still felt hungry. I kept hearing that we don’t need as much protein as supplements try to tell us.

      It sounds like you’re not getting enough protein. I would eat hardboiled eggs instead of the protein bars.

      • Sarah

        Thanks! That is a good suggestion. I have been trying to eat more meat too. I don’t really like too because its so bad for the environment, but I’m starting to think maybe I can’t do without it. hardboiled eggs is a great idea!

        • Adrianna

          Girl, I am literally eating two hardboiled eggs at work right now to get over that afternoon hump

  • Bo

    But also, nutritional yeast sprinkled over popcorn

  • Julia

    This is an infuriating mix of decent-enough information, questionable interpretation and overstatement, and flat-out misinformation.

    Soybeans: Multiple studies have shown that while theoretically, phytic acid can partly inhibit calcium and zinc absorption, the situation in your intestines is really complex. People who consume soy foods in the context of a varied plant based diet are at no greater risk of deficiency for those minerals than those who do not. So, don’t eat an all-tofu diet, but that is true for any one food. Tofu, soymilk, etc have good things to contribute to your diet. Glyphosphate and many other herbicides and pesticides are in fact probably bad for you though but this is not a problem specific to soybeans. Many other crops are heavily treated. Eat organic food when possible, and refer to the “Dirty Dozen” list for what to particularly avoid if it’s not organic.

    Butter: While butter from grass fed cows does indeed contain the nutrients stated, and it’s not the devil it was made out to be a few decades ago, it is also not particularly “good” for you. It is a relatively calorie-dense, nutrient poor food and you should eat it only because it tastes good and in moderation. Other foods are much richer sources of the nutrients called out, especially the vitamins listed. Eat some vegetables.

    Salt: While recent evidence suggests that high-sodium diets are at least much less of a problem than previously thought, Himalayan and other “high-grade” salts have essentially zero nutritional value. Any trace minerals are so trace as to not be worth thinking about unless you’re eating it by the cup…don’t do that. Again, eat some vegetables. Eat fancy salt if you like the texture/appearance. Iodine deficiency on the other hand is a REAL THING (goiters, fun!!) and most of the page linked to discusses the dangers of not eating enough.

    • 808kate

      Thank youuuu for such a good response!! I think most people don’t realize that MDs get little or no nutrition education so they’re not experts just because they went to med school. I wish ManRepeller interviewed registered dietitians more often instead!

  • gracesface

    Well, I guess I’m one of the few who doesn’t mind unsweetened acai.

  • Katie Quinlisk

    I have wasted so many egg yolks!

  • Meg S

    My doctor encourages eating eggs because they’re the perfect serving of protein. Not egg whites, the whole egg. Two hard boiled eggs is a perfect snack. I have ridiculously low blood pressure (thanks dad) and salt is essential to keep me from physically crashing (dad’s been known to pass out if his salt intake drops).

    BRB, buying grass fed butter and tossing my agave syrup.

  • Ninni Lindgren

    Sure you get choline from eggs but also plenty of bad cholesterol and saturated fat. I’d rather get choline from vegetable sources such as broccoli. Also being a source of B vitamins isn’t very impressive since B vitamins are basically in everything.

  • Rosie

    why does “eat less meat, eat more vegetables, no refined sugar” have to get so complicated? Obvs organic soy is best – but phytic acid research is mixed – non-organic soy surely beats red meat.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I’ve been using butter for years. If you look at a margarine label, margarine is full of chemicals. If you bake, butter is what makes your cake or cookies or bread delicious. Popcorn is a healthy snack if you don’t eat the microwave version. It’s easy to make on top of the stove if you don’t have a popper.

  • Kay Nguyen

    NOOOOOOOOO Tofu is everything, how can I be a vegetarian/vegan at home without eating tofu? I don’t know what to do with my life now!

  • This. Article. Is. Mind. Blowingggg!!! I thought I was so healthy when i ate an acai bowl. Guess grass fed butter is the new breakfast choice!!