Everyone loves a good villain, and that holds true even for what we eat. “We always look for food scapegoats, the pariah food we shouldn’t go near,” says Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and co-author of Walk Your Butt Off. Establishing a verboten list simplifies the task of making healthier meal choices. But nutrition research is an ongoing process. “Scientists need time to tease out the different components in foods,” says Lona Sandon, RD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. Here, five foods that have gone from forbidden to favored.
Downside: Cheese contains a great deal of fat (an ounce of Gouda has about eight grams).
Upside: The fat that’s so dangerous for your thighs contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that recent research suggests is good for your heart. In a 10-week Italian study, healthy adults who each day ate about one ounce of cheese high in CLA experienced significant improvements in markers of systemic inflammation, which is a risk factor for atherosclerosis, heart disease and strokes. One likely explanation: CLA is an anti-oxidant, which as a class helps protect against heart disease, notes Thomas Wilson, PhD, associate professor of nutritional science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
In addition, probably because of its anti-inflammatory effects, CLA may help lower cancer risks and prevent age-related muscle and bone loss, says Mizanur Rahman, PhD, assistant professor of clinical immunology and rheumatology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The cheeses highest in CLA include blue cheese, Brie, Edam, Swiss and sharp Cheddar.
Caveat: An ounce of cheese, which is about the size of four dice, ranges from 49 calories for ricotta to 113 for Cheddar. “It’s easy to overeat cheese, and many people do,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, an attending physician at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Gerbstadt recommends sticking with one or two ounces a day if you’re concerned about your weight.
Downside: Long a favorite beverage among kids, chocolate milk was on the dietary no-no list for adults for many years because it contains added sugar and a lot of calories (209 per eight ounces).
Upside: “During the first minutes after exercise, your body rebuilds and repairs muscle tissue,” says Kim Spaccarotella, PhD, an exercise researcher and a lecturer at Kean University. Research done in the past five years suggests that chocolate milk aids with that post-workout recovery. The beverage contains four key ingredients—protein, carbs, fluids and electrolytes—that facilitate muscle repair when consumed within 45 to 60 minutes after a workout.
Caveat: While there’s nothing wrong with having low-fat or fat-free chocolate milk as a healthy treat now and then—it packs a hefty dose of calcium—you can easily drink too much. Unless you’re cutting out the 200 calories elsewhere or exercising long or hard, introducing chocolate milk may wreak havoc with your diet.
Downside: Ever since the low-carb craze kicked into high gear in the 1990s, white-colored foods, including potatoes, have gotten a bad rap.