How unhealthy are our favourite treats really? Wine, chocolate, coffee - could it be that they're actually good for you in moderation?
We all love the occasional treat, but fear of it being unhealthy can sometimes turn us off the idea of some of our favourite indulgences like red wine, coffee and chocolate. But how unhealthy actually are they? And will it really have such a negative effect on our diet and overall health if we keep indulging?
Red wine doesn’t have the best reputation among health professionals—it has a relatively high alcohol percentage, usually around 13.3-14.5 alcohol by volume (ABV)—comparable to white and rose wine. A standard bottle of red contains around 750 calories, and a single 175ml glass is 2.3 units, compared to a weekly recommended maximum intake of 14 units a week.
So drinking more than six glasses of red a week could cause weight gain as well as other health issues such as increased risk of depression, diabetes and liver disease. However, you may be pleased to know that in moderation, red wine actually comes with a few very real health benefits. Red wine contains powerful antioxidants, which help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. It is believed that they do this by protecting the body against free radicals, which often occur when breaking down food or inhaling tobacco smoke. Red wine may also the reason for the ‘French Paradox’.
This refers to low rates of heart disease in France despite the high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in their cuisine. It is believed that red wine may be responsible for protecting against these harmful nutrients. So, while it’s not advisable to consume red wine in huge amounts, wine lovers don’t need to worry unless they are having more than the recommended amount. This is one or two glasses per day for men, and one or one and a half in women.
Coffee is an essential morning pick-me-up for many, giving us the buzz that we need to kick-start the day. But the caffeine causing this effect has been shown to cause problems in some people, disrupting sleep, causing shakes and jitters, and sometimes worsening the symptoms of anxiety. Some people seem to have a caffeine sensitivity, and pregnant women are advised to stay away from coffee.
But for the rest of us, in moderation coffee can be a healthy part of our diet. Firstly, it can help improve our concentration and even reduce muscle pain, according to a study from The Journal of Pain. A study from the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that having three cups of coffee a day can actually lengthen your lifespan and lower the risk of death due to the protection it offers against certain conditions, including heart disease.
The mechanism behind this isn’t clear, but it seems to be related to caffeine’s anti-inflammatory effects. Coffee also contains B vitamins, magnesium and potassium, as well as antioxidants. There have also been many questions whether coffee can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and even boost your metabolism.
While these claims need more research before they can become hard facts, it gives us caffeine lovers all the more reason to carry on indulging.
Milk chocolate is bad for you if you eat large amounts on a regular basis. It has high sugar content and is associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. But eating a bit of milk chocolate every day isn’t actually as bad as it’s made out to be.
Firstly, chocolate has a positive effect on your mental wellbeing. Eating chocolate increases the levels of endorphins released in the brain, which work to reduce pain and stress. Chocolate can also increase your level of serotonin, the feel-good chemical which works to prevent depression and anxiety.
There are also good reasons why chocolate is so much associated with Valentine’s Day. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA) which is the chemical your brain creates when you’re falling in love. PEA encourages a pleasurable and comforting feeling in the brain, which is part of the reason why chocolate can be addictive. Chocolate isn’t just good for your mental health, though.
Dark chocolate doesn’t have a high sugar content and contains more cocoa, which actually contains some of the most powerful antioxidants. As strange as it may sound, the flavanols in dark chocolate are good for your skin, protecting it against sun damage—and even more unpredictably, dark chocolate consumed in moderation actually helps improve or prevent insulin sensitivity, which may delay diabetes. So next time you feel like a little indulgence, in moderation, you can tell yourself it’s part of a carefully thought-out health plan.