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10 ‘Bad’ Foods You Can Stop Demonizing

You eliminated these foods from your diet (or still eat them, with guilt). Here’s why you can stop all that.

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Whole eggs

Yes, have it all—the entire yolk and caboodle, and don’t feel bad about for even half a second. Those little yellow centers are nutrition powerhouses, says Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD, author and founder of F-Factor Nutrition, a private nutrition counseling practice in New York City. They are a good source of choline, a nutrient vital for healthy cell function, and contain two antioxidants (lutein and zeaxanthin) that have been shown to reduce the risks of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness. Plus, eggs provide high-quality protein and all nine essential amino acids. Now, while it is true that eggs are one of the higher sources of dietary cholesterol (and the reason you were sending yolks down the drain), recent evidence has shown that the cholesterol we get from food does not raise cholesterol in our blood, explains Zuckerbot. So stop separating, and poach, boil, or scramble a few eggs, a few times a week. Here are tricks to making perfect eggs every time.

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Whole milk

This is the milk your momma gave, and what you stuck with until the whole saturated-fat-causes-heart-disease news happened. Then you switched to the reduced-fat versions or maybe even started pouring non-dairy alternatives into your cereal. But here’s the thing: If you can drink cow’s milk, it’s a good source of protein, with 8 grams per cup (plus calcium and vitamin D); the same amount of rice, almond, or coconut milk has only 1 gram of protein or less. Whole, when compared to skim or low fat milks, obviously has fat, and therefore more calories—“but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” says Alissa Rumsey, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A little fat may help you feel fuller, longer, so you eat less, she explains. Plus, recent research has also cast some doubt on how harmful saturated fat really is for you. To get the benefits of whole milk while keeping the calories in check, stick to a single cup serving, suggests Rumsey. Here are other dairy myths you can safely ignore.

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Bread

No, no… not the sliced white. That loaf stays on the supermarket shelf. But feel free to reserve a spot in your shopping cart for 100 percent whole-grain breads. Those slices contain the whole grain, and all the nutritional perks that come with it. Refined grains—used to make the white breads—are stripped of the outer bran shell and germ (where most of the vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber occur), leaving only the starchy endosperm center. “Whole grain carbs better regulate blood sugar,” says Rumsey, “and are linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.” But bread buyer, beware: Some brands will stick “natural,” “whole grain,” or “7 grain” on the package, but are still made mainly with refined grains. To make sure you’re getting the real deal, the first ingredient should be “whole grain flour” or “100% whole wheat flour.”

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White potatoes

You worry about the high-carb content, but the root of the problem is how most of us choose to eat potatoes—as fatty fries, calorie-crazy chips, salty tater tots, or left intact, but topped with bacon, butter, and sour cream, says Rumsey. But a humble naked baked potato contains only about 160 calories, is packed with vitamin C, energy-producing vitamin B, fiber, and almost twice the potassium of a banana. White potatoes also contain resistant starch—a type that isn’t fully broken down or absorbed by the body, so it doesn’t cause the same spike in insulin as other high-carb foods, says Rumsey. To retain the most nutrients when cooking, bake or microwave with the skin on, which is where most of the fiber resides. Did you know you could clean potatoes in the dishwasher?

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Canned vegetables

Before you make a stink face, consider this: Canned veggies offer the same amount of vitamins and minerals as their fresh counterparts, says Zuckerbrot. They are also inexpensive, prepped and ready, and always available, regardless of the season. Sodium can certainly be high, but that’s easily remedied: Look for low sodium versions and/or rinse them until the water runs clear to get rid of the excess sodium content, suggests Zuckerbrot.

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Regular salad dressing

Fat-free versions may be lower in calories, but are often loaded with sugar and salt to add flavor. Plus, your body needs fat to absorb many of the vitamins and other nutrients in your salad greens. Creamy salad dressings are smart to skip, since they can contain a lot of saturated fat. Your best bet is a vinaigrette that lists olive or canola oil as a main ingredient (for a dose of healthy fats), followed by vinegar, water, and spices. Keep your drizzle to 2 tablespoons to help control calories. Here are more sneaky salad tricks to help you lose weight.

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Beef jerky

Call it the comeback snack—because it actually has come back a better version of its former self. Many manufacturers are cutting down the artificial additives, preservatives, and insane amounts of sodium, and instead offering nitrate-free varieties in gourmet flavor combos, like honey and wine or chili and lime. The other pluses: Jerky is super high in protein, low in calories, and supplies a good dose of iron and zinc, two essential minerals that help boost your immune system, says Zuckerbrot. If you’re not into the beef, there’s chicken or turkey jerky, or even vegan options. Look for brands that say “no nitrates” on the package, and stick to a one-ounce serving, or about the size of your thumb. These signs might indicate you’re not getting enough protein.

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Pasta

White versions don’t offer much in the way of nutrition, but you know that. And the first time you tried whole-grain pasta was also the last—the gummier texture and grainier taste was tough to stomach. But give it another shot. The quality of whole grain pasta has improved over the last few years, and you still get the benefits of the fiber, vitamins, and nutrients. Or better-than-white pastas include those made with semolina flour, milled from durum wheat, which is higher in protein, says registered dietician Libby Mills. Whole-wheat pasta blends, which contains both whole wheat and refined grains, are also available; as are pastas made from quinoa, kamut, amaranth, and buckwheat.

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Popcorn

The stuff they serve at the movie theater should remain in exile: chomp your way through a large tub and you can easily ingest upwards of 1,000 calories and 50 grams of saturated fat, says Zuckerbrot. Oil-popped, flavored, microwave, or prepackaged gourmet popcorn aren’t much better—they are often heavily processed and loaded with sugar or salt. But basic air-popped kernels are high in satisfying fiber and contain as few as 31 calories per cup. Pop your own kernels on the stove with a little bit of vegetable oil, or stick some in a brown paper bag and microwave.

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Hot chocolate

You’ve heard a gagillion or so times that dark chocolate is good for you, thanks to research showing that its disease-fighting flavanols can help reduce blood pressure and protect against cardiovascular disease. You can get the same healthy nutrients in a cup of hot chocolate—as long as you make it with 100 percent unsweetened cocoa powder (with a touch of sugar or teaspoon of pure maple syrup, if your taste buds prefer). Cocoa powder that’s been “dutched” or “processed with alkali” means it’s gone through an additional step to neutralize the cocoa’s acidity, which results in a darker, milder powder, but also significantly lowers the flavanol content. And as far as the instant hot chocolate mixes, just say no: they’re packed with sugar and additives.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest