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Avoiding Everything White: Myth or True?

Should you avoid this beauty because it's white? Picture source: Flickr, by Horia Varlan.

When the nurse at my OB’s office found out I’m a dietitian–while she was trying to instruct me on how to eat a low-sodium diet, questions started pouring.

One of the questions was: “should I avoid eating everything white?”

My answer was: it depends.

Often, nutrition messages are simplified, packaged into nice marketable slogans, and mumbled all over the media. Don’t eat anything white is one of those. While short, to the point messages are effective, the true meaning often gets lost in translation. That a dietitian gets this question is a proof the message might not be as clear as it was intended to be.

If the “whites” you are talking about are cauliflower, mushrooms, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, onions, garlic, ginger, shallots, bananas, pears, peaches, nectarines, or any other white fruit or vegetable, then no. Do not avoid these nutritious foods. They contain a plant pigment called anthoxanthins that may help prevent stomach cancer and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Oh, and some types of fish are white.

If the “whites” you are talking about are white bread, white pasta, white rice, or white flour, then yes. Try your best to avoid those and substitute them with whole grain products such as brown (whole wheat) bread, brown pasta, brown (or wild) rice, whole wheat flour and any other whole grain. Whole grains have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The latter helps you stay full longer, keeps your gut moving, may prevent colon cancer, and some types of fiber can lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

Have you seen this white whole wheat flour before? Read my review about it.

If the “white” you’re planning on avoiding is white sugar only to substitute it with brown sugar, a brown-colored syrup, or as a matter of fact, any other sweetener, then save yourself the trouble. At the end of the day, sugar is sugar, regardless of its color.

For the dietitians out there: do you get nutrition questions when people find out you are a dietitian? What are some of the common questions you get?

For the non-dietitians out there: I love nutrition questions. They inspire my blog posts and challenge me to stay up-to-date with the science and nutrition news. What are YOUR questions?

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Georgie Fear November 22, 2010, 8:03 am

    Milk! Yogurt!! You forgot my favorites!

    Georgie Fear RD

    • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD November 22, 2010, 9:44 am

      Of course! They are my favorites too. That’s why I love comments!

  • Torey November 22, 2010, 12:15 pm

    Great article, Nour! I talk about avoiding white foods in one of my patient education classes, but like you said, there are a ton of exceptions. I think it is a very simple tool, especially for those who are visual learners, illiterate, or new to nutrition. For everybody else, maybe not so useful.

    Hmmm…questions I get most often. Definitely people looking for the ‘quick fix’. “How can I lose weight?” “How do I control my portion sizes?” Sometimes it feels like they expect RDs to have some magic answer that is more appealing than the ole diet and exercise. šŸ™‚

  • Brooke Schantz, MS, RD, LDN November 22, 2010, 1:08 pm

    Great post Nour! I love that you included a little information on anthoxanthins.

    I agree with Torey and get a lot of the quick fix questions. I also always ask my clients how I can help them best at the beginning of each session and most of them respond, “I want to know what I can and what I can’t eat.” People like being told “no” and every food can fit into a healthy lifestyle in moderation :)!

  • Nicole, RD November 22, 2010, 1:21 pm

    What a great myth to bust! So many healthy foods are white, yep! šŸ™‚ I get a lot of questions and some of them are on products and diets I’ve never even heard of — the questions keep me on my toes for sure!

  • Craig May 2, 2012, 11:12 am

    So the answer is not “it depends”. The answer is “no”. You should not avoid eating EVERYTHING white.

    • Nour Zibdeh May 3, 2012, 9:48 am

      Thanks Craig. I guess you’re right. Some white things are actually good for us!

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