From Food Vice to Virtue

It's not easy to shed a "bad boy" reputation, but new research is helping these 10 former food baddies climb back into nutritional favor.

  • Avocados
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D., Photo: Annabelle Breakey; Styling: Karen Shinto

    Avocados

    Once shunned for their high fat content, avocados are regaining favor because the fat they harbor is mostly the heart-healthy monounsaturated kind. Researchers find that nutrients and phytochemicals in avocados inhibit growth of oral and prostate cancer cells in the lab. Nutrition bonus: Add avocados to meals and their fat makes it easier to absorb disease-fighting compounds from other veggies.

    What they offer you: One quarter of an avocado wraps up protein, assorted antioxidants, fiber (3 grams), and heart-healthy fat into one 75-calorie bite.

    Recipe: Avocados with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

  • Eggs
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D., Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Cindy Barr

    Eggs

    Long maligned for their cholesterol, eggs are in the spotlight these days as potential disease fighters. Studies find antioxidants and nutrients in the yolk can do everything from battle serious eye disease to improve neurological health. Plus, a recent report finds that eating one egg per day contributes less than one percent risk for heart disease, far less than the real damage doers: smoking, obesity, and inactivity.

    What they offer you: High quality protein and over 12 nutrients packed into an antioxidant-rich 74 calorie package.

    Recipe: Poached Eggs with Buttery Multigrain Toast

  • Popcorn
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D.

    Popcorn

    Popcorn may be chock full of the same phytochemicals that make brown rice and other whole grains great for disease prevention and weight maintenance. But a cloud of fat and salt often obscures things. The good news: the Dietary Guidelines now promote plain popcorn as a legit whole grain serving. And researchers find it an o.k. nibble for people with diverticular disease.

    What it offers you: An ounce (3.5 cups) of the fluffy stuff equals one whole grain serving and delivers 4 grams of fiber in 107 calories. Recipe: Garlic-Parmesan Popcorn

  • Shrimp
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D., Photo: Randy Mayor; Styling: Leigh Ann Ross

    Shrimp

    Shrimp

    isn't really a heart-damaging, high-cholesterol causing demon. When researchers fed men with normal cholesterol levels 10½-ounces of shrimp, ratios of "good" HDL to "bad" LDL cholesterol changed very little. And triglycerides, another blood fat, dropped 13 percent. Seems saturated and trans fats are the real culprits in raising blood cholesterol; shrimp has little of the first and none of the latter.

    What it offers you: Lean protein (35 grams) with three grams of total fat and less than one gram of saturated fat per 6-ounce serving. Recipe: Kung Pao Shrimp

  • Coconut
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D.

    Coconut

    Once a food industry pariah, coconut oil is now heralded as the ultimate disease fighter. What gives? Researchers find little evidence that coconut prevents heart disease or cures diabetes but studies do show that some of coconut's saturated fats boost "HDL" or good cholesterol. (They raise LDL too so that can't be ignored.) Bottom line: coconut is best as an occasional indulgence.

    What it offers you: Great tropical flavor! Two ounces of fresh coconut contains 14 grams of saturated fat, close to your daily limit.

    Recipe: Key Lime Coconut Snowballs

  • White Potatoes
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D., Randy Mayor

    White Potatoes

    Trashed as one of those "white" foods that send blood sugar levels skyrocketing, potatoes are shaking that negative image by keeping better company. Spuds are hooking up with protein at meals and sporting their original packaging (skin on). Both strategies help blunt blood sugar spikes and deliver decent amounts of fiber and blood pressure-lowering potassium.

    What they offer you: One skin-on six ounce potato offers up 3 grams of fiber and nearly 800 milligrams of potassium in a 128-calorie package.

    Recipe: No Boo-Hoo Baked Potatoes

  • Coffee
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D., Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Lydia DeGaris-Pursell

    Coffee

    Coffee's

    reputation waffles up and down depending on the latest study. Yet, the overall picture is positive with research showing that drinking coffee can do everything from ward off type 2 diabetes to boost memory in older adults. Speculation is that the antioxidants called phenols, which also occur in fruits, vegetables, and wines, are one of the beneficial ingredients. The only downside: caffeine. Since it's a stimulant, moderation is key.

    What it offers you: Three calories (in a 5-ounce cup) and a variety of health promoting substances.

    Recipe: Café Brûlot

  • Red Meat
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D., Photo: Beau Gustafson; Styling: Leigh Ann Ross

    Red Meat

    Hints about cancer risk put red meats in a negative light. But a new report reviews all the evidence and concludes that moderate amounts of beef, pork, and lamb are fine. However, saturated fat is still a concern. So stick to leaner varieties (beef sirloin or pork tenderloin) to net iron, zinc, and generous amounts of protein. Grass-fed meats? Besides being leaner, they're rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

    What it offers you: A four-ounce portion of cooked top sirloin delivers 30 grams of protein and less than 6 grams of saturated fat.

    Recipe: Steaks with Mushroom Gravy and Garlic Potatoes

  • Nuts
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D., Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Cindy Barr, Mary Lyn Hill Jenkins

    Nuts

    Nuts are the ultimate comeback kid. They're rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and contain nutrients and disease fighting chemicals that help to battle weight loss and cancer. Walnuts, rich in plant based omega-3 fats, may ward off breast cancer and improve blood flow in type 2 diabetics. Almonds are rich in Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant. The good news varies depending on nut variety, but it just continues to pour in.

    What they offer you: Varies. But generally rich in antioxidants, protein and fiber with 50 calories per tablespoon.

    Recipe: Chili-Spiced Almonds

  • Chocolate
    By Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D., Becky Luigart-Stayner

    Chocolate

    Rich in the same antioxidants found in red wine and green tea, cocoa–the prime ingredient in chocolate–is putting a health halo around this sweet indulgence. Many research studies suggest that chocolate compounds called flavonols relax blood vessels and improve blood flow to the heart. Two caveats: dark chocolate harbors the highest levels of flavonols. And because chocolate comes packaged with fat and sugar, it's still an indulgence.

    What it offers you: An ounce of dark chocolate has around 150 calories, nine grams of fat and lots of heart-healthy flavonols.

    Recipe: Dark-Chocolate Soufflé Cake

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