We’ve all got bad habits, whether it’s occasionally forgetting to take our make-up off, being a prolific gum chewer or having a sweet tooth. But, as much a these vices get blamed for a host of ills, there’s also surprising emerging science and expert advice to suggest we shouldn’t feel guilty for some habits traditionally labelled as unhealthy. In fact, they could even be making us healthier.
Case in point, coffee. Caffeine fans are often made to feel guilty for reaching for their fix but, on top of being tasty and providing an energy boost, the latest research has found that coffee might be good for liver function. A team from the National Cancer Institute discovered higher coffee consumption (decaffeinated and caffeinated) was linked to lower levels of abnormal liver enzymes. Chemical compounds in the coffee could be protecting your liver. Health expert Dr Sally Norton (vavista.com) agrees that a couple of cups of coffee can wield health benefits. ‘As well, as increased alertness, there’s been research to suggest coffee can reduce Type 2 diabetes risk, but steer clear of an afternoon coffee as it takes several hours to pass through your system and can disrupt sleep,’ she explains.
So next time you feel pangs of guilt hitting the snooze button or indulging on a weekend takeaway and bottle of wine – don’t. Take note of these other ‘bad’ habits…
YOUR VICE: Indulging in a little chocolate
We’re a nation of chocoholics, but you may have been born with that sweet tooth. New research published in Twin Research and Human Genetics, suggests that genes account for 30% of variation in sweetness preference from person to person, meaning some may want more in order to be satisfied. Genes aside, Alexander Thompson, nutritionist for Holland & Barrett, confirms that chocolate has its health benefits, too. ‘Cocoa solids within chocolate contain phytonutrients called flavonoids, shown to increase the levels of a hormone in your body called nitric oxide, which can dilate and boost flexibility of blood vessels,’ he says. ‘This in turn helps to lower blood pressure, and also increases blood flow resulting in improved delivery of oxygen and nutrients in the body.’ Thompson suggests that this process is thought to be partly responsible for boosting cognitive function, athletic performance and help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. He recommends opting for chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids (at least 70 per cent), one to two squares a day is sufficient. The stronger flavour of this chocolate means you’re less likely to overeat it.
YOUR VICE: Having a lazy morning
We all start off with the best intentions of a weekend – get up early, exercise, eat a nutritious breakfast – but it’s easier said than done, and often we end up spending the morning dozing in bed. But rather than feel guilty about ‘a morning misspent’ or missing a workout, appreciate the benefits this lie in has had for your health. Professor Kevin Morgan, of the Loughborough Clinical Sleep Research Unit explains that being in bed for longer isn’t about the quantity of sleep, but the overall experience; ‘It serves as a restorative function both physiologically and mentally,’ he says. It might also be helping your metabolism. A study from the University of Munich found that people who wake to an alarm, rather than their body’s internal clock, are three times more likely to be overweight than those who wake naturally.
YOUR VICE: Chewing gum
According to data from global information company Nielsen, the gum industry is worth £260 million, and with a rise in sales comes a rise in cost to clear up mess left by discarded chewing gum. Coupled with over zealous chompers, you can see why chewing gum has been labelled a bad habit. However, it shouldn’t be this way. Countless emerging scientific research suggests that chewing gum can be good for your health, particularly cognitive ability. The latest discovery from a team at the University of Reading found that chewing gum could reduce the amount you hear a song that is stuck in your head by a third. Research has also shown that chewing gum for at least ten minutes can help to reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol whilst improving mental focus. ‘The key is to choose a sugar free gum or else the sugar content of chewing gum will negate some of the health benefits by adding extra calories and also counteracting the benefits for dental health,’ he says. ‘Ideally, opt for a gum containing the ingredient xylitol, a natural sugar substitute which has shown to have an alkalising effect in the mouth and also half the available calories of standard table sugar (sucrose),’ he says. Try Peppersmith Fine English Peppermint Chewing Gum (£1.99 for 15g; hollandandbarrett.com).
YOUR VICE: Having a day off the healthy eating
We all understand why should eat a nutritious, balanced diet, but you can also reap the health rewards of occasionally falling off the healthy eating wagon. ‘Eating foods that are less healthy, say a takeaway pizza with high level of refined carbohydrate and high fat levels, occasionally will do little damage to your weight or health, provided that the majority of the time your diet is composed of foods with a more balanced dietary composition (lower fat, lower sugar and higher in fibre, protein and whole carbohydrate sources),’ explains Thompson. He recommends aiming for an 80:20 balance in favour of healthy foods and avoiding the term or notion ‘cheat meal,’ as it tricks the mind in to thinking that healthy meals can’t be satisfying.
YOUR VICE: Splurging money
Seen a pair of shoes that you love, but don’t ever buy? Retail therapy has scientific backing, so it might be time to treat yourself. The University of Michigan found ‘going on an occasional spree’ could make you feel more in control of life and diminish feelings of sadness. Go one step further and splurge on experiential products (books or musical instruments) or experience-based purchase – a study in the Association for Psychological Science found that the enjoyment of these begins even before we splash the cash. Dr Norton advises making it a family affair. ‘If your splurge involves sharing an experience with friends or family it will strengthen social ties, important for mental health.’
GOOD HABITS THAT MIGHT BE BAD FOR YOU
Drinking ‘too much’ water: it’s incredibly important to stay hydrated, but there are health risks that are caused with over-drinking when exercising. Mitchell Rosner, MD, a kidney specialist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine recommends using your thirst as a guide and avoiding excessive consumption during physical exercise.
Heavy duty exercising: Getting in an intense training session first thing can leave you more exposed to viral or bacterial infection say experts from Brunel University. Try gentle exercise and save heavier workouts until later.
Grazing on several small meals: Scientists from Purdue University in the US discovered that, contrary to belief, those who graze on several small meals throughout the day experience more hunger than those who ate three decent-sized meals.