Have you been depriving yourself of eggs, pasta…or chocolate? Well, maybe you shouldn't be. Research reveals that some foods we typically think of as "bad" really aren't. And nutritionists tell us that there's room for more of these in our everyday diets. The trick is knowing how much of them to eat—and how often.
Eggs. This breakfast staple gets a bad rap because of the cholesterol content in yolks. But eggs—and yolks in particular—are a good source of protein and vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin A and iron), says Laura Cipullo, a New York-based registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. Plus, a 2011 study from the University of Alberta found that eggs' antioxidant properties may help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. If you're generally healthy, and don't have high cholesterol, there's no need to only eat egg-whites—or to avoid eggs altogether. "My suggestion is always to have one whole egg and then add an egg white," Cipullo says. That way you're getting the nutrient-rich yolk but not overdoing the cholesterol.
Popcorn. Yep, this popular snack is good for you. In fact, it contains more healthful antioxidant substances called "polyphenols" than fruits and vegetables, finds 2012 research presented at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting. Just don't pile on the butter or the salt. And be careful with microwave popcorn, as it can pack in trans fats and sodium. "If you buy your own kernels or get your own air popper, you can have a healthy snack," says Cipullo. Try topping popcorn with almonds, which promote fullness.
White potatoes. Don't be afraid of this American favorite. White potatoes are the biggest and most affordable sources of potassium when compared to other vegetables and fruits, finds a 2011 study from the University of Washington (and funded by the United States Potato Board). The skins of these spuds are full of fiber, says Cipullo, so keep them on when you cook. (Baking or steaming are great options.) One more hint: Potatoes are best in their natural state, says Cipullo, so avoid the fatty toppings. If you need to whip them up with something, try skim milk or Greek yogurt.
Pasta. Just makes sure it's a whole-grain variety, says Jessica Shapiro, a registered dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, while refined grains have been milled, which improves their shelf life but also strips out nutrients. "You're going to be getting the B vitamins from the whole grains and the fiber from the whole grains," Shapiro explains. Plus, you'll be helping yourself meet federal dietary guidelines, which recommend that at least half of the grains you eat each day are whole.
Chocolate. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, and it's been shown in studies to be associated with lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease. Plus, regular chocolate-eaters were shown to be slightly skinnier than those who ate the sweet treat less often, according to 2012 research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. That study doesn't mean that chocolate consumption can help you lose weight, but it does mean that you shouldn't feel guilty about small indulgences. If you have a healthy diet, eating about 20 grams of chocolate (about half of a regular-size bar) is okay, says Monica Bearden, a registered dietitian and author of Chocolate—A Healthy Passion. And as long as the chocolate is at least 60 percent cocoa, as little as 5 grams (the size of one Hershey's kiss) can be beneficial. "It's so important to eat those foods that you enjoy so you don't feel deprived," Bearden says. Just don't overdo it.
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Alcohol. Research suggests that resveratrol—found in small quantities in red wine and grapes—may protect against a range of illnesses including heart disease. But moderate consumption of other types of alcohol, such as beer, may also have health benefits, probably by way of increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol. The key is not to overindulge, according to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). That's because heavy drinking can damage your liver and heart, contribute to depression, and increase the risk of developing some cancers. So women should have no more than one drink per day, and men should have no more than two. Of course, if you don't drink already, you don't need to start. You can get similar cardiovascular benefits from exercise and a healthy diet, the HSPH notes.