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The foods you thought were unhealthy... but aren’t

Siski Green / 20 March 2015

No need to feel guilty next time you tuck into egg and chips – many foods that are thought of as unhealthy simply aren’t.

butter and eggs
Why butter is back on the menu for a healthy diet.

Eggs, butter, red meat, coffee – these might not sound like the ingredients of a healthy diet, but they are. In fact, there are virtually no fresh unprocessed foods that you should avoid eating completely (unless you have an allergy or similar problem).

Eggs and butter contain a lot of goodness, for example, and can be part of a healthy balanced diet.

So have your knife and fork at the ready because we’re here to tell you why you should eat butter, eggs, potatoes... and yes, even a little mayonnaise!

Are these foods really bad for you?

Why butter is back on the menu for a healthy diet

Sneaking a knob of butter into your scrambled egg or on a toasted crumpet might feel like a diet sin but new research indicates that it’s no longer something to be ashamed of. 

You can blame the confusion on research from the 70s and 80s when as much of a fifth of our fat intake came from saturated fats. Relying on these studies, which were misinterpreted, the Government issued guidelines saying we should cut back and eat more carbohydrates. 

Now, new metastudies, where researchers amass many studies and analyse them as a whole, point the finger at high-carb and/or high-sugar diets, while saturated fat has not been found to be the root of the problem. 

Red meat without the health risks

Veggie burgers might seem like the healthier option when compared to red meat – they’re often sold that way – but if you pick lean red meat to eat and don’t overdo it (stick to 70g or less per day) then it’s far healthier. 

Most of the studies that have revealed health issues relating to meat have focused on processed meat such as deli meats, sausages and so on. 

Stick to unprocessed lean red meat cuts such as fillet steaks, and try game meat such as venison or wild boar, and your body will thank you for the protein and mineral boost without any risk to your health.   

Is it time to say goodbye to processed meat?

Eggs: pros and cons in your diet

A heart attack in a shell, or so you might believe, given how eggs have been discarded from diets everywhere. Yet the evidence is clear: if you eat 7 or fewer eggs per week, you’ll actually experience a reduction in stroke risk. 

That’s not to say they aren’t full of cholesterol, they are – one egg contains 186mg – but eaten in moderation at breakfast, for example, they are great way to stay fuller longer and so can even help with weight loss.

However, eggs may cause problems if you have diabetes – you’re recommended to stick to 200mg/daily (5mmol/l) of cholesterol or less per day (compared to 300mg, or 7.8mmol/l, for healthy individuals), and so with just one egg you could easily be go over your maximum for the day. If you do have diabetes, eat only some of the yolk or none at all, as this is where all the cholesterol is contained. 

10 healthy reasons to eat eggs

Potatoes: the health benefits

Roast, fried, even baked or boiled, doesn’t matter how you dress it up, the humble potato has been taking a battering in the diet game. Potatoes are often labelled as ‘unhealthy’ because they are rich in carbohydrates, and carbs have received a bad rep for stymying weightloss. But potatoes can form an excellent part of a weight-loss diet. For example, a medium-sized potato contains just 160 calories and is filling with 4g of fibre, as well as vitamin C and flavonoids that promote heart health and work to prevent cancer too.

How coffee helps your health

A study of nearly 91,000 participants finds habitual coffee consumption is associated with lower risk of total mortality, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Tea gets all the good press while coffee is seen as the bad guy, but newer research reveals that drinking a cup of coffee regularly can be good for you. 

“There is an overwhelming wealth of evidence showing that habitual coffee consumption of anything from one to four or five cups per day can in fact benefit health in a number of ways,” says Dr Sarah Schenker, registered dietitian. 

“Research has shown that coffee may reduce the risk of certain diseases including heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases and type 2 diabetes.” 

Do avoid drinking it in the late afternoon or evening, though, as caffeine will disrupt your sleep which has a knock-on effect on health.

Which is better for you, tea or coffee?

Salad dressing: why you don't need to leave it on the side

While it’s true that many pre-processed salad dressings are surprisingly high in sugar and fats, if you make your own they can be an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. 

What’s more, vinegar promotes good digestion and also helps balance blood sugar levels. Add a squeeze of lemon and you’ve got vitamin C in there too. Just be sure not to add too much sugar to balance the flavour or use honey instead. 

The health benefits of edible oils

Mayonnaise: a little goes a long way

Mayo also gets a lot of flak because it’s high in fat and calories but if you’re eating a tablespoon with a heap of raw cabbage in the form of coleslaw or with an omega-3-rich serving of tuna, the benefits outweigh the risks. 

Simply stick to one tablespoon per serving, so that you’ll get around 12g of fat, of which only 2g is saturated, and 100 calories.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.