We all have our vices—especially when it comes to filling our bellies. So instead of giving ourselves grief for our totally human desire to eat, drink, and drink some more, why not look for some silver linings? Actual scientific research (and not merely anecdotal “evidence” from your local barkeep) shows that cracking open a beer, for instance, can give us a higher life expectancy—if you’re a woman, that stretches to two drinks, or for a man, up to four.
Think we’re cranking out b.s.? New studies are also upending long-held beliefs about our indulgent eating habits. One found in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes that limiting our intake of saturated fats is a bogus concept (hooray!). So as an ode to the munchies-induced French fry binge or post-work beer, we’ve collected the most promising facts and studies that make a strong case for dropping the “guilty” from your pleasures. Read on for the full rundown on why vodka (or steak, or your third Starbucks of the day) and long life aren’t mutually exclusive.
1. Alcohol in general can be good for your heart.
And not just in the five-glasses-a-day-helps-the-breakup-pain-go-away sense of the term. No one really knows why, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right? Moderate alcohol consumption, even sans resveratrol, has been linked to higher levels of HDL/“good” cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and decreasing risk of heart disease. In fact, recent studies show that beer may even be more nutritious than red wine, thanks to antioxidants that can be more easily absorbed by the body. (Photo: Georgetown)
2. Ditto for chocolate.
As long as it’s dark chocolate, of course (though to be honest, if dark isn’t your default over milk or—God forbid—white chocolate already, we don’t know what to tell you). A 2012 review of twenty separate studies found that flavanols, a class of compound found in chocolate, were linked to modest decreases in blood pressure. It’s not clear how high or regular of a dosage is required to achieve the desired effect, however, so we advise erring on the side of caution and loading up on as much Valrohna as humanly possible. (Photo: Leites Culinaria)
3. Drinking beer may ward off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
In a study this site covered back in February (but ripe for revival now that warmth and thus cold beer season are finally on their way back) found that beer may act as a preventative measure against neurological disease. As with chocolate, that’s thanks to flavonoids—specifically xanthohumol, a flavonoid found in hops. It’s not a huge surprise, since hops have historically played a role in Chinese medicine, but sometimes it’s good to have science on happy hour’s side. (Photo: jeffgotheelf.com)
4. Bathing in beer is rejuvenating.
Not only do Europeans brew some of the best beer in the world, but they also understand the health benefits of soaking your body in malty, hoppy suds. According to the New York Times, “beer spa therapies” found in Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic are valued for, among many other things, their epidermal benefits. Vitamins and yeast are thought to help cleanse and dry the skin. It seems as though dark lager beer tubs and swimming pools filled with pilsner are the way of the future. Did we mention you’re also offered beer to drink during your treatment? (Photo: The Spaman)
5. Beer is hydrating, just like Gatorade.
Even if you’re not convinced that Michael Jordan’s recovery routine involved pounding beers instead of Gatorade, the science behind the story is solid. Researchers in Spain have discovered that beer’s “carbohydrate content can help replace lost calories,” better than the famed sport drink. The same Washington Times articles reports that the cardiologist for soccer club Real Madrid has been a long-time supporter of imbibing barley drinks after workouts. No wonder the U.S. always blows it in the World Cup. (Photo: RunnersWorld)
6. Coffee could reduce risk of skin cancer.
Sure, shelling out for a drink that costs as many dollars as it has syllables in its name may not be the most necessary daily expense. Unless, that is, said drink were associated with a 20% lower risk of developing melanoma, which is precisely what a study released earlier this year indicates about coffee. Even better, National Cancer Institute and Yale School of Public Health researchers found that the reduction kicked in at a full four cups a day, making a caffeine habit not just understandable, but potentially life-saving. (Photo: DNA India)
7. Red meat doesn’t cause cancer—overcooking it does.
Steak will never exactly be light on calories or saturated fat, but at least it’s probably not a carcinogen. A comprehensive meta-study from the International Association for the Study of Obesity concluded that the link between beef and cancer was tenuous at best. So what’s behind red meat’s apparently unfair reputation? That might be the potential carcinogens created when it’s cooked at high temperatures, better known as charring. So feel no guilt about (moderate) beef consumption, as long as it hasn’t spent too much time on the grill. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
8. No matter how fattening butter is, at least it isn’t margarine.
Remember how Baby Boomers spent an entire generation thinking they’d discovered the secret to low calorie, yet delicious butter substitutes—then discovered that trans fats are way, way worse than the real thing in terms of cholesterol and heart disease? Yup. The real thing may not be straight-up good for us, but to borrow a Michael Pollan-ism, at least it’s actual food. (Alternate takeaway: Playing God is never a good idea, but especially not when butter’s involved.) (Photo: Skinny Fat Girl Diary)
9. French fries don’t just taste amazing when you’re drunk—they might help out the next day, too.
The potassium and sodium in potatoes mean electrolytes—as in the stuff in Gatorade, as in hydration, as in a significantly less painful hangover. The salt that comes into the picture when those potatoes are fried means your drunk self will want to drink more water before passing out, theoretically resulting in even more hydration. It’s the same principle behind bar peanuts and pretzels, except the point here is to drink more water, not buy more beer. (Photo: Facebook/Carney’s)
10. Late-night snacking is a virtuous habit.
You guys, we had it right all along! It turns out that indulging your late-night munchies not only ensures better sleep, but it may also prevent you from gaining weight. Snacking on things like buttered popcorn and guac right before bedtime stabilizes blood sugar levels so that you don’t wake up feeling lethargic in the morning; plus, according to another dietician, it prevents your body from triggering hunger hormones that tell it to store fat. To take it even a step further, a British Cheese Board study also concluded that different types of fromage can produce different types of dreams. In other words, good cheese = good dreams. (Photo: Flickr/Xalion Malick)
11. Carb-loading makes you happy.
It’s a fact: The body needs carbohydrates to produce serotonin, also known as the “happy neurotransmitter.” Years of MIT research from Dr. Judith Wurtman demonstrates that high-carbohydrate snacks (on an empty stomach) “boost serotonin levels” and prevent depression. Not only does she vehemently oppose trendy low-carb diets, but she goes so far as to recommend pretzels and marshmallows for in between meals for a “serotonin surge.” (Photo: Flickr/Naotake Murayama)