Finding The Good In The Bad Stuff

We crave them, reach for them first and experience a sudden satisfaction when we indulge in comforting foods and drinks. But you know what comes next. However pleasing to the palate, there’s a sense of guilt that lingers long after the last bite or sip. Say goodbye to the guilt and discover the health benefits found in the food and drinks you crave.

Registered dietitian and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman Andrea N. Giancoli reveals the hidden health perks in our favorite splurges.

A cup of coffee is the only way to start the day for some caffeine addicts. Drinking a cup of coffee puts a spring in your step, but it can do so much more.

“Temporarily, coffee can improve your mood,” Giancoli says. “It can also improve your exercise performance and slightly increase your metabolism briefly to give you that quick boost.”

For the habitual coffee drinker, the long-term benefits of drinking coffee every day are numerous. Studies have found that coffee lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Even the risk of liver disease is reduced among habitual decaf and caffeinated coffee drinkers, Giancoli says.

Coffee lovers can enjoy the benefits of coffee beans in up to five 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee a day. The health advantages are found in black coffee, not necessarily in your beloved frothy, sugary concoction, Giancoli notes.

“If we’re drinking coffee with lots of cream and sugar, then we’re also adding calories,” she says.

Here’s to a good cocktail, and a toast to the heart-healthy nutrients in every alcoholic beverage.

“The cardiovascular benefits from beer — and any alcohol, for that matter — are really attributed to the ethanol, which is the alcohol in alcoholic beverages that we consume,” Giancoli says. “Ethanol seems to increase our HDL cholesterol, which is our ‘good’ cholesterol that helps protect us against heart disease. It also seems to lower LDL cholesterol, which is the ‘bad’ cholesterol. It also lowers the risk of blood clotting.”

All alcoholic beverages contain heart-healthy ethanol, but some varieties feature other advantages. Beer has been found to lower kidney disease and reduce kidney stones in men, Giancoli says. And a study published in Clinical Psychiatry News reported that drinking a glass of wine a day improves cognitive function and reduces dementia in lifelong vino fans.

Moderation is the way to enjoy any of the perks found in alcohol.

“We do see cardiovascular benefits, but beyond moderate consumption, alcohol can be very toxic to the body’s tissues,” Giancoli says. “Moderate consumption is one drink a day for a woman and no more than two drinks a day for a man.”

There’s no greater indulgence than a delectable bite of chocolate. But does the sugary treat offer anything positive? The answer lies with the concentration of flavanols contained in the chocolate, a naturally occurring antioxidant in the cacao plants that produce cocoa beans. Studies have found that the special nutrient reduces blood clots, lowers blood pressure and improves brain function, Giancoli says.

“However, those cocoa flavanols are the same compounds that give chocolate its bitterness,” she says.

The more cocoa beans are processed, the more flavanols are eliminated in the chocolate … and the sweeter the resulting product. Sweeter varieties, such as milk chocolate, feature few flavanols and don’t contain the same health benefits as a very dark selection. Giancoli recommends chocolate addicts find the darkest option they can when a craving hits.

“You can always buy baker’s chocolate to be sure, which has a lot of flavanols,” she says. “If you can’t handle it, then go to the next dark chocolate below that. Any other semisweet chocolate will give you some flavanols, but you don’t want to eat the whole bar. Then you’re sort of negating the good effects when you’re getting too many calories and sugar.”

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