Some healthful foods have gotten bad reps they just can’t shake. Do you avoid peanut butter because you think it's super-fattening? Have you banned egg yolk because you're concerned about your heart health? Get the good truth about these and more “misunderstood” foods and why you should eat them—in moderation, of course. Download a Free Cookbook of Our Best Healthy Dessert Recipes!
—Nicci Micco, M.S., Content Director, Custom Publishing & Licensing
The bad rep: Peanut butter is super-fattening.
The good news: Peanut Butter is high in fat but that doesn’t mean it’s fattening. (Gaining or losing weight, and body fat, basically comes down to balancing calories.) That said, peanut butter is a concentrated source of calories, so you don’t want to go overboard. But you don’t need to eat tons to feel satisfied: just a tablespoon (90 calories) or two of peanut butter goes a long way. Plus, peanut butter provides protein and folate, a B vitamin important for the healthy development of new cells. (See the winners of our Natural Peanut Butter Taste Test here.)
The bad rep: A significant source of dietary cholesterol, egg yolks are off-limits for those concerned about heart health.
The good truth: Medical experts now emphasize that saturated fats and trans fats are bigger culprits in raising blood cholesterol than dietary cholesterol is. Plus, eggs are super-satisfying: in one study, people who ate a scrambled-egg-and-toast breakfast felt more satisfied, and ate less at lunch, than they did when they ate a bagel that had the same number of calories. Egg yolks contain lutein and zeaxanthin, compounds that research links with reduced risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in people over 50.
The bad rep: Beef is full of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, so people who care about their hearts should avoid it.
The good truth: Lean cuts of beef are a low-fat source of protein and iron, a mineral essential for getting oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body—and one many women (of childbearing age) are deficient in. There are many lean cuts of steaks: filet mignon, sirloin, strip steak, flank steak. If you can’t remember the names, pick steaks that are deep red with a relatively small amount of marbling—a fancy name for fat—to find lean cuts. Click here for a Bistro Flank Steak Sandwich that has only 3 grams of saturated fat per serving!
The bad rep: Chocolate has lots of fat, lots of sugar—and it tastes amazing, so it must be bad for you.
The good news: Dark chocolate contains flavanols, antioxidants that seem to have a blood-thinning effect, which can benefit cardiovascular health. And, recently, researchers in Switzerland reported that eating dark chocolate (1.4 ounces of it) every day for two weeks reduced stress hormones, including cortisol, in highly stressed people. But be sure to account for the calories (1.4 ounces delivers 235)—or you may be stressed to see extra pounds creeping on.
The bad rep: Potatoes rank high on the glycemic index, which measures how quickly different foods raise your blood sugar. Foods with a high GI value tend to cause a higher spike in blood sugar—and in insulin, the hormone that helps glucose get into cells—which can be a problem for some people, particularly those with diabetes.
The good news: Potatoes are a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin C. And unless you’re eating an absolutely plain potato all by itself, its GI value doesn’t matter. (It’s also worth noting that the glycemic index is an imperfect and controversial scale.) A high-GI potato becomes a low-GI meal if you simply add a little olive oil, because the added fat helps slow the absorption of the potato’s carbohydrates.
The bad rep: Coffee can make you super-jittery, interfere with your sleep and, well, it’s just not good for you.
The good news: Studies show that compounds in coffee—including but not limited to caffeine—may reduce the risk of dementia, diabetes and liver cancer. Most benefits are associated with drinking 2 to 4 (8-ounce) cups a day. That said, coffee can make some people jittery—and if this is true for you, you should cut back. You should also limit caffeine if you’re pregnant—The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology advises no more than two cups a day while expecting—or nursing.
The bad rep: Nuts are chock full of fat.
The good news: Nuts are full of fats—but they’re the good, heart-healthy unsaturated kinds. Nuts, and peanuts, which are technically legumes, also deliver other healthy nutrients—which ones depends on the nut. For example, pistachios are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that help keep eyes healthy. Almonds provide vitamin E and walnuts offer significant amounts of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. You do need to keep an eye on serving size, though: at around 160 to 200 calories per ounce, nuts do pack a substantial amount of calories.
The bad rep: Bread is bad for you, because it’s loaded with carbs.
The good news: Bread isn’t bad—eating too many refined grains is, and that’s why the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making at least half of the grains you consume whole grains. Switching to 100% whole-wheat bread, or other whole-grain breads, is one way to do that. And good news: research in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who eat more whole grains may live longer.
The bad rep: Sure, corn is a vegetable—but it doesn’t contain many nutrients.
The good news: Corn, while not as nutrient-packed as, say berries, is nutritious: it contains 4 grams of fiber per 1 cup of kernels, or about 1 large ear. Like most other yellow and green vegetables, corn is a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin.