They say a bit of what you fancy does you good. But what good can a few rashers of bacon, a glass of wine and a scoop of ice cream be doing for you? More than you think. Here, we highlight the hidden benefits in a few of your favourite things.
Undeniably high in sugar, but preserves have an unexpected health benefit. A study by the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, UK, has found that pectin, a natural gelling agent, can block the progress of cancer through the body by “sticking” to the protein Gal3, which causes tumour growth.
When eaten in moderation, bacon could be considered a superfood. Almost half the fat content is monounsaturated, which is known to lower cholesterol levels. And its monounsaturated content comes from oleic acid, the same “good” fat found in olive oil.
It may not be great for your waistline or your heart - your recommended daily intake of saturates is contained in just three sandwich-size slices. However, it is good for your teeth, and not just because it’s high in calcium. A cube of cheddar after a meal will neutralise the acids in your mouth, thus helping to prevent tooth decay.
A scoop of ice cream can give your mood a noticeable lift. A study by the Institute of Psychiatry in London has found out why - because eating ice cream can light up the brain’s pleasure zones. Just once lick is enough to stimulate the orbitofrontal cortex, the main processing area and the part of the brain associated with the pleasures of sex and eating.
When kept away from the fryer, the humble spud packs a nutritional punch. American scientists have identified 60 different types of phytochemicals and vitamins in potato skins - many of which help lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease - while researchers at the Institute for Food Research have found they contain blood-pressure lowering molecules called kukoamines.
Gym bunnies, take note: sinking an espresso boosts the fat-burning potential of cardiovascular exercise. Caffeine dilates blood vessels, thus increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to muscles. A post-workout americano can reduce aches, too. Coffee also stimulates the release of cholecystokinin, a hormone which inhibits cholesterol build-up in the gallbladder.
And, of course, chocolate
With its ability to boost “feel-good” endorphin levels, chocolate has long been used as a mood-lifter. But it can also improve the brain’s ability to do mental arithmetic. A team of volunteers found that mathematical equations became easier after they ate dark chocolate, which is rich in flavonoids which improve the function of blood vessels and promote oxygen flow to the brain.
If you needed another excuse to eat it, chocolate might also help you lose weight. Last week, a new brand of chocolate was launched which claims to trick your brain into believing you aren’t hungry. Called Lola, the sweets are cholesterol-free, and are said to help digestion by boosting a healthy level of intestinal bacteria.
Its Spanish inventors recommend that you eat one or two chocolates before a meal, to help you feel full. The only drawback - apart from the price (pounds 5 for a box of five) and the fact that it’s only available in Spain - is the slight green tinge, which comes from its special ingredient spirulina, a nutrient-rich algae.
And red wine
Prepare to raise your glass to some cheering news. Last week, a study found that moderate alcohol consumption can protect against heart disease. The report showed that drinking up to 30 grams of alcohol a day, the equivalent of one large glass of red wine, reduced the risk of heart disease by half. The effect was not seen for all forms of alcohol. Increasing consumption does not improve the protective effect, and raises the risk of cancer, accidents, mental health problems and liver cirrhosis.
Drinking up to two glasses of red wine a day has also long been thought to improve your brain power. Dr Clinton Wright, professor of neurology at Columbia University, New York, found that moderate drinkers score higher in mental acuity tests than those who never touch alcohol. It is known that resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins, promotes healthy blood flow to the brain. Studies suggest that it also boosts your immune system.
While too much alcohol is linked to high blood pressure, liver problems and infertility, resveratrol has been variously linked to fighting cancer, obesity, diabetes, and even the signs of old age. Results from a new laboratory study, published earlier this month, suggest it may also slow the formation of the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Bad for you, actually
Tofu (bean curd) is assumed to be the healthiest of foods, as it is low in calories, relatively high in protein and iron and has no saturated fat or cholesterol. However, like other soya products, research suggests it may be harmful to male fertility.
It is packed with vitamins and count towards your five-a-day. But the high sucrose content of orange juice attacks the enamel on your teeth and can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Fibre-packed wholemeal bread could also be laden with sugar. Professor Peter Whorwell, an expert on irritable bowel syndrome, says that fibre-rich foods should also be reconsidered as key elements of healthy diets. “Adding a bulking agent in the form of fibre gives the bowel more work to do, so if you’re constipated it is likely to worsen symptoms. “
The fruity goodness may be outweighed by the number of calories as smoothies are loaded with natural sugar.
This healthy snack can be damaging to the teeth. Bacteria in the milk can react with sugars in the food, triggering acid production and enamel erosion.
An apple a day may well keep the doctor away, but it will also keep the dentist busy. Eating apples can contain the equivalent of four teaspoons of sugar.
Oily fish such as salmon and tuna are rich in healthy omega 3, but they may also be high in mercury.