Unhealthy foods that are healthy or can be made healthier


When it comes to our diet, we often categorize foods as either healthy or unhealthy. We tend to assume that certain foods, like fried chicken or chocolate cake, are inherently bad for us, while others, like kale and quinoa, are always good. But the truth is, many seemingly unhealthy foods actually have surprising health benefits.

In this article, we will explore some of the most misunderstood foods and debunk the myth that they are inherently unhealthy. From coffee and popcorn to dark chocolate and peanut butter, we will delve into the evidence that shows how these foods can actually be beneficial for our health when consumed in moderation.

We’ll also provide tips on how to enjoy these foods in a healthier and balanced way, so you can feel good about incorporating them into your diet. So, if you’re tired of feeling guilty about your favorite indulgences, read on to discover the unexpected health benefits of seemingly unhealthy foods.

Foods that you think are unhealthy but aren’t

Certain foods that are commonly perceived as unhealthy, may actually have some nutritional benefits:

  1. Avocado: While high in fat, avocados are a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber. They also contain vitamins and minerals such as potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin E.
  2. Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate contains antioxidants called flavonoids that may have heart-protective benefits. It also contains iron, magnesium, and zinc.
  3. Nuts: While nuts are high in calories, they are also rich in healthy fats, protein, fiber, and a range of vitamins and minerals. Regular consumption of nuts has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and other health benefits.
  4. Eggs: Eggs are high in cholesterol, which has led to the belief that they are unhealthy. However, research suggests that dietary cholesterol may not have a significant impact on blood cholesterol levels for most people. Eggs are also a good source of protein and other nutrients such as vitamin D and choline.
  5. Potatoes: Potatoes are often associated with unhealthy fast food dishes like french fries, but they can be a nutritious source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and potassium. When prepared in a healthy way (such as baking or boiling instead of frying), potatoes can be part of a balanced diet.
  6. Cheese: Cheese is high in fat and calories, but it can also be a good source of calcium, protein, and other important nutrients. Moderation is key, but incorporating small amounts of cheese into a balanced diet can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
  7. Whole milk: Whole milk has more fat than skim or low-fat milk, but it is also higher in certain nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. While low-fat milk may be a better choice for some people, whole milk can be part of a balanced diet in moderation.
  8. Peanut butter: Peanut butter is high in fat and calories, but it is also a good source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Opting for natural peanut butter without added sugar or other additives can make it a healthier choice.
  9. Carrots: Carrots are often associated with sugary, high-calorie dips, but they are a great source of vitamin A and fiber. Eating carrots raw or lightly steamed can help retain their nutritional value.
  10. Red meat: Red meat can be high in saturated fat and calories, but it is also a good source of iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Choosing lean cuts of meat and limiting portion sizes can make it a healthy part of a balanced diet.
  11. Yogurt: Yogurt is often thought of as a sugary treat, but it can also be a good source of calcium and protein. Choosing plain, unsweetened yogurt and adding fresh fruit or a drizzle of honey can make it a healthier snack or breakfast option.
  12. Popcorn: Popcorn is often associated with unhealthy movie theater snacks, but air-popped popcorn can be a low-calorie, high-fiber snack. Adding a small amount of healthy fat like olive oil or nutritional yeast can make it even more satisfying.
  13. Coffee: Coffee is often associated with caffeine addiction and negative health effects, but research suggests that moderate coffee consumption (1-2 cups per day) can have health benefits such as reducing the risk of certain cancers and neurological diseases. However, excessive caffeine intake can cause negative side effects, so moderation is key.

How can some unhealthy foods be made healthy?

Many unhealthy foods can be made healthier with simple modifications. Here are a few examples:

  1. Pizza: Pizza can be high in calories, fat, and sodium, but it can be made healthier by choosing thin crusts, using low-fat cheese, and adding plenty of vegetables as toppings. Making homemade pizza with whole wheat crust and fresh ingredients can also make it a healthier option.
  2. French fries: French fries are often deep-fried in unhealthy oils and high in calories, but they can be made healthier by baking them instead of frying, using sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, and seasoning them with herbs and spices instead of salt.
  3. Hamburgers: Hamburgers are often made with high-fat beef and served on white buns with sugary condiments, but they can be made healthier by choosing leaner meats like turkey or chicken, using whole grain buns, and adding vegetables like lettuce, tomato, and avocado as toppings.
  4. Ice cream: Ice cream is often high in sugar and fat, but it can be made healthier by choosing low-fat or non-fat options, choosing sorbets or fruit-based ice creams, or making homemade ice cream with natural sweeteners and healthy add-ins like fruit or nuts.
  5. Fried chicken: Fried chicken is typically high in calories, fat, and sodium, but it can be made healthier by baking or grilling chicken instead of frying it, using skinless chicken breasts or thighs, and using whole wheat bread crumbs or a mixture of herbs and spices for seasoning.
  6. Chips and dip: Chips and dip can be high in calories and sodium, but healthier options can be made by choosing whole grain crackers or vegetable slices instead of chips, and making homemade dips using fresh ingredients like hummus, guacamole, or salsa.
  7. Macaroni and cheese: Traditional macaroni and cheese is typically high in fat and calories, but it can be made healthier by using whole grain pasta, using low-fat or skim milk instead of heavy cream, and using a smaller amount of cheese or a low-fat cheese alternative. Adding vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower can also increase the nutritional value of the dish.
  8. Soda: Soda is high in sugar and calories, but it can be replaced with healthier options like water, unsweetened tea, or sparkling water with a splash of juice or fruit for flavor. Cutting back on soda consumption can also help improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  9. Nachos: Nachos are often loaded with cheese, sour cream, and other high-fat toppings, but they can be made healthier by using baked tortilla chips, adding lean protein like shredded chicken or black beans, and topping with fresh vegetables like diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers.
  10. Chocolate: Chocolate is often high in sugar and fat, but it can be made healthier by choosing dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa (70% or higher), which contains antioxidants and has been shown to have health benefits like reducing the risk of heart disease.
  11. Popcorn: Microwave popcorn is often loaded with unhealthy additives, but making popcorn at home with a hot air popper or on the stovetop with a small amount of oil can make it a healthier snack. Sprinkling with herbs or spices like garlic powder or paprika can also add flavor without adding extra calories.
  12. Chinese takeout: Many Chinese takeout dishes are high in sodium and unhealthy fats, but healthier options can be made by choosing dishes that are steamed or stir-fried, and asking for sauces on the side so you can control the amount you use. Adding plenty of vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and snap peas can also increase the nutritional value of the meal.

Bottom line

Unhealthy foods don’t have to be completely off-limits if you want to maintain a healthy diet. With some smart substitutions and creative cooking techniques, you can transform your favorite comfort foods into healthy, nutritious meals that you can enjoy guilt-free.

Whether it’s swapping out refined flour for whole grains, using alternative sweeteners instead of sugar, or incorporating more vegetables into your dishes, there are plenty of ways to make unhealthy foods healthier. By doing so, you can still satisfy your cravings while also nourishing your body with the nutrients it needs.

Of course, you should remember that moderation is key. Even healthy versions of unhealthy foods should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. By making these changes and being mindful of your food choices, you can enjoy a healthier, more satisfying diet that still allows for indulgences in moderation.

How can I contact gastroenterologist Dr. Zavos for an appointment?

Dr. Chris Zavos is a board-certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist, located in Thessaloniki Greece, and specifically in Kalamaria suburb, about 7 kilometres (4 miles) southeast of downtown Thessaloniki. His private office is at: Fanariou 8 street (near Aigaiou and Adrianoupoleos avenues), Kalamaria (Thessaloniki), Greece.

Thessaloniki International Airport is only 10 km away from his private office in Kalamaria and can be reached by taxi within 13 minutes from the airport.

Dr. Chris Zavos performs endoscopies at Bioclinic private hospital in downtown Thessaloniki (Mitropoleos 86 street).

You can contact Dr. Zavos at phone numbers: (+30)-6976596988 and (+30)-2311283833, or you can email him at czavos@ymail.com. Dr. Zavos responds to Greek and English languages.

Last update: 26 September 2023, 19:06


Gastroenterologist - Hepatologist, Thessaloniki

PhD at Medical School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

PGDip at Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, The Netherlands

Ex President, Hellenic H. pylori & Microbiota Study Group