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Healthy Living

5 Foods You Thought Were Unhealthy—But Aren't

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 05/08/2012
Last Updated: 05/08/2012

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Food fads and facts come and go. Remember when fat-free foods were the answer to everything? It wasn't too long before people began to learn that something else had to be added to make up for the loss of flavor caused by removing the fat. That something was sugar.

There's nothing like a little knowledge (and a lot of sugar) for a dose of reality.

But the news is not all bad. There are some formerly "forbidden" foods you might want to reconsider.

Popcorn. After it was uncovered that a medium-sized movie popcorn along with a medium soda was like eating the nutritional equivalent of three Quarter Pounders topped with 12 pats of butter, people avoided popcorn like the plague. But recently scientists reported that popcorn contains even more healthful antioxidant substances called "polyphenols" than fruits and vegetables. These substances have been linked to a reduction in heart disease and certain cancers. More surprising is that the highest concentration of those polyphenols is contained in those annoying hulls that get stuck in between your teeth. Another for popcorn: It's a great source of fiber and 100 percent whole grain.

What not to eat: Movie-theater-style popcorn. It's cooked in lots of oil with butter and salt aplenty. Some movie theaters also pop their popcorn in coconut oil, which is about 90 percent unhealthy saturated fat. Microwave popcorn can contain twice as many calories as the more healthful air-popped variety. (Calories may not be the only problem with microwave popcorn, either, as dangerous chemicals, used in the flavorings and ink on microwave bags, could be toxic.)

Chocolate. It used to be associated with things like calories, acne, sugar and caffeine. But dark chocolate gets a pass, because it has so many healthy benefits (sorry milk chocolate fans). It contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids, which are also abundant in red wine, green tea, fruits and veggies and are associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and stroke.

What not to eat: A big slab of chocolate cake or a daily bar of chocolate. Dark chocolate still has calories, after all, which can lead to weight gain (and weight gain increases your risk for heart problems and strokes). The German study that found chocolate's health benefits also found you need only consume about six grams a day, which is the equivalent of about one square of a chocolate bar.

Eggs. If you had high cholesterol or heart disease—and even if you didn't—you were once warned to limit your consumption of eggs. New research has found that healthy adults can consume an egg a day without worrying about increasing their risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, the lutein found in eggs can actually be protective against the progress of early heart disease. Eggs are also loaded with protein, Vitamin D and valuable vision and brain-fostering vitamins and minerals.

What not to eat: A four-egg omelet cooked in lots of butter and oil, stuffed with cheese and sausage. That's hardly an excuse to indulge in "healthy" eggs; neither is an order of fried eggs—even if you do order whole-wheat toast on the side. (If you fry an egg at home in a nonstick pan with no added fat, it's OK.)

Coffee. Stunted growth … spikes in heart disease … cancer. True or false? That's old news. The new scoop on coffee is that its health benefits far outweigh its risks. Recent studies have found that coffee contains high levels of antioxidants and may protect against Parkinson's disease, dementia and type 2 diabetes.

What not to drink: Lots of it. Heavy caffeine use—anywhere from four to seven cups a day—can create its own set of problems, like anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness. So can all the trimmings, like half -and-half and sugar, adding anywhere from 40 to 70 calories per cup (and up).

Peanut butter. Although a two-tablespoon serving can pack about 15 grams of fat, that fat is the heart-healthy, monosaturated kind (like olive oil). Peanut butter also helps with appetite regulation, since it's packed with fiber and protein. It also contains health-enhancing vitamin E, potassium and vitamin B6. And research shows that consuming peanuts can decrease your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health conditions.

What not to eat: Just any peanut butter—it's not all created equal. Watch the sodium counts, which can range from 40 to 250 milligrams per tablespoon serving. Sugar, too, can be an issue, and is more prevalent in the reduced-fat varieties.

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Love this!

Great list, I always wondered about these foods. Just the other day when I was fixing omlettes, I remembered the scare about eggs and cholesterol. My German blooded mother would have disagreed with you on the coffee though. I would say she had anywhere between 4-5 pots per day. She began drinking it when she was 9. :)

Wow, 4-5 pots a DAY? Did she share those with friends? Nine years old is mighty young to start drinking coffee...I didn't develop a taste for it until I was well into my college years. I wonder if she drank it with lots of sugar and milk.

Very enlightening information. Thank you for explaining the news and hazards associated with these foods.

Glad to be of service, Heather. Hope you learned something here.

Good to hear the real truth about often-maligned foods.
Thanks! Love the way you write!

Thanks, Lila! Appreciate the comments.

I could live on kettle corn, which of course isn't as good for you as plain popped, but still better than the movie theater variety. Lately we've been using half almond butter, half peanut butter to keep the sodium down.

I, too, love kettle corn, and sometimes will sneak a little into the movie theater so I don't have to be tempted with the smell of popcorn. Good idea to mix almond and peanut butters - think I'll try that!

I have a CHOCOLATE FOREVER sticker posted on my forehead. Glad to hear I can indulge again. As for popcorn, however, hem-hem. I would advise avoiding microwave bags because the inside of most brands is treated with a chemical that is very, very bad for people. It stays in your body, increasing your body burden. There is one brand that does not use it, but I forget the name, so I avoid microwave popcorn, period. The second issue is GMO corn. Most corn in the USA is, unfortunately, GMO. We need to avoid GMOs. Why? They have not been adequately tested. Tests on rodents show that future generations have deformities. This has not been proved, but when in doubt .... at least make sure to demand that GMOs get labeled so those of us who chose to have viable descendants can avoid the stuff. Many countries in Europe have outlawed GMOs. So far the very powerful Monsanto chemical lobby has managed to contribute enough $ so that our Congress resists labels. 80% of the food in supermarkets is now GMO. Personally, I try to avoid processed food, and send my son $ so that he can feed his kids real food, from the farmers' market and health food store.

Thanks for your comment and your passion, Alexandra. Always good to hear how people are protecting themselves and those they love.

So funny! I'm writing on this very topic right now and many of the foods you mention match so I know I'm on track.

That IS funny. I wonder what other foods you are including. Do tell.

Gotta love this post. You mentioned all of my fave foods.

Isn't it nice when you can actually EAT your favorite foods without guilt?!

Regarding the egg frying: check your manufacturer's instructions on whether it's safe to heat your nonstick pan "dry" - that is, without any fat or other liquid in it. Dry heat on older versions can potentially affect the chemicals in the nonstick coating, and you really don't want to be ingesting that stuff. You can use LESS fat, but you gotta use something.

I do love popcorn, but never get the "buttery topping" (lord knows what that is). My other offender is coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Great post. What's interesting about movie popcorn is that whenever I ask the attendant if the popcorn has any topping on it or is it naked, they said, at first, that it's naked. So I then ask again, "So there's nothing on it at all?" That's when they say, "Of course. There's a little oil." Right, a little oil. Some theaters serve naked popcorn and you can lightly sprinkle garlic, hot pepper and other fat free toppings. But few theaters carry this kind of popcorn.

I like my own popcorn over the movie concession kind. But I also like slathering it in butter and salt too, every once in a while.

Very interesting. I do not eat any of these foods much, except of course the chocolate! I try to remember to eat dark chocolate (though I'm a milk choco fan).

Milk interferes with antioxidant absorption. That is why dark chocolate is so much better for you. You have got to try Xocai, it does not have that strong dark chocolate taste.

Chocolate ! Not a bad word anymore ! I eat it everyday. Xocai has an abundant amount of flavonoids. Doing my body good everyday. Best prescription any day !

From what I've been told / read from multiple sources Coconut Oil is very beneficial for you


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