News & tips on health, fitness and nutrition

Sunday, March 1, 2015

“Unhealthy” foods that actually aren’t

Our recent post on the subject of supposedly “healthy” foods that are not in fact all that great for you may have depressed a number of visitors to this site.

The last thing we want to be is depressing. So it seems only reasonable that we take similar note of certain notoriously “unhealthy” food items that, when consumed moderately and with care, can actually be beneficial, even to persons trying to lose weight.

For example, let’s say that you are on a fairly rigid diet, and it is driving you half mad with frustration and longing. You would do almost anything at this point to have a good, solid breakfast of bacon and eggs, a fine juicy hamburger for lunch, and a robust Italian dinner of pizza or spaghetti and meatballs. With ice cream for dessert. The fact that these would all be disastrous for your diet has left you miserably unhappy and aching with cravings.

Well, weep and gnash no longer. According to Bonnie Gluck, a clinical dietitian at New York City’s Methodist Hospital cited in a Health magazine article by Camille Noe Pagán, each of these foods can be not only consumed, but turned to your advantage.

It feels like cheating, but it’s not
Start with breakfast. Those eggs? A Louisiana study found that overweight females who ate eggs for breakfast lost twice the weight of women who limited themselves to mere bagels, partly because the eggs’ protein produces a greater sense of fullness and decreased hunger.

Tips: use a ratio of three egg whites (16 calories each) to one whole egg (72 calories) for best results in omelets and scrambles, and avoid restaurant eggs cooked in oil or butter or with cheese.

As for the bacon, make it Canadian, which comes from the pig’s leanest part, the loin, and has one-third less fat than ordinary U.S. bacon. Turkey bacon also works well. Both supply protein, producer of that fullness feeling.

Then there’s the hamburger. If the patty is lean beef, from Choice cuts and not the fattier Prime cuts, you’re getting good solid protein. Look for “97 percent lean” or “extra lean” on the label, and limit your patty size to three ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. An Australian study found that overweight women who ate low-cal diets rich in protein lost more weight than those whose low-cal diets emphasized carbs over meat.

The pizza is a bit trickier, especially since we included it in our “not so healthy ‘healthy’ foods” posting, but if it’s a thin crust pizza (deep dish is cooked in oil), and with a whole-wheat crust, and topped with high-fiber peppers, artichokes and other veggies instead of meats, and light on the cheese, you’re getting a reasonable trade off between calories and fiber, which is digested slowly and forestalls hunger longer.

As for the spaghetti option, if your meatballs and/or meat sauce follow the hamburger rules above, go for it.

And finally, the ice cream. Researchers don’t know quite why, but a Swedish study found that women who eat one serving of regular-fat dairy per day gain less weight than women who don’t. It is suspected that a small full-fat dessert is more satisfying than the alternative: larger, and multiple, servings of low-fat versions.

This should not be construed as a no-limits endorsement of these food items, just a note that consuming them now and then is probably better than trying to avoid them altogether, for the simple reason that the occasional and prudent self-indulgence is more liable to keep the dieter on the diet. And, perhaps, out of the asylum.

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