From stabilizing your blood-sugar level to fighting heart disease, these "bad" foods actually pack serious health and nutrition benefits

November 13, 2014

We're constantly told not to eat some healthy foods-like bananas or whole eggs-for any number of reasons ranging from their amount of sugar to being packed with fat. The truth is, many of these foods have been log-jammed in culinary court, and it's time their appeals were granted. Come on, don't eat bananas? And what could be so wrong with potatoes? They actually have twice the potassium of a banana!

These are hardly to be held in the same camp as the processed junk that is truly a criminal offense against real food, nutrition, and the human body. When Michael Pollan says "eat food," he means real food like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and even fish, meat, and other animal products. He's suggesting we don't eat "edible food-like substances." So here are 11 examples of "real food" you should absolutely be eating-regardless of what you've heard.

Peanut Butter

Research finds that people who eat peanut butter every day have healthier diets overall. Peanut butter may be high in fat, but 80 percent of that fat comes from healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. Peanut butter is a high-protein food with lots of vitamin E, niacin, folic acid, magnesium, and antioxidants. Shop for natural peanut butter made from nothing but ground peanuts, or commercial peanut butter that doesn't have trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, or much sodium.

Egg Yolks

Egg yolks are a nutrition powerhouse. They are one of the richest dietary sources of choline, an anti-inflammatory nutrient essential for neurological function. Choline helps produce the ‘happiness' hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norephinephrine. Egg yolks are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that protect against vision loss. Despite this, health groups still advise limiting yolks to four per week.


Bananas get a bad rap because they're high in carbohydrates and calories relative to other fruits; however, bananas have a low glycemic load, an estimate of a food's ability to raise blood glucose levels after a meal. Bananas are low in fat and sodium, but packed with potassium, vitamin A, folic acid, and fiber. Calories are not excessive when eating half a banana, the equivalent of one serving.

Cold Cuts

Deli meat is great when you buy brands that are lowest in sodium and saturated fat. Sodium comes from added salt and the preservatives sodium lactate and sodium phosphate. Saturated fat is also in all fatty meats (think: salami.) Consider avoiding nitrates that preserve color and shelf life but may pose a cancer risk over time, and look for cold cuts prepared from meat that is antibiotic and synthetic hormone free if that's important to you. We like Applegate ham, turkey, and bacon because it meets all of these requirements.


Beer has been a part of healthy diets since the beginning of time. It has no fat, cholesterol, or nitrates-and is loaded with significant amounts of carbohydrates, magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, biotin, folic acid, niacin, B-vitamins, and antioxidants. (Ales typically have more antioxidants than lagers.) Moderate beer drinking can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke (this means one drink per day for women and up to two drinks for men).


100 percent whole grain is wildly nutritious. Whole grains, such as whole wheat, have every part of the kernel-the bran, the germ and the starchy endosperm-intact. (Refined breads are missing the bran and germ, where most of the vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber occur.) High-fiber refers to a food with 20 percent or more of the daily value for fiber on the nutrition facts panel. Bread should be a major source of fiber in the diet.

Cow's Milk

Milks from rice, almonds, coconut, oats, and hemp are not a replacement for cow's milk. Cow's milk has 8 grams of protein per cup while those other milks have only 1 gram of protein per cup. Each serving also provides about 1/3 of the daily requirement for vitamin D and calcium, two nutrients that can be difficult to find elsewhere.


Potatoes are really one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. For 160 calories, they provide a feeling of fullness and many nutrients including potassium, fiber, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium. Because the nutrients lie just under the skin, leave the skin on but scrub it before cooking to remove dirt, pesticides, and other residues. Also, bake and roast potatoes, rather than boil, because the nutrients leach into the cooking water. Try This: Sriracha Oven Fries.

Canned Beans

The U.S. government tells us to eat at least three cups of beans every week. That's because beans are devoid of fat, sugar, and sodium but packed with protein, fiber, B vitamins, and a load of minerals. And they're inexpensive. But who wants to soak beans overnight and cook them for 45 minutes? Enter: canned beans. To reduce the sodium, buy low-sodium varieties and rinse drained beans under running water for one minute.

Canned Tuna

Fish is a highly-nutritious food, a great source of protein, B-vitamins, potassium, iodine, and zinc. Oily fish, including tuna, is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which works against heart disease. Tuna, however, may contain mercury, which poses a serious health threat to children, pregnant and nursing women, and women planning to become pregnant. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells those groups to limit canned tuna to about three ounces a week. Also note: darker "chunk light" tuna has three times less mercury than the white.


There is no need to cut lean beef from your diet. Sure, 90/10 ground beef has saturated fat, but a three-ounce portion has only 25 percent of the daily limit. Beef is packed with protein, niacin, vitamin B12, iron, zinc, selenium, and other nutrients. One or two red meat meals per week is enough and the best portion is three or four ounces. In addition, red meat should be trimmed of visible fat and leaner cuts such as round steak, sirloin, tenderloin, and flank are the best choices. Try This: Jalapeno Cheddar Burger Bite Kabobs.

By Mary Hartley, RD, MPH for