I’m not a fan of labeling foods as good or bad. In reality, those bad foods are the ones that taste the best and are the hardest to resist! But, I get it. There’s no shortage of “advice” on what foods we should and shouldn’t eat. But what if we could adopt a different approach to eating better? What if we could accept all foods, in moderation, into a healthy diet plan instead of banning or restricting certain offenders?
So let’s debunk some misconceptions and talk about how to incorporate common “bad foods” into a perfectly healthy diet.
Potatoes get a bad rap because of how we eat them. Think French fries or loaded baked potatoes. However, plain potatoes offer some impressive nutritional qualities! Potatoes are packed with magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. One medium potato has 36% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C. It’s true potatoes are high in carbohydrates, but if eaten with the skin, they also are a good source of fiber. In order to maximize their goodness, be mindful of the serving size and eat them baked and loaded with vegetables, or diced and roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper.
Peanut butter is one of those foods that tastes so delicious, there’s no way it can be good for you, right? But, have no fear, peanut butter can be a healthy choice. Two tablespoons of peanut butter (1 serving) give you 2 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein which helps you stay full longer. But the trick is to stick to 1–2 tbsp. And, it’s important to read the labels. Some low-fat peanut butters actually contain added sugar. To reap the heart-healthy benefit of monounsaturated fats, the best option is all-natural peanut butter that contains minimal ingredients. A great way to control what’s in your peanut butter is to make it yourself.
Bananas are often shunned for being high in sugar and calories—one medium banana has 105 calories and 14 grams of sugar compared to a cup of strawberries that has 47 calories and 7 grams of sugar. It’s important to note that the sugar in bananas is better for you than the type of sugar you eat in candy or cookies. Bananas are a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, and are rich in potassium, an electrolyte that helps promote healthy blood pressure and regulates nerve and muscle function. So, if you suffer from muscle cramps after a workout, eat a banana. A benefit of slightly underripe bananas is they contain prebiotics which feed probiotics in your gut. If you aren’t a fan of underripe bananas, to get the same benefit, you can add a powder with prebiotic fiber to your smoothies and meals.
Life without pasta would be pretty sad! But people avoid pasta because it’s packed with carbohydrates. One objection against foods high in carbohydrates is that it’s easy to overeat them. In addition, many people follow diets that require limiting carbohydrates due to their effect on blood sugar levels. Unlike most simple carbohydrates and refined grains which cause a rapid spike of blood sugar, pasta has a low glycemic index (GI), meaning it causes smaller increases in blood sugar levels. Plus, it supplies 6–7 grams of protein and about 2 grams of fiber per cooked cup. Most brands are enriched with B vitamins too, such as folic acid, and iron.
For a meal you can feel great about, here are some ideas:
- Be mindful of your portion size. Believe it or not, the recommended serving size is ½ cup of cooked pasta.
- Consider what you add. Cream sauce, cheese, and meat will bump up the calorie and fat in your dish. Instead, boost your portions with some cooked vegetables. For some added protein, try chicken, or beans like cannellini or chickpeas.
- Give whole-wheat or a plant-based bean pasta a try. It has more protein, fiber, and additional nutrients.
- Cook your pasta until al dente, which means it still has some “bite” to it. Not only does it taste better this way, but it actually takesthe body longer to digest, keeping you fuller for longer.
Chocolate, more specifically dark chocolate, has been extensively studied for its health benefits, with positive results. Cocoa is rich in plant chemicals called flavanols that may promote heart health. Dark chocolate contains up to 2–3 times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate has been show to help improve cholesterol levels and reduce blood clots. As a general rule, look for dark chocolate with a higher cacao level (60 percent cacao or higher), as it will have more antioxidants and less added sugar. Also, because all chocolate, even the dark kind, is calorie-rich, stick with one to two ounces per day. Portion out your favorite chocolate snacks so you eat just the amount you need to be satisfied.
Life’s too short to cut out foods that you enjoy! The all or nothing strategy never works. Understanding the best ways to prepare foods so they fit into your overall diet lets you eat what you love and really enjoy it.
Sandy Wolner, Pampered Chef Food & Trend Innovator & Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. At Pampered Chef, Sandy is able to combine her love of nutrition with her passion for cooking in order to offer simple, nutritious solutions in the kitchen. Sandy believes that food is meant to be enjoyed, especially with the ones you love.