7 'Bad Rap' Foods That Are Actually Healthy for You

What we know about nutrition changes almost daily. Whenever new research on certain foods to avoid makes headlines, collective anxiety often ensues. And instead of investigating further, many people eliminate a potentially healthy food from their diet as a result.

Research isn’t perfect when it comes to nutrition (or in general, for that matter). Science can sometimes get it wrong, and studies are always ongoing with different outcomes. Sometimes the reporting on research is oversimplified, which can distort the findings.

As such, many healthy foods have developed a bad reputation based on one-off studies that lack rigor. In other words, one negative research claim can easily overshadow five positive ones.

Why Certain Foods Get a 'Bad Rap'

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies are the gold standard for research. Not all research is conducted using this method.

Food research is often conducted on animals, but physiologically, the human body may not always respond with the same results. This can make research claims unsubstantiated and require further study for more conclusive evidence.

There are some foods that have been deemed as unhealthy because of one small or outdated study. Many current studies have debunked some of these inaccurate health claims and have instead determined favorable health benefits. Certain foods that were once considered unhealthy no longer hold a negative stigma and can be included in a healthy, balanced diet. Here are eight of them.

Lean Red Meat

Lean Beef or Steak

Andrew Scrivani / Getty Images

Red meat is a classic example of a healthy food that has garnered an unfavorable reputation—and rightly so. There is considerable evidence linking red meat consumption with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other health conditions.

While it's recommended to limit your consumption of red meat for both health and environmental reasons, the occasional serving of lean red meat can actually be really good for you. For instance, a 2020 study showed that moderate consumption of lean red meat actually lowered the risk of high blood pressure in adults.

Another study published in 2018 found that occasional lean red meat consumption included in a healthy diet reduced the risk of heart disease in overweight or obese individuals.

It's important to understand the distinction between lean red meat and fattier cuts of red meat or processed red meat, in general. The latter contain high levels of saturated fat, which poses serious health risks when consumed in excess. Choose lean sources of red meat and other animal-based protein whenever possible.

Potatoes

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Potatoes made the bad rap food list years ago. There is evidence to show that increased potato consumption is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Some studies have also tied potatoes to weight gain, while other researchers have indicated that they shouldn’t be considered a vegetable.

Stigma still follows the white potato. But updated research has debunked old findings and positive health benefits are now reported. It's important to consider how potatoes are processed and consumed, however. The white potato is considered an important part of our diet, whereas french fries or potato chips are not.

Potatoes rank high on the glycemic index, which is why endurance athletes consume them before workouts. They are just as effective as pasta for preparing long distance runners for competitive events.

Potatoes are nutrient-dense and high in fiber. They also contain essential amino acids and are a source of high-quality plant protein.

White Rice

bowl of white rice

Doable / A.collection / amana images / Getty Images

White rice is often labeled as a bad carbohydrate. Past studies have indicated high glycemic values of white rice cause weight gain and an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.

However, athletes and weight lifters who perform rigorous workouts drastically deplete their glycogen (sugar) stores in their bodies. White rice is a great recovery food to restore glycogen levels and enhance muscle growth.

Not only is white rice great fuel for athletes, it is also known for having little to no adverse gastrointestinal effects.

Full-Fat Dairy and Eggs

Eggs

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Full-fat foods have been linked to increased heart disease, cancer, and obesity in the past. However, recent studies are now showing that full-fat foods can be part of a well-balanced diet.

  • Yogurt, milk, and cheese: Dairy fat may reduce the risk of heart disease. Consuming full-fat dairy can also help people stick to a healthy weight-loss plan, as research has shown that full-fat dairy intake can reduce abdominal fat. Other studies have indicated that full-fat dairy can help people maintain a normal body mass index (BMI).
  • Butter: Research has labeled butter as unhealthy and linked it to obesity and heart disease in the past. But current studies are now citing real butter as a rich source of fat soluble vitamins. Additional research findings show it is helpful for calcium metabolism and may also reduce risk of cardiovascular heart disease. Other studies indicate that grass-fed butter contains vitamin K2, which may reduce the risk of heart disease as well.
  • Eggs: Once linked to increased cholesterol and heart disease, now eggs increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. Egg yolks are rich in phospholipids and help maintain healthy cells in our body. Other research has shown consuming whole eggs increases metabolism.

Chocolate

Chocolate

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Chocolate has been associated with an increased risk of obesity. But older studies were based on milk chocolate and failed to investigate the potential health benefits of dark chocolate.

Current research now encourages dark chocolate as part of a healthy diet. The antioxidants in dark chocolate may also increase athletic performance. Additional findings show that dark chocolate may help reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Peanut butter was once blacklisted for contributing to weight gain. Updated studies have discovered that the healthy fats in peanut butter actually reduce the risk of heart disease.

According to research, peanut butter contributes to weight loss and is full of essential vitamins and minerals. Peanut butter also contains quality plant protein, which is essential for muscle growth.

Chocolate Milk

Glass Of Chocolate Milk On Table
Alex Ortega / EyeEm / Getty Images

Chocolate milk, which is high in sugar, has been associated with weight gain.

Current studies call chocolate milk one of the best workout recovery drinks. Research has shown that it improves muscle growth and athletic performance and helps maintain cellular balance.

Chocolate milk has the recommended carbohydrate-to-protein ratio to restore glycogen levels. It’s also been shown to keep the body hydrated and in electrolyte balance.

Coffee

Roasted Coffee Beans for Coffee Soap
Use coffee and coffee grounds to make the perfect homemade coffee soap.

MakiEni's photo / Getty Images

Coffee has been associated with caffeine addiction, hypertension, anxiety, and increased blood sugar. But recent research has discovered positive health benefits of coffee. Coffee may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. Coffee consumption may also lower the risk of stroke, especially in women.

Coffee reduces inflammation in the bloodstream and can reduce the risk of certain cancers. It also has the potential to lower the incidence of gallstones.

According to research, coffee is one of the largest sources of antioxidants found in beverages and is also linked to the prevention of chronic disease.

Coffee happens to be a great pre-workout drink as well. The stimulant effect from caffeine is shown to increase metabolism. A heightened metabolic rate helps with increased fat oxidation (burning). Other research links coffee to enhanced athletic performance, helping athletes to train harder and for a longer period of time.

Other studies indicate that coffee consumption can improve mental focus. Coffee not only provides energy, but also boosts cognition. It has also been shown to slow age-related mental decline.

In addition, coffee can help with muscle soreness. Research suggests that drinking coffee prior to exercise can help reduce lactic acid buildup. Reduced muscle pain from coffee consumption can also improve workouts. Studies have shown that coffee can actually increase energy output with less muscle fatigue.

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