updated 08/07/2013 AT 2:20 PM ET
•originally published 08/07/2013 AT 3:05 PM ET
I’m often asked by my clients if there are certain foods they should completely stay away from. Of course, you can eat anything you want within reason.
However, some foods that we’ve been scared off of are actually not bad for you. Some are actually healthy, and should be included in your diet.
Here are seven foods that have been wrongfully vilified.
In the past, eggs – especially egg yolks – have been villainized by the medical community and the general public, presumably because of their high cholesterol content.
However, recent research suggests that it’s our intake of saturated fat – not dietary cholesterol – that contributes to heart disease.
Egg yolks are actually incredibly nutrient-dense. They’re loaded with calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, pantothenic acid and B12 and contain all of the vitamins A, D and E in an egg.
That being said, the yolk also contains 100 percent of the fat and 71 percent of the calories of an egg. Personally, I choose to limit my yolk intake, not eliminate it. One yolk mixed in with a few whites makes for a perfect breakfast omelet.
In my last life (2005-2008), I was a nutrition scientist for the military. I became somewhat of an authority on the effects of caffeine and exercise (and developed my coffee addiction). I was amazed to learn that caffeine is a well established performance aid, increasing physical endurance, alertness, focus, and even increases the rate at which we burn fat during exercise.
In fact, America’s caffeine beverage of choice, coffee, actually contains powerful antioxidants that might impede the development of type 2 diabetes and reduce risk factors associated with heart disease and strokes.
Studies also show that coffee drinking could reduce the risk of developing both endometrial and skin cancers, and frequent coffee consumption has also been linked to lower rates of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Even decaf can sharpen our memories and lower our chance of developing diabetes.
A landmark study a few years ago even found that coffee drinkers live longer than those who don’t. So enjoy your coffee (within reason), provided that you skip all calorie and fat-laden extras – creamer, sugar, syrup – we’ve become so fond of dumping in.
3. Frozen Vegetables
I’m not sure when frozen veggies got such a bad rap, but there are several reasons why they’re in my top favorite foods to stock up on in my kitchen.
First, despite popular belief, studies suggest that frozen veggies have as many nutrients as fresh ones – sometimes even more! The flash-freezing process manufacturers use stops the enzymatic process of nutrient loss that occurs immediately after a fruit or vegetable is picked. So all those nutrients that are lost in handling and transporting the fresh stuff to your grocery store are saved!
Another reason I love frozen veggies is because they’re often less expensive than they would be fresh, and – best of all – the prep is done for you! There’s no washing, peeling, paring or chopping, so you can make a meal out of them in no-time.
I’ve discussed why I’m such a huge fan of avocados on this blog before. A true superfood, they’re high in fiber, vitamin E, cancer-fighting carotenoids, and perhaps most importantly, they’re an amazing source of heart healthy monounsaturated fats.
Research has also found that, in addition to being filled with nutrients, avocados actually help us absorb nutrients. In one study, when participants ate a salad containing avocados,they absorbed five times the carotenoids (a group of nutrients that includes lycopene ad beta-carotene) than absorbed by those whose salads did not include avocado.
It is true that, much like their healthy-fat containing cousins olives and almonds, avocados are calorically-dense, but they’re also nutrient dense. Moderation is key, and you don’t need much for your body to reap the benefits.
Try blending avocados with white beans to make a lower calorie, higher protein/fiber guacamole.
Shrimp, like egg yolks, are another casualty of the demonization of dietary cholesterol. While five medium steamed shrimp do have more than half the USDA recommended amount of cholesterol, we should remind ourselves that the current scientific understanding is that dietary cholesterol is not the culprit in causing cardiovascular disease.
Studies estimate that greater than 90 percent of all the cholesterol in our body is actually MADE in our body, and not derived from cholesterol-laden foods.
Besides being low in fat and high in protein, shrimp are loaded with all-important omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, triglycerides and blood pressure, which are known risk factors for heart disease.
Shrimp are also one of nature’s best sources of selenium, an antioxidant that fights cell damage and inflammation, and is necessary for the proper functioning of the immune system.
In a recent blog post, I happily discussed how chocolate can be a dynamic superfood when it comes to our health. Before you reach for a Hershey’s bar however, what makes the chocolate beneficial for your health is the cacao, which is loaded with disease-fighting flavanoids.
The problem is, cacao on its own is bitter and chalky, which is why we add sugar and milk and fatty emulsifiers to make delicious chocolate. These additions contribute a ton of extra calories and sugar.
When choosing a chocolate, generally the darker the chocolate, the more cacao, therefore the higher the antioxidant boost.
Like most foods, there are good and “less good” versions. This holds true especially for popcorn. While movie popcorn (huge servings, butter and salt) and kettle corn (sugar, butter, salt) are more indulgent treats than healthy staples, simple plain popcorn truly is the perfect healthy snack!
Five cups of popcorn has a whopping six grams of fiber, five grams of protein and only 150 calories.
Moreover, it’s loaded with super-antioxidant polyphenols. In fact, popcorn has one of the highest levels of polyphenols of any plant food – including fruits and vegetables!
What is your favorite healthy snack? Tweet me @harleypasternak.