10 Foods That Used to Be Bad for You—but Now Aren’t
These foods once had a bad reputation for people trying to watch their weight or other health numbers, but they can all be part of a balanced, healthy diet in moderation.
Bread gets a bad rap because the body quickly breaks carbohydrates down into sugar. But that fast breakdown also makes carbs the most convenient source of fuel for your body. “I always recommend focusing not on eliminating carbohydrates (you need the energy!), but choosing the right sources,” says culinary nutritionist Sara Haas, RDN, LDN. Highly processed white bread is stripped of most nutritional benefits, but whole grains are loaded with fiber to keep you fuller longer.
A heaping plate of pasta is the ultimate cheat meal, but new types of pasta are miles ahead of the nutritionally empty white pasta you’ll get at a restaurant. “The pasta aisle is an amazing place now. There are pastas that are higher-protein, higher-fiber, and gluten-free, with a variety of plant-based versions,” says Jenna Braddock, MSH, RD, CSSD, LDN. “Pasta is not an empty food anymore.” Skip the fettuccini Alfredo and try a small portion of lentil or brown rice pasta, loaded up with vegetables.
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Fats of any kind
The common thinking used to be that fat makes you fat, but new research shows a more complex picture. “Dietitians view fat as a necessary nutrient for life,” says Haas. Saturated fats (like in red meat) are associated with heart disease, but unsaturated fats (like in olive oil and avocados) could actually improve cardiovascular health and help with weight loss, partially thanks to the fact that they’re so filling.
“One percent or less” used to be the motto for milk, but that’s no longer the case. Research suggests that the saturated fat in dairy products doesn’t have the same health risks as the saturated fats in meat. And because fat is filling, nutritionists often recommend swapping out fat-free milk and yogurt for fattier versions, which will keep you satisfied longer. “It doesn’t mean you should have cartons of ice cream every day, but if you prefer 2 percent or whole milk, you can definitely make that work for you in a balanced diet,” says Braddock.
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Eggs and egg yolks
For years, an egg-white omelet was considered one of the healthiest breakfast options because the discarded yolk contains the egg’s fat and cholesterol. But the current thinking on dietary cholesterol has changed, now that studies show the body’s cholesterol levels don’t necessarily increase from the cholesterol in food. Plus, the yolk also happens to contain most of the egg’s vitamins B6 and B12, as well as all of its vitamins A, D, E, and K. “Egg yolks are one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D, which we normally get from sunlight,” says Braddock.
Potatoes are one of the few vegetables with a bad reputation. But don’t let the carbs in this starchy produce scare you away. You’re not just getting carbohydrates (which, as you now know, you don’t have to fear), but you’re also getting more than a quarter of your daily recommended intake of vitamins B6 and C and potassium. “The potato itself is actually really nutrient-dense,” says Braddock. “They’re also really affordable and filling.” As long as you eat them baked or roasted instead of as fatty French fries, they’re a respectable addition to a balanced meal.
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Fruit and fruit sugar
Especially for carb-cutting eating plans like the ketogenic diet, the natural sugars and carbs in fruit can be off-putting. But the body digests table sugar (sucrose) slightly differently from fruit’s naturally occurring sugar (mostly fructose), meaning that fruit sugar doesn’t have the same insulin-spiking effects. But the biggest difference between an orange and orange soda isn’t the sugar itself. “The difference is the package that it comes with,” says Braddock. While soda and junk food are loaded with preservatives, white flour, and other not-so-healthy ingredients, fruit is packed with digestion-friendly fiber, plus vitamins and other nutrients. One ten-year study associated sugary drinks with a raised body mass index, but a fruit-heavy diet was associated with weight loss.
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The nutrition facts on nut butters can be confusing: Sure, they’re packed with protein, but they’re also high in calories and fat for such small portions. Braddock says that peanut butter is a great option, as long as you don’t just dive into the jar with a spoon. “It will take a lot to fill you up, but it’s calorie-dense,” she says. “It should be complementing other foods.” Pair a spoonful of natural peanut butter with an apple or another fiber-rich side to keep from going overboard.
Substituting caffeine for a good night’s sleep is never a good idea, but there’s no shame in starting your morning with a cup of coffee. Studies show that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other causes of death. And those benefits don’t mean you need to keep to tiny pours, either—most peak benefits come from three or four cups a day. “It is a plant-based food,” says Braddock. “There’s certainly the potential for nutritional value.”
Decadent as it is, treating yourself to a glass of red wine at dinner isn’t such a guilty pleasure. Studies suggest that resveratrol, an antioxidant in red wine, could protect against Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes. The key is moderation—having an entire bottle in one night won’t have the same health effects. “It has a place in a healthy diet and lifestyle—lifestyle being very crucial there—but it can easily tip over into something that causes harm,” says Braddock.