Victory Over Vices

When it comes to balancing life’s great pleasures with a healthy eating plan, there are a few different schools of thought.  One philosophy is simply that life is too short.  After all, who wants to spend a lifetime avoiding the joy we all associate with a piece of chocolate, a glass of fine wine, or a cup of fresh-brewed coffee?

Others subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” mentality:  Resisting your favorite treat is an act of sheer willpower, and only the strong survive!  But the third “belief system” here is the most interesting: people who rationalize that these things aren’t unhealthy at all.  When it comes to chocolate, coffee, and red wine, the rationalizers give themselves permission to go overboard on those treats, because they’ve heard two magic words used to describe them:  health benefits.  Perhaps you never thought I’d say this, but those two words can be dangerous.

CHOCOLATE:   My name is Kathy Smith.  And I am a chocoholic.

We’ll start with my personal favorite.  It seems like the moment we chocolate lovers caught wind of the fact that it might offer some health benefits, we ran to the market to load up on our favorite treats without sticking around to listen to the details.

The healthy part of chocolate comes from the flavonoids in the cocoa powder.  When we eat flavonoids, our bodies turn them into antioxidants, which can aid in everything from cell repair to lowering blood pressure.  In fact, chocolate boasts 8 times the antioxidant power of strawberries.

But not all chocolate is created equal:  the more cocoa, the greater the antioxidant payoff.  So your standard milk chocolate bar?  Not even in the running.  Not to mention that even the darkest of chocolates offer a whopping 15 grams of fat per serving – so needless to say, no matter which way you cut it, consuming too much of this delicious treat for “health reasons” can have the opposite effect.  Choose a chocolate with a cocoa content of 65% or higher, and enjoy with – you guessed it – moderation.   I don’t want any of us (myself included) to wind up in a chocoholic 12-step program.

COFFEE:   Don’t leave home without it?

Relax, java junkies:  I’m not here to tell you that it’s time to stop waking up and smelling your morning jolt.  Of course, as I’ve said in the past, it’s important to choose your caffeinated drinks wisely: heavy creams and sugary syrups can add up to a colossal amount of fat and calories.  And for now, I won’t focus on the drop in energy that often occurs in the afternoon after you’ve experienced a caffeine “high,” nor will I mention the havoc that coffee can wreak on your sleeping patterns.  But I digress . . .

When it comes to choosing a pick-me-up that’s good for you, green tea has always gotten all the attention because of its high levels of polyphenol:  a compound with antioxidant properties that may protect the heart and have an anticancer effect.  But the truth is that coffee, too, can be a health food:  most people don’t realize that it’s even higher in antioxidants than green tea.  And the icing on the cake: it even contains some fiber.  Studies suggest that coffee could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even diabetes, as well as improving mental and physical performance.

The downside?  Consuming too much caffeine can lead to high blood pressure – not to mention a serious case of the jitters.  For a stimulant free pick-me-up, try this Superfood Complex:  it’s a nutritional powerhouse packed with green foods and phyto-nutrients for natural energy.

RED WINE:   My reservations about resveratrol.

Years ago, 60 Minutes investigated what’s called the “French Paradox”:  in spite of their diets that are generally high in fat and high in wine consumption, the French have always had a remarkably low case of heart disease compared to Americans.  Studies reflect that it may not be in spite of that wine consumption that the French have healthy hearts; it just might be because of it.

Now scientists have honed in on the ingredient that makes red-wine so heart-healthy:  resveratrol.  New studies indicate that resveratrol offers significant anti-aging properties – so significant that resveratrol researcher Dr. Christoph Westphal says of the substance:  “If the promise holds true, this has the chance to change healthcare.”

So why aren’t we all having red wine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  First of all, we’ve got jobs to do (I don’t think anyone would appreciate it if I stumbled onto the set of my next video with a bottle of merlot).  But more importantly, in order to ingest the levels of resveratrol that have been so impressive in tests (on mice, by the way – not humans), we’d have to consume about one thousand bottles of the red stuff – daily!  I think it’s safe to say that would cancel out those health benefits.

The bottom line:  When you learn that something not generally considered to be “good for you” might have some health benefits, don’t just take that bit of news and run with it.  If you’re going to enjoy your favorite treats, a little extra workout time might be just what the doctor ordered. Just by adding a fun and sexy dance routine to your day can burn about 200 calories in 20 minutes…pick up my Dance Your Body Slim – Double Feature  and choose from two calorie burning routines plus a bonus “partner”  dance.  Now there’s a vice worth adding to your lifestyle!

And remember, not all of “life’s great pleasures” can be consumed.  As much as I love a good piece of dark chocolate after dinner, it doesn’t beat the high I get from a hike in the mountains or the joy I feel dancing or riding bikes on the beach with my daughters.  Some so-called “vices” are simply part of life, and are meant to be enjoyed in moderation.  Because true happiness is always a guilt-free indulgence.