‘Unhealthy’ and Guilty-Pleasure Foods Dietitians Enjoy

Think dietitians avoid certain foods? You might be surprised to know their guilty-pleasure foods - especially #15!

Registered dietitians are notorious for being known as the “food police” – here to judge food choices, preach about kale and quinoa and avoid sugar like the plague. However, this is just one stereotypical type of dietitian and a very small minority at that. In reality, most dietitians don’t care what their friends and family eat and may even eat similarly to them.

It’s time to debunk the notion that dietitians eat completely clean, munch on raw celery in between meals, and would rather starve than eat McDonald’s on a road trip by highlighting what nutritionists eat in moderation.

But first, let’s explore the nuance of foods that are good for you and those that “aren’t.” 

The Nuance in Nutrition

How does a food generally get categorized as healthy or unhealthy?

In today’s culture, food is typically labeled healthy if it’s a vegetable and unhealthy if it contains carbohydrates, saturated fat, or has more than one gram of added sugar. Ok, this might be a backhanded hyperbole, but the point is many foods have become villainized.

With so much nuance within nutrition, deeming one food healthy versus another as unhealthy is like swimming through murky water. Food cannot be labeled healthy based on one of its properties alone. Instead, a variety of factors should be considered.

Rather than deeming a food healthy versus unhealthy based on the food group categorization (i.e. vegetable or starch or fat or sugar) or how society labels it (i.e. good or bad), consider additional ways to designate a healthy food or not.

  • Does this food contain carbs, protein or fat? – If yes (which all food will), then this is an edible food that supplies macronutrients and calories to fuel bodily functions and daily activities.
  • Is this food satisfying? – Feeling satisfied is pretty darn healthy. Conversely, always feeling hungry or trying to fill up on unsatisfying foods that are conventionally healthy usually leads to misery and constantly thinking about the next meal.
  • Is this food or meal functional? – Meaning, will eating this food support my next activity? Different kinds of foods support different activities or have different purposes at any given time. White bagels support marathon running; brownies support enjoying time with a friend; and black beans support lowering cholesterol. However, eat beans and veggies (like cruciferous vegetables) before exercise and that session will likely be cut short. 

In essence, dietitians generally believe that “all foods fit” into a balanced diet. At its core, this motto asserts that there is a time and place to enjoy all foods while also staying mindful of how they will contribute to health. 

So without further ado, check out these 15 typically guilty pleasure foods that dietitians regularly enjoy guilt-free. Prepare to be royally surprised by number fifteen!

Guilty Pleasure Food Dietitians Eat

Food can and should be a pleasurable experience with no guilty strings attached. From cheese to chocolate, take a peek at dietitians’ common guilty pleasures. 

1. Butter

This delicious spread gets a bad rap, but it adds satisfaction to many dishes. Made from fermented cream or milk, it’s actually considered a whole food. 

Margarine and some low-fat butter substitutions include trans fat, a chemically made fat associated with inflammation and poor health. Although dietitians are not afraid of butter, it’s still important to monitor portion sizes as butter is calorically rich.

2. Cheese

You’ll be severely hard-pressed to find a dietitian who does not love a charcuterie board filled with exotic cheeses. Similar to butter, regular dairy cheese is considered a whole food. 

Dairy products are unique in that it contributes carbs, protein and fat if it’s not a skim version, making it a very satiating food. It will also contribute calcium to strengthen bones and teeth!

3. Chocolate

There’s no shortage of chocolate in a dietitian’s office. Knowing that chocolate brings so much joy to a lot of people, no wonder we want to share it liberally! 

Choose dark chocolate for a punch of potent antioxidants and enjoy white and milk varieties more sparingly.

4. Coffee

There are few better ways to incentivize getting out of bed than with a cup of joe in the morning. Better yet, science agrees with dietitians on this one! 

Coffee is actually quite healthy when void of tons of added sugar from creams, syrups, and sweeteners. Black coffee offers antioxidants and other beneficial compounds along with 60-100 mg of caffeine. Check out which Fall Starbucks drinks to try this season.

5. Eggs

Thanks to diet culture, many people still believe that eating eggs will skyrocket their cholesterol. However, it’s now widely known that eating cholesterol – concentrated in egg yolks – doesn’t actually raise blood cholesterol levels. 

In fact, high consumption of saturated fat from poor quality animal products and processed and packaged foods raises cholesterol. Conversely, eggs supply ample nutrients in the form of high-quality protein (the most bioavailable of any protein food!), biotin, magnesium, and beyond.

Dietitian-Approved “Junk Food”

“Junk food” is a relative term but often implies the chosen food is less-than-nutritious and highly palatable. But let it be known dietitians still have soft spots for these types of foods – and one of them is high in fiber and may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and more!

6. White Potatoes

Compared to sweet potatoes, regular ole’ Idaho potatoes are basically satan. In reality, white potatoes are just as healthy as their sweet counterpart. They offer different nutrients due to their different colors, but one isn’t necessarily better than the other. 

Sweet potatoes and yams have more starch (complex carbohydrates), but also have more polyphenols due to their brighter color. Alternate between both to get the full spectrum of nutrients.

A medium potato (skin-on) contains about 4 grams of fiber and is packed with potassium, two nutrients shown to positively impact blood pressure and heart health.

7. Bacon

This typical breakfast food adds that extra little bit of flavor that can take a burger from good to great and a leafy green salad from undesirable to delicious. Because it’s higher in saturated fat and calories, it’s wise to enjoy it in moderation. 

But, best believe that bacon is included in the regular rotation of some dietitian’s meals!

8. Hamburgers 

While already spilled the beans about enjoying burgers, especially when bacon tops them, but here’s to reiterating it again! Don’t be surprised if a dietitian orders a hearty burger rather than the cobb salad when dining out. 

Perhaps they get a side salad instead of fries to balance the meal, but there’s no denying pleasure or protein when eating our beloved burgers. Simply omit the bun if trying to watch carbs.

9. Ice Cream

There are few treats that are more enjoyable than ice cream on a hot summer’s evening. While ice cream is known for being too calorically dense, too fatty, too inflammatory, too this or that, it is also downright delectable. 

Ice cream is definitely better enjoyed in moderation, but dietitians understand that restricting only intensifies cravings for it. Best to honor the craving with an appropriate portion size and move on with life!

10. French Fries

French fries are one of the most vilified foods on the planet, mostly because of the demonization of white potatoes. However, compared to other starches, potatoes, even in fried form, are more satisfying and less inflammatory. 

Some people believe potatoes are the most satisfying food in the world, which also means they can easily be eaten in moderation with mindful awareness. Skipping on fast food restaurants and baking fries at home can transform fried food into a nutritional punch!

Dietitian-Approved Snacks

Snack choices might not be the most nutritious but even dietitians likewise enjoy various light bites when hunger strikes. Whether savory dips or sweet cookies, dietitians often do not hold back in their snack game. 

11. Dips

Dietitians tend to love all the flavor and variety that different dips can offer. Uninformed nutritionists spew dips are merely extra and not worth the calories. Dietitians, once again, realize they add a satisfaction factor that’s important to feel full and focus on other things. 

Hummus, guacamole, and other homemade versions will likely be more nutrient-dense than the typical ranch, french onion, or spinach artichoke. But know there is a time and place for all to fit.

12. Crackers

Empty calories are they? Not so fast. Crackers provide a wonderful crunch and many varieties are sourced with nutrient-dense ingredients like chia seeds, quinoa, and more these days. 

Although it’s hard to beat a classic Triscuit or Wheat Thin, choose these newer options more often than not. However, do not fret about adding a few to a meal or snack.

13. Cookies

In the wise words of Gym Class Heroes, “can’t keep our hands, our hands, our hands out the cookie jar!” 

Perhaps it’s because of all the different varieties and ways to make them, but dietitians have a soft, doughy spot for cookies right in the center of our hearts. 

Obviously, this sweet treat can’t nutritionally compete with a bowl of roasted veggies, but dietitians understand that they can include both in a healthful diet.

14. Popcorn

Nowadays, even popcorn gets a bad rap as being too high in carbohydrates. However, some of this carbohydrate is in the form of fiber, an exceptional plant-based nutrient providing many health benefits! 

Plus, popcorn offers that salty crunch that’s unbeatable while also enjoying a movie. Skip the butter on occasion and add olive oil for a dose of healthy monounsaturated fats!

15. Bread

Finally, it is time to once and for all dispel the myth that “healthy eaters” always skip the bread. Of all the foods in the world, bread is widely considered the worst food on the planet. 

People often believe Cheez Wiz and sugary cereals are less harmful than a slice of bread due to its carb content. But, for the record, one serving of bread has equal or less carbs than one serving of pasta, rice, potato, etc. 

Of course, dietitians acknowledge that certain varieties like whole wheat, sprouted, and seed breads are more healthful than white and Italian varieties. But, as a lasting remark, there is a time and place for all foods and all kinds of bread to fit! 

Repeat that last sentence until it’s ingrained in your mind and sleep easy knowing that most dietitians enjoy conventionally labeled “unhealthy” foods just like the next person.