Food Fight: Clash of the Nutrition Titans

by Matthew Kadey, MS, RD on Jan 14, 2015

Nutrition

In each pair, can you tell which of these healthful foods is the better choice?

As you know, a food dollar doesn’t stretch nearly as far as it used to. As a result, many of your clients who are eager to eat a clean diet might find themselves increasingly hemming and hawing over which healthy foods to toss into their grocery carts and which to leave behind.

The more nutritious choice isn’t always obvious. Apple or pear? Chicken breast or turkey breast? Well, let’s get ready to rumble. We’re sending similar edibles into the ring to duke it out so we can crown nutrition’s heavyweight champs.

The Battle: Bison vs. Beef

It might be time to hoof it over to your well-stocked butcher. Bison—or buffalo, as many call it—may be linked to fewer coronary woes than industrial beef. A 2013 study in Nutrition Research found that consuming bison 6 days a week for 7 weeks resulted in less of a rise in blood triglycerides, inflammation and other heart disease risk factors in volunteers than consuming beef (McDaniel et al. 2013).

Differences in rearing methods, including a greater likelihood of being pasture-raised than fed a grain-based diet in a feedlot, may improve the fat content (less saturated fat, more omega-3 fats) and overall nutritional profile of bison, resulting in a heart-healthier red meat. Grass-fed bison would also be a more sustainable meat option than conventional beef.

The Battle: Apples vs. Pears

Both of these supermarket staples are good sources of disease-thwarting antioxidants, but pears provide 50% more dietary fiber—a medium fruit delivers 6 grams of fiber. That’s an important advantage, considering that under 10% of Americans meet their daily fiber requirements of 25–38 g a day (Clemens et al. 2012).

Studies suggest that higher intakes of fiber can help to slash the risk for several types of cancer, potentially by helping eliminate toxins from the body (Bradbury, Appleby & Key 2014; Daniel et al. 2013). By promoting satiety and thereby helping to reduce overeating, a high-fiber diet is also thought to play a key role in weight loss. Pears also have an advantage in vitamin K, which is associated with a reduced risk for developing type 2 diabetes (Beulens et al. 2010).

The champ: pears.

The Battle: Almonds vs. Walnuts

There are plenty of reasons to go nuts. For instance, a Harvard School of Public Health study found that despite their higher calorie count, nuts are associated with lower weight gain (Jackson & Hu 2014). While walnuts harbor higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, almonds reign supreme in a number of other nutritional elements, including protein, fiber, vitamin E, riboflavin, magnesium and phosphorus. This makes almonds a more nutrient-dense option from the bulk bins.

Daily almond consumption has also been shown to help quell the inflammation associated with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease (Sweazea et al. 2014).

The champ: almonds.

The Battle: Kale vs. Spinach

Looks like Popeye got it wrong. Compared with spinach, jaunty kale contains nearly twice as much immunity-boosting vitamin A and four times as much of the antioxidant vitamin C. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found a link between higher intakes of vitamin C and healthier blood pressure numbers (Juraschek et al. 2012). Kale also provides 70% more bone-strengthening vitamin K and three times as much lutein and zeaxanthin, an antioxidant duo shown to bolster eye health (Huang et al. 2014).

The champ: kale.

The Battle: Canned Salmon vs. Canned Tuna

Sorry, Charlie, when it comes to canned swimmers, it’s worthwhile to reel in salmon. For starters, salmon, particularly canned sockeye, is higher in ultra-healthy omega-3 fats. A Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University study found that beyond providing their famed heart-protective powers, omega-3s can reduce muscle soreness in response to training (DiLorenzo, Drager & Rankin 2014).

Salmon is also a richer source of vitamin D, and if you eat the softened bones, you’ll reap the benefits of consuming about 20 times more bone-building calcium than you would by eating tuna. Need more convincing? Studies indicate that canned salmon can contain less of the toxin mercury than its tuna counterpart (Gerstenberger, Martinson & Kramer 2010; Storelli et al. 2010; Groth 2010; Shim et al. 2006). Canned white tuna often contains more mercury than canned light versions.

The champ: canned salmon.

The Battle: Whole-Wheat Bread vs. Sprouted Bread

More and more breads made with sprouted ingredients like grains and seeds are, well, sprouting up on store shelves. And the loaves may have a leg up on their competitors. For starters, a recent study by Canadian researchers found that sprouted bread brought about a smaller spike in blood sugar in volunteers than the whole-grain breads that were tested (Mofidi et al. 2012). This could help in the fight against conditions associated with poor blood sugar control, like diabetes and obesity.

Sprouting items like wheat improves their overall nutritional profile, and sprouted breads—like Food for Life— are often richer in protein and fiber. Sprouting is also thought to make foods easier to digest.

The champ: sprouted bread.

The Battle: Quinoa vs. Brown Rice

It’s true: The South American grain is a nutritional superstar. Compared with humble brown rice, quinoa provides more generous doses of protein, fiber, energy-boosting iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc and folate. A University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, study found that higher intakes of folate can help in the battle against hypertension (Xun et al. 2012).

Rare for a grain, quinoa contains a full complement of amino acids, making it a valuable protein source for building muscle. There have also been recent concerns about potentially troublesome arsenic levels in rice (FDA 2013). What’s more, quinoa takes about half the time to cook, making it a go-to grain for harried cooks.

The champ: quinoa.

The Battle: Turkey Breast vs. Chicken Breast

Both cuts of poultry are virtually free of saturated fat, but ounce for ounce, turkey has more protein, zinc and selenium (a mineral). A study in Diabetes Care found that people with higher levels of selenium were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes (Park et al. 2012).

Another win for Team Turkey Breast: This protein powerhouse contains additional iron, a mineral necessary for delivering oxygen to working muscles to keep energy levels up during exercise.

The champ: turkey breast.

The Battle: Cheddar Cheese vs. Swiss Cheese

When choosing a cheese to slap on your lunch sandwich, consider the one with the hole-y appearance. Per serving, Swiss cheese has a little less saturated fat and, more importantly, a third less sodium.

Despite sodium’s association with an increased risk for hypertension and stroke, many Americans still consume well more than 2,300 milligrams per day, the recommended limit (Meyer et al. 2013). And Swiss cheese trumps its orange counterpart in the bone-building minerals calcium and phosphorus as well.

The champ: Swiss cheese.

The Battle: Pink Grapefruit vs. Oranges

Although oranges provide about 35% more vitamin C than pink grapefruit, the tart fruit comes out ahead with 21% more vitamin A and way more lycopene. Higher intakes of lycopene, a potent carotenoid antioxidant, may improve cholesterol numbers, making it an ally in the battle against heart disease (Wang et al. 2014). For those who are worried about their sugar intake, take heart that grapefruit contains a little less of this simple carbohydrate.

The champ: pink grapefruit.<

The Battle: Greek Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt

Worthy of a resounding Opa!, Greek-style yogurts are a worthwhile splurge in the dairy aisle. The biggest upside of Greek yogurt is that it provides about twice as much protein as regular yogurt, making it an especially satiating snack with muscle-building benefits.

A recent University of Missouri study found that healthy women who noshed on high-protein yogurt for an afternoon snack felt less hungry and waited longer before seeking out more food than they did after eating a lower-protein yogurt (Douglas et al. 2013). Since a lot of the sweet stuff is removed during the straining process, Greek yogurt typically contains half the sugar of regular yogurt. Like all yogurt with live cultures, Greek contains beneficial bacteria for better gut health. In the name of fair play, however, it should be noted that regular yogurt does have more calcium.

The champ: Greek yogurt.

The Battle: Tilapia vs. Halibut

There is a boatload of reasons why we should be eating more fish, but if you need to choose between these two species at the fishmonger, consider casting your line for halibut. While both have the same amount of protein, omega-3 fatty acids are twice as high in halibut.

Scientists recommended consuming an average of 250–500 mg of omega-3s from fish per day to safeguard against heart disease and mental decline (Harris et al. 2009). A 3-ounce serving of halibut delivers about 400 mg of these rock star fats. More nutrient-dense halibut also lets you load up on more niacin, vitamin B12, selenium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium.

The champ: halibut.

The Battle: Green Bell Peppers vs. Red Bell Peppers

This one is no contest. A star among its sweet-pepper brethren, red bell peppers, which are simply green bell peppers that have ripened further, have significantly more vitamin C and beta carotene. In the body, beta carotene is converted to vitamin A, which helps bolster eye health and immune defense so that your clients can spend more time bench pressing than blowing their noses this winter.

The champ: red bell peppers.

The Battle: Kidney Beans vs. Black Beans

When you need a legume to toss into your chili or soup, consider opening a can of kidney beans. Compared with black beans, kidneys provide 75% more dietary fiber, making each spoonful that much more filling. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine discovered that men and women with the highest intakes of fiber enjoyed a longer life span, being less likely to succumb to chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease (Park et al. 2011). The organ-shaped beans also have about twice as much iron as their black counterparts. Higher intakes of iron may boost performance in female exercisers, who often have poor iron status (Pasricha et al. 2014).

The champ: kidney beans.

The Battle: Canned Corn vs. Frozen Corn

With vegetables, it’s always a good idea to opt for subzero versions instead of what’s found in the canned food aisle. Case in point: Not only is frozen corn free of the sodium added to canned corn; it also supplies nine times more vitamin C, twice as much beta carotene and roughly 50% more potassium.

A recent World Health Organization study confirmed that higher intakes of potassium are helpful in lowering blood pressure numbers and, thereby, the chances of suffering a stroke (Aburto et al. 2013). Sadly, data shows that most Americans still aren’t getting their daily quota of potassium (Meyer et al. 2013), and so it is all the more important to encourage the consumption of more high-potassium vegetables. Frozen versions like corn, peas and broccoli can be a convenient source. Rapid freezing shortly after harvest helps to lock in vital nutrients, some of which the canning process can degrade.

The champ: frozen corn.

References

Aburto, N.J., et al. 2013. Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: Systematic review and meta-analyses. British Medical Journal. doi:10.1136/bmj.f1378.

Beulens, J.W., et al. 2010. Dietary phylloquinone and menaquinones intakes and risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 33 (8), 1699-1705.

Bradbury, K.E., Appleby, P.N., & Key, T.J. 2014. Fruit, vegetable, and fiber intake in relation to cancer risk: Findings from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100 (Suppl. 1), 394S-98S.

Clemens, R., et al. 2012. Filling America's fiber intake gap: Summary of a roundtable to probe realistic solutions with a focus on grain-based foods. The Journal of Nutrition, 142 (7), 1390S-1401S.

Daniel, C.R., et al. 2013. Intake of fiber and fiber-rich plant foods is associated with a lower risk of renal cell carcinoma in a large US cohort. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97 (5), 1036-43.

DiLorenzo, F.M., Drager, C.J., & Rankin, J.W. 2014. Docosahexaenoic acid affects markers of inflammation and muscle damage after eccentric exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28 (10), 2768-74.

Douglas, S.M., et al. 2013. Low, moderate, or high protein yogurt snacks on appetite control and subsequent eating in healthy women. Appetite, 60 (1), 117-22.

FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). 2013. Statement on testing and analysis of arsenic in rice and rice products. Accessed Sept. 25, 2014. www.fda.gov/FoodborneIllnesscontaminants/Metals/ucm367263.htm.

Gerstenberger, S.L., Martinson, A., & Kramer, J.L. 2010. An evaluation of mercury concentrations in three brands of canned tuna. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 29 (2), 237-42.

Groth, E. 2010. Ranking the contributions of commercial fish and shellfish varieties to mercury exposure in the United States: Implications for risk communication. Environmental Research, 110 (3), 226-36.

Harris, W.S., et al. 2009. Towards establishing dietary reference intakes for eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids. The Journal of Nutrition, 139 (4), 804S-19S.

Huang, Y.M., et al. 2014. Changes following supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin in retinal function in eyes with early age-related macular degeneration: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. British Journal of Ophthalmology. doi: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2014-305503.

Jackson, C.L., & Hu, F.B. 2014. Long-term associations of nut consumption with body weight and obesity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100 (Suppl. 1), 408S-11S.

Juraschek, S.P., et al. 2012. Effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95 (5), 1079-88.

McDaniel, J., et al. 2013. Bison meat has a lower atherogenic risk than beef in healthy men. Nutrition Research, 33 (4), 293-302.

Meyer, K.A., et al. 2013. Twenty-two-year population trends in sodium and potassium consumption: The Minnesota Heart Survey. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2 (5), e000478.

Mofidi, A., et al. 2012. The acute impact of ingestion of sourdough and whole-grain breads on blood glucose, insulin, and incretins in overweight and obese men. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. doi: 10.1155/2012/184710.

Park, Y., et al. 2011. Dietary fiber intake and mortality in the NIH-AARP diet and health study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 171 (12), 1061-68.

Park, K., et al. 2012. Toenail selenium and incidence of type 2 diabetes in U.S. men and women. Diabetes Care, 35 (7), 1544-51.

Pasricha, S.R., et al. 2014. Iron supplementation benefits physical performance in women of reproductive age: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Nutrition, 144 (6), 906-14.

Shim, S.M., et al. 2006. Mercury and fatty acids in canned tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Journal of Food Science, 69 (9), C681-84.

Storelli, M.M., et al. 2010. Occurrence of toxic metals (Hg, Cd and Pb) in fresh and canned tuna: Public health implications. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 48 (11), 3167-70.

Sweazea, K.L., et al. 2014. Almond supplementation in the absence of dietary advice significantly reduces C-reactive protein in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Journal of Functional Foods, 10 252-59.

Wang, Y., et al. 2014. Dietary carotenoids are associated with cardiovascular disease risk biomarkers mediated by serum carotenoid concentrations. The Journal of Nutrition, 144 (7), 1067-74.

Xun, P., et al. 2012. Folate intake and incidence of hypertension among American young adults: A 20-y follow-up study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95 (5), 1023-30.

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About the Author

Matthew Kadey,  MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD IDEA Author/Presenter

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award-winning journalist, Canada-based dietitian, freelance nutrition writer and recipe developer. He has written for dozens of magazines including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Vegetarian Times and Fitness.