5 Foods You Thought Were Unhealthy – But Aren’t

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You might have recently read my article, 5 Foods That Sound Healthy – But Aren’t. Did I sink your spirits by making you feel guilty about your gastronomic delights? Did I take away all your particular pleasures?

Well, here’s some good news: There’s a flip side to that. You know those foods you don’t let yourself eat? The ones you think are harmful, fattening and will transform you into an unhealthy mess? They’re not unhealthy, after all. And they may even be good for you. Read more to get some healthy food ideas.

1. Popcorn. Remember when all the news was bad? People avoided popcorn like the plague when it was reported that eating a medium-sized movie popcorn washed down with a medium soda was like consuming three Quarter Pounders topped with 12 pounds of butter. Horrors! But popcorn’s tarnished reputation was saved when other evidence surfaced. Scientists reported that it contained more healthful antioxidant substances, known as polyphenols, than fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols have been linked to a reduction in heart disease and certain cancers. And no need to curse those pesky hulls that get stuck between your teeth: that’s where the highest concentration of those polyphenols is hidden. Popcorn is also a great source of fiber and it’s 100 percent whole grain.

But don’t make it unhealthy: Stay away from movie-theater-style popcorn, which is cooked in lots of oil. Oh, and don’t forget the butter and salt that it’s frequently topped with. Also, beware of some microwave popcorn, which can contain twice as many calories as the more healthful air-popped variety.

2. Eggs. Up until recently, the word “egg” went together with “cholesterol” like “horse” went with “buggy.” Stay away from eggs if you have high cholesterol or heart disease, doctors warned. Even if you don’t, limit your consumption, they said.

But there apparently was a crack in that reasoning. New research finds that it’s okay for healthy adults to eat one egg a day without any worry about the increased risk of heart disease. The lutein found in eggs, says the American Heart Association, may actually be protective against the progress of early heart disease. Eggs are also packed with health-boosters like protein, Vitamin D and valuable vision and brain-boosting vitamins and minerals.

But don’t make it unhealthy: Just because eggs get the green light, it doesn’t mean you should indulge in a four-egg omelet cooked in lots of butter, stuffed with cheese and sausage. Better to order an omelet consisting of 3 egg whites and one whole egg, cooked dry, piled with veggies and a sprinkling of low-fat cheese.

3. Chocolate. This sweet treat used to be linked with words like sugar, acne, calories and caffeine. But dark chocolate deserves a break with its many health benefits. Hidden inside are powerful antioxidants, known as flavonoids, which are also abundant in fruits and veggies, red wine and green tea. Flavonoids are associated with a decreased risk of high blood pressure, cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke.

But don’t make it unhealthy: Sorry, but this good news doesn’t give you license to dig into a big slab of chocolate cake nor a daily bar of chocolate. Dark chocolate, while healthy, still contains calories, which can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The same German study that reported on chocolate’s health benefits also found you only need to consume about six grams a day – the equivalent of about one square of a chocolate bar. Savor. Each. Bite.

4. Coffee. There’s nothing like that first cup of coffee in the morning. But after that, all bets were off we should have another. After all, coffee causes stunted growth, spikes in heart disease and cancer. Right? Wrong. That’s old news. Now the scoop on coffee is that its health perks, like a high level of antioxidants, far outweigh its risks. In fact, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S., say researchers at the University of Scranton (this applies to both caffeinated and decaf). Turns out that cup of java may protect against ills like Parkinson’s disease, dementia and type-2 diabetes and liver and colon cancer, too.

But don’t make it unhealthy: Too much of a good thing can cause other problems, like stomach pains, anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness. So can all the things you might add to your cup, like sugar, cream and flavored creamers – anywhere from 40 to 70 calories per cup.

5. Peanut Butter. Yes, it has a lot of fat: just two tablespoons has 3.3 grams of saturated fat and 12.3 grams of unsaturated fat. Saturated fat in food is not a villain, though. The body responds to it by revving up the amounts of protective HDL (“good” cholesterol) it circulates. Some saturated fat is okay – in moderation. But because it’s mostly unsaturated fat, peanut butter can be touted for its ability to help reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and lower your risk of heart disease.

Peanut butter’s other healthy bonuses include fiber, vitamin E, vitamin B6 and potassium.

But don’t make it unhealthy: All peanut butter is not created equal. Pay attention to the sodium counts, which can range anywhere from 40 to 250 milligrams per tablespoon serving (Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend keeping sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day). Watch for added sugar, too, which can be more prevalent in the non-fat and reduced-fat varieties of peanut butter.

Sheryl Kraft writes about all things health, covering topics like wellness, nutrition, breast cancer, fitness and how to look and feel your best. She believes in taking charge of your own health and as such, strives to provide and disseminate the most current and up-to-date information in a clear and concise way. Sheryl blogs at healthywomen.org and www.mysocalledmidlife.net. She lives in her empty nest in Fairfield Country, with husband Alan, an advertising executive. Follow Sheryl on Google+.

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