Healthy food and unhealthy food are not so different if you look at it from an objective point of view.
Onions are a very tasty vegetable that is used in most healthy recipes, yet onion rings are unhealthy; chicken breast is highly nutritious, a great source of lean proteins, and eaten by most bodybuilders daily, yet a fried chicken burger is unhealthy.
See the pattern? The main ingredient is not the only thing that matters, but also quantity (a couple of onion rings on a night out occasionally won’t cause major damage!) and cooking method (eating half a kilo of grilled chicken won’t be considered a light meal!).
So, why do we categorize foods as healthy and unhealthy? Why is there not a blurred line, or some sort of common sense when it comes to this? Well, most of us have an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality; if we’re ‘on a diet’ then we can’t go out with friends for a meal out, while if we’re not ‘on a diet’ there’s no way we’ll have that chicken sandwich for lunch.
So, what is healthy food?
But, most of all, what is the food we’ve been avoiding for the wrong reasons?
Here’s a list of foods that are healthy and nutritious when cooked the right way and eaten in the right portion, but we’ve been avoiding them for all the wrong reasons!
10 Unhealthy Food List of Healthy Foods A.K.A. Foods that are healthy but have a bad reputation
1 – Potatoes
Potatoes, the most versatile vegetable there is, has been demonized and canceled from so many diets, many are surprised to hear this may aid weight loss.
Yes, potatoes may help with weight loss! This tuber is rich in fiber, which can keep us feel full for longer. The fiber in potatoes is starch-resistant, which has the benefits of both insoluble and soluble fiber; this is good news as this kind of fiber also causes less gas than other types and is acts as well as a prebiotic, improving gut and digestive health.
Potatoes are also rich in antioxidants, which fight free radicals, while their skin is rich in potassium and magnesium, which may help decrease blood pressure.
It is important though that these tubers are consumed in measured quantities and cooked the correct way, such as boiled or oven-roasted, rather than deep-fried.
~~ Looking for a tasty meal that includes all the goodness of potatoes? Try this delicious Easy Dry Potato Curry (which you will have ready in less than 30 minutes!) or this rich South Indian Potato Curry with Coconut (Aloo Mappas)!
2 – Chocolate (specifically dark chocolate)
What we must understand is that no food causes weight gain when consumed in moderation and chocolate has multiple benefits that we must take full advantage of while enjoying a piece of it!
The benefits of cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, can be fully enjoyed in dark chocolate, mainly because chocolate bars contain numerous ingredients, such as fats, sugars, oils, etc; dark chocolate is a great source of antioxidants, which are known for fighting free radicals (free radicals damage the cells in the body), and it contains some fiber as well as minerals.
Bars that contain between 70% and 85% of cocoa can also have up to 11g of fiber per 100g (3.5 oz), however, moderation is key, because this quantity of chocolate can also contain quite a bit of added sugars and more than 500 calories.
In dark chocolate we can find flavanols, which stimulate the lining of the arteries to produce nitric oxide, which in its turn sends signals to the arteries to relax, therefore reducing blood pressure and improving blood circulation.
There are also small studies that have shown how eating chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease, protect the skin from the sun and improve blood function; these however need further investigation… but they sure are a good reason to integrate, in moderation, some chocolate to the diet!
~~ Add some chocolate to your diet with these delicious Vegan Chocolate Chip Muffins… ready in very few steps and oh-so-delicious!
3 – Coffee
Coffee is one of the most consumed morning drinks, yet many try to stay away from it because of its bad reputation. Fortunately, coffee is not unhealthy when consumed in moderation and of bad it mainly only has the voices going around about it.
The most important part I suppose is moderation, as the right amount of coffee can be beneficial, while too much may be the opposite of it.
Recent studies have shown how coffee drinkers may live longer as they are less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and have strokes.
The main reason why people who consume coffee have a lower risk of suffering from diabetes (type 2 to be precise), is because the brew may help process sugars (glucose) better, while also having a higher chance of having liver enzyme levels within what is considered a healthy range, compared to non-drinkers.
Some other diseases and illnesses are less likely to occur when drinking coffee, such as Parkinson (not only it lowers the risk of developing it, it also helps those who already suffer from it control their movements), colon cancer (it decreases the chances by 26%), dementia (such as Alzheimer) and strokes.
~~ Looking for the best non-dairy substitute to add to your milk? The 12 Best Non-Dairy Substitutes for Milk | What is the best alternative to milk? How to choose it? | 12+ Plant-Based Alternatives
4 – Full Fat Dairy
For decades (yes, multiple decades as this trend started in the ‘40s) we have been told that eating fat equaled to being or getting fat, but, thankfully, recent studies have proven that is not the fact.
These studies have investigated and proven how some fats may assist in protecting people against health conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
One of the main factors to take into consideration is that when fat is reduced or removed from a dairy product, its natural balance of fat, protein, and sugar is affected and the proportion of sugar in a set quantity is therefore increased.
Of course, like for all foods, balance and moderation are key, so ensure you consume the right amount of full-fat dairy by checking its nutritional values and recommended portion sizes.
It is important when choosing a dairy product to ensure the list of ingredients is as short as possible (ie: not ultra-processed options, such as cottage cheese, mozzarella, and yogurt) and this suggestion is important for both full-fat and reduced-fat options; throughout the day one may be put in the position of having to make this decision multiple times and this doesn’t mean one should automatically opt for full fat, but rather make an informed decision of when to choose one or the other (low-fat options tend to have fewer calories while still being rich in micronutrients, so balance is key!).
Throughout history, different countries have developed their own full-fat dairy foods, as they were filling, available in most village thanks to farmers, and, because of this, not seasonal, so why would we discount a food that has accompanied us for centuries? Think of Kefir, which is made with milk, lassi made with yogurt, all of the local cheeses, or, for something less known, but delicious and refreshing, Ayran, a Turkish savoury yogurt-based drink.
~~ Fancy a curry? Try out this delicious and authentic Palak Paneer Recipe (Spinach with Indian Cottage Cheese)
5 – White Rice
While white rice and brown rice have the same origin, the nutrients they carry are different; this is because white rice has its germ (the core of the grain, which is rich in nutrients), bran (the outside layer), and hull (the hard case that protects the grain) removed, while only the hull is removed from brown rice.
The fact that most of the nutrients are removed from white rice makes it become the ‘unhealthy choice‘, while there are some instances or reasons why white rice is not the unhealthy choice people think.
White rice, for example, has a higher glycemic index (often referred to as GI), which for most people is a no-go, however, it is a great option for athletes. A higher GI means the body converts that specific food into sugars much quicker and it is known that intense and hard workouts reduce drastically the levels of glycogen (sugar) in the muscles, therefore making rice a good choice for high-intensity activities.
An additional benefit of white rice is its digestibility; the outer protection of the grain of rice, especially when not cooked correctly, can be very hard to digest and, as white rice has that part removed it can help with this body function.
It is important to note that consuming the correct amount of white rice is key to ripping its benefits, as too much can have counterproductive effects.
One of the greatest examples is its role with chronic digestive problems; when consuming the right amount, white rice may help maintain a healthy digestive system, while when eating too much of it may work the opposite way, causing higher blood pressure and fasting blood sugar levels, just to name a few.
~~ In the mood for rice? This authentic and easy one-pot Chicken Biryani will hit the right spot!
6 – Lentils
Lentils are often associated with high calories and long cooking times while being often recommended in small (if ever) amounts. What many forget to mention is that quantity (and quality) is key to all foods, as portion control should be applied to all foods, therefore that shouldn’t be a negative factor for lentils, as they have multiple benefits and nutrients.
Over 25% of the lentil is composed of proteins, making it a cheap, tasty, and nutritious alternative for meat; lentils are also extremely rich in magnesium, zinc, potassium, and B Vitamins, such as B-3 (Niacin), B-6 (Pyridoxine) and B-9 (Folate).
There is a great variety of lentils, which come in a variety of colors (like brown, yellow, orange, green, red, black) and cooking times; depending on the lentils chosen they can be cooked in boiling water in between 5 and 20 minutes and they do not require any prior soaking, unlike most of the other legumes.
All of the lentils are rich in polyphenols, which are nutrients that promote good health and may reduce the multiple factors that may cause heart diseases.
~~ If you’re looking for a meal that contains a good balance of lentils and other vegetables, while being vegan and tasty, Sambar, a South Indian lentil soup with vegetables, is a great-tasting and nutritious choice.
7 – Egg Yolk
Egg yolks are often thought of as the ‘unhealthy part’ of the egg and many toss it away, opting for egg white omelets and the likes; what we often forget is that there is a reason many refer to the whole egg as the perfect protein and the egg yolk should be consumed as well for multiple reasons, obviously while following a balanced diet.
The egg yolk contains much more vitamins and nutrients than the egg white; the main nutrients in egg yolks are Vitamin B-6 (Pyridoxine), B-9 (Folate), B-12 (Cobalamin), as well as Vitamins A, D, E, and K, the last four being found only in the yolk and not in the white at all.
Eggs as a whole are also rich in iron and calcium, however, more than 90% of these are found in the yolk and only the rest in the white.
Furthermore, carotenoids can be found in egg yolks as well, which are known for promoting eye health (also found in carrots – notice the name!) and are the nutrient that gives the yolk its bright, orange color.
On top of all of these nutrients, egg yolks are also good in promoting cardiovascular and heart health; this is because some nutrients present in them, such as choline, help regulate these functions.
It is important though to remember that egg yolks are also rich in cholesterol and therefore, like most foods, should be consumed in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.
~~ If you are a sandwich fan (who isn’t?!) you should try this lower calories take on a classic: Egg and Chicken Club Sandwich!
8 – Coconut
Coconut has long been a very debated food; while it is known for its benefits for hair and skin, it is often associated with foods that have a lot of calories and sugar, such as cakes and chocolate bars.
Yes, coconut is a high-calorie food, that is true, however, every single balanced and healthy diet recommends moderation and portion control, so why should a highly nutritious food banned when portion control could help us rip its benefits?
Coconuts are a very particular fruit, as they are rich in fats rather than carbohydrates but they are also a great source of proteins and minerals; the minerals in coconut, such as manganese, are involved in the correct functioning of many bodily functions.
Coconuts are rich in iron, selenium, and copper, as well as the aforementioned manganese; iron and copper assist the body in producing red blood cells, selenium is an antioxidant (antioxidants protect the cells from being damaged) and manganese is essential to maintaining bone health and the metabolization of proteins, carbohydrates, and cholesterol.
The fact that coconut helps metabolize cholesterol has been also associated with better control over blood sugar levels.
Overall, coconut is a very versatile ingredient that is easy to add to most diets as it is available in many forms and can be eaten either raw or cooked; it is however very high in calories and fats and should therefore be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
~~ Looking for some cookies that are not all sugar and that you can start your day with? Try these Healthy Breakfast Oats and Coconut Soft Cookies
9 – Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is one of the most famous and popular spreads, as it is versatile and it tastes delicious, however, it too suffers from a bad reputation.
Peanuts per se contain multiple nutrients that are very beneficial to the human body but unfortunately, most commercial brands, add multiple ingredients, such as sugars, trans fats, and vegetable oils, to make their spread taste sweeter and last longer on supermarkets’ shelves.
When selecting peanut butter it is important to read the label, as this can be a fairly unprocessed spread to use, made of only peanuts, which can be roasted, and ground until they turn to a paste, making it quite a nutritious choice when applying portion control.
When selecting the right peanut butter, this will be a very balanced font of energy, supplying fat, proteins, and carbohydrates. Of these, about 25% are proteins and only 20% carbohydrates, making them a suitable choice for multiple diet choices.
The fats in peanut butter are mostly considered healthy; about 50% of its fats are made of oleic acid (also found in olive oil), which is a healthy monosaturated fat that has been linked to multiple health benefits (like better insulin sensitivity).
The main vitamins and minerals found in peanut butter are Vitamin B-3 (Niacin), B-6 (Pyridoxine), B-9 (Folate), Vitamin E, Manganese, Copper, and Magnesium, however, it is important to follow portion control as 100g of this delicious spread can contain well over 550 calories.
10 – Pork Meat
Pork carries a bad reputation as it is often consumed in the form of bacon or sausages, however, this ‘other white meat’ (it is red meat) offers some leaner cuts and, when consumed in moderation, can be a nutritious addition to a healthy diet.
Pork is a great source of proteins, Vitamin B-1 (Thiamine), B-3 (Niacin), B-6 (Pyridoxine), B-12 (Cobalamin), Zinc, and Iron. Of these, Vitamin B-1 is required by the body to help perform multiple essential functions, B-6 and B-12 are necessary for the formation of blood cells and the proper functioning of brain cells, while the iron found in this meat is very easily absorbed by the digestive system.
The proteins found in pork meat are considered to be of very high quality and they help maintain muscles, as they are complete amino acids, which in turn also help improve the performance of said muscles.
When cooking pork, it is very important that the meat is cooked thoroughly as it can’t be eaten raw, as this may contain parasites; when the meat is cooked properly and it has reached the needed temperature said parasites and bacteria are killed and the meat becomes safe to eat, so there’s no need to be afraid of eating this nutritious protein.
~~ Start your day with a low-carb treat with this delicious recipe: Broccoli Pancakes and Gammon
While there is no ultimate unhealthy food list (nor healthy food list), it is important to know all of the facts that can affect our bodies when making decisions, like eliminating specific foods or food groups.
Most researches show how, unless allergies or particular illnesses or diseases are involved, most foods can be consumed and included in diets when practicing portion control and moderation, in addition to healthier option choices (ie: peanut butter with no added ingredients rather than super-processed and dull of sugars and trans fats).
When starting a new regimen there are many sources of information about healthy food and, when in doubt, it is good to consult an expert, such as a nutritionist or dietitian, who may clear doubts and offer a plan that satisfies all requirements, especially when specific needs need to be met.
Enjoying a varied and balanced diet, together with an active lifestyle, being hydrated and rich social life, is not only good for the body but also the mind.