Worried about coffee and certain food choices? You might be surprised to hear how many foods – and coffee – fit into your balanced healthy diet.

Any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  1. As you order your morning cappuccino, you hesitate for just a second, wondering if you should be drinking green tea instead, since there are no real health benefits of coffee.
  2. Later at the salad bar, you bypass the broccoli toppers in favor of mushrooms and feel a little guilty about not making the most vitamin-rich choice for your healthy diet plan.
  3. At dinner, you know that chicken would be the lower-fat option, but you're craving steak, so you toss a sirloin on the grill and vow to make over your balanced healthy diet plan--tomorrow.

Well, guess what? When it comes to eat-right pitfalls, you didn't do so badly today. Many foods--including coffee, beef and mushrooms--have developed undeserved reputations for being either dietary disasters (too much caffeine or fat) or, in the case of mushrooms, nutritional wimps. But the latest research proves that they, and three other maligned products, have a lot to offer and deserve a place in your balanced healthy diet plan.

Here's the inside scoop on the bad rap and the health benefits of coffee.

The Bad Rap: Coffee The caffeine is bad for you because it makes you anxious and jittery.

The Healthy Reality: Coffee With more antioxidants per sip than green or black tea, your daily mug of java--caffeinated or decaffeinated--may actually protect against age-related diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural Chemistry.

Additional research shows that some of the health benefits of coffee may also include reducing the risk for:

  • heart disease
  • breast cancer
  • asthma
  • gallstones
  • cavities
  • diabetes

A recent report in the journal Diabetes Care found that women who drink a cup of coffee a day lower their odds for diabetes by 13 percent; having two to three cups cuts the risk by 42 percent. Just make sure you limit the add-ins, as loading your cup with sugars, syrups and cream can negate coffee's healthy benefits.[header = Nutritional benefits of beef: carve a spot in your healthy diet plan for beef.]

There's no reason to have a beef with beef! In fact, there are multiple nutritional benefits of beef and a place for it in your balanced healthy diet plan.

The Bad Rap: Beef Every bite is chock-full of artery-clogging saturated fat--and tons of calories.

The Healthy Reality: Beef It's fine for women to eat up to four 3-ounce servings of lean beef a week. (The least fatty cuts are marked "loin" or "round.") During the last decade, the cattle industry changed the way cows are fed and raised to increase the nutritional benefits of beef by producing leaner meat. "Many cuts of beef are now about 20 percent less fatty and have a healthier ratio of "good" and "bad" fats than they used to," explains Sue Moores, M.S., R.D., a nutrition consultant in St. Paul, Minn.

Other nutritional benefits of beef include conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a healthy fat that may lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, control weight gain and inhibit cancer, researchers say. That means topping a plate of mixed greens with 3 ounces of thinly sliced sirloin or pairing the same portion of steak with a sweet potato for dinner may actually be a step toward disease prevention in your balanced healthy diet plan.

Not only does a modest serving provide 39 percent of the vitamin B12 your body requires daily, but it also delivers 36 percent of your daily zinc and 14 percent of your daily iron--two minerals that few women get enough of and need to be conscious about addressing in a healthy diet plan.

Choose "grass fed" beef whenever possible: it contains twice as much CLA and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids as grain-fed varieties, according to a recent study from The University of Melbourne in Australia. Omega-3's are vital to brain development and function and should be a component of every balanced healthy diet plan.[header = Health benefits of potatoes: great news about healthy carbs and the potato.]

Health Benefits of Potatoes – and Healthy Carbs

You've read plenty about high carbs packing on the pounds. Now read about the excellent health benefits of potatoes and healthy carbs.

The Bad Rap: Potatoes This high-carb food piles on the pounds.

The Healthy Reality: Potatoes A medium baked potato has just 160 calories and nearly 4 grams of fiber. Plus, potatoes ranked the highest on a satiety index developed by researchers at The University of Sydney in Australia, beating out 37 other foods, including brown rice, whole-grain bread and whole-wheat pasta, items usually readily included in balanced healthy diet plans.

Low-carb dieters often shun potatoes because they're high on a scale called the glycemic index (GI), a measure of how quickly they raise blood sugar levels. Some experts say that high-GI foods trigger hunger and lead to an overproduction of insulin, which may cause the body to store more fat, which is counter productive to a balanced healthy diet plan.

But the theory is controversial. "And, in any case, GI is only a factor if you had a plain baked potato and nothing else. Once you top it with something -- bean salsa or sauteed vegetables, for instance -- or eat it with other foods as part of a meal, your body takes longer to digest it and it doesn't cause a dramatic spike in blood sugar levels," Moores says.

While a recent Harvard study did find a slight increase in type II diabetes among frequent potato and french fry eaters, the risk was highest for obese women who ate them in place of whole grains.[header = Benefits of mushrooms and healthy chicken dishes in your healthy diet plan.]

Ditch chicken drumsticks and move mushrooms off the dietary no-no list and discover benefits of mushrooms & healthy chicken dishes in your diet.

Healthy Chicken Dishes

The Bad Rap: Poultry, Dark Meat That drumstick may be more moist and tastier than the breast, but all that fat makes it a dietary no-no.

The Healthy Reality: Poultry, Dark Meat Ounce for ounce, dark poultry does contain three times more fat than white meat, but those extra grams are primarily unsaturated. It is the saturated fats that are of concern in healthy diet.

In addition, a 3-ounce serving of thigh meat provides:

  • nearly 25 percent more iron
  • twice the riboflavin
  • more than twice the zinc

than the same portion of breast meat, nutrients that are very important in a balanced healthy diet, and contributes just 38 more calories.

Bonus nutrition tip: No matter what your poultry preference, don't eat the skin as it adds 61 calories and 8 grams of fat (mostly saturated). Leave it on during cooking, though; studies show cooking poultry with the skin on doesn't alter the meat's fat content-which is good for healthy diets--but does result in a juicier bird.

Benefits of Mushrooms

The Bad Rap: Mushrooms These fungi lack vitamins and belong in the same "nutritional black hole" category with iceberg lettuce.

The Healthy Reality: Mushrooms Mushrooms have some serious disease-fighting potential, according to a recent study from Penn State University-a great boost to other nutrients and an excellent part of a balanced healthy diet.

White button, crimini, shiitake, maitake and king oyster mushrooms all contain a substance that helps stimulate white blood cells to ramp up production of a key cancer-destroying chemical, say researchers.

The study also showed that mushrooms contribute a wide variety of nutrients to our healthy diets; just 3 ounces (about five large mushrooms) provide more than 10 percent of the daily recommended intake for riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B5, copper and potassium--all for less than a mere 30 calories.[header = Cooking shrimp: this is an important part of your heart healthy diet – really.]

Cooking Shrimp: Be Good to Your Heart

Eating shrimp can be part of your heart healthy diet – so add cooking shrimp back on your to-do list!

The Bad Rap: Shrimp They're swimming with artery-clogging cholesterol, putting you at risk for heart disease.

The Healthy Reality: Shrimp Shrimp can be part of your heart healthy diet -- really! They contain less than 1 gram of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving (about 15 shrimp). "It's saturated fat, not dietary cholesterol, that's primarily to blame for increasing blood lipid levels," nutrition consultant Sue Moores explains. But what shrimp do have may be even more important than what they don't. It is one of the few foods naturally rich in vitamin D and contains more of the bone-building nutrient than an 8-ounce glass of milk, about one-third of the daily recommended dose for balanced healthy diets.

A full 36 percent of us don't get the vitamin D we need, putting as at risk for:

  • depression
  • hypertension
  • osteoporosis
  • autoimmune disorders

Any food that provides that much vitamin D should be an automatic part of healthy diets.

If recent headlines have you worried about the mercury levels in fish, relax – shrimp is on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of lowest-mercury seafood. This means you can have up to four 3-ounce servings per week without worrying about mercury's potential harm to your – or your unborn child's – nervous system.