7 foods you thought were unhealthy

Health and Fitness
If you stopped eating one of these foods because you heard it was unhealthy, hopefully we can set the record straight and you can happily add this food back into your diet.

To start with, most foods require a context which can be used to help define whether or not its consumption is healthy. It’s important to look at the bigger picture and assess a food within the whole diet – not just on its own, in isolation.

For example, carrots are commonly regarded as being healthy. They contain fibre, beta-carotene (converted into vitamin A by the body), vitamin C and other antioxidants and phytochemicals. Eating 1–2 carrots per day, as part of a balanced diet, is a healthy thing to do. However, if all you ate was carrots or you ate kilos of them every day, that would be unhealthy.

The main point here is: health (from a dietary perspective) is not the result of eating one type of food. It’s the result of eating a variety of different, health-promoting foods consistently each day.

So, in this context, here are seven foods that promote health that have been sorely misunderstood!

Wholegrain bread

Often lumped into the white bread and refined carb basket, wholegrain bread, despite its fibre and nutrient content, is commonly thought of as unhealthy. You don’t want to build your whole diet out of bread, but including a couple of slices in your day can be a great way to get an important amount of dietary fibre, B vitamins and complex carbohydrates.

Tip: Serve wholegrain bread with protein and vegetables and you’ve got a winner of a balanced meal.

Eggs

Eggs are great sources of protein and fat, along with other vitamins and minerals. Again, you don’t want to build your whole diet out of eggs (which would make you rather gassy and backed up) but including 1–2 per day is perfectly healthy.

Tip: Eggs on wholegrain bread makes a filling breakfast that will get you through the morning.

Photo by Lucy Bishop on Unsplash

Bananas

Messages about bananas pop up semi-regularly in the media, most around the fact that bananas shouldn’t be eaten at certain times of the day or shouldn’t be eaten at all.

Not true. Bananas are a great source of dietary fibre for a healthy gut and carbohydrate (in the form of sugar) for energy, while only containing a smidgen more than other fruits. They are also full of potassium and other vitamins and minerals. Experts recommend that 2 serves of fruit per day is sufficient for most of us, and I’d suggest that if your day consists of minimal activity, sticking to a maximum of 2 serves of fruit per day (including bananas) is a good idea.

Tip: 1 serve of fruit = 1 banana or 1 apple or 1 cup of berries. So, don’t build your whole diet out of bananas, but certainly include them daily as part of your healthy, balanced day!

Milk

The main argument I’ve come across for not consuming milk is that it’s weird to drink the milk of another mammal. Well yes, it probably is weird, but many of our food practices are arguably weird.

You don’t have to drink milk if you don’t want to, but don’t stop drinking it because you’ve been told it’s unhealthy or unnatural. It’s not. It’s not a good idea to build your whole diet out of dairy, but a milky coffee or bowl of cereal and milk per day is fine.

Tip: As part of a healthy diet, milk offers protein, calcium, vitamin B12, potassium and other nutrients.

Tofu

Soy products have often been blamed for poor health due to the presence of chemicals that are similar in structure to human reproductive hormones. Articles online will also mention that the way soy is farmed and processed poses a risk to our health as well. Most of these articles are based on information from the US, which has very different food regulation laws to Australia. They commonly cite ‘evidence’ that was poorly conducted or taken out of context.

Tip: A serving of tofu 3–4 times per week, for example, is perfectly healthy and can be a great protein source, particularly for vegetarians or vegans. Tofu is versatile and with a bit of practice you can create lots of different, satisfying meals.

Nuts

The fear of eating nuts most likely dates back to the low-fat era of the 80s and 90s. Nuts are rich in fats, among other nutrients, and as such are energy dense. This means that only a small serving can contain higher amounts of energy when compared to other foods. Old school weight-loss programs saw this energy density as a problem and warned their clients against eating these foods, particularly for weight loss.

What these recommendations fail to recognise, again, is the context. Yes, if you consume too many nuts day-to-day, you may exceed your energy needs and find it difficult to lose weight. However, a small handful, consumed as part of a balanced diet is perfectly fine.

Tip: Plenty of evidence suggests that due to the types of fat found in nuts, not to mention the dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, that nuts are cardio-protective – meaning they decrease your risk of heart disease!

Photo by Mira Bozhko on Unsplash

Red meat

There is lots of evidence to suggest that plant-based diets promote the best long-term health in humans. Now this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever eat red meat. Quite the contrary. What it means is that we should try to build the majority of our diet out of plant foods (fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrains) first, and then if we choose, include animal products (red meat, dairy or eggs) on top of this. By doing so, and choosing whole foods instead of processed ones, we’ll add some extra nutrition that we may not be getting from the rest of our diet.

Tip: Red meat is a great source of complete protein, iron, vitamin B12, zinc and other micronutrients. Enjoy it with a plate of vegetables/salad and aim for 2–3 servings per week.

Header photo by Mike Dorner on Unsplash

Kate Freeman
Kate Freeman is HRI's resident nutritionist. She is a registered nutritionist from Canberra, Australia and the creator and managing director of the largest private nutrition practice in Canberra, The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate consults, writes, presents and mentors in the field of nutrition and has over 10 years of experience in the industry.
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