You may have heard that you should avoid certain foods at all costs.
However, this type of advice sometimes stems from outdated research or studies that are too small to be significant.
In fact, some foods that people often consider unhealthy can offer health benefits if you consume them in moderation.
This article looks at 11 demonized foods that may be good for you.
1. Whole eggs
The nutrients in eggs may make them one of the healthiest foods you can eat.
For years, experts advised people not to eat whole eggs because the yolk was high in cholesterol. At the time, some believed eating egg yolks could raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.
However, it now seems that when you eat high cholesterol foods like eggs, your liver produces less cholesterol to compensate. In most cases, blood cholesterol levels remain fairly stable.
In fact, whole eggs may help protect your heart health by changing the size and shape of LDL (bad) cholesterol. At the same time, HDL (good) cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity increase.
In a 12-week study in people with metabolic syndrome, the group that consumed whole eggs experienced greater improvements in heart health markers than the egg white group. They also had greater reductions in insulin levels and insulin resistance.
Eggs also contain easily digested, high quality protein. They can help you stay full and satisfied for hours so that you consume fewer calories later in the day.
Egg yolks are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin. These may help protect against common age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Summary: Rather than increasing heart disease risk, eggs may benefit the heart. Eating eggs may also help lower blood sugar and insulin levels, decrease hunger, and protect eye health.
2. Coconut oil
In the past, food manufacturers commonly used coconut oil in packaged foods and food preparation.
However, there was concern that the saturated fat in coconut oil might cause heart disease. As a result, manufacturers started replacing coconut oil with other vegetable oils, including partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
However, some research has suggested the type of saturated fat found in coconut oil may benefit the heart.
For example, there’s evidence that it may increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol more than those of LDL (bad) cholesterol, leading to a healthier ratio of these values.
Also, coconut oil may promote weight loss when consumed in moderate amounts.
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). The liver takes up MCTs directly for use as energy. Animal research suggests the body may be less likely to store MCTs as fat, compared with longer-chain fats.
MCTs can also help reduce hunger and promote fullness. This can make you less likely to overeat and decrease your calorie intake. They may also increase your body’s metabolic rate more than other fats, according to some studies.
In one study in 80 healthy young men, taking 15–30 grams of MCTs (about 2–3 tablespoons of coconut oil) daily appeared to increase the number of calories they burned by an average of 120 per day.
Indeed, some small studies suggest that adding coconut oil to your diet helps you lose weight and belly fat.
However, whether coconut oil and saturated fats are healthy remains a controversial topic. Nutritionists disagree on the effects of fat and how much a person should consume.
The American Heart Association (AHA) points out that, unlike some saturated fats, coconut oil does not contain cholesterol. However, they advise people to limit their overall intake of saturated fat to a maximum of 120 calories a day, or 5–6% of their daily calories.
It’s best to consume any fat in moderation.
Summary: Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which may help protect heart health, suppress appetite, increase metabolic rate, and promote weight loss.
3. Full fat dairy
Cheese, butter, and cream are high in saturated fat and cholesterol.
However, studies indicate that fermented, high fat dairy foods like cheese don’t negatively affect cholesterol and other heart health markers — even in people with high cholesterol levels or increased heart disease risk. Butter intake, on the other hand, can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol and may increase the risk of heart disease.
Many people consume only low fat and fat-free dairy products. However, these products lack some of the health-promoting qualities of full fat varieties.
For instance, only full fat dairy contains vitamin K2, which helps protect heart and bone health by keeping calcium in your bones and out of your arteries.
Full fat dairy products also contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). One review of several studies found that CLA supplements may help promote fat loss.
However, full fat dairy products can be high in calories and saturated animal fats. People should consume them in moderation.
Summary: Dairy intake may protect heart and bone health and decrease the loss of muscle mass and strength during aging. Full fat dairy may provide additional benefits like vitamin K2.
Legumes include beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts. They’re rich in protein, minerals, and fiber.
However, some people believe they’re unhealthy. This is because they contain phytates and other antinutrients that prevent the body from absorbing minerals like zinc and iron.
This only seems to be a concern for people who don’t eat meat, poultry, and fish. Those who consume meat absorb enough of these minerals from animal foods, and legumes don’t inhibit their.
At any rate, there are ways to reduce the antinutrients in healthy plant foods.
Legumes are also rich in potassium, magnesium, and other minerals. Several studies have found they reduce inflammation, decrease blood sugar and promote heart health.
What’s more, beans are an excellent source of fiber, including soluble fiber. Studies suggest soluble fiber may reduce appetite, promote fullness, and decrease calorie absorption from meals.
Summary: Phytates and other antinutrients in legumes pose little concern for people eating a balanced diet. Studies suggest that legumes may reduce inflammation and promote heart health and weight loss.
5. Unprocessed meat
There’s some evidence that both processed and unprocessed red meat may increase the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and other diseases.
However, unprocessed meat is an excellent source of high quality protein. It has been an important part of the human diet and may be what allowed humans to develop larger, more complex brains at a time when high quality plant-based foods were not available.
Animal protein, including meat, may improve muscle function. A study in older women who ate lean beef found increased muscle mass and strength.
It also observed reductions in some inflammatory markers, although some studies have linked red meat intake to higher levels of inflammation.
Meat is also one of the best sources of heme iron. Your body absorbs this type of iron most easily.
Overall, grass-fed meat seems to be the healthiest option. It contains more CLA than grain-fed meat, as well as more omega-3 fatty acids.
When eaten in moderation, meat can provide essential nutrients. However, take care not to overcook it, as charred and overcooked meat may be harmful to your health.
Summary When eaten in moderation, unprocessed and properly cooked red meat is an excellent source of high quality protein, iron, and other nutrients.
Coffee contains caffeine, a potent stimulant. In high doses, caffeine can have adverse effects.
However, unless you have a sensitivity to caffeine, consuming it or coffee in moderation may provide a number of health benefits.
Studies indicate that the caffeine in coffee can improve mood, as well as mental and physical performance. It may likewise boost your metabolism.
Coffee also contains antioxidants called polyphenols, which may reduce disease risk.
People use caffeine to relieve headaches and enhance performance in endurance sports. It may also help with depression, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
In one study, men who consumed coffee bean polyphenols before a meal had significant improvements in artery function, compared with a control group.
In an observational study including over 1,700 men, those who drank more than 2.5 cups of coffee per day had lower levels of several inflammatory markers than those who didn’t drink coffee.
Furthermore, people who drink either regular or decaffeinated coffee may have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Scientists who analyzed 28 studies found an 8–33% lower risk of type 2 diabetes among people who drank coffee every day.
Finally, coffee may also have a protective effect on liver health. It may slow the progression of chronic hepatitis C and reduce liver cancer risk.
Summary Regular coffee intake may improve mental and physical performance, boost metabolic rate, and reduce inflammation and the risk of several diseases.
7. Canned and frozen vegetables
People often consider canned and frozen vegetables to be less nutritious than fresh vegetables. However, unless you pick and eat vegetables directly from your garden, this may not be true.
Research shows that canning and freezing vegetables while they’re fresh retains most of their nutrients. In contrast, fresh foods can lose nutritional value on the way to the grocery store. Preserving also results in less waste and less expensive products.
One study analyzed the vitamin C content in peas and broccoli that had been frozen for 12 months. It was similar to that of vegetables purchased at the grocery store and higher than that of vegetables stored at home for several days.
Blanching, or quickly boiling, kills bacteria and helps keep the colors and flavors of vegetables intact. However, blanching vegetables before freezing or canning can result in a loss of vitamins C and B and their antioxidant capacity.
However, very little further loss occurs after the vegetables are frozen or canned.
On the other hand, vitamins A and E, minerals, and fiber are retained during the blanching process because they’re more stable in water. Therefore, levels of these nutrients in fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables are similar.
Summary Some water-soluble vitamins and antioxidants may be higher in fresh produce, especially if you eat it straight from the garden. Overall, however, the nutrient content of canned and frozen vegetables is comparable to that of fresh.
8. Whole grains
Some people avoid consuming grains, either partially or totally. This includes those following either a paleo or low carb diet, as well as people with diabetes or gluten intolerance.
However, whole grains contain essential nutrients and can have health benefits for many people. In fact, eating whole grains may help reduce inflammation, body weight, and belly fat.
Oats can also benefit heart health, mainly due to their high fiber and antioxidant content.
Oats contain a unique fiber known as beta glucan, which is a viscous fiber. It may aid weight loss, as it can reduce appetite and promote feelings of fullness.
In one study, 14 people consumed meals containing different amounts of beta glucan. Levels of the fullness hormone peptide YY (PYY) were significantly higher 4 hours after consuming the highest amount of beta glucan, compared to the lowest.
Whole grains include wheat, barley, and oats. Buckwheat and quinoa are also grains, but they’re gluten-free and contain more protein than many other grains.
What’s more, quinoa is rich in antioxidants. One study investigating 10 plant foods from Peru found that quinoa had the highest antioxidant activity.
Summary: Whole grains can have beneficial health effects due to their high levels of antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients.
Eating too much salt, or sodium, can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
However, salt is also a critical electrolyte. It helps maintain fluid balance and keep your muscles and nerves working properly.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for 2015–2020 recommend that healthy adults consume less than 2.3 grams of sodium per day.
That said, some people may have problems if they consume too little salt. The American Diabetes Association recommends consuming 1.5–2.5 grams of salt per day if you have diabetes.
Results of a large observational study in over 130,000 people suggested that people without high blood pressure should not limit their sodium to intake under 3 grams per day. For these people, doing so may increase the risk of heart disease.
Some people can benefit from a low sodium diet, but it may not be good for everyone. Your doctor or dietitian can tell you how much salt is best for you.
Summary: Salt restriction may benefit people with certain health conditions, but too little salt may lead to health problems in others.
Shellfish include shrimp, mussels, clams, crab, and oysters. They’re rich in nutrients, but some people worry about their high cholesterol content.
Although shellfish are fairly high in cholesterol, eating them isn’t likely to raise your blood cholesterol, as your liver will produce less cholesterol to compensate.
In addition to being filling, these high protein, low calorie foods are rich in selenium, a mineral vital to brain function.
Shellfish are also excellent sources of iodine, an important mineral for thyroid function and overall good health.
Summary Eating shellfish is unlikely to raise your cholesterol levels. Shellfish are a good source of high quality protein and essential minerals, including selenium and iodine.
Most people typically don’t think of chocolate as nutritious, since it’s often high in sugar and calories. However, a moderate intake of dark chocolate or cocoa may provide several health benefits.
First, it contains antioxidants. According to one study, cocoa’s flavanol content may provide greater antioxidant activity than some fruits, including blueberries and acai.
Dark chocolate may also increase insulin sensitivity, reduce blood pressure, and improve artery function in adults with overweight, high blood pressure, or both.
What’s more, studies have found that the flavonols in dark chocolate may protect the skin against sun and other damage.
Eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa may provide a number of health benefits, mainly due to its flavanols.
Additionally, it’s best to choose chocolate that’s low in fat and sugar, as these can contribute to other health problems.
Summary A moderate intake of dark chocolate with a high flavanol content may increase insulin sensitivity, decrease blood pressure, and improve artery function.
The bottom line
When it comes to determining which foods are healthy, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between fact and fiction.
While there are legitimate reasons to limit certain foods, some healthy and highly nutritious foods have been unfairly demonized.