6 Foods You Thought Were Unhealthy But Aren’t

What makes food healthy or unhealthy? How do good foods get bad reputations? Sometimes, it’s because we prepare an otherwise healthy ingredient in unhealthy ways, and other times we vilify food based on shady, unfounded health claims. Here are some “bad” foods you can embrace once again!

What makes food healthy?

Before we get into a the list of surprisingly healthy foods, let’s talk about what makes a food “unhealthy.” There’s a lot of confusion around food and our health, because the processed food industry has such incredible lobbying power.

In fact, the 2017 the International Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food and Health Survey found that most Americans receive conflicting information about healthy eating and that we let non-health factors, like price, influence our thinking about what is and isn’t healthy.

But what really makes food healthy or unhealthy?

Wow—is this a loaded question! There is a lot of conflicting information out there about what is and isn’t healthy. I dug through a lot of lists, and here are some qualities of healthy food that popped up on all of them:

  • It’s low in sodium.
  • It’s a good source of fiber.
  • If it contains fats, they’re healthy fats.
  • It’s low in added sugars.
  • It’s as unprocessed as possible.

Let’s use the list above as a jumping-off point when looking at the foods below.

What makes food healthy?

Healthy Foods You Thought were Unhealthy

1. Potatoes

Potatoes are one of those foods that get the short shift with very little reason. A whole potato with the skin is a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, vitamin B6 and even calcium.

The problem with potatoes is in how we prepare them. Deep fried French fries, pools of butter and heaps of sour cream are what make potatoes unhealthy. So go ahead and embrace the potato!

2. Carbs

Oh, carbs. We blame them for everything! They’re the other reason that people vilify potatoes and many other foods on this list, but not all carbs are the same. Care2′s Diana Herrington explains, “Your brain, nervous system and muscles require about 60-65 percent carbohydrates to keep them nourished.”

Our bodies run on carbs. The trick is choosing good carbs—like whole grains and vegetables—rather than refined carbohydrates, like you’d find in doughnuts.

3. Fat

Fat is another macronutrient that get a bad rep, and food marketing takes a lot of the blame here. If we vilify all fats, then companies can market low-fat foods that are packed with added sugars and processed ingredients to replace the missing fat.

Like carbs, not all fats are the same. When you’re looking for healthy foods, go for options low in saturated and trans fats in favor of foods containing unsaturated fats.

4. Corn

Corn falls into the same category as potatoes: a healthy food that gets an unhealthy reputation because of the preparations. Sure, corn on the cob or a bucket of popcorn slathered in butter is unhealthy. But whole, organic corn on its own is a healthy whole grain that provides fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.

When you stop thinking of corn as a vegetable and recognize it as a whole grain, it’s much easier to eat it in a healthy way.

5. White Rice

White rice is one food that doesn’t hit all of the points on our list of parameters, but when you take a closer look, white rice isn’t so bad. Jordyn Cormier dove into whether brown rice is really healthier than white, and what she discovered was surprising.

Cormier says that brown rice does have more fiber and vitamins, but it also contains more anti-nutrients, which make it harder for your body to absorb the nutrition from your food. White rice is also easier to digest. She also points out that you’re not likely to eat a big bowl of white rice on its own. Chances are, you’re piling on fiber- and nutrient-rich veggies. If the white rice makes that healthy veggie stir fry more appealing, go for it.

6. Pasta

You’d think that pasta, especially conventional pasta, would be associated with weight gain, but last year a study found that it’s not necessarily associated with weight gain.

Like white rice, it’s all about what you pair with that pasta. In the study, pasta eaters were more likely to be eating a Mediterranean diet and eating in moderation overall. This study doesn’t mean that a bowl of fettucini alfredo is suddenly healthy, but it does give us reason to put pasta on a healthy food list, provided you’re pairing it with healthy foods, like veggies and beans.

Related at Care2:

What makes food healthy or unhealthy? How do good foods get bad reputations? Here are some "bad" foods you can embrace once again!

Images via Thinkstock.


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a month ago


Pietro Maiorana
Pietro Maioranaabout a month ago

Ovviamente nelle giuste quantità

Chrissie R
Chrissie Rabout a month ago

What you can eat. What you can't eat. How about eating sensible, moderate amounts of FOOD?

Lesa D
Lesa DiIorio2 months ago

HOORAY!!! corn & pasta & potatoes!!! oh, my!!!

thank you, Becky...

Anne F
Anne F2 months ago

well, easier to digest and high fiber are contradictory. Wish folks would think about what suits their own bodies and lives, rather than try to make general rules

Marija M
Marija M2 months ago


Ilona S
Ilona S2 months ago

Thank you

Janis K
Janis K2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

maria r
maria r2 months ago


Janet B
Janet B2 months ago