Guilty Pleasures That Are Great For You

chocolate bars( — Yes, living health is the key to being healty. But another key to a healthy life is actually enjoying it, and moderately partaking in a few guilty pleasures, can lower your risks of certain illnesses.

So go ahead and…

Eat some chocolate. Recent studies have found that people who ate dark chocolate can reduce their risk of heart disease by as much as 37 percent, their risk of stroke by 29 percent, and their risk of being hospitalized for heart failure. However, for this to be a healthy habit, moderation is key — which means eating less than one serving (about 1 ounce) one or two days each week. Women who ate one or more servings a day didn’t lower their heart failure risk. Your best choice is 100 percent cocoa powder, which you can use when you’re making desserts or even hot (or cold) chocolate.

Have a drink. Whether drinking alcohol lowers your risk of heart disease has been a topic of debate, but a recent analysis of studies found that light to moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and death. What is considered “light to moderate” consumption? The study said it was less than one alcoholic drink per day.


Note: Don’t have more than three drinks per week because other studies have found three or more drinks could lead to breast cancer, says Eric Braverman, MD, clinical assistant professor of integrative medicine in neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center and author of Younger (Sexier) You. Although men can drink slightly more, moderation is still key for them as well.

Make out. We know kissing feels good, but it can also be good for your health. The next time you’re looking for a smooch, you can tell your significant other that it could lower both of your chances of getting allergies. A study of 24 people with mild eczema and 24 people with mild hay fever found that kissing with soft music playing in the background for 30 minutes lowered the production of IgE antibodies, which lead to allergy symptoms.

Get some sun. Research shows that getting enough vitamin D is important for everyone, especially for postmenopausal women who may be at risk for osteoporosis. Rays from the sun help your body make vitamin D. All you need is to expose the backs of your hands to the sun two or three times a week for 10 to 15 minutes, says Darrell Rigel, MD, past president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and clinical professor of dermatology at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. This doesn’t mean you need to forgo sunscreen. Even when you wear sunscreen, you get enough sun exposure to make vitamin D, Dr. Rigel says.

Eat something canned. Healthy living includes eating fresh fruits and vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid canned foods altogether. Healthy options like fish and beans can be more convenient and less expensive in cans. Canned salmon and tuna are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and research shows they may lower inflammation and risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis, so be sure to add them to your diet.. Eating beans, along with other foods low on the glycemic index, has been have found to help lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. For optimal nutrition, look for canned foods with no salt added.

Don’t go fat-free.
Should you shun all fat from your diet? No! Healthy fats may actually help to lower inflammation and the risk of death due to inflammatory disease. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of more than 2,500 people age 49 and older, those who ate the most of a certain type of polyunsaturated fatty acids (known as n-PUFAs) over 15 years had a lower risk of dying from an inflammatory disease. Monounsaturated fats, which include olive oil and nuts, are other healthy fats that should be part of a good diet. Among other things, fats create cell membranes in our bodies, Dr. Dean says. Make a habit of replacing saturated and trans fat with these healthier choices.

Don’t give up your morning coffee. If it tastes good and it helps you get through the day, it must be bad for you, right? Well, research is finding that’s not the case for coffee, which can make it a good health habit after all. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, drinking coffee lowered inflammation and increased levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol. Another study of more than 69,000 French women in the same journal found that drinking coffee lowered risk of diabetes when the women drank it at lunch time. Up to five cups of coffee a day is okay, Dr. Braverman says.

Eat carbs. In today’s world of high-protein diets, carbohydrates get a bad rap. But they’re an important part a healthy diet when you choose complex carbohydrates such as root vegetables and whole grains over refined, sugary carbs such as donuts, Dean says. Research shows that people who eat whole grains tend to weigh less and have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease.

In another study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that men and women with metabolic syndrome, which is a group of risk factors such as high blood pressure and a large waistline that raise your risk of heart disease, who were on a low-calorie diet lost more belly fat and lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease when they ate whole grains instead of refined grains.

Dangerous Ingredients In Your Pantry

flaked sea salt

How much do you really know about what’s in your food?

Most of African American household food budgets are spent on processed foods, the majority of which are filled with additives and stripped of nutrients.

Look In Your Cabinet…

Grab the broccoli with cheese sauce from the freezer, the box of instant rice from the pantry, or the hot dogs from your fridge and squint at the ingredient list’s fine print. You’ll likely find food additives in every one.

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Is this healthy? Compared to the foods our bodies were built to eat, definitely not. Processed, packaged foods have almost completely taken over the diet of Americans.

Unfortunately, most processed foods are full of sweeteners, salts, artificial flavors, factory-created fats, colorings, chemicals that alter texture, and preservatives. But the trouble is not just what’s been added, but what’s been taken away. Processed foods are often stripped of nutrients designed by nature to protect your heart, such as soluble fiber, antioxidants, and “good” fats. Combine that with additives, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Here are the big four ingredients in processed foods you should look out for:

1. Trans Fats

Trans fats are in moist bakery muffins and crispy crackers, microwave popcorn and fast-food French fries, even the stick margarine you may rely on as a “heart-healthy” alternative to saturated-fat-laden butter.

Once hailed as a cheap, heart-friendly replacement for butter, lard and coconut oil, trans fats have been denounced by one Harvard nutrition expert as “the biggest food-processing disaster in U.S. history.” Why? Research now reveals trans fats are twice as dangerous for your heart as saturated fat, and cause an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 premature heart disease deaths each year.

Trans fats are worse for your heart than saturated fats because they boost your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease “good” HDL cholesterol. That’s double trouble for your arteries. And unlike saturated fats, trans fats also raise your levels of artery-clogging lipoprotein and triglycerides.

Check the ingredient list for any of these words: “partially hydrogenated,” “fractionated,” or “hydrogenated” (fully hydrogenated fats are not a heart threat, but some trans fats are mislabeled as “hydrogenated”). The higher up the phrase “partially hydrogenated oil” is on the list of ingredients, the more trans fat the product contains.

Replacing trans fats with good fats could cut your heart attack risk by a whopping 53 percent.

2. Refined grains

Choosing refined grains such as white bread, rolls, sugary low-fiber cereal, white rice, or white pasta over whole grains can boost your heart attack risk by up to 30 percent. You’ve got to be a savvy shopper. Don’t be fooled by deceptive label claims such as “made with wheat flour” or “seven grain.” Or by white-flour breads topped with a sprinkling of oats, or colored brown with molasses. Often, they’re just the same old refined stuff that raises risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks, insulin resistance, diabetes, and belly fat.

At least seven major studies show that women and men who eat more whole grains (including dark bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, popcorn, cooked oatmeal, brown rice, bran, and other grains like bulgur or kasha) have 20 to 30 percent less heart disease. In contrast, those who opt for refined grains have more heart attacks, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure.

Read the ingredient list on packaged grain products. If the product is one of those that are best for you, the first ingredients should be whole wheat or another whole grain, such as oats. The fiber content should be at least 3 grams per serving.

3. Salt

Three-quarters of the sodium in our diets isn’t from the saltshaker. It’s hidden in processed foods, such as canned vegetables and soups, condiments like soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, fast-food burgers (and fries, of course), and cured or preserved meats like bacon, ham, and deli turkey.

Some sodium occurs naturally in unprocessed edibles, including milk, beets, celery, even some drinking water. And that’s a good thing: Sodium is necessary for life. It helps regulate blood pressure, maintains the body’s fluid balance, transmits nerve impulses, makes muscles — including your heart — contract, and keeps your senses of taste, smell, and touch working properly. You need a little every day to replace what’s lost to sweat, tears, and other excretions.

What happens when you eat more salt than your body needs? Your body retains fluid simply to dilute the extra sodium in your bloodstream. This raises blood volume, forcing your heart to work harder; at the same time, it makes veins and arteries constrict. The combination raises blood pressure.

Your limit should be 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, about the amount in three-fourths of a teaspoon of salt. (Table salt, by the way, is 40 percent sodium, 60 percent chloride.) Older people should eat even less, to counteract the natural rise in blood pressure that comes with age. People over 50 should strive for 1,300 mg; those over 70 should aim for 1,200 mg.

Only the “Nutrition Facts” panel on a food package will give you the real sodium count. Don’t believe claims on the package front such as “sodium-free” (foods can still have 5 mg per serving); “reduced sodium” (it only means 25 percent less than usual); or “light in sodium” (half the amount you’d normally find).

4. High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Compared to traditional sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup costs less to make, is sweeter to the taste, and mixes more easily with other ingredients. Today, we consume nearly 63 pounds of it per person per year in drinks and sweets, as well as in other products. High-fructose corn syrup is in many frozen foods. It gives bread an inviting, brown color and soft texture, so it’s also in whole-wheat bread, hamburger buns, and English muffins. It is in beer, bacon, spaghetti sauce, soft drinks, and even ketchup.

Research is beginning to suggest that this liquid sweetener may upset the human metabolism, raising the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Researchers say that high-fructose corn syrup’s chemical structure encourages overeating. It also seems to force the liver to pump more heart-threatening triglycerides into the bloodstream. In addition, fructose may zap your body’s reserves of chromium, a mineral important for healthy levels of cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar.

To spot fructose on a food label, look for the words “corn sweetener,” “corn syrup,” or “corn syrup solids” as well as “high-fructose corn syrup.”