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4 foods that get a bad rap

Build flexibility into your food choices

This article was last updated on March 29, 2022. 

If you're looking to change up your eating habits, do your homework before jumping into the latest diet trend

“Be wary of any diet that classifies certain foods as good or bad, clean or dirty,” says Julie Enga, dietitian at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Restricting foods can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Plus, diets (like keto or paleo) rarely lead to the type of weight loss that can be maintained over time.”

According to Enga, restrictive diets tend to zap your energy, deprive your body of the nutrition it needs, and negatively impact your emotional relationship with food.

“Yes, food allergies or certain health conditions, like celiac disease, may keep you from eating specific foods,” she says. “But for most healthy adults, restricting foods leads to problems down the road.”

She adds, “It’s good to know the pros and cons of a certain food. But people who restrict themselves have a harder time maintaining a healthy weight compared to people who are more flexible with their food choices.”

The key to sustained weight loss. According to Enga, focusing on whole, minimally processed foods is a great habit to put into practice. But when it comes to weight loss, the key is small changes that you can stick to, consistently, over time.

4 foods to reclaim

Here are just a few foods that have been labeled “bad,” and how you can include them in a healthy, balanced diet.

  1. Potatoes

    add potatoes to a healthy diet

    Prepared the right way, potatoes can be a healthy side dish. (In other words, French fries and loaded potato skins don’t count.)

    The good: Potatoes are packed with plenty of nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Including the skins, they are even healthier, and an excellent source of potassium and magnesium.

    The bad: Potatoes are high on the glycemic index, meaning they raise blood sugar rapidly after you eat them. While they are technically a vegetable, the high starch content makes them nutritionally a carb, so use them to replace rice or bread in your meal, and don’t use them to replace other veggies.

    The best way to enjoy: Dice and roast with a variety of other vegetables, like broccoli, carrots and onions. Experiment with colorful varieties (they have more antioxidants), and instead of high-fat toppings, like butter and sour cream, toss with a bit of olive oil and your choice of spices and seasonings.

  2. Cheese

    cheese has high amounts of calcium and protein

    The health benefits of cheese vary depending on what kind of cheese you eat — and how much. Avoid highly processed and cheese-flavored products, as they can contain additives and high levels of sodium.

    The good: Cheese contains calcium and protein, which is essential for building strong bones and muscles. It also contains high amounts of vitamins A and B-12, zinc, phosphorus and riboflavin.

    The bad: Cheese is high in saturated fat and sodium, which are linked to heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. However, the latest research suggests there's no significant link between dairy fats and heart disease and stroke External Site. Cheese is also calorie-dense and easy to overeat. While lactose in cheese is minimal, if you are lactose intolerant, use caution as cheese can cause gas, bloating and constipation.

    The best way to enjoy: Top your salad or taco with a sprinkle of cheese, or enjoy it as an occasional snack. The healthiest options are feta, ricotta, parmesan, cottage cheese and goat cheese. If you eat hard cheese, keep it to one to two ounces.

  3. Bread

    whole grain bread has fiber, vitamins and minerals

    The low-carb, high-protein craze has some people declaring bread the enemy. But watching your carbs doesn’t mean you have to give up bread altogether.

    The good: Whole grain bread can be a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. But look for varieties made from 100 percent whole-grain, 100 percent whole wheat, and/or sprouted-grain flours. (Just “whole wheat” or “made with whole grain” doesn’t cut it). Also, read the label to be sure it doesn’t have added sweeteners or vegetable oils.

    The bad: White bread, enriched or not, has very little in the way of nutrition, plus it’s high in carbs and low in fiber — and its gluten content may be harmful if you have a sensitivity to wheat.

    The best way to enjoy: Bread can have a place in some meals and snacks. But it’s easy to overdo it. Avoid making it the centerpiece of your meal or filling up on it before eating the more nutritious items on the menu, such as proteins or vegetables.

  4. Eggs

    eggs are budget-friendly and packed with protein

    Eggs face less controversy than they did in the past. Today, they are considered a near-perfect food: readily available, easy to cook, budget-friendly and packed with protein and a whole host of nutrients.

    The good: At just 78 calories each, eggs are high in protein, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin D, and many other nutrients including choline, which helps metabolism and liver function.

    The bad: Many Americans avoided eggs for years due to high cholesterol content. But advice on eggs—specifically, egg yolks—has changed over time. According to 2019 recommendations from The American Heart Association, eating one egg a day External Site (or two egg whites) can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

    The best way to enjoy: Pay attention to the way you cook them, using oil-free cooking methods when possible. If you’re looking to cut calories, boil or poach your eggs, and pair them with vegetables, whole-grains and lean meats.

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