It's easy to assume that cutting certain foods from your diet will automatically make it healthy, or that sticking to a meal plan that's restrictive is the key to weight loss. However, despite the best of nutritious intentions, if you're solely focused on what you shouldn't eat, you could be missing out on key benefits and nutrients -- not to mention the pleasure of eating foods you really like that aren't necessarily as damaging to your diet as you may think.
The more you can think inclusion when it comes to your diet, the more likely you'll continue your healthy-eating habits long-term. Here are seven surprisingly healthy foods you might be missing out on:
Everyone slams eggs for their cholesterol content -- but it's a misnomer that you should avoid them. "We now know eggs are safe for people with high cholesterol," said NYC-based dietitian Jackie London, RD. "It's other factors in the diet that raise cholesterol levels." London can't stress the vitamin B-12 content in eggs enough, and said they are particularly important if you're a vegetarian or eat a mostly veggie-based diet. "It's the most biologically-available protein you have -- the best source," she explains.
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If you're still wary with eating too many, London said to mix one egg with two egg whites, so you get the nutrients from the yolk even though you're cutting down on the fat content. And if you do a three-egg omelet without subbing eggs for whites, skip the cheese.
Lots of people assume that if they love it, it should be off-limits -- which is why dairy items like cheese and milk don't usually make the cut in many "healthy" diets. However, they can be a great source of calcium and potassium. "You're only going to get that eight grams of protein from animal milk, so you're losing that if you switch to soy, almond, or coconut," London said. "And the reason for putting potassium on the new food labels is because Americans aren't getting enough. Dairy is a good source of that." So, don't ditch dairy for the wrong reasons. Keep cheese limited to a one-ounce serving, and stick to a cup of skim milk to keep calories in check.
"People do not gain weight from eating pasta, they gain weight from eating too much pasta," said Keri Gans, MS, RD, author of "The Small Change Diet." "It's the serving size and what you do with it that's so key." Gans said to make pasta your side attraction, not the main dish. Keep your serving to a half cup or one cup maximum, and avoid "creamy" sauces that are high in calories. Instead toss with olive oil, veggies, and a lean protein source like shrimp to balance out your bowl and keep you full.
While sweet potatoes are generally hailed as a superfood, white potatoes have been deemed virtually useless. "I can't even begin to tell you how many people believe this," Gans said. "But they are a good source of fiber and potassium, and they're not high in calories." It's all in the way you prepare potatoes that can make or break your diet. Instead of heavy spuds like French fries and potato skins that can weigh you down, Gans suggests topping your potatoes with salsa, Greek yogurt, mustard or hummus for an extra nutritious kick that's modest in the calorie department.
"It's jammed in our minds that nuts are fattening," Gans said, "but really it's too many nuts that are fattening." Otherwise, they are an excellent source of healthy fats and protein. "Portion them out -- a serving is roughly the size of a shot glass. Just never eat them straight out of the bag or jar," Gans said. If you do, you're likely to lose track and overeat.
Why have carbs become the enemy? "I couldn't be a bigger supporter of a sandwich for lunch," Gans said. "Two slices of whole wheat bread with grilled chicken and avocado, or turkey with lettuce, tomato and mustard, or almond butter with a little jam." Gans said if you head to work with a healthy sandwich in tow, you're on your way to losing weight -- just make sure your bread is truly a source of whole grains ("whole wheat" should be the only flour you see on the label), so it's rich in protein, fiber and other important nutrients.
The surest way to fall off the healthy eating wagon? Restricting all indulgences, Gans said. "A big thing my clients always think they need to cut out is alcohol, but it can be apart of a well-balanced diet. Just remember that the 'more is better' rule does not apply here," she said. However, Gans suggests keeping your intake modest, rotating with water. A glass of red wine or a vodka soda with lime is a far, far better option that a pina colada. If you cut it all out, you may think you can't be social -- and all of a sudden, healthy eating becomes a buzzkill of a chore instead of a better lifestyle choice.
"Even a cookie doesn't need to be eliminated," she said. "Share one dessert among three people, for instance. Or if you love chocolate, a little goes a long way when it comes to staying on track and continuing to eat healthy overall."