I’ll Drink to That!
‘Tis the season to start afresh. But what if you learned you had your list of dietary resolutions (or restrictions) all wrong? That those “bad” habits you’re trying to give up or tuck in for 2014 are actually good for you? I’m not just playing devil’s advocate. Turns out, there’s plenty of research that shows some so-called vices are actually better for us than we think. Read on for six “bad habits” you may not want to give up.
Dessert for Breakfast?
Here’s something I can stand behind: Eat a dessert for breakfast that is high in protein and carbs and you aren’t as likely to gain weight as easily as those who stick to a commendable low-carb, low-cal breakfast, according to a recent Tel Aviv University study. Over 32 weeks, the participants who consumed cakes, chocolate and cookies in a 600-calorie meal lost, on average, 40 pounds more than dieters who stayed clear of the sweet stuff. (Sign me up!) Apparently, the fatty, gooey desserts kept participants content and satiated longer than the low-cal meals, so they ended up eating less over the course of the day. Another study backs up this pro-sugar picture: In studying candy eaters, Baylor College of Medicine researchers found those who ate it often had a lower BMI, cholesterol levels and waist circumference than those who skipped the daily candy habit.
Pass the Butter!
With cardiovascular disease running in my family, I’ve stayed clear of fatty foods for the last few years because I was afraid they weren’t good for my heart. But I may have it all wrong. Saturated fats (the ones usually connected with bad cholesterol readings) may be better than carbs for the old ticker. According to a recent British Medical Journal article, not all fats are alike. While transfats aren’t good for the body, bypassing saturated fats hasn’t been shown to necessarily protect your heart either. Rather, consuming whole foods that are naturally high in saturated fat (think butter, meat, coconut oil) are better for you than skipping them completely. Pass the butter!
Raise a Glass
When I’m trying to get healthy, wine and cocktails are often the first to get cut from my diet. After all, they’re “empty” calories with no nutritional benefit, right? Not to mention, they don’t make it easy to get up early the next morning to get to the gym.
And yet, a Harvard University School of Public Health study that followed about 14,000 women from 1976 to 2000 found that those who consumed roughly up to 15 alcoholic drinks a week had higher odds of being healthy, especially if they spread this amount over the course of the week. “Alcohol consumption seems to reduce the risk of specific diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cognitive decline (deterioration in learning, reasoning and perception).” Why? It appears that alcohol influences blood clotting, insulin levels and “good” cholesterol profiles. I’ll drink to that!
You Don’t Need to Go the Distance
I don’t hire a trainer anymore. Instead I raise my fitness level by paying a few hundred bucks to sign up and train for a challenging athletic competition three months away. I’d always thought that running longer distances would yield bigger benefits. But according to recent Mayo Clinic Proceedings, it looks like those tough endurance challenges are just about as good for my heart as … smoking or eating fast food. What?
According to researchers, any health benefit that I’m supposed to get from running disappears if I exceed 30 miles a week (not a lot when you’re training for a marathon, alas). That’s because the well-known tissue damage that repetitive endurance training causes raises the risk of heart damage and large-artery stiffening. For maximum benefit, it seems, a casual run around the park a few times a week may be better than training for, and running, a marathon.
Hit the Snooze Button
At last, research to debunk the whole “early bird gets the worm” mystique. A recent Japanese study has found that those who wake up before dawn have a higher risk of medical problems, like high blood pressure or hardening of arteries. These problems can can lead to cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes so they shouldn’t be taken lightly, found the researchers. The connection may be due to a disruption of our body’s natural clock that regulates those hormone levels connected to vasodilation as we sleep.
And finally, some scientific research to banish any hesitations you may have about another roll in the hay. Now where do I begin? For one, it can help you handle stress better, found British researchers who compared the blood pressure activity in 23 women and 22 men based on whether they’d recently had sex. Other studies have also found that sex may protect us from the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. And sex initiates a cascade of all kinds of feel-good hormones that protect the body and mind long after your latest bedroom session.