Tag Archives: Alcohol

5 Junk Foods that are Actually Healthy

Generally, nutritionists and dietitians refrain from labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” as it can promote unhealthy attitudes towards food — and, for the most part, any food can be eaten as long as it’s in moderation. But we’re all familiar with junk food: heavily processed and often packaged food products that are high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium and generally void of nutrients. Cheeseburgers, Cheetos, Twinkies, and french fries might come to mind. But some “junk foods,” like the ones listed below, actually have some redeeming nutritional qualities. They may not be as nutrient-dense as whole, unprocessed foods like blueberries, kale, salmon, and lentils, but they do have a place in any healthy diet (especially when you’re in a pinch and are staring at a Cinnabon menu!). Just eat them in the most unprocessed form you can find– think air-popped popcorn instead of movie theater popcorn.

As long as you’re sticking to dark chocolate–with a cocoa content of 70% or higher–a few pieces of chocolate might just be the perfect dessert. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, antioxidant compounds also found in green tea and red wine, that have been shown to boost heart health by improving cholesterol levels and relaxing blood vessels. One study from San Diego State University, comparing the health effects of dark chocolate versus white chocolate, found that individuals who ate dark chocolate had lower blood sugar levels, perhaps because its antioxidants help the body use insulin more efficiently. But more noteworthy, perhaps, is that white chocolate-eaters experienced a decline in skin blood flow, indicating that the antioxidants present in dark chocolate cancel out the negative effects of fat and sugar.

Pick it: Chocolove Currants & Almonds in Dark Chocolate (73% cocoa content); Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolate (70%); Michel Cluizel Grand Noir (85%)
Skip it: White chocolate; milk chocolate; grocery store truffles

Dark chocolate

A recent study found that popcorn contains more antioxidants than many fruits and vegetables. Because popcorn is only 4% water (fruits and vegetables, in comparison, contain up to 95% water), the antioxidant polyphenols, found in the hull, are more concentrated. One of these polyphenols–ferulic acid–has been found to reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. Of course, smothering your popcorn in oil, butter, and salt will reduce the protective benefits of its antioxidants and fiber. Air-popped popcorn is best, as it’s an undoctored whole grain; add flavor with ingredients like turmeric, cardamom, cumin, parmesan cheese, and truffle oil. Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories, so indulge in moderation.

Pick it: Air-popped popcorn with spices, herbs, nuts, or a little butter or parmesan cheese
Skip it: Microwave popcorn; movie theater popcorn


Full-fat salad dressing
Restaurant and fast food salads are often at the top of “worst foods for your waistlines” lists, and that’s often because their dressings pack a ridiculous amount of calories and fat. On The Border’s Chipotle Honey Mustard Dressing adds at least 310 calories and 29 grams of fat to your meal–and that’s only if the chef adheres to the serving size. But the fats found in salad dressings help us absorb nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K and E, lycopene, and beta carotene. In one study, individuals who ate a salad with avocado (rich in monounsaturated fats) absorbed two to fifteen times more lycopene, beta carotene, and alpha carotene than those who ate a fat-free salad. The key is portion size: a standard serving size for salad dressing is two tablespoons, a mere fraction of what you’re likely served at restaurants. Ask for dressing on the side and pour judiciously; or simply dip each bite into the dressing. Look for dressings made with monounsaturated fats (look for olive, canola, avocado, or sesame oil); these will enhance nutrient absorption no matter how much you use, so you can keep calorie consumption in check.

Pick it: Olive-, canola-, avocado-, sesame-, peanut-, and other monounsaturated fat-based oils
Skip it: Fat-free and reduced-fat salad dressings; high-sugar salad dressings; salad dressings high in saturated or trans fats; salad dressings with more than five ingredients

Salad Dressing

Red wine might steal the spotlight when it comes to antioxidant-rich alcoholic drinks, but don’t overlook beer: it contains just as many antioxidants as wine plus B vitamins and minerals. The hops (which are actually flowers from the plant Humulus Iupulus and are responsible for adding that bitter taste and aroma to beer) contains xanthohumol, an antioxidant that exhibits antiviral, anti-allergic, anti-clotting, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor activity. According to Donald Buhler, PhD., lead author of a study testing beer’s antioxidant effects, xanthohumol is especially potent because of its unique chemical structure that allows it to survive longer in the body, thereby maximizing its disease-fighting effects. As always, drink in moderation: research shows that one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men is associated with improved brain and heart health and stronger bones. Pick stouts or dark ales, which contain higher levels of antioxidants.

Pick it: Guinness Draught; Newcastle Ale; Beck’s Premier Light
Skip it: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot; Samuel Adams Boston Lager; high-calorie beers; sugary cocktails

Red Meat
Good news for most Americans: it’s perfectly healthy to indulge in steak, bison burgers, and lamb chops every so often. Red meat is packed with protein (20-24 grams per three ounce serving), as well as iron, vitamin B12, and zinc. And grass-fed beef has even more benefits: it contains up to one third the amount of fat as corn- or grain-fed beef, and the fats it does have contain more omega-3 fatty acids in addition to conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that is linked with weight loss and a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. Pick leaner cuts of meat like sirloin and top round; steer clear of fattier cuts, like rib-eye, T-bone, and strip steak, as well as processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli meats.

Pick it: Grass-fed beef; eye, top, and bottom round roast and steak; sirloin; leg of lamb; bison meat
Skip it: Bacon, sausages, cured meats; hot dogs

Red Meat


The Healthiest and Unhealthiest Drinks at the Bar

Depending on what — and how — you order your beer, wine, and cocktails at the bar could make or break your summer diet efforts. And in moderate amounts, alcohol even as health benefits: it can strengthen your heart, it boosts brain function, and it reduces the risks of stroke and diabetes. Read on for the benefits of wine, beer and cocktails — and the healthiest and unhealthiest drinks to order!

Beer is like chocolate: it has surprising health benefits, but it’s best consumed in moderation. Moderate intake is linked with stronger bones (it’s high in bone-strengthening silicon) and heart health (it raises levels of “good” or HDL cholesterol). It also boosts brain health: a 2005 study found that women who drank one beer a day lowered their risk of mental decline by 20%. Other studies have also linked the brew to healthier kidneys, reduced cancer, stroke and diabetes risk, and lower blood pressure.

But just like chocolate, certain beers are better than others — and even the best kinds are still relatively high in calories. Darker brews tend to have more antioxidants and iron, and microbrews, which are less processed than mass-produced varieties, contain more “hops,” which contain polyphenols. Still, stick to one or two brews a day — any more can actually have negative health consequences, and a can can contain anywhere from 65 to 380 calories.

Best Beer: Stouts and dark ales, like Guinness Draught and Newcastle Brown Ale, contain more polyphenols. Specifically, they’re higher in xanthohumol, a compound found exclusively in beer that has been found to be a powerful protector against carcinogenic damage. And although darker beers are often heavier, you’ll most likely consume fewer calories overall. Most people feel full on one dark beer, but many can put down 3-4 light or ultralight beers, thereby taking in more than double the calories (light beers also give a false sense of security, just like reduced fat cookies or low calorie snack packs). Still, it’s worth finding out the calorie count before you hit the bar (the above have 126 and 138 calories per 12 ounces, respectively) so you know what you’re getting into.

Best Light Beer: If you’re going to go light, you might as well go really light: a brew like Beck’s Premier Light has 64 calories, compared with 124 in Sam Adam’s Light.

Worst Beer: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot contains a whopping 330 calories and 30.3 grams of carbs per 12-ounce pour. For the calorie counts of other popular beers, click here.

Wine has been touted as a health food for years now, due to its high content of antioxidants. Its star player, resveratrol — a phenolic compound — has been found to have many benefits. It boosts heart health by preventing blood clotting and plaque formation as well as boosting vascular function; it may reduce the risk of cancer by reducing the formation and proliferation of tumor cells; and it may aid in weight loss. But the benefits don’t stop there: wine promotes longevity more so than beer or liquors, it reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, cataracts, and stroke, and may slow cognitive decline.

Best Wine: Cabernet and Pinot Noir have the highest amount of antioxidant activity. Red wines, in general, contain more antioxidants than white wines: during the maceration period, phenolic compounds are extracted and end up in the wine. But to get the most out of your wine, drink slowly: sipping slowly increases the absorption of resveratrol into the mucous membranes of your mouth, which results in 100 times the blood concentration of resveratrol.

Runners-up: Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Aglianico, and Nobbiolo

Worst Wine: “Sweet” or “doux” wines — defined as more than 45 g/L — are high in sugar, which ups the calorie count (235 for a 5-ounce glass). Riesling, Rosé, Madeira, Vin Santo, and Port are all considered sweet. “Medium” or “moelleux” wines contain 12-45 g/L; “medium dry” or “demi-sec” contain between 4 and 12 g/L; and “dry” or “sec” wines have less than 4 g/L. These terms might not be on the bottle, so visit a vineyard’s website for information regarding sugar content.

Cocktails range in calorie count from under 100 to over 800! These stats depend largely on which ingredients are used and, as in all cases, portion size. As with most foods, the fewer ingredients, the better: options with only two ingredients (like a Screwdriver or cranberry vodka) often come in under 200 calories. When multiple liquors are added, like in a Long Island Ice Tea, calorie counts soar: each shot of 80 proof liquor (1.5 ounces) adds 97 calories to your drink. Mixers, like soda, tonic water, and juice, add even more empty calories, and sugary add-ins (simple syrup, sweet and sour mix, and sugared rims) make these drinks worse.

On the bright side, the art of mixology is a trend on the rise. Culinary cocktails, which are those made with fresh herbs, fruits, and spices instead of fake, sugary mixers, were named as one of the top food trends for 2012. In addition to drastically cutting down on caloric content, the addition of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices adds a healthy dose of antioxidants that is actually bolstered by the presence of alcohol.

At a bar or restaurant, inquire about the ingredients used, as they can vary even between the same drinks. A margarita, for example, may contain just three ounces of tequila, lime juice, and triple sec; or it might be a super-sized glass of tequila, lemon-lime soda, sour-mix, and sugar.

Best Cocktail: Greyhound (grapefruit juice and vodka); Bloody Mary; Vodka Martini; Paloma (grapefruit juice, tequila, and lime)

Worst Cocktail: Long Island Ice Tea; Mudslide; Piña Colada; Mint Julep; Daiquiri; White Russian; Mai Tai