Indulgences That Are Actually Good for You
Are you starting to wobble on those New Year resolutions you made so confidently just a while ago? Are you thinking wistfully about a steaming mug of coffee or tea, maybe with a little whole milk? Don’t you just love to curl up with a soothing cup of hot chocolate and a good book?
Shred those resolutions and indulge with a clear conscience. Some of life’s guilty pleasures turn out to be good for you! This article will focus on hot beverages that people give up for New Year’s in the mistaken belief that self-deprivation equals healthy living.
Take coffee, for instance. This is one of life’s joys that often ends up on the scrap heap come the new year. If we're not cutting back on the number of cups we consume each day, we're switching to decaf or striking it off the menu altogether.
But we really don’t have to. Apart from giving us discernible improvements in alertness, focus and concentration, coffee is also a great source of antioxidants, harboring no fewer than six antioxidant species. These antioxidants help protect us from the ravages of the ubiquitous free radicals that pummel our cell membranes, shred the linings of our blood vessels, and wreak havoc with critical macromolecules such as proteins and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA), contributing to early signs and symptoms of aging.
Today’s American consumes between one and two grams of antioxidants each day, most of which comes from tea and coffee. Although foods like berries actually contain more antioxidants per gram, we tend to consume more coffee than berries. Studies in Norway and Finland reveal that 64 percent of antioxidants come from coffee. Here, the average coffee intake is between two to four cups(1). Research from Spain, Japan, France and Poland confirms that coffee is the best regular source of antioxidants.
Many people prefer tea to coffee. Tea doesn’t always contain caffeine, but when it does, it contains 20 percent as much as a strong cup of coffee (200 ml). Strong coffee contains 100 - 300mg caffeine, whereas tea contains between 20 and 60 mg. Decaffeinated and some herbal teas are caffeine-free.
In the brain, caffeine blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. Adenosine accumulates throughout the day to promote drowsiness and get us ready to go to sleep at night.
What tea does contain in abundance are three other stimulants: theanine, theobromine and theophylline. All four of these stimulants are also found in cocoa beans, which we’ll get to in a moment.
The role of theanine, an amino acid, is to stimulate brain activity and increase alertness and focus. The anime allows caffeine to stimulate the brain without the accompanying increases in blood pressure and anxiety.
Both theobromine and theophylline are members of the xanthine class of chemical compounds. Theophylline relaxes the smooth muscles in the airway and makes it easier to breathe. It also stimulates both the rate and force of heart contractions. Theophylline is used to treat lung diseases such as asthma and COPD.
Theobromine also stimulates the heart, but it has a mild diuretic effect and increases blood flow throughout the body. The net effect is a reduction in blood pressure.
Chocolate — quite possibly the cruelest deprivation of all. And why? How will any one of us make the world a better place by denying ourselves this simple, affordable, and surprisingly healthy treat?
Both chocolate and cocoa come from beans that are packed with powerful antioxidants, those marvelous scavengers that help mop up damaging free radicals throughout the body. The antioxidant compounds in chocolate can help reduce oxidation of cholesterol, a heart health risk factor, and stimulate nitric oxide production in the arteries, improving blood circulation and supporting healthy blood pressure.(4)
But it gets better. Chocolate is actually packed wirh nutrients, including high levels of iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese, making it a legitimate superfood. Even the fats it contains are mostly healthy monounsaturated fats, with some additional saturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Chocolate owes most of its naughty reputation to the added dairy and sugar, which ups the calorie count significantly. So the trick is to go for darker, less sweetened chocolate. The more natural and unprocessed the chocolate is, and the higher the cocoa content, the more healthy antioxidants and nutrients it will contain.
Full fat dairy
If chocolate is the cruelest of our annual self-imposed deprivations, then full fat dairy is the most surprising. Research has shown that, far from adding pounds to our collective waistlines, consuming whole milk and other full fat dairy products can actually help lose weight(2).
When you take a close look at the facts, it’s not that far fetched. We may think two percent milk is way lower in fat than whole milk, but full fat milk only contains around 3.5 percent fat, not 100 percent. It’s all in the way we interpret the two percent! Meanwhile, low fat dairy products usually try to make up for the missing fat by adding other unhealthy things, like sugar.
Whole foods tend to come optimized for us to digest and absorb them. Whole milk comes with its own natural balance of protein, fats, and sugars. While it does have some "bad" cholesterol, it also includes the "good" cholesterol to offset those effects. Besides, milk is good for you. An eight ounce glass contains 28% of your RDA for calcium and 24% of your RDA for vitamin D, along other important nutrients(3). All this suggests that we can add full fat milk to our tea, coffee and hot chocolate with a clear conscience.
Despite what we often believe, not all of life’s pleasures are bad for us. Coffee, tea, chocolate, and full fat dairy products all have their redeeming benefits. Sometimes there are medical reasons for avoiding caffeine or dairy, or you may have a sensitivity to one of these foods. Your own healthcare provider is the best guide in these matters. But if you feel good after one of these indulgences, maybe that's because it is good. Be smart, indulge moderately, and listen to your body, but let the guilt go.