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Junk Food that's Good for You

Blue M&Ms

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Food dyes aren't the first thing you think of when you think about health. But bizarrely, the blue food dye found in M&Ms (and Gatorade) could be helpful in reducing damage caused by spine injuries, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that when they injected the compound Brilliant Blue G (BBG) into rats suffering spinal cord injuries, it sped up their recovery and ability to walk.

Cheese Whiz

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Trans fats are generally a dietary no-no. But one natural trans fat, known as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), is an exception; it actually has anti-cancer attributes. Cheese Whiz turns out to have more of this cancer-fighting compound than any regular cheese, according to research.

Beef Jerky

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This convenience store staple doesn't exactly have the best reputation. But beef jerky is actually packed with protein, and it doesn’t raise your level of insulin, a hormone that triggers fat storage. So snack away, especially if you're watching your weight. Just be sure to choose low-sodium jerky and opt for brands with all-natural ingredients.

Butter

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Butter has become a bad word for many diet-conscious folks, but it has redeeming qualities. Studies actually show that the fat in butter helps our bodies better absorb vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K. So let this creamy, rich toast-topper back into your life! Opt for whipped butter to save on calories without sacrificing taste.

Pork Rinds

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It's probably the ultimate down-home, guilty pleasure, but a 1-ounce serving of pork rinds provides a whopping 17 grams of protein—nine times the protein in a serving of regular potato chips. And most of the puffy snack's fat is oleic acid, which is the same healthy fat you’ll find in olive oil. Another fat found in pork rinds, stearic acid, is a type of saturated fat that doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels.

Red Wine

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Most of us know that red wine's good for your heart, but did you know that the alcohol in wine and other boozy beverages is linked with lower levels of belly fat, when consumed in moderation? Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that men who drink a couple of drinks a day have lower levels of abdominal fat than those who down more drinks in one sitting but do so only once or twice every 2 weeks. For the most beneficial varietal, opt for Pinot noir, which contains more disease-fighting antioxidants than any other type of alcoholic beverage.

Hot Sauce

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In addition to boosting flavor in everything from eggs to burritos, hot sauce may also help you lose wight. It contains capsaicin, a compound that can curb your appetite by reducing levels of the hunger-causing hormone ghrelin and by raising levels of GLP-1, an appetite-suppressing hormone, according to a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

Popcorn

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Though it's low in calories, it’s easy to imagine that puffy, white popcorn's low in nutrition, as well. However, this movie snack is full of fiber and has high levels of polyphenols, antioxidants that can protect against heart disease and certain cancers. In fact, research shows that popcorn has the highest polyphenol level of all snack foods.

Beer

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Think red wine's the only healthy tipple? Think again. Beer may not seem like a healthy drink, but in moderation—a serving or two, each clocking in around 150 or 175 calories—it actually is. The antioxidant levels in beer are equivalent to that of wine; barley and hops just happen to contain different flavonoids than grapes. And beer's a significant source of silicon, a key ingredient for increasing bone mineral density.

Full-Fat Salad Dressing

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Do you routinely order fat-free dressings? This compromise may cause you to ingest more sugar, which is added to replace the flavor from the missing fat. And thanks to those added sweeteners, even low-fat and fat-free versions can top 100 calories per serving. A bit of fat actually helps your body absorb the nutrients in veggies. So go ahead and grab some regular, full-fat salad dressing, and don’t worry—it’s low in unhealthy saturated fat.

Coconut

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What you've heard is true: Coconut contains saturated fat. However, the tropical treat actually appears to have heart-healthy effects, since 50 percent of its saturated-fat content is lauric acid, which boosts good cholesterol levels. Coconut's also a very good source of manganese. Have a small handful of the shredded, unsweetened variety as a snack or use it in baking.

Chocolate Bar

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If you choose dark chocolate, you'll be loading up on flavonoids, the heart-healthy compounds also found in red wine and green tea. So go ahead and indulge! A 1.5 ounce dark chocolate bar (the size of a KitKat Bar—all four pieces) will run you about 200 calories; it provides 2 grams of protein, too.

Sour Cream

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Savory sour cream is surprisingly low in sodium. And if you want to top your chili or baked potato with a couple of tablespoons of sour cream (yes, we’re talking about the full-fat variety) you’ll add just 52 calories and only around 2 grams of saturated fat—less than you'd get from drinking a 12-ounce glass of 2 percent reduced-fat milk.

Ketchup

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Since it's made from cooked tomatoes, ketchup is loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. While all ketchup is a great source of this super substance, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organic ketchup contains up to 60 percent more lycopene per gram than conventional brands.