Eating in Moderation: "Unhealthy" Foods That Are Actually Good For You
We often like to group our dietary choices into two buckets: healthy foods and unhealthy junk. These definitions are typically viewed as absolutes. For example, we might immediately assume that all fast food or so-called convenience foods are automatically unhealthy or that entire food groups like nuts or grains are inherently bad. This is what dietitians, nutritionists, and researchers refer to as the "moralization of food" (i.e., some foods are inherently "good" or "bad").
Yet just like with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle. In fact, there may be some sinfully tasty foods that you think are bad for you but actually benefit your health, weight management, and workout routine. Here's the dish on junk foods and snacks that you might be avoiding right now, but might actually be beneficial for your overall wellness.
Eating in Moderation 101: Be More Mindful of What You're Eating
"Everything in moderation." It's a diet cliche as old as time.
And while you might hear the moderation-is-key mantra regularly, the idea is not without its criticisms. For instance, some studies have found that certain foods — such as pizza or ice cream — are more likely to trigger overeating, and thus some people argue that moderation of these foods is an inevitable diet trap.
This has led many people down the opposite route, where entire food groups or ingredients — sugar, or carbs, or grains, or meat — are labeled as bad and banned from your dinner plate completely. This, too, is not without its potential pitfalls. One study found that an all-or-nothing, strict diet was far more likely to lead to overeating and weight gain compared to flexible dieting. Stringent diets are also associated with higher risks of mood disorders and depression.
It turns out moderation really is the key to health, healthy weight loss, and weight management. But how do you accomplish that?
Moderation and Mindfulness
Many flexible dieting proponents suggest breaking down your calories as follows:
- 80% of your calories should come from whole foods that are minimally processed
- 20% of your calories can come from anything else you want
Alas, calculations, macro breakdowns, and food measurements are rarely enough to keep us in the "everything in moderation" lane. Instead, a better approach is mindful eating, which researchers say leads to better dietary choices, improved health outcomes, reduced disease risks, and better body composition.
Simply by being more self-aware of when, why, and what you're eating, you'll naturally be more apt to not over-indulge in foods you shouldn't be binging on. Mindfulness in your eating includes:
- Checking in with your body before you grab that snack or sit down for a meal. Are you actually hungry? If so, go ahead and eat! But if you're feeling something else in your body, such as boredom, stress, or sadness, eating is not necessarily the answer. Many of us over-eat not because we have a diet problem, but because we're trying to deal with something else in our bodies, minds, or lives.
- Considering the food you've chosen. Ask yourself, "Is this what I want, or is it just something I'll eat simply because it's available? What am I truly craving, and does it satisfy that craving?" When we eat something that's not satisfying our craving, we're more likely to eat too much.
- Checking in with your body while you're eating. On a scale of 1-5, with "5" being full and "1" being hungry, how hungry do you feel? As you get closer and closer to a self-score of 5, slow down and check in with yourself more often.
And once you've figured out the approach to eating in moderation, a whole new world of food opens up for you. Suddenly, what you might have previously viewed as an unhealthy snack or junk food becomes much more approachable — even healthy — because you're no longer inclined to overeat it.
5 Junk Foods That Are Actually Healthy For You
Bread consumption has been dropping steadily for decades, reports a recent study published in the journal Nutrients. Today, bread makes up only 16% of the average person's diet, which is a significant decrease over the years. Much of this is due to the constant villainization of carbohydrates and refined grains.
And sure, eating too much bread and other products made from processed grains can introduce excess calories and carbohydrates that may lead to weight gain. Yet that same study points out that bread, rolls, and other grain-based products fill critical nutritional gaps that Americans have, including deficiencies in fiber, magnesium, iron, and calcium. Eating whole grains has also been linked to a reduced risk of serious diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
Make It Healthier:
- Opt for whole-grain bread instead of white bread
- Try bread made from sprouted grains, which are higher in nutrients and easier to digest
- Avoid sweetened bread products, and be cautious of the spreads that you smear onto your toast or sandwiches
Many gym-goers and health enthusiasts completely avoid alcohol due to the many health risks associated with heavy alcohol consumption, such as lower testosterone levels (which may impact your ability to build muscles).
Yet, the emphasis is on heavy consumption. For instance, in one study, drinking alcohol did affect hormone levels. Yet that study used a pint of whiskey every day for 30 days — hardly a reason to eschew a glass of wine with dinner.
When enjoyed in consumption, wine is one of the best sources of polyphenols (a potent class of antioxidants). In addition, wine also contains anti-inflammatory compounds, reduces the risk of heart disease, and may even increase your longevity.
Make It Healthier:
- Stick with red wine, which has 10 times the antioxidants as white wine
- Focus on dry wines that are lower in sugar, such as a dry merlot
- Cap your intake as two glasses a day for men and one glass a day for women (most studies on the beneficial aspects of wine have used these serving recommendations inspired by the Mediterranean diet)
3. Red Meat
Red meat has many environmental, animal rights, and health concerns associated with it. Yet while all red meat often gets grouped together, the many studies that have pinpointed its ill health effects were actually about particular subsets of meat. Namely processed red meat (e.g., hot dogs, sausages, cold cuts, etc.), red meat cooked in specific ways (e.g., charred on a grill, seared in a hot frying pan, etc.), or raised in certain ways (e.g., factory farms and other intensive approaches).
On its own, a raw cut of beef is one of the best sources of muscle-building creatine and also rich in vitamin Bs, iron, zinc, and protein.
Make It Healthier:
- Support local farmers who are certified humane
- Choose grass-fed beef, which is higher in vitamins and nutrients
- Use gentle cooking methods that don't expose the meat to high temperatures (high cooking temperatures increases the cancer risks associated with red meat)
Cheese has long worn a scarlet letter in the health world. For example, the American Heart Association warns about its high saturated fat content. Many people are also worried about the uncomfortable side effects they feel after eating cheese and other lactose-containing foods.
Yet cheese is one of the most convenient and delicious whey protein sources (the ideal form of protein for exercise recovery and muscle growth), calcium, vitamin A, and riboflavin in North America. Some cheeses also contain beneficial bacteria that enhance your gut health. When enjoyed in moderation, cheese can fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet, boost your bone strength, and even prevent cavities.
Make It Healthier:
- Choose cheese made from the milk of grass-fed animals. Such cheese is higher in healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin K
- Watch your salt intake (cheese that's lower in salt include mozzarella and ricotta)
- Consider goat cheese, which often doesn't trigger the same side effects as cow's milk cheese
If you've been passing over the trail mix because you're worried about the fat content of nuts, worry no more. Yes, nuts are high in fat, but they also pack a nutritional punch. For example, nuts are exceptionally high in essential minerals like copper and manganese. Eating a single Brazil nut nets you an entire day's worth of selenium (a mineral that plays an active role in muscle function).
Make It Healthier:
- Avoid nuts that have been seasoned with sugar
- Eat a variety of nuts to obtain a diverse range of antioxidants and phytonutrients
- Remember that nuts are still high in calories and should be treated as a snack and not a meal on their own
Tiger Fitness Helps You Keep Your Diet in Balance
Mindful eating and eating in moderation begin with a healthy diet that's high in fiber and protein. This helps to soothe your appetite and balance your blood sugar, so you're more apt to grab a snack or tasty junk food for pure pleasure and not to tackle your hunger (which runs the risk of overeating something you shouldn't).
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