Health - Diet & Nutrition
By: - at July 31, 2013

15 Foods That Are Surprisingly Good for You

We all know what are and arenít healthy foods. You should have chicken instead of beef; beefís too fatty. Whole milk should always be skipped because it can make you gain weight. Chocolate is bad for you because it makes you break out, is too sugary, and causes weight gain. Full-fat cheese is unhealthy because dairy is bad and itís too fatty. Bacon is just terrible. On and onówe think we know what weíre talking about when it comes to healthy and unhealthy foods, but the facts may surprise you. Read on to find out about fifteen surprisingly healthy foods. Your favorites might actually be good for you.


15)  Whole Milk
Whole milk is most familiar to people as having a rich flavor, since it is milk without the cream skimmed off. More specifically, in whole milk, no nutrients have been removed, including vitamins. Because whole milk hasnít had the cream removed and is fattier, itís often associated with weight gain and ill health effects, such as increased cholesterol. This is a false connection, however. Studies have shown that whole milk actually improves cholesterol levels. One study did show an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterolóalong with a decrease in triglycerides, which some say is a much better indicator of heart health than cholesterolóbut that study involved men drinking six eight-ounce glasses of whole milk a day, far more than the average person would drink.

whole milk

The same Menís Health article discussed findings that whole milk results in increased muscle building after weightlifting as opposed to skim milk. Whole milk has beneficial fats, including omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. Research has shown that people with high levels of one of the good fats in whole milk, trans-palmitoleic acid, have lower rates of diabetes and obesity. An article in the European Journal of Nutrition found there is no strong evidence that drinking whole milk correlates to weight increases, let alone diabetes and heart disease.

Health Tip:  Unpasturized milk is generally healthier if you can find it at a local dairy farm.


14)  Spices
Everyone knows that spices add flavor and interest to food. What fewer people know is that spices have health benefits. Spices, which usually come from the roots, bark, berries, seeds of plants, and herbs, often have some of the highest levels of antioxidant activity. Those in cinnamon, for instance, are linked to lower blood glucose levels in people with diabetes and decreases in inflammation, as well as lowering cholesterol and helping heart health. Capsaicin, found in chili peppers, helps with pain relief, heart health, ulcers, and prostate cancer. Turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic acts against viruses, fungi, and bacteria, as well as helping to prevent blood clots that can lead to stroke. The best part is that, for most spices, a little carries a lot of health benefits. Thereís no need to stuff yourself with cinnamon; a teaspoon and a half a day may make a measurable difference.

Spices

Health Tip:  Check out all the great health benefits of Indian Spices here!


13)  Pork Chops
People might think pork chops are high in fat, but theyíre actually about as lean as chicken breasts. One three-ounce serving of pork chop has 52% of womenís daily recommended protein and 43% of menís, and that comes with less cholesterol and calories than a chicken breast (if a little more overall fat and the same saturated fat). Pork chops are also high in B vitamins (except folate), particularly in niacin, B6, and B12. Niacin lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, while B6 and B12 remove a substance, homocysteine, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease if it builds up in your blood. Zinc is another good component of pork chops; itís necessary for the formation of new cells, in the creation of proteins, and supports the immune system. Not enough zinc causes problems with white blood cells and the ability to fight off infection, and, when taken within twenty-four hours of the appearance of cold symptoms, zinc can reduce the length and strength of your cold. Andóyou guessed itóyou can find it in pork chops.

roasted pork chops

Health Tip:  If you can, buy pork chops that do not have added growth hormones or antibiotics added to them.  Buy organic if you can.


12)  Eggs
Egg yolks are known for their high cholesterol content. Dietary cholesterol is not the same as blood cholesterol, and when it comes to eggs, this has been backed up in at least one study. That same study showed that eating whole eggs increases HDL, or good cholesterol, which helps protect your heart. Eggs are also high in choline, a B-complex vitamin that has ties to reductions in inflammation and better neurological function and may help fetal brain development when pregnant women eat it. Interestingly, choline also breaks down into a component used in the cycle of making brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. They also contain carotenoids that help protect vision health and are high in sulfur, which helps with things from hair and nail health to liver function to B vitamin absorption. Eggs are a complete protein and considered to have the most digestible amino acids of any food. Stick to four or fewer a week (the number the Mayo Clinic found healthy for adults), and youíre set.

brown eggs

Health Tip:  Do not cook the yolks, eat them runny or raw for maximum health benefits. Eating them cooked will leave plaque in the artery walls.


11)  Potatoes
Potatoes are one of those foods people think are high in calories and have so many carbohydrates that they must cause weight gain, diabetes, and probably global warming. This is yet another food those people are wrong about, though. In fact, potatoes are nutrient-rich foods. A nutrient-rich food is high in, well, nutrients compared to the number of calories in it. And yes, we are talking about plain white potatoes, not orange sweet potatoes. Theyíre high in fiber, soluble and insoluble in about equal amounts, and contain B vitamins, potassium, iron, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus. Potassium is essential to healthy heart function, and it and magnesium are used in all muscle contractions. Typing this very article has relied on those two elements. The B complex vitamins regulate blood cell formation and digestion of the calories you eat. Theyíre particularly strong in B6, thiamin, and niacin. A single large potato, boiled in its skin, has about half the vitamin C you need for a day. Baked potatoes are even higher in nutrients than boiled ones, since they werenít soaked in water that can leach away the vitamins and minerals it carries. The real area of concern with potatoes comes from the toppings theyíre usually loaded with. Look at the nutrition facts behind those instead of passing on potatoes as being unhealthy.

roasted potatoes and rosemary

Health Tip:  Potatoes are one of those food items that benefit more if you choose organic over conventional.





10)  Peanut Butter
Kids love peanut butter, and so do more adults than are probably willing to admit it. Peanut butter is a lunch staple for more than just the reasons that itís easy to spread on bread and goes well with milk. As plenty of people who had to survive an early lunch period know, eating peanut butter helps you feel full longer. It might have a lot of calories per serving, but those calories go a long way. Itís high in fiber and protein, both of which help you keep from getting hungry as fast as other options. Itís also nutrient-dense; one serving of peanut butter is full of the mentioned protein and fiber, as well as vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and B6. All that protein is great for exercise, not just getting through the afternoon. The fat it hasóand there is someóis mostly monounsaturated, which is the good stuff, and its fats ratio is about the same as olive oil. One serving five times or more a week can lower your chances of developing diabetes by nearly a third, and the unsalted stuff has enough potassium to help counter sodium overloads from other foods.

natural peanutbutter

Health Tip:  When choosing peanut butter, go for the natural variety and stay away from peanut butter that has added sugar and hydrogenated oils.


9)  Grass-Fed Beef
Sure, grass-fed beef isnít raised on a glut of corn, but itís still beef. How healthy can it be, you ask?

Pretty healthy, as it turns out. Half the fat in even corn-fed beef is oleic acid, which is the same fat you can find in olive oil. It also helps your cholesterol ratios by either lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol or your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL (good) cholesterol. All beef is also high in nutrients like iron, zinc, and B vitamins. So why are we singling out grass-fed beef?

Grass-fed beef may be lower in fat while having more omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, and antioxidant vitamins. Grass-based diets seem to give cattle a higher ratio of conjugated linoleic acid, trans vaccenic acid (which is a precursor to conjugated linoleic acid), and omega-3 fatty acids. The saturated fatty acids between conventional beef and grass-fed beef tend to be similar, but grass-fed beef tend to have higher ratios of cholesterol-neutral and cholesterol-lowering fatty acids. Grass diets tend to increase precursors to vitamins A and E, plus antioxidants, like glutathione and superoxide dismutase, that fight cancer. Grass-fed beef even has lower overall fat. Why wouldnít we list it?

cow grass fed beef

Health Tip:  When shopping for grass-fed beef in a store, look for beef patties that are brighter red, rather than turning brownish. Brownish beef is an indication of oxidation.


8)  Avocado
Avocados get their rich, creamy texture from fat. Itís kind of like how ice creamóor whole milkófeels smooth and rich in your mouth. Unlike ice cream, though, avocadosí fats are mostly unsaturated, the good kind of fat thatís in things like olive oil and peanut butter. They help your cholesterol and overall heart health while keeping down weight gain, especially compared to dietary sources of saturated fats. You might have already known that, but did you know that avocados have compounds that might fight cancer?

avocado

Thatís right. In lab tests, one compound found in avocado inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells. That same study found that avocados are chock full of cancer-fighting antioxidants, including vitamin E, beta carotene, and luteine. They can also help the body absorb other phytochemicals, which are plant-based compounds that arenít essential, but may help the body fight heart disease, stroke, cancer, and more. In particular, Ohio State researchers found that avocados matched up with salad and salsa helped absorption of their antioxidants. This is probably because of the healthy fats in avocados, and who could turn one down?


7)  Cheese
Cheese has the same bad rap as whole milk: its rich, creamy taste comes from being full of fat, so that means itís bad, right? We hope youíre getting the idea about how wrong that is by now.

Danish researchers had men eat ten one-ounce pieces of full-fat cheese a day. Thatís a lot of cheese! They had the men keep it up for three weeks. Their cholesterol was tested at the beginning and end of the study. At the end, they found that the participantsí LDL (bad) cholesterol hadnít changed a bit. Menís Healthís weight-loss consultant, a nutritionist, actually said he tells his clients to snack on full-fat cheese because of how filling it is, thanks to its protein and fat. Because itís dairy, cheese is also high in calcium, and since it doesnít have the water of milk, its calcium is much more concentrated. Cheese also has phosphorus, which is good for your bones, and good-sized servings of B12, zinc, selenium, iron, and riboflavin. Researchers found that it had high amounts of conjugated linoleic acid, so it can help prevent or suppress diabetes, reduce fat, inhibit skin, stomach, and breast tumors, and preserve muscle tissue. Itís also good to prevent macular degeneration and improve the immune system.

variety of cheeses

Health Tip:  Opting for organic cheese ensures you that the cheese is not filled with growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.  Also, choosing grass fed cheese is a healthier option.


6)  Bacon
Nearly half the bacon in fat is monounsaturated, so it helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Specifically, the monounsaturated fat is oleic, the same kind as in olive oil. A rich breakfast, including bacon (and eggs!) may help prevent metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome involves high triglycerides, abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, and more cardiovascular risk signs. The study discussed is from an article in the International Journal of Obesity, looking specifically at the influence of specific types of food and timing of meals on how it impacted metabolic syndrome. Mice fed a fat-rich breakfast had normal metabolic panels, which is what people should ideally aim for. Eating a fatty meal, including bacon, at the beginning of the day may cue the body to start metabolizing fat efficiently, whereas eating it at night cues the body to store it. A fatty breakfast also made miceís bodies more responsive to different kinds of food throughout the day, whereas a breakfast high in carbohydrates cued the body to respond only to carbs throughout the day. Study authors repeated the experiment four times; they say ending the day with a low-calorie meal also seems key in preventing metabolic syndrome. If you do start the day with bacon, try to get a type low in sodium and other preservatives. It helps that bacon is high in protein. It also has a lot of B12, which is used to manufacture hemoglobin, metabolize fat and protein, prevent B12 nerve damage, and helps in brain function. The iron in it is also used in hemoglobin.

Bacon eggs and toast for breakfast

Health Tip:  Eating lots of carbohydrates with your eggs and bacon is actually an unwise thing to do, as the carbs will release insulin thus causing health problems overtime.  It is better to eat your eggs and bacon by themselves.


5)  Pine Nuts
Pine nuts are the small, sweet, buttery seeds of the pine tree. Theyíre not technically nuts, but, like peanuts, theyíre often referred to as such. Pine nuts are nutrient-dense and rich in vitamins A, C, and D. Theyíre high in monounsaturated fat, specifically oleic acid, which helps the cardiovascular system. As you know by now, oleic acid helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption (which is why milk is generally fortified with it). Vitamin C, as you probably know, gives a boost to the immune system. Vitamin A, which is also found in things like carrots, is good for the eyes, as is the lutein found in pine nuts. Pinoleic acid in pine nuts helps you feel full faster and so helps you eat less, which means they aid in weight loss, and helps reduce LDL cholesterol; itís also an essential fatty acid, and you may have a hard time getting enough of it without a food, like pine nuts, thatís rich in it. Theyíre rich in iron, which is good for anemia and general health, and help fight free radicals, which can damage cells and potentially cause diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease, and more. Pine nuts are also full of protein, which in combination with the pinoleic acid helps you stay full longer, and magnesium, both of which give you energy. Theyíre also high in fiber, which not only keeps you regular but also prevents cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Other nutrients include manganese, calcium, zinc, selenium, and B-complex vitamins. Try some on your salad, make a pesto, add them to soup, or just snack on them on their own.

pine nuts


4)  Duck Breast
Duck is perceived as a fatty bird, and that doesnít help its reputation; people usually see it as a treat. That doesnít mean duck breast is automatically unhealthy, however. Duck breast, like chicken breast, is one of the lower-fat cuts of the bird. Duck isnít often cooked at home in the US, perhaps because some people see it as difficult, but given its health benefits, maybe that should change. Duck breast is high in protein at twenty-eight grams. Itís also high in niacin; it in fact has half the daily recommended value of the vitamin, which means it helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and metabolize fat. The iron in the bird also helps with energy, anemia, and increasing blood oxygen. The high B6 content helps break down proteins and create antibodies to help your immune system. Itís also high in phosphorus, which is good for bones and teeth, and selenium. Itís lower in vitamin C, but even a little can help your immune system. Unlike many commercially-raised animals, duck may not be raised with the use of hormones in the US, which may be of concern to some. Bon Appťtit even lists it as one of ten surprisingly healthy foods.

duck breast


3)  Anchovies
Anchovies, that deeply flavored, salty pizza topping. Anchovies are more than that, though. The small fish are rich in protein, essential fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Specifically, in twenty grams (or five) of anchovy fillets, there are just twenty-six calories, and a whopping four grams of that serving size is protein. That means women can get nine percent of their daily recommended protein and men can get seven. Thatís a lot from such a small serving! Omega-3 fatty acids are heart-healthy unsaturated fats that help lower inflammation. Our bodies donít make them, so we must get them from our diets or supplements. If you can, itís always healthier to get a nutrient from food, since other nutrients may help you process it correctly. Just one three-ounce serving of oily fish, like anchovies, every week can help lower your risk of dying from heart disease by 36%. Each twenty-gram serving of anchovies has 27% of womenís daily recommended omega-3 fatty acids and 19% of menís. Their calcium and phosphorus contribute to healthy bones and teeth, and magnesium helps support that. Magnesium and calcium both help your cardiovascular system, as does B12 and B6. Specifically, the B vitamins remove a substance from blood that can lead to heart disease. Niacin in the little fish helps lower cholesterol and triglycerides and potentially helps reduce the chances of dying from a heart attack. Theyíre high in iron, too. Just be aware of the high sodium content that comes with canned or jarred anchovies. If you can, rinse them before use, or soak them in cold water for twenty minutes. That can help bring them back toward a servingís normal twenty-one milligrams of sodium, rather than the seven hundred or more it has fresh out of the jar or can.

anchovies


2)  Coffee
Coffee in moderate amounts may have incredible health benefits. People who drink four or more cups a day have a ten percent lower risk of depression, and thatís not the caffeine; the same result doesnít show up in other caffeinated drinks. (For instance, cola is actually linked to a higher risk of depression.) Itís more likely that antioxidants in coffee contribute to its mood-lifting effects. Taking that result even further, adults who drink coffee are half as likely to commit suicide. It only takes two to four cups to see that result. In this case, researchers do believe the caffeine is at the heart of the result. A Finnish study does say people who drink eight to nine cups a day are at a higher risk of suicide, but thatís more coffee than a lot of people drink in an entire week, let alone a single day. Coffee may also help lower the risk of Parkinsonís and Alzheimerís; the chances for developing Alzheimerís may be as much as sixty percent lower if a person drinks coffee, and for Parkinsonís, itís thirty-two to sixty percent. Researchers think this is because coffee inhibits beta-amyloid production. Beta-amyloid is a protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimerís. According to a Harvard study, regular caffeinated coffee reduces the chances of a person developing skin cancer. It may even help your liver perform better; people in one study were twenty percent less likely to develop alcoholic cirrhosis if they also drank coffee. On a lesser note, coffee is also a performance booster; caffeine from coffee increases the fatty acids in the bloodstream, which increases physical abilities. And, as regular drinkers know, coffee temporarily boosts intelligence, awareness, and reaction times.

coffee

Health Tip:  Coffee is one of those items that benefits more if you choose the organic variety.


1)  Chocolate
Chocolate lovers, rejoice. The stuff we love is actually good for us. More specifically, dark chocolate shows measurable health benefits. According to a Swedish study published in 2011, women who ate forty-five grams or more of chocolate per week had a 1/5th lower stroke risk than women who ate nine grams or less. Chocolate confers lower blood pressure, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and a lowered heart disease risk. Dark chocolate in particular has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Surprisingly, dark chocolate is also high in fiber, which means it can help keep you full. Regular chocolate has something of a similar effect, but dark chocolate really shines here. It can even reduce cravings of fatty, sweet, or salty foods, and it works better than milk to control hunger. Surprisingly, given chocolate has added sugar, it actually increases insulin sensitivity. Thatís basically the opposite of diabetes, so it lowers the risk of developing the disease. Dark chocolate can also help protect your skin from UV radiation (though you should still use sunscreen). Even though you might not feel like eating chocolate when you have a bad cough, consider it; the theobromine in dark chocolate can calm down your vagus nerve, which is the nerve that causes coughing. The health benefits go on and on, from reducing stress to decreasing blood clotting to improving vision. With all that, pick up a bar of the good stuff and indulge yourself.

chocolate chips

So chocolate is good for you, and so is coffee; maybe try a full-fat mocha sweetened with a zero-calorie sweetener like stevia to get you going in the morning. Have it with your breakfast of bacon and eggs to really have a good start to your day. Follow up with a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and pork, duck, or even beef for dinner.


Final Thoughts
You might have thought before that the above advice is terrible, but now you know the health benefits of all those foods. Try your favorites today, and donít feel guilty for a second.



 

 

 

 

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