Between a constant stream of nutritional studies and the overwhelming power of dietary trends, many foods have gotten themselves a bad rap for contributing to disease, obesity, and the general demise of humanity.
But it might surprise you to learn that not everyone on that nutritional naughty list necessarily deserves to be there—and some of the foods people avoid for health reasons are in fact surprisingly good for you. Below, we've rounded up six foods with risky reputations that you can absolutely allow back on your menu.
The noble egg got a bad rap right around the time that cholesterol became a bad word—hence those "incredible, edible" ads encouraging people to keep eating them. But now that even the government has withdrawn its objections to dietary cholesterol, eggs should be able to make a comeback. Packed with protein, amino acids, and vitamins D and B-12, they're considered one of the most nutritious foods in existence. Another plus? They're a great source of choline, an essential nutrient that almost nobody gets enough of.
2. RED MEAT
There are, of course, good reasons not to chow down on a ribeye every night; some studies have shown a link between the consumption of red and processed meats and certain types of cancers, possibly due to carcinogenic elements created during the cooking process. But in moderation? Ethically raised red meat is a whole food, high in protein, and a great source of iron (which is particularly useful for women, who often don't get enough of it). And leaner red meats, like lamb and goat, are staples in the diet of people who live in the "blue zone" of Ikaria, Greece—a region famous for its incredibly healthy, long-lived population.
In addition to being a good source of protein, studies show that cheese can have healthy effects on the microbial bacteria in your gut, reducing the inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular disease—which might explain why the cheese-hoovering French have such remarkably healthy hearts. One caveat: To enjoy the potential health benefits of cheese, you'll have to invest in the good stuff. The orange kind that comes in a spray can or individually wrapped slices doesn't count.
Butter spent years on the naughty list thanks to the lingering myth that fat consumption is a direct cause of obesity and heart disease—which we now know isn't quite true. The saturated fats in butter may still be less heart-healthy than the polyunsaturated fats in, say, olive oil, but they're still better for you than the partially hydrogenated fats that give processed foods a longer shelf life. And since it doesn't take much butter to impart a lot of flavor, there's no reason not to have a pat here and there—particularly if you're putting it on a low-calorie, high-fiber, nutrient-dense vegetable.
Despite the proliferation of gluten-free options on shelves everywhere, unless you have celiac disease, there's no need to cut bread out of your diet. (And if wheat products seem to give you tummy trouble, it may in fact be a reaction to a group of carbohydrates called FODMAPs rather than gluten sensitivity.) Even health-food guru Michael Pollan swears by a homemade sourdough recipe; and you can reap even more health benefits by baking your own, which is a fantastic stress-reducer in and of itself.
The risks of excessive drinking are well-documented, but studies have also repeatedly indicated that certain drinking patterns and cardiovascular health go hand in hand; about one drink per day, every day, seems to be the sweet spot. And moderate consumption has been linked to increased longevity in countries where wine with dinner is de rigueur. In short, a healthy relationship with alcohol can certainly be a pert of a healthy lifestyle.
Of course, that still doesn't mean you should spend your weekend doing keg stands until you pass out, and other researchers aren’t sure about alcohol's benefit. Some scientists say that people who are generally unhealthy might not drink for unrelated reasons, and this skews the data, making it appear that all non-drinkers are less healthy. But if your college ways aren't quite behind you yet, another recent study suggests that drinking lots of coffee may mitigate your risk of alcohol-related liver cancer. (Of course it's important, if you drink, to always consume alcohol in moderation.)