Pork chops, beef tenderloin, chocolate? If you’re worried that these are diet disasters, we’ve got some good news! Some foods that have a reputation for being unhealthy or fattening are actually surprisingly healthy. Here’s our list of 10 foods that may benefit your health in ways you might have never imagined.
If you think mushrooms add flavor, but no real nutrition, here's some intriguing news: Mushrooms are the only vegetable source of vitamin D, a nutrient many people are short on these days. It's a small amount―just 15 international units―but preliminary research suggests sunlight may give it a boost. One study found that exposure to five minutes of ultraviolet light may boost Vitamin D levels in a serving (4 to 5 white button mushrooms) from 4 percent of the Daily Value to as much as 100 percent (400 IU). In addition, many popular mushroom varieties like white, portabella, and crimini are good sources of B vitamins like riboflavin and niacin.
If you know the right cuts―tenderloin, boneless loin chops, even center-cut bacon―pork rivals lean poultry as a healthy choice for complete protein. Pork tenderloin is as lean as a skinless chicken breast, and any cuts from the loin (think pork chops and pork roast) are even leaner than a skinless chicken thigh. Pork steaks or roasts from the leg (a.k.a. fresh ham) are also great choices. Pork is also an excellent source of B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and B-6 (pyridoxine).
If you love chocolate, you may already know that a little can be great for your health. Small portions of dark chocolate may help reduce high blood pressure, reduce LDL (the "bad cholesterol"), and reduce the risk of diabetes by boosting insulin sensitivity. The key here is "dark." Choose dark chocolate with a cacao content of 70 percent or more, and limit your portions to about 1.5 ounces. That ensures you’ll reap the health benefits without adding too many calories.
Again, knowing the healthiest cuts is key. Ounce for ounce, beef tenderloin has about the same calorie and fat content as skinless chicken thighs. Rich in protein and vitamin B12, this cut is a good source of selenium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, and B Vitamins. Versatile and flavorful, tenderloin is a smart indulgence that can be paired with myriad sauces and sides for a healthful meal. Get to know less expensive lean cuts such as top sirloin (great in stir-fries) and flank steak, a great all-purpose cut that's cheaper than tenderloin and works in many recipes.
Once demonized as an artery-clogging food, eggs have been exonerated by new research and now have a place in most diets. Packed with nutrients, one egg contains 13 essential vitamins and minerals, high-quality protein, and healthy unsaturated fats for just 75 calories. While yolks do contain about 213mg of dietary cholesterol (the daily limit is 300mg), eating a whole egg a few times per week falls within heart-healthy guidelines if cholesterol from other sources―such as meats, poultry and dairy products―is limited. If you’re watching your cholesterol, you can still turn to egg whites as a healthful source of protein.
Is cutting out coffee the best bet for your health? Not necessarily. Sure, if you drink too much, caffeinated coffee can give you the jitters or interfere with sleep. But you can also reap significant perks from coffee, both caffeinated and decaf. Studies show that drinking coffee regularly may reduce your risk of Parkinson’s disease, colon cancer, diabetes, and even headaches. Scientists also believe that coffee may play a role in improving memory and decreasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies have shown that coffee drinkers are up to 80 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's disease. In other studies, colon cancer was reduced by about 25 percent in individuals who drank at least 2 cups a day. While more research is needed, most health experts now believe that the health benefits of coffee outweigh the negatives.
Spices are an excellent way to enhance the flavor of food, and early research indicates that some spices may offer health benefits, too. Turmeric and cinnamon are among those studied by for their potential disease-fighting compounds. Preliminary studies have shown that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric powder, may carry a broad range of anti-inflammatory and potential cancer-fighting properties. However, further studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Pistachios offer more than 30 different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients including lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants associated with a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration. Worried about the fat and calories? Pistachios are one of the nuts lowest in calories and fat. (They have only three calories per nut―about half the count of most snack nuts.) Small and flavorful, pistachios make a satisfying snack as well as a healthful ingredient in many meals.
If you love the creamy, rich taste of avocados but worry about the fat and calorie content, we can put some of those fears to rest. While avocados are high in fat, most of it is “heart healthy” mono- and polyunsaturated fat. Concerned about calories? One-fifth of a medium-sized avocado has about 50 calories. Not bad considering these versatile fruits are nutrient-rich, containing nearly 20 vitamins and minerals. As long as you use moderation as your guide, avocados are a very nutritious―and tasty―addition to sandwiches, salads, and dips.
We've fingered restaurant baked potatoes as one of the foods that sound healthy (but aren't). But if you prepare them yourself, potatoes can be a nutritious, versatile, and inexpensive food that has a place in a healthy diet. One medium-sized potato (with skin) has just 160 calories and is one of the best sources of potassium and fiber in the produce section. Baked, mashed, or roasted, potatoes make a wonderful side or a base for a healthful meal (just make sure to go light on the toppings).