In one of the tragic twists of modern eating, it seems that the foods most likely to bring us pleasure are also most likely to bring us poor health. Our lust for fat, salt and sugar was once necessary to boost our ancestors' chance of survival; but the first-world abundance of foods rife with such ingredients seems to be having a counter-effect thanks to food-related heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even cancer.
But sometimes research proves that it’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to eating delicious foods with a bad reputation. The following foods defy conventional wisdom about healthy choices.
1. Hot chocolate
Hot chocolate as health food? We kid you not. As dark chocolate continues its rise as a health food star, its cousin, hot chocolate, gets a boost too. In fact, researchers have found that it may even exceed plain old chocolate in terms of the health benefits it has to offer. Just avoid the chemical-laden instant mixes and opt for a natural one, or make one of these 5 healthy hot cocoa recipes.
The salty little fishy fish may seem more of a sodium bomb than a health food, but anchovies come packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to offer protection against everything from heart disease to depression. Anchovies deliver as many grams of omega-3s as salmon and nearly twice as much as halibut. Of course, few people are going to eat the same serving size of anchovies as they would a piece of salmon, but you can add them to many things to increase your consumption. And best of all, unlike salmon and other large fatty fish, anchovies are not overfished and are notably low in mercury and other toxins.
Coffee’s reputation took a nosedive a few decades ago when research linked its consumption with pancreatic cancer; yet recent studies have not found the same connection. Yes, the Mayo Clinic notes that an excess of 500 to 600 milligrams of caffeine a day (roughly five to six cups of brewed coffee) may cause insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, stomach upset, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors; but the array of health benefits attributed to coffee is rather astounding. From lowering cancer and diabetes risk to decreasing depression and lengthening longevity, for some coffee may be a bona fide health food. Read more in Coffee: Friend or foe?
Eggs became a big no-no because of concerns about cholesterol, but there have been many studies since those dark days suggesting that eggs are not that naughty. Which is great news, because eggs are incredible little powerhouses of nutrients. For 70 calories, you get six grams of excellent protein, plus a healthy number of other important nutrients. See Egg nutrition: Get the facts for more.
Potatoes that are immersed in a deep fat fryer are obviously not going to make it on the healthy list; the same goes for a baked potato saturated with butter and topped with a Matterhorn of sour cream, or mashed potatoes with butter and cream, or ones baked twice with piles of cheese. But that doesn’t mean potatoes should be denied. In fact, one medium baked potato with the skin contains 45 percent of the daily value for vitamin C; more potassium (620 mg) than bananas, spinach or broccoli; 10 percent of the daily value of B6; and trace amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, phosphorous, iron and zinc. All of that for a mere 100 calories, with no fat, sodium, or cholesterol. (Just watch the butter.)
Of course drinking alcohol isn’t healthy, except for when it is; which is when it’s red wine consumed in moderation. They Mayo Clinic says that the alcohol and antioxidants in red wine may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of "good" cholesterol and protecting against artery damage. Many studies have backed up the claims. That said, too much alcohol can have harmful effects as well, so moderation is the key. See Abstaining from alcohol significantly shortens life for more on boozing for health.
Chips and guacamole are high in calories, there is no question about that, but don’t avoid avocados for that reason alone. Avocados are indeed higher in fat than most fruits, but it’s the heart-healthy, monounsaturated kind of fat, the kind that helps lower both total cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol. Avocados contain important carotenoids, a lot of vitamin E and potassium, and some fiber as well. When transformed into guacamole, some of the fat is cut and swapped with jalapeno, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, onions, and lime; all of which hold their own impressive positions in a healthy menu line-up. Read about the dip’s history in Who invented guacamole?
It’s unlikely that many of you are going around thinking that watermelon is junk food, but it might surprise you to learn that it really is a nutritional bonanza. Given its high percentage of water (92 percent, in fact) watermelon is often passed over as nutritionally insipid, when in fact, it is an excellent source of the powerful antioxidant lycopene, in addition to being a good source of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.