The Top 10 Most “Unhealthy” Foods That Aren’t Actually Unhealthy

March 25, 2014 | 45 Comments


Food porn

Talk to any nutritionist and ask them how to eat healthy and they’ll all probably say something along the lines of:

“Eat more whole grains. Eat fish (but not too much or you’ll get mercury poisoning and die).  Eat Greek yogurt because it has the proteinz.  Limit your intake of red meat and eat more plant-based protein. Make sure you get your fruits and veggies. Only drink red wine (because red wine protects your heart but any other alcohol makes it explode). Eat quinoa.”

Cheeky tone aside, you can’t deny that this is what you hear mainstream nutritionists say on a daily basis.

This is what I like to call nutritionist protocol 101.

It’s what 99% of nutritionists say and it’s what you read in magazines and media sites year after year, after year.

Call me crazy but how does anyone not recognize this pattern?

Not that eating like this is necessarily unhealthy, but what if I told you that you didn’t have to stick with such a limited range of foods to be lose weight and be healthy?

It’s time to bust the lid wide open.

Here are the top 10 most “unhealthy” foods that really aren’t that unhealthy.

1) Red meat

Steak

The myth: Red meat is unhealthy because it’s high in fat, especially saturated fat and will therefore clog your arteries, raise your cholesterol levels, and kill you via heart attack.

The truth: Red meat is actually very nutritious and a great source for protein, vitamins, and minerals.

There are few things I love more in life than a bloody piece of dead cow, seasoned with a little bit of salt and pepper.

Wait, what? Your nutritionist said red meat was bad for you. Well…they’re wrong.

But Keith, what about all those scientific studies that say red meat is bad for you?

First off, every single study you’ve seen quoted by the media (like this popular one a few years back) has yet to actually prove red meat is bad for you. All the most popular studies have done nothing but sloppily shown there may be a correlation between increased red meat intake and heart disease (or whatever weird, bad shit you can think of).

Not to mention that plenty of these are observational studies where data is collected via questionnaire or survey. These surveys will ask the participant to remember what food they ate in the past, and I’m sure you can already imagine how inaccurate this can be.

And remember, correlation does not equal causation.

What you need to understand is that people who blame red meat on their problems are likely the same people who don’t exercise, smoke,  and eat more calories overall  (mostly coming from refined carbs and other “junk type” foods).

And people who don’t eat red meat tend to be completely opposite health nuts who preach nutritionist protocol 101 all day long. But in reality, incorporating red meat into their diet wouldn’t hurt them one bit.

Studies aside, red meat is pretty awesome. It’s nutritious, with plenty of B vitamins, Iron, Selenium, zinc and rich in the EFA arachidonic acid which aids in protein synthesis and muscle growth.

2) Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame

The myth: Artificial sweetener such as aspartame  and sucralose should be avoided at all costs since they cause brain tumors and other horrible stuff.

The truth: Assuming you’re now downing 12+ cans of diet soda per day, there aren’t any real proven dangers of moderate artificial sweetener consumption.

Okay fine, you will get cancer if you drink diet coke…if you’re a rat.

Are you a rat? If so, I would love to interview you.

Aspartame has been shown before to cause brain tumors in rats,  but there’s 2 problems with this:

1) We’re not rats.

2) The rats in the studies were given extreme doses of aspartame (upwards of 12+ cans of diet soda per day).

I have no problem with aspartame and there have yet to be any human studies to prove it as a real danger.

Anywhere from 1-3 cans of diet coke a day is absolutely fine. So unless you’re downing over a dozen bottles of diet coke per day (which in that case you have a real problem, my friend) then there’s nothing wrong with artificial sweeteners.

3) White bread

The myth: White bread is refined, stripped of all its nutrients, and will automatically turn you into a fat blob because it raises insulin levels (no other reason is given, just because, insulin).

The truth: White bread may very well have less nutrients than whole grain bread but it will definitely not make you any fatter assuming that the overall calories are kept in check.

First let’s get this out of the way – all carbs are handled by your digestive system the exact same way. Your digestive system breaks down the carbs into glucose which it then uses as energy.

It doesn’t matter if it’s white bread or organic sprouted tomato Peruvian bread. Your body will break down the carbs in the EXACT same way.

In terms of weight loss, assuming that your calorie intake is equal, white bread won’t make you any fatter than whole grain bread.

As this study shows, eating complex carbs over simple carbs doesn’t result in significantly more weight loss.

And if someone like Mark Haub and his Twinkie Diet is able to lose a significant amount of weight eating mostly junk food and simple sugary carbs, doesn’t that invalidate every single “simple carbs make you fat” theory.

Note: I don’t recommend the Twinkie Diet, I’m just using it as an example to show disprove every mainstream statement that you can’t lose weight while eating a decent amount of simple refined carbs.

So forget everything you’ve heard about white bread being more easily converted to fat. That’s a lie.

And what about the glycemic index, white bread has a really low GI.

True , but the glycemic index is absolute bullshit. There’s absolutely no use for it whatsoever.

To quote the conclusions of a study on on women and GI:

This study provides no evidence to support an effect of a reduced GI diet on satiety, energy intake or body weight in overweight/obese women. Claims that the GI of the diet per se may have specific effects on body weight may therefore be misleading.

But one thing the mainstream gets right about white bread is that it’s not a great source of nutrients but I wouldn’t label it as unhealthy. I view white bread as carb source, nothing more. If I need more carbs to hit my calorie goals, then why not eat a few slices of white bread. It tastes a helluva lot better than whole grain bread and you actually enjoy it.

The war on simple vs. complex carbs needs to end. Carbs are carbs, get over it.

4) Salt

The myth: Eating too much salt is main reason people have high blood pressure.

The truth: Salt is essential to the human body. If there’s any nutrient I recommend decreasing or even limiting, salt is not one of them.

If your doctor diagnoses you with high blood pressure I guarantee the first thing they’re going to say is “Eat less salt.”

angelina-jolie-salt-set
Wrong salt.

But have you ever though that maybe it’s not just the salt causing the high blood pressure and maybe…just maybe it’s the fact that people with high blood pressure also eat a ton of carbs, fats, sugars.

If you really want to improve your health, maybe you should start with eating less refined foods and eating more whole nutritionally dense foods. In my opinion reducing your sodium intake should be the last thing on your priority list.

Once you fix the main, core aspects (like your overall calorie intake and getting enough veggies) of your diet, salt won’t become much of an issue.

Hell, even the CDC admitted that there isn’t much benefit to reducing your salt intake.

The takeaway here is – don’t purposefully drench your food in salt but at the same time, you don’t need to be an anal bitch about tracking your sodium intake.

5) Butter

The myth: Saturated fat = bad. That’s all.

The truth: Butter is actually quite a healthy fat. It’s how most people go about incorporating with their food that make it unhealthy.

pauladeen

I blame people’s fear of butter on 2 reasons:

1) Its high saturated fat content, which is believed to cause heart disease

2) Paula Dean

It may be one of the tastiest fats, but people fear butter.

With its high saturated fat content combined with Paula Dean’s butter orgies, there’s no positive light about butter.

Truth is, butter really isn’t unhealthy for you at all. Yes, it is high in saturated fat but saturated fat hasn’t actually been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

 …there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.

The problem with butter and why it’s a danger to most is the context in which the majority of people consume it. For example, if you replace your primary cooking oil (olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, etc…) with butter, it wouldn’t affect you one bit.

It’s when you start going all Paula Dean on your cooking and start making butter cream filled butter cake with butter frosting, then butter starts to become a problem.

Treat butter like any other oil/fat, don’t pay it any special attention, and you won’t have any problems.

Mainstream nutritionists tend to favor margarine or butter substitutes, but for “professionals” so paranoid about nutrition and eating natural foods, why would eating margarine, which contains crappy processed vegetable oils and artificial flavors be better than butter which is really just cream.

I’m not favoring either side but you know, just saying…

Besides that, butter is rich in Vitamin A and fatty acids such as Conjugated Linoleic Acid which has been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-tumor properties.

6) Bacon

Bacon
Yup…you can totally have sex with that.

The myth: Bacon tastes amazing but it’s incredibly bad for you because it’s loaded with salt, fat, and sodium nitrate.

The truth: Bacon tastes amazing.

“Eat turkey bacon, it tastes the same.” No greater lie has been told in the history of human beings.

Let’s tackle these objections one by one:

1) Salt

I covered this in #4 above. Bottom line, don’t worry about the salt.

But more importantly, it’s bacon. It’s delicious and I don’t care what you say.

2) Fat

Yes bacon is loaded with fat, but it’s really nothing to worry about.

Breaking it down, bacon is about 50% monounsaturated fat, 40% saturated fat, and 10% polyunsaturated fat.

And for who don’t know, monounsaturated fat is the same fat that olive oil is mainly comprised of. And guess what? Almost every mainstream nutritionist on this planet recommends you to use olive oil.

As for the saturated fat scare, bacon is in the same boat as red meat and butter which I debunked in points #1 and #4 earlier.

But more importantly, it’s bacon. It’s delicious and I don’t care what you say.

 3) Nitrates

Nitrates – don’t fear them.

Chris Kresser wrote an excellent post on why we shouldn’t fear nitrates and bacon.

Basically the majority of nitrates people are exposed to don’t even come from food, they come from within the body (more specifically, your saliva). And in terms of food, the most nitrate rich foods are vegetables such as celery or arugula which has exponentially more nitrate than foods like bacon.

So there’s really no reason to avoid nitrates, you’re exposed to it more than you think and there’s really no research to prove it as a harmful substance.

But more importantly, it’s bacon. It’s delicious and I don’t care what you say.

7) Hard liquor

The myth: All alcohol is bad except red wine because it has resveratrol.

The truth: Hard liquor has a much high alcohol content than wine so obviously you can’t drink as much, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad for you.

Hard liquors like vodka and rum get a bad rep because it’s how most people get drunk and do stupid, regrettable stuff.

Wine on the other hand, is for the classy folks – those who sit at the all-American dinner table and sip on their red wine while eating the wife’s oven roasted chicken.

Screw that.

Hard liquor has a much higher alcohol concentration, so for every glass of wine you drink, you can only have 1-2 ounces of liquor.

Both are alcoholic beverages, and yes, red wine does have more health benefits than a hard liquor like vodka.

But then again, alcohol is non-essential to the human body. So if you’re going to drink, drink what you enjoy.

8) Egg Yolks

The myth: Egg yolks have a lot of cholesterol and will therefore raise your cholesterol levels, which apparently makes your heart explode or something like that.

The truth: The yolks are the most nutritious part of the egg so stop throwing them away.

What happens when you take the yolk out of the egg?

You lose all the fat and cholestorol that you’re probably trying to avoid, but you also lose all nutrition in eggs that make them special in the first place.

Egg yolks are super rich in B vitamins, Vitamin A, Selenium, and a ton of other nutrients such as Lutein which helps protect against macular degeneration.

Egg whites by themselves are essentially just pure protein. They’re low in caloreis and high in protein which is fine if that’s what you’re aiming for, but the yolk is where all the nutrition is at.

And if you’re worried about the all the fat and cholesterol in the yolk, don’t be.

Just like steak, bacon, and butter, the fat in egg yolks aren’t unhealthy.

As for the high cholesterol content, understand that eating dietary cholesterol doesn’t increase blood cholesterol levels (1, 2).

In fact, eating yolks can raise HDL (good cholesterol) lower LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).

So don’t fear eggs. In fact you should probably eat them fried in butter, served with a side of steak and bacon. It’s quite delicious, I hear.

9) High Fructose Corn Syrup

The myth: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is super processed, unnatural and makes everyone fat since it’s not natural like real sugar.

The truth: HFCS is really not much different from regular sugar.

High fructose corn syrup is horrible. It’s a quadrillion times worse than any other types of sugar. We should all avoid HFCS at all costs and only consume natural healthy sugars like honey and fucking agave syrup, right?

Well…not really.

Before I tell you why though, you need to understand what HFCS is.

Most people think HFCS is simply a highly chemical and processed sugar that spikes insulin and makes you fat. Why? “Just because” is the most common answer people give. That and insulin…it always comes back to insulin.

But in reality HFCS  (made of glucose and fructose) isn’t that different from other sweeteners including sucrose (regular sugar) and honey.

Sweetener comparison chart
Source

As you can see in the chart above, the composition of HFCS isn’t much different than many other commonly used sweeteners, so why is it being hated on so much?

Much of this hate stems from the fact that HFCS is the sweetener used in plenty of high calorie processed foods like cake and cookies, and soda.

But you can’t blame HFCS as the sole cause of obesity and declining health. You should be blaming that on an overall increase in calories over the years, but not HFCS exclusively.

If controlled and consumed in moderation, there nothing to show that HFCS is worse than any other types of sugar.

10) Any “unhealthy” food you can think of

Calm the fuck down

I could have expanded this list 10 fold by adding other famously picked on foods like white rice, fast food, organic vs. non-organic foods, etc… but I didn’t.

Besides artificial trans fats (which are really the only thing I recommend purposefully avoiding), there really isn’t a single food on this planet that I would label as healthy or unhealthy.

When it comes to nutrition, the devil is truly in the dose.

For example let’s take 2 foods – Fruit Loops and steel cut oatmeal.

Most people think of Fruit Loops as a horrible processed breakfast choice, but steel cut oatmeal on the other hand is the poster boy for a heart healthy breakfast.

Which one’s more unhealthy? It depends.

What if you eat a single Fruit Loop (1-2 calories) vs. a large bowl of steel cut oats (300 calories worth)?

Which one’s more unhealthy now? And let’s assume you’ve already hit your calorie limit for the day. Are you really going to consume 300 extra calories of oatmeal just because it’s ‘healthy’ vs. eating 1-2 calories worth of Fruit Loops.

You might think this is a stupid example that’ll never happen in the real world, but I’m sure you get my point.

And my point is, you can’t take a single food and label it as the enemy and sole cause of our health problems. Doing so is incredibly ignorant.

People need to seriously calm down about food. It’s just fucking food.

You can’t just blame everything on HFCS and salt. You need to look at the big underlying picture, as there are usually much more pressing matters (like eating too many overall calories and sitting on your ass all day) than a single food.

What do you guys think? Drop a comment below and let me know what you think.

Picture credits – Source, Source

45 Comments - Leave Your Thoughts

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  1. Keith, I love your blog !
    Totally agree with you !
    This makes so much sense, I have a friend whose diet is 90% consisted of so-called-super-unhealthy-foods-that-should-be-avoided-at-all-cost. She eats just cookies, chocolates, French fries and so on but the portion is so small. I think she hardly make it to 1,000 cals a day. And she’s severely underweight !
    So better stop worrying what you put in your mouth, and start aware of how much you eat 🙂 !

    P.S. sorry for my English.

  2. Awesome article (and first time reader here)! I had been starting to question many of these “food rules” myself recently, and it was really enlightening to read your perspective on it. Also, you had me at “red wine protects your heart but any other alcohol makes it explode.” 🙂

  3. I originally came to this site because I agree with the general premise and, after reading it in its’ entirety I still mostly agree.

    However, the problem with processed foods is compounded by the fact that the are addictive and not really filling. It isn’t calories alone that need to be considered.

    But, yes, in moderation most things are just fine.

  4. keith – just recently discovered fitmole and just read this. great article, and makes more sense than other articles on the same subject. plus it has the LOL factor. thanks!!

  5. Keith,
    I agree with you. Any food can be the devil of us if we let it. No one food is really good or bad for you. It’s how you incorporate it in your every day life. Food is what you make of it. Either you define it or it will define you. The choice is yours.

  6. Absolutely love this! Love your whole blog actually. You’ve really inspired me to keep going on the right track at my own pace, and not follow all these bullshit fads on the internet and then get discouraged when it doesn’t work. Keep it up mate I’m sure you’ve inspired a lot of people.

  7. I really enjoyed this article. Also read your other article about the Twinkie diet. I’ve been wanting to go on a cut and get down to 10% body fat, and I’ve been stressing way too much about the food I’m eating lately. I like this perspective because I was focusing too much on quality and not quantity. I’d go out and have a burger, fries, chicken strips and a coke at night. And while all those things aren’t necessarily the worst, I was having too much in one sitting. Almost 2,000 cal all at once. So I definitely think it’s the abundance of calories that’s been killing me more than anything else. I’m excited to try this out by having everything in moderation along with my exercise, and hopefully I’ll be heading in a much better direction. Thanks for the insight.

  8. Say Keith, do you have any say on this whole “processed food is bad” stuff? I understand one shouldn’t base their whole diet on them, but just a bit a bit accompanied with typical “healthy” foods doesn’t affect a person’s health? Like people saying saturated fat is bad but many protein sources have them (meat, dairy, eggs, etc.).

  9. Amazing, even this whole site basiacaly contradicts everything I’ve been taught, I personally think you need more concrete examples and proof in some articles but don’t take everything so seriously of what I say anyway great site!

  10. Almost everything on this list I agree with 110%. I believe people should get away from HFCS because of the addictive qualities that this form of sweetner has. I think finding a healthier version is the best way to go. But I also don’t advocate someone constricting their diet to the point they can’t function in public.

    Your writing style is great and continue doing this type of list, please. 🙂

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