10 Food Habits Nutritionists Wish You’d Give Up
From cooking habits to eating habits, here's what nutrition experts wish you would stop doing—and what to do instead.
Always grilling or cooking meat until it’s well done could do more harm than good, which is why Lisa Richards, nutritionist and creator of TheCandidaDiet.com, wishes people would quit. “Overcooking your meat can form compounds that increase oxidative stress and inflammation, and may even increase the risk of certain cancers,” Richards says. “The most common culprit is grilling at high temperatures.” These high temperatures that char meat are OK in small amounts. For the most part, Richards recommends stewing, roasting or slow cooking meat as healthier alternatives because charring meat is one of the grilling mistakes that could make you sick.
Cooking with too much or too little fat
Too much oil or healthy fat adds calories without extra nutrients—but too little means you’re missing out on some health benefits. That’s why Kris Sollid, RD, the senior director of nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council Foundation, says to go easy on oils. “A little is good for flavor, but more isn’t ‘better’ for your health,” he says. “Cooking oils like olive, canola and soybean are great sources of healthy fats but are high in calories, as well.” Don’t go to the other extreme and avoid all oils. In fact, Hillary Cecere, MS, RDN, a dietitian for Eat Clean Bro, notes that fat is an essential nutrient that helps absorb fat-soluble vitamins. The goal should be cooking with a healthy balance of fats.
Cooking everything with the same oil
Balancing fat and oil usage is only one oil cooking habit nutritionists want you to fix. It’s also key to be mindful about what kinds you use, especially when cooking at higher temperatures, Cecere says. “So many people use olive oil to cook, but it has a lower smoke point,” she says. (It’s likely to smoke if it goes above 325 degrees F.) When oils smoke, they break down and lose their taste plus some of their nutritional value, according to Mayo Clinic. Choose avocado or safflower oil for cooking at higher temperatures to prevent burning, Cecere recommends. Check out our cooking oil guide for more info.
Throwing things out because of the “sell-by” date
Another habit Sollid wishes people didn’t have is wasting food. So he says not to throw things out because of the “sell-by” date. Instead, focus on “use-by” dates which let you know when a food should be eaten. People should throw away products after that date, according to Sollid. Plus, here’s how you know food has expired.
Always cooking the same foods
Are you guilty of eating the same meals over and over? If so, try peppering in some new foods or cooking strategies. You won’t know if you like something unless you try it. “I hate when people say they don’t like a food before even trying it or preparing it different ways,” Cecere says. Hate raw carrots? Try roasting them with olive oil and fresh herbs, Cecere suggests. Not only will trying new foods or cooking techniques open your taste bud horizons, but it adds a greater variety of nutrients to your diet, too.
Only making egg whites
If you always opt for egg whites instead of whole eggs, you’re missing out on some advantages, according to Cecere. “I wish people would cook with the yolks of eggs more,” Cecere says. “So many people are just eating egg whites to save calories, but the yolk is where all the nutrition is.” So although egg whites are a great source of protein, they aren’t necessarily healthier than whole eggs. Plus, eating the yolk might even help keep you full longer.
Cooking gluten-free everything
People with celiac disease or a gluten allergy, sensitivity or intolerance should limit or eliminate gluten. If you aren’t part of that group, however, remember that there isn’t evidence a gluten-free lifestyle will make you healthier or help you lose weight, according to Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN. Although a gluten-free diet can be healthy, removing gluten unnecessarily makes it harder to get enough fiber, vitamins and minerals the body needs since many of these micronutrients are in grains that contain gluten, says Malkani, a media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This is what happens to your body when you go gluten-free.
Adding salt before taste testing
Put down the salt shaker and pick up your spoon. Sollid wishes people would taste their food before blindly adding more salt. “While salt adds great flavor, some dishes don’t need extra,” he says. “Keep your sodium intake in check by following expert chef advice: salt to taste.” Chefs also use these 10 cooking tricks that they only teach in culinary schools.
Avoiding fruit because of sugar
Don’t get into the habit of avoiding fruit because it contains too much sugar, Malkani says. The body doesn’t digest the naturally occurring sugar in fruit in the same way it does table sugar, so it doesn’t have the same insulin-spiking effects. Unlike refined and processed sugars, fruit contains fiber, which helps slow the absorption of fructose into the bloodstream, Malkani explains. “The fiber also contributes to the good bacteria in our intestines, which in turn contributes to better gut health and it helps us feel fuller longer,” Malkani says. You can safely add these 10 foods that use to be bad for you but now aren’t, back into your diet.
Thawing frozen foods on the counter
Both Malkani and Cecere wish people would stop defrosting their frozen foods on the counter at room temperature. Doing so creates an ideal environment for bacteria growth, which could cause foodborne illness, Malkani says. It’s safer to thaw frozen foods in the microwave or in the refrigerator overnight, Cecere recommends. Using cool running water to defrost frozen foods is also an option, but don’t even think about freezing these 16 foods you should never keep in your freezer in the first place.