Healthy excuses to indulge

Good Health
Friday, February 11, 2011
Image: Getty
Recent US studies showed drinking coffee regularly could reduce the risk of stroke and related heart disease in non-smokers.
Good Health
Brought to you by Australian Good Health magazine

With all the hype surrounding diet and nutrition, it's hard to believe the foods you most enjoy eating can also be good for you, Amy Russell writes.

Cheese? Yes, please!
With the abundance of varieties available you would be hard pressed to find a fridge without a chunk of cheese. And the good news for cheese lovers is that dairy foods are "core foods", Nicole Senior and Veronica Cuskelly write in their book Eat to Beat Cholesterol (New Holland, $29.95). This means you should be eating them every day to obtain your essential nutrients and vitamins.

Little ray of sunshine
As a milk product, cheese is a natural source of protein, zinc, vitamin B12 and magnesium. It's also a key source of calcium in your diet, the Heart Foundation says. Not only does calcium protect your bones, but researchers at the University of Queensland and the University of Bristol in the UK found that children with a high calcium diet were at lower risk of stroke in later life. Also, unlike other dairy products cheese has virtually no lactose, so it's a suitable snack for people who are lactose intolerant but need to get their calcium each day.

A healthy serve
To fulfil your daily calcium requirements you need three serves of dairy. Make one of these a serve of cheese, this is 40g (or roughly two slices). However, some cheeses, like hard cheese (cheddar), cream cheese and brie, are high in saturated fat. So the best everyday options are low-fat hard cheese, low-fat cottage and ricotta, Senior and Cuskelly write. If you're a fan of the regular varieties opt for a smaller portion, or eat them less often (the Heart Foundation suggests three to four times a week).

Chocolate mood booster
As a sweet treat, chocolate would have to be one of the most popular on the shelves. But it's not just the taste that has you going back for more — chocolate actually makes you feel good. This is because it contains two naturally occurring stimulants: caffeine and theobromine, says John Kirschmann author of Nutrition Almanac (McGraw Hill, $37.95). And besides speeding up your central nervous system, theobromine encourages your body to release endorphins triggering a sense of wellbeing, Kirschmann says.

I heart cocoa
Not only does chocolate stimulate your happy hormones, it's also good for you! Cocoa, the main ingredient, contains antioxidants like phenols and flavonoids, Kirschmann says. And these flavonoids "can lower blood pressure, decrease LDL cholesterol and reduce harmful blood clotting properties of blood", he explains. This makes dark chocolate the healthiest variety as it has the highest content of cocoa. A recent study by Italian and US researchers showed eating dark chocolate every day for two weeks may even reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

A healthy serve
So if it's this good, why can't you eat chocolate with every meal? It's all the added saturated fat and sugar in chocolate treats that are harmful to your health and your waistline. So enjoy it "occasionally or in small portions as a treat", Senior and Cuskelly say. And be mindful that one serve is 25g — this is equal to six small squares or half a small bar. Also, stick to the darker varieties that have a high cocoa content — milk chocolate has half the amount of antioxidants of dark chocolate and white chocolate has none at all, Senior and Cuskelly say.

Coffee pick-me-up
There's a reason you immediately feel perkier following your morning coffee — you can thank the caffeine, an ingredient found naturally in coffee beans. "Caffeine has a mild stimulating effect that helps boost alertness, concentration and energy levels," Senior and Cuskelly say. But coffee doesn't just affect your mood, it also contains antioxidants that can have a positive effect on your health. Studies have shown regular coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing gallstones, Parkinson's disease, liver disease and type 2 diabetes, Senior and Cuskelly say.

Heart health
Coffee also seems to have a beneficial effect on your heart. Recent US studies showed drinking coffee regularly could reduce the risk of stroke and related heart disease in non-smokers. At this stage, scientists say it's unclear what the link is between coffee and heart health, but the beneficial results seem to occur after two to three cups of brewed coffee a day (200mg to 300mg caffeine per cup), Senior and Cuskelly say.

A healthy serve
Because coffee is a stimulant you should drink it in moderation. Experts recommend you stick to less than 300mg of caffeine a day. This is roughly equal to three shots of espresso (one shot is used to make a long black, cappuccino or latte) or four average cups (or three mugs) of instant coffee. And watch all the added extras — opt for skim milk to lower your cholesterol and avoid adding sugar to keep the kilojoule count down, Senior and Cuskelly say.

For the full story, see the March issue of Australian Good Health. Get a great subscription deal on New Zealand Good Health magazine at

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