Healthy eating isn't just about chia and quinoa. Find out which four “old school” foods are regaining their nutritious reputations. (Hint: Potato lovers, rejoice!)
Everything old is new again—that goes for food, too. As nutrition science and culinary trends evolve, certain foods pop into the spotlight, just as quickly fall from grace, and sometimes reappear under new branding (hello, dried plums!).
After languishing on the back burner for years (even decades, in some cases), these four foods are making a comeback thanks to rediscovered nutrition, economic, and culinary benefits.
What happened: Once upon a time, the good old baked potato was considered a healthy side dish at home and in restaurants. But when starchy vegetables got the cold shoulder from low-carb fans and the “eat the colors of the rainbow” nutrition mantra took off, potato’s health-food status undeservedly diminished.
What we’ve always known: One medium cooked potato with the skin on provides 13 percent of the recommended daily value for fiber, 24 percent for vitamin C, 23 percent for B6, and 23 percent for potassium, which plays a key role in regulating blood pressure. That’s impressive, especially considering that fiber and potassium are two of four nutrients most likely to be deficient in Americans’ diets (calcium and vitamin D are the other two).
What’s new: Recent research about the potato’s health benefits is restoring it to its former glory. Despite their white color, white potatoes do contain phytochemicals just like their brighter-hued fruit and vegetable cousins.
Enjoy: Whether mashed, pan-fried, baked, or roasted, potatoes are worth eating when prepared and served with other healthy ingredients. To get the most nutrients out of your tater, keep the skin on.
What happened: You probably remember seeing a half cantaloupe filled with a scoop of cottage cheese—for years, the uninspired diet option on diner menus.
What we’ve always known: A one-half cup serving of low-fat cottage cheese provides a whopping 14 grams of protein for only 90 calories (nutrition facts vary by brand). A half-cup serving also offers about 10 percent of the daily value for calcium.
What’s new: Because protein is the nutrition world’s current rock star, protein-rich cottage cheese is popular again. Considerable evidence shows protein’s role in helping people to feel fuller for a longer period of time, making cottage cheese a great food for weight management. It’s also easy to prepare and eat, making it ideal for on-the-go breakfasts, lunches, and snacks.
Enjoy: Choose low-fat options with no added sugars. Boost flavor to your heart’s content with natural, whole foods, or herbs and spices; it works well with savory and sweet flavors.
What happened: Tuna-fish sandwiches were a brown-bag staple for a generation of school-age children because moms and dads knew they’d be hard-pressed to find a more practical and economical source of lean protein. But canned foods lost luster in the rise of the farm- (or ocean-)to-table movement, while fresh fish skyrocketed to superfood status.
What we’ve always known: Nutrition science has long reinforced fish as a protein source that’s lower in calories and saturated fat than other meats—qualities now combined with more recent news on the heart-healthy omega-3 fats found in some fish species, including salmon and sardines.
What’s new: After fresh fish started tipping the scale at $20 or $30 per pound, the 2008 recession forced consumers to make smarter, thriftier nutrition choices—and the secret got out: Canned tuna, sardines, and salmon offer all the same health benefits as their fresh counterparts but at a fraction of the cost. In addition to its revival as an ideal lunch bag staple, canned fish now appears in sophisticated recipes, such as grilled sardines, salmon cakes, and salad nicoise, leading to significant savings in time and money.
Enjoy: Choose BPA-free canned brands that source sustainable species, which helps protect ocean wildlife while remaining considerably less expensive than fresh fish.
What happened: If ever there was a lunch classic, it’s the peanut-butter sandwich (with or without jelly). For years, though, adults traded in this iconic childhood staple for more urbane options, such as sliced deli meats and cheeses.
What we’ve always known: Peanut butter (as well as other nut butters) contain—in one food—the unique combination of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats, as well as vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. And it’s delicious.
What’s new: For both health and sustainability reasons, more and more adults are adopting a more plant-based diet, leading many to re-embrace this childhood favorite. A new analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that people who regularly eat nuts, including peanuts, are less likely to die from heart disease, cancer, or respiratory diseases. And though new-gen nut butters, such as cashew and almond, offer similar nutrients, peanut butter remains the least expensive in class. With savings, nutrition, and deliciousness, peanut butter is poised to go beyond childhood icon to lifelong food.
Enjoy: Choose nut butters with little to no added sugars or oils.