3 Foods That Are Surprisingly Good For You
1. Full-Fat Dairy. Reduced fat milk and other dairy products have been consistently recommended throughout the last 40 years. Dairy products are naturally high in fat, and much of that fat is saturated. So, we were told that by choosing low or nonfat milk, cheese and yogurt, we could enjoy the nutritional benefits of dairy without increasing risks for weight gain or heart disease. Simply put, this was bad advice.
In the 1960s, children may have had a glass of whole milk and 2 cookies for an afternoon snack. But a kid today might have 3 or 4 cookies as part of the snack, because nonfat milk is less filling. In school cafeterias, it’s ok to sell sugar-sweetened chocolate nonfat milk, but plain whole milk is banned. In the supermarket, you might see 50 versions of fat reduced yogurt (all sweetened), but try finding the full-fat unsweetened variety!
When we cut back on fat, we tend to eat more of other things, and in America, that’s typically processed carbohydrate — refined grains, potato products and added sugar. This is a bad trade-off. Indeed, several recent studies show that children and adults who consume whole milk gain less weight over time, and experience improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors, compared to those who consume reduced fat dairy.
Of course, humans have no minimum requirement for animal milk, and all dairy products are relatively recent additions to the human diet from an evolutionary perspective. But if you’re going to have dairy, choose the natural, unsweetened, full fat varieties — and especially fermented products like yogurt. They taste better and are healthier for you, too!
2. Nuts. According to the conventional approach to weight control, nuts are a nutritional nightmare, because they have more calories per ounce than almost any other food. For that reason, nuts, nut butters and seeds were on the “eat sparingly” list. Having more than just a little bit of them, it was thought, could easily blow the top off your daily calorie allowance. But the best observational studies have found that nut consumption is consistently associated with lower body weight and reduced risk for heart disease. And the largest randomized controlled trial ever done of nut consumption produced consistent results. The Predimed study assigned about 7,500 high-risk adults to either a low fat diet or higher fat diet that included nuts or olive oil. The study was concluded early, because individuals in both higher fat groups showed such significant reductions in cardiovascular disease that it would have been unethical to those in the low fat group to continue the study.
In truth, nuts are among the most nutritious foods we can eat, containing high quality fats, protein, fiber, and many other nutrients. And they’re exceedingly filling. The more nuts we eat, the less we eat of other foods, including processed carbohydrates. That’s a good trade-off for our waist and our heart!
3. Dark Chocolate. It sounds almost too good to be true. Dark chocolate is high in fat, and most of that fat is saturated. Yet many studies suggest health benefits — for blood vessels and the brain — and no weight gain from consumption of 1 ounce every day. How can that be? Real dark chocolate is loaded with fiber and polyphenols — plant chemicals that regulate gut bacteria and calm inflammation. And its intense flavor and fat content is very satisfying, so a little goes a long way. Try varieties that contain at least 70% real chocolate, and work up to 80% or 90% if you can tolerate the more bitter taste. Avoid milk chocolate, which typically contains sugar as the main ingredient.
Reference: Ludwig DS and Willett WC. Three Daily Servings of Reduced-Fat Milk An Evidence-Based Recommendation? JAMA Pediatr 2013, 167:788–9 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23818041
Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. NEJM 2013, 368:1279–1290 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23432189
Hooper L, Kay C, Abdelhamid A, et al. Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2012, 95:740–51 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22301923