Special Report

25 Junk Foods That Are Actually Not So Bad for You

sergeyryzhov / Getty Images

Remember when margarine was healthier than butter? That was before studies revealed how unhealthy synthetic trans fats can be. Nutrition science is constantly changing, and with it, the reputations of formerly vilified foods.

24/7 Tempo reviewed dozens of foods that are often considered unhealthy and found the ones with redeeming qualities, either due to their nutritional content or our updated understanding of dietary fats and cholesterol.

The current medical consensus around the causes of heart disease is shifting, and certain fats and cholesterols are proving to be less of a factor than sugar and excessive carbohydrate intake. In addition, the idea that eating fat makes you fat is a myth.

Eating in moderation and avoiding excessive sugar intake is a much better strategy than seeking out reduced-fat versions of snacks, which often have added sugars and carbohydrates to make up for the flavor loss.

If you need a quick fix, these snacks have your back, and here are some “healthy” foods that are actually ruining your diet.

Click here to see junk foods that are actually not so bad for you

1. Graham crackers

Graham crackers contain less sugar than the average packaged cookie, and graham flour is a type of whole grain wheat flour, which has more fiber and vitamins than white flour.


2. Chocolate

Dark chocolate and even certain milk chocolates that contain at least 50% cacao (which means less sugar and fat) are a great snack if you’re feeling stressed, as they are high in magnesium, a mineral that is often depleted as a result of stress.

3. Cheese

While everyone knows that cheese is a good source of calcium, it’s less well known that increasing dairy consumption can help fight heart disease, according to some research. Cheeses made from grass-fed dairy are particularly high in vitamin K2, which is crucial for bone and artery health.

4. Ice cream

One scoop of full-fat ice cream is a great source of calcium and protein. Stay away from low-fat versions, as they tend to contain more sugar and additives to replace the flavor lost by removing fat.


5. Beef jerky

Beef jerky is a high-protein snack that won’t spike insulin levels. Though it’s true that some varieties are high in sodium and preservatives, there are all-natural, low-sodium, and grass-fed products available.

6. Popcorn

Movie theatre popcorn may be doused in salt and mysterious flavored vegetable oils, but it’s much easier to control the sodium levels and types of fat used in home-made and air-popped popcorn. Popcorn is high in fiber and low in calories, so it’s ok to eat it by the handful.


7. Salted Nuts

An ounce of salted nuts can provide protein, vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and healthy unsaturated fats. Because the protein helps you feel full for longer than sugar, nuts make a great snack between meals.

8. Ketchup

A relatively low-calorie condiment, ketchup is a good source of vitamins A and C, and the antioxidant lycopene. Organic ketchup has been shown to contain 60% more lycopene than conventional brands.

9. Bacon

Compared to some cuts of beef, bacon contains much less saturated fat. It’s actually a great source of monounsaturated fat — which helps reduce cholesterol levels — as well as protein and omega-3 fatty acids.


10. Burritos

With plenty of beans, lettuce, meat, a whole wheat tortilla, and salsa, a burrito can be a well-balanced meal. Burritos often contain over 1,000 calories, however, so splitting one into two meals is a smart choice.

11. Butter

Compared to margarine, which is high in trans fat, butter is a healthier option. The fat in butter aids in the absorption of vitamins. As with all cow products, grass-fed butter is the best option, as it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids.


12. Pizza

It’s all about the toppings. A thin-crust slice of pizza with tomato sauce and vegetables is a healthier choice than pepperoni, as it contains more vitamins and the cheese provides protein and calcium.

13. Pork Rinds

Compared to a serving of potato chips, pork rinds have no carbohydrates, more protein, and less fat. The fat they do have is 43% unsaturated, most of that being oleic acid, which is the same fat contained in olive oil.

14. Meringue Cookies

Made from egg whites and sugar, meringue cookies are naturally gluten free, and the egg whites provide protein and selenium. When compared to other decadent desserts, meringues are a smart option.


15. Angel Food Cake

Another dessert made with whipped egg whites, angel food cake contains no added fat and significantly less calories than any other type of cake. If you’re going to eat cake, this is a healthier option.

16. Sweet Potato Fries

Especially when baked, sweet potato fries are a healthy, nutrient-rich side dish. They provide more fiber than regular fries, and also contain vitamin A and potassium. But you should make that snack from scratch to avoid the preservatives that are usually in the store-bought versions.


17. Full-fat yogurt

Because manufacturers tend to add more sugar and carbs to low-fat yogurt, full-fat is a better option. In addition, studies have shown that full-fat dairy products are not harmful to the cardiovascular system the way that fats from meat are.

18. Sour cream

Sour cream is a low sodium condiment, and contains significantly fewer calories than mayonnaise. Though it’s high in fat, some studies have linked high dairy fat intake to decreased risk of obesity and heart disease.

19. Crackers

Crackers can be high in fiber, and those with nuts or seeds can even provide protein. Though cracker options are seemingly unlimited, whole grain crackers with low sodium and sugar content are a healthy choice.


20. Cheez Whiz

Conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) are naturally occurring trans fats with cancer-fighting properties. Cheez Whiz happens to be higher in CLAs than any other cheese.

21. Egg yolks

Rich in protein, carotenoids that promote healthy eyes, and choline, an essential nutrient in neurological and endocrine functioning, egg yolks have long been demonized due to the amount of cholesterol they contain. Current research, however, shows that most of the cholesterol in our bodies is made by our livers, stimulated by saturated and trans fat intake — not from dietary cholesterol.


22. Tortilla chips

Low sodium tortilla chips, along with many new options on the shelves including bean chips, flax and quinoa chips, and grain-free tortilla chips, contain more nutrients and are far healthier than fried potato chips.

23. Peanut Butter

Although peanut butter is high in fat, 80% is healthy unsaturated fat that helps your body absorb nutrients. It’s also packed with its own nutrients, including magnesium, folic acid, and vitamin E, and is a great source of protein and antioxidants. The goal is to buy peanut butter without added fat or sugar.

24. Bananas

One serving of half a banana is a healthy source of fiber, vitamin A, potassium, and folic acid — without the load of calories. Bananas are naturally low in sodium, and though they contain sugar, they’re low on the glycemic index, which means they don’t cause blood sugar to spike.


25. Beer

Beer has long been a staple of the human diet. In moderation, meaning one to two beers per day, it can lower the risk of heart disease or stroke. It’s also a source of calcium, iron, vitamin B, magnesium, selenium, and potassium.

Sponsored: Want to Retire Early? Here’s a Great First Step

Want retirement to come a few years earlier than you’d planned? Or are you ready to retire now, but want an extra set of eyes on your finances?

Now you can speak with up to 3 financial experts in your area for FREE. By simply clicking here you can begin to match with financial professionals who can help you build your plan to retire early. And the best part? The first conversation with them is free.

Click here to match with up to 3 financial pros who would be excited to help you make financial decisions.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.