The Pros and Cons of Your Favorite Indulgences

Research findings sometimes give people an excuse to indulge in things they should really consume in moderation, such as chocolate, red meat, and alcohol. These items may indeed have health-promoting properties, but there are valid reasons they also come with a cautionary footnote. Here’s how you can have your (chocolate) cake and be healthy, too.

Chocolate

The bad news: Processed chocolate can contain a lot of sugar, oils, fats, artificial flavors, and preservatives—a candy bar is nowhere in the same nutritional class as pure cocoa.

The good news: The cocoa bean is a rich source of antioxidants, flavonoids (which help reduce muscle soreness after intense workouts), nitrates (which increase blood flow and lower blood pressure), vitamins and essential minerals. Chocolate can also be a powerful mood booster by stimulating the release of endorphins and raising serotonin levels.

How to indulge: The best choices are natural unsweetened cocoa powder (hot chocolate, anyone?) or antioxidant-rich high-quality dark chocolate, with a high percentage of cocoa (70-plus percent). Limit yourself to one or two squares per day.

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Wine

The bad news: When consumed in excess, alcohol causes liver and pancreatic damage and can also lead to increased blood pressure and dangerous abdominal fat. For athletes, it has a counterproductive effect on recovery, opening the window to fatigue and illness.

The good news: Resveratol, an antioxidant found particularly in red wine (concentrated in the grape skin), is the source of most of the claimed health benefits, including reduction in heart disease and improved bone mineral density and muscle metabolism.

How to indulge: Practice moderation. More than one glass a day is associated with the reported health risks. The highest concentration of antioxidants is found in the drier reds such as Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, and resveratol is best absorbed in the mouth so drink slowly.

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Red Meat

The bad news: Consumption of excessive amounts of red meat has been linked to certain types of cancer, diabetes, even Alzheimer’s disease. And intensive animal farming poses real environmental threats and ethical concerns.

The good news: Lean red meat (especially free-range and grass-fed) is a good source of protein as well as essential minerals and vitamins including iron, zinc and B vitamins—all beneficial for muscle repair and recovery. Lean meat is also a smart choice when it comes to weight loss and management because it keeps you feeling full longer.

How to indulge: Limit your intake to small portions (palm-size) a few times a week. Experiment with slow cooking for a nutritional boost as well as flavor variety. Seek grass-fed meat—it might be more expensive and harder to find, but it’s wiser to opt for quality over quantity when it comes to red meat.

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