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It may come as a surprise, but as a dietitian I encourage my clients not to label food items as good or bad. Obviously, some foods have a higher nutritional value than others and make you feel better overall. But it's important to indulge in foods you love every once in awhile. Eating healthy on a regular basis helps you achieve or maintain proper weight, provide energy and nourish your body. Fun foods help you balance the scale and satisfy your cravings. When you feel like splurging, remember the following list of the healthiest "unhealthy" foods.
Rather than eating candy bars and sugar-laden trail mix, keep individually wrapped pieces of dark chocolate with you for portion control when a sweet craving hits. Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants that may help with cardiovascular health. (See Can Dark Chocolate Benefit Your Workout?)
Eggs get a bad rap because of their high cholesterol content. But although the yolk does contain cholesterol, eating a couple of eggs during the week will not be harmful. Check with your dietitian on the correct amount for you; but rather than eating just the whites, also eating the yolk provides vitamin and nutrients and may keep you feeling full longer.
If cookies are one of your guilty pleasures, I recommend making your own oatmeal cookies. Homemade versions have more fiber, which makes them more satisfying. Mix a few nuts into the batter to get protein and healthy fats. (We hear Brian Urlacher's a fan.)
The fat count in peanut butter is high, but they are healthy fats, the ones that help lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Of course you still want to control portions, but PB is a great food to include in your rotation. Try natural peanut butter (i.e., without sugar added). When shopping, look at the ingredients: the list should include only peanuts and salt.
Next time you order pizza, opt for a thin-crust pie to cut back on simple carbohydrates. Also, ask for less cheese and load up on veggie toppings. Making your own pizza at home is another easy, fun way to control portion size.
Not everything in red meat is bad for you. It's actually full of B vitamins and iron, essential nutrients that provide energy and reduce the risk of anemia. Choose lean cuts whenever possible and limit your weekly intake to one or two helpings. (See Maintain Consistent Nutrition Habits.)
If you're in the mood for a frozen treat, enjoy a 1/2-cup serving of natural ice cream. It's actually a great source of protein and calcium. Although fat-free yogurt and fruit bars are lower in calories, they usually contain more sugar. Choose an ice cream like Breyers, which has just five ingredients (the fewer the better), and savor a small portion.
(See also Eat What You Love: 3 Simple Guidelines for Healthy Trade-Offs.)