What Was Once Bad for You is Now Good

Red wine and chocolateWhat was once bad for you is now good. Let’s celebrate with a glass of wine and some chocolate! Remember the old days when your mom cut back on the number of eggs she served you because it could cause your cholesterol to skyrocket? Or when chocolate was a no no?

Well, no more. New studies have proven that many of the foods we once avoided for their villainous reputations may actually be good for us and it’s OK to keep them in our diet. In fact, there are health benefits to indulging, so let’s celebrate with a glass of wine and some dark chocolate. Now no one is suggesting over-indulging, but in moderation such things as red wine, dark chocolate, eggs and even popcorn can help our heart health, lower breast cancer risk and even reduce body mass.

Of course, doctors and researchers are also quick to point out that no one should make broad-based dietary changes based on just one study. New and varied data comes out every day, so it’s possible that tomorrow we’ll be removing these treats from our diet once again.

For now, here are some things that were once thought to be bad that we can now happily consume:

Red Wine and Heart Health: Red wine in moderation is now thought of as heart healthy. The antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol found in red wine more than other types of alcohol may actually help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol and protecting against artery damage. Good news for anyone who likes to imbibe a glass with their evening meal. Though doctors are wary of encouraging anyone to take up drinking since too much can be harmful, they have given the go-ahead to enjoy a nightly glass without feeling guilty.

Chocolate and brain health:  Recent studies have found powerful health benefits to dark chocolate, linking it to many things including helping protect against intestinal diseases like colon cancer, to reducing risk of developing heart disease and boosting brain health in seniors.

A study published in the journal Hypertension looked at data from 90 seniors who already had mild cognitive impairment and found that their attention and other mental skills improved when they drank cocoa with high amounts of flavanols.

Chocolate is not only full of antioxidants that protect against many types of cancer, it also has a positive effect on mood and cognitive health. It contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release endorphins, so eating dark chocolate will make you feel happier — as if we didn’t already know that!

Eggs and Good Cholesterol: Once we thought an omelet that included the yolks was practically a heart attack on a plate, but no more. There’s been a shift due to new research that indicates that eggs – yolks included – aren’t so bad for your heart. But don’t get us started on bacon!

Studies have found that yolks contain some important nutrients that aren’t found in the whites, including the all-important vitamin D and that their high cholesterol content actually boosts the heart protective “good” cholesterol and not the blood level of cholesterol, which is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Popcorn and Antioxidants: Instead of being off-limits because of its fat content (if you drench it in butter), popcorn is now being heralded as a low-calorie snack that may contain more healthy antioxidants – called polyphenols — than fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols have been shown to boost cardiovascular health and protect against chronic diseases and popcorn has a very high concentration of them, especially in the hulls.

It’s also a whole grain food, which makes it a high-quality carbohydrate source that is low in calories and a good source of fiber. So air-pop some fresh kernels (stay away from the pre-packaged microwavable varieties that can be laden with fat, salt, chemicals and calories) and head to the movies.

The bottom line is that so called “bad” foods can actually have some good properties. So don’t go overboard but know that having a little can be good for you. Have you put any foods back in your diet due to current research?  Let us know.


·         http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/early/2012/07/30/HYPERTENSIONAHA.112.193995.abstract?sid=340dd96f-f8f8-4c08-951c-4e9a04da1037

·         http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/red-wine/HB00089

·         http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120325173008.htm

Diet and Exercise for Seasonal Depression

Short, grey days and cold weather are generally enough to drive even the most optimistic of us into a bit of a funk. But if you’re an avid exerciser who can’t get in your regular workout because of bad weather, the stress and rush of the holiday season can really throw you off your game. These frustrating bouts of sadness and moodiness are known, informally, as “the winter blues.”

But for about six percent of Americans, these mood shifts can be much more serious, and account for a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Unlike the winter blues, SAD can occur during any season, and include much more severe symptoms, including suicidal thoughts. Since SAD can be related to hormone imbalances and may require prescription medication, it’s important to work with your doctor if you’re experiencing severe depression.

The good news: for both SAD and the milder winter blues, there is strong evidence that simple changes in diet and regular exercise can help you endure these seasonal mood swings until the sun shines again.

Work It Out

Especially during the colder months, exercising can be difficult if your energy levels are low to begin with and the weather makes it difficult to get outside. Focusing on the benefits you can expect to reap from exercise, though, will encourage you to get yourself up and moving.

The American Council on Exercise recommends remembering your past successes and setting clear goals to keep you moving. Joining a class or finding a workout buddy will help you stay focused.

Thinking in terms of “activity” rather than exercise may also help. Look for opportunities to inject some added activity into your day: take the stairs, skip the shortcuts and turn some of your household chores into workouts. Don’t underestimate how many calories you can burn working around the house. For example, an hour of pushing a vacuum around can burn 238 calories in a 150-pound person.

Simply taking brisk walks outdoors can go a long way toward improving your mood. The sunlight is directly responsible for production of serotonin and melatonin, two mood-regulating hormones. Any exercise will increase the release of several endorphins which can help improve your mood, help you sleep and regulate your appetite.

Specifically, cardiovascular exercise and mindful exercises like yoga and Pilates can be especially useful. Because these workout modes help you focus on your breathing and heart rate, they help to modify your stress response, and consequently fight depression. Look through the top rated elliptical machines to find one that will complement your home gym and help you keep up your cardio routine, regardless of the weather.

Eat Right

Depression can increase your cravings for simple carbohydrates, which absorb quickly into your body but also cause a crash in blood sugar. And since fatty, starchy treats are easy to come by during the holiday season, it’s important to pay particular attention to how you’re eating in order to avoid SAD symptoms.

Stock up on complex carbs, which can give you the same serotonin boost as their simpler cousins, but keep your blood sugar steady and balanced. This would include foods that contain whole-wheats and oats, like whole grain breads, bran muffins, brown rice and oatmeal.

Since seasonal depression, in most cases, is related to reduced exposure to sunlight, researchers have examined the impact of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight, on depression. The research is still inconclusive but promising enough to spur more studies. While fortified foods, like milk and cereal, have vitamin D added, very few foods contain it naturally.

Two foods that do provide vitamin D are salmon and tuna. These fatty fish are also rich in omega-3s, which have shown potential in several studies for improving mood and brain function. If you don’t enjoy fish and choose to supplement, though, try to select a supplement that is particularly high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), since this variety of omega-3 is thought to be the most effective.

These small changes in your activity and diet could help you improve your mood and get you through your bout with seasonal depression. However, always consult a doctor if you are battling depression.

Have you experienced the benefits of proper diet and increased activity on depression? Please share your experience with us in the comments.