Do you think chocolate, alcohol, and other so-called "vices" are bad for you? Think again-and learn why embracing what you love most when it comes to health can make you a happier person.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Ever get the feeling that some conventional doctors and members of the media are trying to scare you to death … about everything? You’re not alone. I often tell doctors who I teach, “If people could live to be 120 years old by cutting out everything they enjoy, why bother?”
Unfortunately, too many people buy into the misconception that if something is enjoyable, it must bad for you (and vice versa). But your body knows better than any physician what’s good for you, and it tells you so by how you feel over time. The simple truth? Life is supposed to be fun. So if you feel great doing what you’re doing, it’s probably working. On the other hand, most things that really are bad for you will leave you feeling worse overall. Frankly, this is a message that I find far more reliable than what the media or medical establishment says.
The goal, then, is to learn how to tune into and listen to your body, and to remember that it’s not only okay to enjoy things, but it’s actually a very good and healthy thing to do. Of course, there are some toxic substances that trigger pleasure centers in the brain (such as heroin and excess sugar), but these are the exceptions, not the rule. And though they do feel good in the short term, in the long run, they leave you feeling worse.
When trying to decide whether something is good for you, ask yourself two simple questions:
1. How does it feel?
2. How is it working out for me?
As an example, people who occasionally drink alcohol live longer than those who don’t. But a heavy night of drinking may feel fun while you’re doing it, but the hangover the next day tells you that it was a bad idea.
Here are six “vices” that actually can be good for you.
In addition to being a natural antidepressant, dark chocolate is chock full of healthy antioxidants. Chocolate has been shown to help chronic fatigue syndrome, high blood pressure, cough, and a host of other problems. On the other hand it’s high in calories and sugar. So go for quality instead of quantity. When I tell people to avoid sugar, I like to add the three magic words, “Except for Chocolate!” Editors’ note: For great sugar-free dark chocolate, try Lily’s Sweets dark chocolate bars
Eggs are a wonderfully healthy food that have suffered from bad press-specifically the erroneous belief that eating cholesterol raises cholesterol levels and increases risk of heart disease. This is simply not the case. Your cholesterol levels are set more by dietary fats, weight, thyroid, and genetics. In fact, studies have shown that eating six eggs a day for six weeks has no effect on cholesterol, something first pointed out to me 30 years ago by the wonderful nutritionist Dana Laake (danalaake.com).
What’s more, of all the foods we eat, the egg is one of the closest to being a “complete protein,” meaning that the amounts of its component amino acids most closely mimic what humans are made of-and what we need in our diets.
Repeated research has shown that people who drink no alcohol do not live as long as people who have a few drinks a day. The problem is when the intake becomes excessive. When it goes over an average of 2-3 drinks a day, people who don’t drink alcohol at all do better.
Sunshine is critical for production of vitamin D. Numerous studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a marked increase in diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, falling, immune diseases, and other health problems. And vitamin D deficiency is becoming epidemic because of the misguided advice to avoid sunshine. The proper advice? Avoid sunburn!
For those who would argue against this “vice,” I would make the simple argument that without it, humans would cease to exist. Sex with someone you love, in a committed relationship, can be wonderfully healthy. One study suggested that it leaves people looking younger (likely because sex causes release of growth hormone, often called the “fountain of youth hormone”). Other research has shown that people with heart disease are no more likely to have a heart attack during sex. The exception? When they were having sex while cheating on their spouses!
As we’ve noted for many years, the current fad of salt restriction is ill-advised. And recent studies are bearing this out. In one, people who restricted their salt intake to the American Heart Association’s recommended guidelines (1.5 grams of sodium per day) were twice as likely to die during the study period as those who didn’t.
Beyond that, unless you have good reason to do so, salt restriction is a bad idea. This is especially true for people with fibromyalgia, adrenal fatigue, and/or autonomic dysfunction, where salt restriction will cause you to crash and burn. So my recommendation? Get a good quality sea salt, such as Celtic sea salt, and let your taste buds be your guide.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, in time, we will get past the medical misconception that “if it feels good, it’s bad for you.” In the meanwhile, learn to check in with your body, and your feelings, to see what they’re telling you. And enjoy good things that feel good. That way, if you do live to be 120 years old, you will actually be glad that you did!
As Mark Twain famously said, “moderation in all things-including moderation.” So I think I’ll go have a Margarita right now.