There's a long list of foods you may think are off limits. And they range from the indulgent—wine, chocolate—to recently trending culprits, like fruit. You may even skip eating certain veggies if you think some are less healthy than others. Happily, you don't have to stop eating these seven delicious and healthy options that have gotten a bit of a bad reputation. They can be nutritious, decrease your risk of chronic diseases, save you time and money, and boost your overall satisfaction. Now those are foods we can get behind.
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Unfortunately, bananas have a bad reputation for being a carb-rich fruit. But that's actually one reason they're so great. Research shows that eating bananas can be just as good as drinking a sports drink in fueling exercise performance. Outside of exercise, they're a good source of potassium, one of the nutrients people tend to fall short on, which is essential to help regulate blood pressure. Plus, bananas (especially the greener ones) contain resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that may improve your gut microbiome and help keep you slim.
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Many people think fresh is best when it comes to vegetables. But if you believe canned or frozen are subpar, think again. They're actually just as nutritious as fresh, 2014 research in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine shows, but they're often a more affordable option and you can always have some on hand. Plus, you literally won't throw your money away like you do when you forget to use the fresh produce in your fridge. While eating in-season fresh vegetables is great, keeping some canned options on hand means your pantry is ready to go when you need a healthy dinner in a pinch. And, some canned veggies are actually higher in nutrients than their fresh counterparts. Canned tomatoes are higher in the antioxidant lycopene, compared to fresh, and canning corn also boosts its antioxidant activity. Make sure you choose no-salt-added or low-sodium options when possible, like Del Monte No Salt Added Whole Kernel Corn.
Try It: Chocolate Zucchini Brownies
You probably know this from experience already, but eating chocolate can actually make you happier. A review of eight studies found that compounds in chocolate (including cocoa flavanols) boosted brain function. Participants also reported that they had happier moods following a chocolate fix—or it was, at the very least, able to turn a bad attitude around. What's more, people who eat chocolate regularly have a 29 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who abstain, additional research shows. You knew your heart loved it. The darker the chocolate, the more good-for-you flavanols it contains.
Have you thought about cutting back because of the caffeine? A daily cup or two of coffee (or more) could actually help keep you sharp. In a study on more than 6,000 women published in the Journals of Gerontology, those who reported they consumed more than 261 mg of caffeine a day (that's a little bit more than a tall order from Starbucks) were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia or cognitive impairment compared to people drinking 64 mg of caffeine (less than a half-cup per day). Caffeine may offer neuroprotective properties that affect anxiety, memory and cognitive performance.
A daily drink can do you good. A large study published in 2017 on more than 300,000 adults reported that people who are light or moderate tipplers are as much as 22 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer or heart disease, compared to teetotalers. (Heavy consumption increases these risks, so always practice moderation. That's one drink per day for women and two for men.) Polyphenols as well as the alcohol itself may be responsible for the potential benefits seen with moderate drinking.
Try It: Spaghetti with Broccolini Pesto
You may shy away from the spaghetti Bolognese, but why? If you're worried about weight gain, know that researchers looked at the role pasta plays in the context of a Mediterranean diet on over 14,000 people and published their findings in 2016 in Nutrition & Diabetes. They found that those who ate more pasta were better able to stick to that style of eating, vital because a Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of conditions like heart disease and cognitive decline. Also important: pasta eaters had lower BMIs and smaller waistlines. Just be sure to stick to vegetable-based sauces, like marinara, rather than cream-heavy ones, like Alfredo. And serve your pasta alongside veggies and protein for a more balanced plate.
Try It: Berry & Flax Smoothie
In addition to bananas, people have been skeptical of eating berries, melons, apples or any fruit because of the sugar they contain. The good news for fruit lovers? People who eat fresh fruit every day have lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels, according to a 2016 study in The New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, eating fruit is associated with a 40 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 25 percent lower risk for stroke compared to those who shy away from fruit. "Nature's candy" offers ticker-protective potassium, fiber, folate and antioxidants. Plus, the sugar in fruit is natural and packaged together with fiber to help slow the absorption of sugar into your blood (read: less spikes and dips in blood sugar). Now's the perfect time to whip up a smoothie at home.