Butter is an artery-clogging demon and potatoes are the enemy of weight loss, right? Well, that’s what we’ve been led to believe for the past several decades. But the more we see from emerging science, the clearer it becomes that even foods once thought to be unhealthy and forbidden can be a health-enhancing part of everyone’s diet. Here are four foods that science is showing may not be so bad for you after all…
For decades, dietary guidelines have recommended limiting your intake of saturated fats due to their link to heart disease. If you follow this advice, red meat and whole-fat dairy products are eschewed in favor of meatless diets and low- or non-fat dairy options. And butter? Forget about it!
However, even though saturated fats have widely been considered a “bad fat” for the greater part of 30 years, recent research shows that these fats and foods that contain them really aren’t dietary villains. To be fair, they’re not health foods either. Rather, a review and several meta-analyses published over the past few years have concluded that butter is pretty neutral in terms of its link to heart disease and mortality. So that means eating butter doesn’t increase your risk, but it doesn’t lower it either. Interestingly, the researchers found that for each additional tablespoon of butter consumed, participants experienced a four percent lower risk of developing diabetes.1
While I wouldn’t recommend eating a stick of butter a day in the name of diabetes prevention, a small tab on your toast in the morning? Perfectly fine. Like all saturated fats, butter can be enjoyed in moderation.
The “incredible edible” egg’s reputation has also suffered its fair share of ups and downs for one reason—eggs (in particular yolks) are a fairly significant source of dietary cholesterol.
As you probably know, cholesterol gets a bad rap due to its link to the development of heart disease. In reality, cholesterol is necessary for many important body functions, including the creation of hormones. That’s why your body actually produces about 75 percent of the cholesterol it needs. The other 25 percent of cholesterol comes from dietary sources.
Decades ago, the belief was that high-cholesterol foods like eggs raised blood cholesterol levels and in turn increased the risk of heart disease. For most healthy people, though, research shows that dietary cholesterol has a much smaller effect than originally thought. In one review, the researcher noted that 70 percent of the population experiences little to no changes in plasma cholesterol from eating eggs. And those who do experience a slight increase, it’s not only on LDL cholesterol, but HDL cholesterol as well. And the more HDL you have, the better your heart health.2
Large-scale studies have also confirmed that eggs do not increase the risk of heart-related problems. Results of a 14-year study found no significant association between eating eggs and the risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke. Another study that followed 9,734 people over 20 years showed that those who ate six or more eggs per week did not have greater risk of either condition.3-4
With all the focus on cholesterol, it’s easy to forget that eggs (and especially yolks) are excellent sources of vitamin A, folate, calcium, zeaxanthin, lutein, choline, and heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s not a food, but America’s favorite beverage is constantly caught in a bit of a cross fire—antioxidant-rich beneficial drink or addictive disease-causing vice. So which is it?
No one disputes the addictive nature of caffeine, the natural stimulant found in coffee. Withdrawal from caffeine can cause some pretty bothersome symptoms like headaches, drowsiness, impaired concentration, and even mild depression. Too much caffeine can also temporarily increase blood pressure, and excess coffee consumption can put a lot of stress on your adrenal glands, which stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
With that said, though, an 8-oz. cup of coffee contains up to 1,300 mg of health enhancing polyphenols—that’s on par with vegetables like spinach and fruits like raspberries! And most research suggests that consuming a moderate amount of caffeine (about 400 mg per day, or four 8 oz. cups of coffee) is really not bad for you. In fact, coffee may actually have protective properties against some of our top diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, and depression.5-10
Coffee is also thought to boost metabolism, and a 2012 study found that coffee consumption was linked to a reduced risk of death from heart disease, lung disease, stroke, and diabetes.11
If the low-carb craze of the 1990s and 2000s made you think that potatoes are as bad for your waistline as a jumbo bag of chocolate bars or a gallon of ice cream, you’re not alone. Most people still avoid potatoes because…carbs.
In reality, though, a medium baked potato contains a mere 160 calories plus 4 grams of fiber. Potatoes are rich sources of flavonoids, which protect the heart, boost immunity, and help to prevent certain forms of cancer. Potatoes also have a good amount of potassium and other compounds that help to reduce blood pressure. In one study, 18 overweight/obese patients with high blood pressure ate six to eight golf ball-sized purple potatoes twice daily for a month. (Purple potatoes have high levels of beneficial phytochemicals due to the pigment.) The average diastolic pressure dropped by 4.3 percent, and systolic pressure decreased by 3.5 percent. Even better, none of the participants gained weight!12
Keep in mind, I’m not talking about French fries. These are not my (or anyone’s) idea of healthy potatoes with all their processing and deep frying in oils that contain omega-6 and trans fatty acids. To keep your spuds as health enhancing as possible, bake or roast rather than fry.
As you can see, many foods can be part of a healthy diet, even those that were once considered no-nos. As with all things in life, moderation is key.
- Pimpin L, et al. PLoS One. 2016 Jun 29;11(6):e0158118.
- Fernandez ML. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2006 Jan;9(1):8-12.
- Hu FB, et al. JAMA. 1999 Apr 21;281(15):1387-94.
- Qureshi AI, et al. Med Sci Monit. 2007 Jan;13(1):CR1-8.
- van Dam RM, et al. Diabetes Care. 2006 Feb;29(2):398-403.
- van Deiren S, et al. Diabetologia. 2009 Dec;52(12):2561-9.
- Wu JN, et al. Int J Cardiol. 2009 Nov 12;137(3):216-25.
- Ding M, et al. Circulation. 2014 Feb 11;129(6):643-59.
- Ross GW, et al. JAMA. 2000 May 24-31;283(20):2674-9.
- Grosso G, et al. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015 Oct 31. [Epub ahead of print]
- Freedman ND, et al. N Engl J Med. 2012 May 17;366(20):1891-904.
- Potatoes reduce blood pressure in people with obesity and high blood pressure American Chemical Society Press Release 2011/08/31