They say any publicity is good publicity, but that’s not always the case with food. Once a piece of food gets a bad reputation, it’s hard to shake it. Cheese makes you fat, eggs are bad for your heart, and juice is always packed with sugar, right?
Not necessarily. Sometimes, the negativity surrounding your favourite foods and drinks is totally unwarranted. Here are eight options that are often dismissed as unhealthy, but have surprising health perks. Keep these benefits in mind before you write them off for good.
This savoury, salty comfort food classic is typically associated with unhealthy dishes like pizza. At roughly 100 calories per ounce (or the size of two small cubes), cheese will definitely pack on the pounds if you consistently start chowing down on multiple servings, but it’s not all bad.
“Cheese is a rich source of protein, and it’s especially high in bone-boosting calcium and phosphorus,” says Ginger Hultin M.S., R.D.N., C.S.O., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. One ounce (oz) of cheese contains 7 grams (g) of protein. And because, protein is known for its ability to keep you full for a long period of time, snacking on a little bit of cheese goes a long way.
Some research even suggests that cheese may provide gut health-boosting probiotics, which are connected to their own slew of health benefits.
Around the time that all white foods became the enemy, potatoes were placed on the “do not eat” list. They’re starchy and have a high glycemic index, meaning they are quickly digested and can cause a spike in your blood sugar. But they definitely have some redeeming qualities.
Potatoes, both russet and sweet, provide up to 421 milligrams (mg) of potassium, an electrolyte necessary for hydration and muscle contraction, says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., author of Fertility Foods: 100+ Recipes to Nourish Your Body While Trying to Conceive.
Plus, potatoes are a resistant starch, meaning they actually aid in digestion and reduce your appetite. “Just remember—we’re talking baked and roasted, not deep fried,” adds Shaw.
Besides being hangover-inducing, beer is certainly rich in the calorie department and can obviously impair your judgment. But the U.S. Dietary Guidelines say it’s perfectly fine for men to have two drinks per day. Any higher than that, and you up your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, mental health problems, and, naturally, addiction.
However, research suggests that moderate amounts of beer may actually contribute to healthy bones, potentially due to the mineral silicon, which is found in many ales, says Taylor C. Wallace, Ph.D., C.F.S., and researcher for The Beer Institute.
“When consumed in moderation, silicon keeps your bones strong,” Wallace says. Hultin adds that “beer contains antioxidants and is also a good source of B vitamins and minerals, like magnesium, selenium, potassium, and phosphorus.”
Studies also show that a good brew can protect your heart and boost your immunity, too.
The low-carb diet trend started in the 90s and has been at the forefront of diets ever since—but bread isn’t as bad for you as you might think, assuming you eat the good kind.
“Complex carbohydrates, like those found in 100 per cent whole grain breads, not only provide satiating protein and fibre, but also important B vitamins that help fuel your workouts,” says Shaw.
Plus, if you think bread is making you fat, a new study suggests that eating whole grains instead of refined grains (looking at you, white bread) may actually benefit your metabolism. Just make sure the first ingredient includes the word “whole” on the label, and you’re good to enjoy your morning toast and lunchtime sandwich guilt-free.
The tricky thing about juice is that some varieties are loaded with added sugar, while others are 100 per cent fruit juice. The latter is made from pressed fruit, doesn’t contain any added sugar, and can be just as beneficial to your health as eating fruit.
For instance, 100 per cent grape juice made with Concord grapes delivers more than 250 mg of heart-healthy polyphenols (plant nutrients) and is an excellent source of vitamin C. Early research even suggests that drinking pure grape juice may enhance running performance.
What’s more, beetroot juice may increase muscle power in athletes and tart cherry juice may actually reduce muscle soreness after an intense workout. When choosing a juice, make sure it says ‘100% juice in the label’ and stick to a 4-ounce serving to reap the benefits.
Not only are egg whites just plain gross, but there’s really no need to avoid the coveted yolk. For years, people have feared eggs due to their high cholesterol content, but the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines cleared up this misconception when they removed cholesterol guidelines.
Plus, research has shown that dietary cholesterol doesn’t affect blood cholesterol as much as trans fats. “Also, egg yolks contain B vitamins, vitamins A and E, the essential nutrient choline and minerals, like iron and zinc,” says Hultin.
Plus, it’s a pretty quick and easy way to get 6 g of protein. Just make sure you prepare them in a healthy way, like scrambling them into a vegetable omelet or poaching them to throw on top of your avocado toast. Frying them in butter is a no-go. (Looking for healthy recipes that include your go-to foods? Check out the Metashred Diet from Men’s Health. It’s full of meal ideas that will help you reach your fitness goals.)
“Back in the 90s when the FDA approved the use of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) in cows to increase milk production, the fear of milk being a tainted beverage that could cause cancer became very real,” says Shaw.
Over time, it’s become evident that the amount of cows actually treated with rBGH is slim, and most milk containers wear the label “made from cows not treated with rBGH.” The American Cancer Society also adds that even if rBGH were absorbed from drinking milk, it’s not active in humans, so any negative health effects wouldn’t be expected.
If you can tolerate lactose, cow’s milk is actually a really healthy addition to your diet. “It provides over nine essential vitamins and minerals, as well as 8 g of high-quality protein,” says Shaw.
As an added bonus, research has found that people who drink chocolate milk after a tough workout suffer less exercise-induced muscle damage than those who drink sports drinks or water, potentially due to the protein in the milk reducing muscle damage.
America’s most beloved caffeine fix has a pretty bad reputation because of…well, the caffeine. Consuming too much caffeine can make you jittery and cause heart palpitations, and let’s not forget that caffeine is actually addictive.
That said, you can safely have 400 mg per day, or what you would typically find in four standard cups of coffee, without experiencing serious side effects, like the heart palpitations mentioned above. (Find out your daily intake with this handy chart.)
Plus, science backs up coffee’s health perks. It’s made with water, is low in calories, contains B vitamins, and is a rich source of polyphenolic antioxidants, which have been linked to a reduced risk of developing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
By Natalie Rizzo