7 "Unhealthy" Foods That Are Actually Great for You
Before you bid farewell to bread, read this.
What’s better than a list of ingredients that are a lot worse for you than you assume? (Looking at you, cold-pressed juice.) One comprised of a bunch of foods that get an undeserved bad rap in the health department. And unfortunately, once something has a reputation for being "bad for you," it’s hard to make a comeback—no matter how many scientific studies contradict previous claims. Here, we consulted four registered dietitians to get the lowdown on the top products, dishes, and food groups that merit a healthy rebrand.
The old thinking in the nutrition science community was that eggs were high in fat and cholesterol, which could negatively impact your heart health. We know better now. “Eggs contain fat, yes, but not at a worrisome level— and some of that fat is good fat,” explains Alexandra Lewis, RD, LDN. “And though eggs contain cholesterol, we now understand that cholesterol in food is not directly associated with cholesterol levels in your blood.” Perhaps most importantly, eggs are filled with plenty of protein, and vitamins and minerals. So skip the egg white omelet and go for the real deal. Your taste buds will thank you, too.
When we think of frozen foods, our minds typically go right to frozen pizza, ice cream, or your grandmother’s TV dinners. The good news is that the frozen food industry has come a long way, especially in the produce department. Fruits and vegetables are flash frozen when they’ve reached peak ripeness—and when their nutrient content is highest. This means you’ll get the most bang for your buck when it comes to vitamins and minerals. “I love using steam-in-the-bag frozen veggies as a side dish, frozen berries on my oatmeal, and the occasional frozen meal for my lunch,” Lewis says. Just a few of the great brands on the market include Luvo, Evol, Amy’s, Good Food Made Simple, Kashi, Saffron Road, and Love the Wild.
According to Jennifer Patzkowsky, MS, RDN/LDN, the biggest thing to watch out for when it comes to frozenvegetables is foods high in sodium, particularly those packed with special sauces and other add-ons. “If you’re looking for a little kick and flavor, your best bet is to pull from those that are lightly seasoned with herbs and spices," she says.
While consuming too much can definitely have some negative side effects—rapid heartbeat, sweating, diarrhea, constipation—coffee in moderation has actually been shown to be beneficial to our health in most cases. According to Juliana Dewsnap, RD, LDN, CPT, coffee contains several essential B-vitamins and has been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. However, it’s important to note that while coffee isn’t necessarily bad for you, what you put in it—sugary syrups, MCT oil, and butter—can have serious detrimental effects.
Bread, starchy vegetables, oats, and so on are often given a bad rap for being high in carbohydrates. “However, your organs—particularly your brain, kidneys, and muscles—need carbohydrates to function properly,” explains Dewsnap. Besides the fact that your body burns energy from carbohydrates more efficiently than any other macronutrient, these foods contain something of utmost importance: fiber. Fiber helps regulate digestion and provides you with a feeling of fullness you might not get from a high-fat, high-protein diet.
Gluten gets a notoriously bad rap. It's also often lumped in with carbohydrates like white bread and pasta, but all gluten really is is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye that gives dough its structure and stretch. Using whole-grain versions of products that contain these grains is an incredibly healthy decision—and these products are usually a lot less processed than their gluten-free counterparts. “Only those who have Celiac Disease, a wheat allergy, or a gluten intolerance experience a negative health impact from eating gluten," says Rachel Caine, MS, RD, LDN. "And this encompasses less than 1 percent of the population." So go ahead and fill up on fiber-rich, whole-grain pasta and bread.
While not all dairy products are created equal—think Greek yogurt vs. ice cream—dairy is generally quite healthy overall. Dairy typically contains many nutrients of concern, like vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium. It can also be an important source of protein in many diets. “Even people who are lactose intolerant can enjoy and healthfully tolerate certain types of dairy, particularly fermented or aged products such as kefir, aged cheese, or yogurt,” says Caine. (Keep in mind, however, that lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are two very different things. This does not apply to those afflicted with a dairy allergy.) Dairy and health have been extensively researched and, in moderation, dairy can help with weight loss, muscle gain, cardiovascular disease prevention, and bone health.
Similar to frozen fruits and vegetables, canned fruits and vegetables are also picked and harvested at their ripest form and then immediately sent off to the processing facility to be canned. According to Patzkowsky, canned foods can be a convenient add to your diet and can remain a “better for you” option, so long as you avoid those packed with high sodium levels and in syrups.