10 Foods That Used to Be Bad for You—But Now Aren’t
Food experts explain how certain foods, such as coffee or a glass of wine, can all be part of a balanced, healthy diet in moderation.
Foods that were once "bad" but now aren't
You may have heard that coffee is bad for you, and then a few years later, you hear it’s good for you. Ditto eggs, and a bunch of other types of food. If you’re left confused, you’re not alone. Nutritional guidelines are constantly being updated based on new research that comes out—that's how science works.
So, what should you believe? A good rule of thumb is to keep in mind that not all studies are the same. (For example, food industry-funded studies can be prone to bias compared to studies with other sources of funding.) It's best to follow the recommendations of authoritative sources, like the National Institutes of Health, the American Diabetes Association, or other groups that look at all the evidence before making recommendations.
To clarify where these foods stand, we spoke with food experts who explain they can all be part of a balanced, healthy diet in moderation. (Also, check out the best healthy-eating tips of all time.)
Bread gets a bad rap because the body quickly breaks carbohydrates down into sugar. But that fast breakdown also makes carbs the most convenient source of fuel for your body. “I always recommend focusing not on eliminating carbohydrates (you need the energy!), but choosing the right sources,” says culinary nutritionist Sara Haas, RDN, in Chicago. Highly processed white breads are stripped of most of their nutritional benefits. However, whole grains are loaded with fiber to keep you fuller longer. Quit falling for these 21 other common food myths that are untrue.
A heaping plate of pasta is the ultimate delicious meal, and new types of pasta are miles ahead of the nutritionally empty white pasta you'll get at a restaurant. “The pasta aisle is an amazing place now. There are pastas that are higher-protein, higher-fiber, and gluten-free, with a variety of plant-based versions,” says Jenna Braddock, RD, in Saint Augustine, Florida. “Pasta is not an empty food anymore.” Skip the fettuccini Alfredo and try a small portion of lentil or brown rice pasta, loaded up with vegetables. Don't miss these 15 food myths that make you gain weight.
Fats of any kind
The common thinking used to be that fat makes you fat, but new research shows a more complex picture. “Dietitians view fat as a necessary nutrient for life,” says Haas. Saturated fats (like in red meat) are associated with heart disease, but unsaturated fats (like in olive oil and avocados) could actually improve cardiovascular health, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
“One percent or less” used to be the motto for milk, but that’s no longer the case. A 2013 study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests that the saturated fat in dairy products doesn’t have the same health risks as the saturated fats in meat. And because fat is filling, nutritionists often recommend swapping out fat-free milk and yogurt for fattier versions. This will keep you satisfied longer. “It doesn’t mean you should have cartons of ice cream every day, but if you prefer 2 percent or whole milk, you can definitely make that work for you in a balanced diet,” says Braddock. (Here are 17 healthy foods that you should never overeat.)
Eggs and egg yolks
For years, an egg-white omelet was considered one of the healthiest breakfast options because the discarded yolk contains the egg’s fat and cholesterol. But the current thinking on dietary cholesterol has changed, now that studies, including a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show the body’s cholesterol levels don’t necessarily increase from the cholesterol in food. Plus, the yolk also happens to contain most of the egg’s vitamins B6 and B12, as well as all of its vitamins A, D, E, and K. “Egg yolks are one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D [which we normally get from sunlight]," says Braddock.
Potatoes are one of the few vegetables with a bad reputation. But don’t let the carbs in this starchy produce scare you away. You’re not just getting carbohydrates (which, as you now know, you don't have to fear), but you're also getting more than a quarter of your daily recommended intake of vitamins B6 and C and potassium. “The potato itself is actually really nutrient-dense,” says Braddock. “They’re also really affordable and filling.” As long as you eat them baked or roasted instead of as fatty French fries, they’re a respectable addition to a balanced meal. Learn which other healthy foods are even more nutritious than you realized.
Fruit and fruit sugar
Especially for carb-cutting eating plans like the ketogenic diet, the natural sugars and carbs in fruit can be off-putting. But the body digests table sugar (sucrose) slightly differently from fruit’s naturally occurring sugar (mostly fructose). This means that fruit sugar doesn’t have the same insulin-spiking effects. But the biggest difference between an orange and orange soda isn’t the sugar itself. “The difference is the package that it comes with,” says Braddock. While soda and junk food are loaded with preservatives, white flour, and other not-so-healthy ingredients, fruit is packed with digestion-friendly fiber, plus vitamins and other nutrients. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity associated sugary drinks with a raised body mass index, but a fruit-heavy diet was associated with weight loss.
The nutrition facts on nut butters can be confusing: Sure, they’re packed with protein, but they’re also high in calories and fat for such small portions. Braddock says that peanut butter is a great option. Just remember, don’t just dive into the jar with a spoon. “It will take a lot to fill you up, but it’s calorie-dense,” she says. “It should be complementing other foods.” Pair a spoonful of natural peanut butter with an apple or another fiber-rich side to keep from going overboard. Be careful about these other healthy foods you should eat only in moderation.
Substituting caffeine for a good night’s sleep is never a good idea, but there’s no shame in starting your morning with a cup of coffee. Research suggests that coffee drinking is associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease and other conditions. “It is a plant-based food,” says Braddock. “There’s certainly the potential for nutritional value.”
Decadent as it is, treating yourself to a glass of red wine at dinner isn’t such a guilty pleasure. The key is moderation—having an entire bottle in one night won’t have those same healthy effects. (Read more about the risks and benefits of a daily glass of wine.) “It has a place in a healthy diet and lifestyle—lifestyle being very crucial there—but it can easily tip over into something that causes harm,” says Braddock. Next, find out which "healthy" foods you should actually avoid.
- Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, culinary nutritionist, Chicago
- Jenna Braddock, RD, Saint Augustine, Florida
- Journal of the American Heart Association: “Effect of a Moderate Fat Diet With and Without Avocados on Lipoprotein Particle Number, Size and Subclasses in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial”
- American Journal of Public Health: “Food Sources of Saturated Fat and the Association With Mortality: A Meta-Analysis”
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis”
- International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity: “Associations between local descriptive norms for overweight/obesity and insufficient fruit intake, individual-level diet, and 10-year change in body mass index and glycosylated haemoglobin in an Australian cohort”