3 demonised things that are actually really good for you

Hello everybody! Welcome back to my blog. The purpose of this blog is to help people find their way to a healthier lifestyle. I mostly talk about exercise and its science, which is my area of expertise, but I also talk about nutrition, sleeping habits and many other subjects related to wellbeing and healthy lifestyle. 

How many times have you been told to stop eating chocolate to lose weight? Or that coffee is one cause for heart disease and the risk of certain types of cancer? And how many times have you been told that a nap is a waste of time and it’ll make you stay awake during the night? Many are the rules around these three items, and nobody has given you any specification about why. Today I want to give you good news: they are actually really good for you, if you know how to use them!

  1. Chocolate.

If someone tells you that chocolate is bad for you, ask them to tell you why. I’m sure they won’t know, or they’d say something like “because it has a lot of sugar”. The truth is that in 100 g of cocoa beans (the plant where the chocolate comes from), just 1.8 g is sugar. The problem is that cocoa is bitter, and we are not used to it. To fix this problem, companies have added sugar to make it more sweet and less bitter, reaching a bigger public. That is how the percentage of cocoa decreases and the percentage of milk and sugar increases. This means that the bad part of chocolate is not the chocolate itself, but everything that has been added.

Dark chocolate has been widely proved to be healthy. It has a high content of fibre, as well as iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese, which are important minerals for bodily functions. As well as micronutrients, chocolate has a fair amount of healthy fats that help increase HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce LDL (bad). Specifically, the fatty acids found in chocolate are oleic acid, steric acid, and palmitic acid. On top of that, chocolate has a moderate content of caffeine, which can give you a little booster of energy in the middle of the day.

Chocolate is also packed with antioxidants, which are in charge of dealing with the free radicals, including polyphenols (linked with inflammation reduction) and flavonols. All these elements together may be the reason why chocolate has been proved to decrease blood pressure and heart disease.

Of course the amount is important. And here is where we make mistakes. Absolutely everything in excess is not good, including physical activity (have you ever heard of muscle dysmorphia?). That said, one square (one ounce) of dark chocolate a day or every second day has health benefits for your body, and tastes delicious.

If you are used to eating milk chocolate or white chocolate, it might be difficult to change. As a chocolate lover, I had to train my palate to dark chocolate. I started with 50% cocoa, steadily increasing until I got to 85%. Sometimes I try 90% and I like it depending on the brand.

Last but not least, don’t give up on your occasional treats. Don’t feel bad if every now and again you want to eat your milk chocolate or white chocolate!

  1. Coffee.

Another item that has controversy is coffee. Even though some people do have issues when having caffeine (palpitations, stomach issues, nervousness) and you should be aware of it, a cup of coffee has plenty of health benefits. It’s all about the amount and the timing.

Some of the benefits you get from having coffee are higher energy levels, higher alertness, increased ability to focus, enhance performance, assists with weight loss acting as a fat burner, protects agains certain illnesses, has a high content of certain nutrients and antioxidants, has a diuretic effect, helps you go to the toilet easily, and of course, it tastes and smells delicious. All these benefits are explained in my other post “10 benefits of coffee”, check it out!

Now, how much coffee is good? Experts recommend not to exceed 5 expressos per day, or 2 brewed coffee, which is the equivalent to 400 mg of caffeine. What you add to your coffee is also important. Have a look at the next picture:

If you choose a mocha, you’ll get hot chocolate, meaning that you’re adding another component to it. The chocolate the cafes use is normally high in sugar, so you can bet that those 5 mochas per day may result in weight gain. The milk you choose for your coffee is also important. Choosing milk high in fat if you have 5 lattes per day may result in an overconsumption of fats. Another thing to note is the amount of extra sugar you put in your coffee. If you’re used to have heaps of sugar with your coffee, 5 coffees per day may lead to weight gain as well, especially if you tend to eat a little biscuit alongside with it. The good news is that you can train your palate to get used to having coffee with no sugar, as you can get it used to dark chocolate. If you normally add 2 sugars to your coffee, start adding one and a half, then one, then half, until you don’t need to add any sugar. It’s amazing how fast you get used to it!

When it comes to drinking coffee and still have enough sleep, timing is essential. Experts recommend to avoid drinking coffee 8 to 10 hours before going to sleep. When we have caffeine, its effects take 15 to 30′ to kick in. After that, it slowly decreases, but the amount of caffeine in our system remains. After 6 hours, our body has eliminated half of the caffeine. It takes up to 10 hours to fully eliminate the caffeine from the body. If you go to sleep at 10, you should stop drinking coffee at around 12 pm. A good reference, the reference I use, is to not drink coffee after lunch.

If you really want to have coffee in the afternoon because you love the flavour, you can opt for a decaf. All cafes and the majority of restaurants these days have the option and you can find decaf in every supermarket. Just keep in mind that even decaf can contain up to 4% of caffeine, so if you have trouble to sleep at night, avoid having any decaf in the hours prior to sleep.

  1. Naps.

Naps are known to be a waste of time, and something that keeps you away from a good night’s sleep. Naps have been linked to cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, among many other diseases, and as it’s been shown, napping for a long period of time every day may not be the best option, but there are many benefits of having a 20-30 minute nap every day. Between 1 and 4 pm approximately, we feel an urge for a sleep even though we slept well at night. This is because our circadian, which is latin for close (circa) to a day (dian), rhythms dictate a decreased state of alertness at this time of the day.

When we sleep for longer than 20 to 30 minutes we enter the third phase of sleep or slow wave sleep, which is a part of the cycle known as deep sleep. If we wake up in the middle of this cycle we might feel drowsy and grumpy for the next hour.

This said, here are some of the benefits of having a power nap in the afternoon: reducing that sleepiness that we will inevitably feel at that time of the day, it has a relaxing effect, it increases alertness for your afternoon tasks, and it improves your mood, memory, and performance.

As you can see, it’s all about balance. Everything in excess is bad for your health, even water. When we drink too much water, our body needs to get rid of it to ensure the homeostasis. This is why our stomach feels upset when we drink water in excess. Chocolate, coffee, and naps are no different. Having moderate amounts have great benefits, while consuming large amounts may have negative effects.

That’s it for today! I really hope that you enjoy it, and that you’ve lost that fear of consuming chocolate and coffee, or having a nice power nap! If you like what I do and you want to support this project, follow me on Instagram and Facebook, like the post and comment! Thank you!

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