Six things that seem bad for you but aren't (in moderation)

From cheat meals to chocolate, find out the things you don't have to completely ban from your diet.

The Perfect Burger

(Photo by Yvonne Duivenvoorden)

Whether it’s the first day of your diet or just an overall promise to live a healthier lifestyle, it likely involves putting a few items onto a mental do-not-touch list. However we all know that the more something is restricted the more you actually want it. The good news is that there are many seemingly unhealthy things that can make a periodic appearance without throwing off your results – in fact, they may just be good for you (in moderation).

1. Taking two coffee breaks a day
The latest research is touting the benefits of caffeine for everything from mood to diabetes to fat burning and beyond. A study from Harvard, showed that two cups a day can even keep depression away.

Bottom line: Opt for an organic, fair-trade coffee and be sure to brew it with non-chlorinated filters. Lastly, you should consume it before 3 p.m. to avoid sleep disruptions.

2. Enjoying dairy
If you haven’t jumped on the Greek yogurt bandwagon, few items in your fridge will be more satisfying while slimming your waistline.

Researchers at McMaster University found that participants who consumed a high protein, high dairy diet while engaging in a strength training program experienced greater whole body weight loss — particularly in the stubborn abdominal area. A diet rich in dairy calcium has also been shown to enhance weight reduction in type 2 diabetic patients and can give you the edge up when on a calorie-restricted diet.

Bottom line: The secret is to select high protein, low-fat organic sources, and of course, if dairy sends your digestion on a rollercoaster ride it’s better left untouched.

3. Cheating on your diet
Regardless of your diet, a zero-tolerance policy rarely leads to long term success. From a physiological standpoint, a weekly or bi-weekly cheat meal serves to boost your thyroid hormone and lower levels of Reverse T3 that naturally increases with dieting (this hormone can block the active thyroid hormone that influences metabolism). Remember that when we reduce calories overall, our body adapts by lowering our metabolism as a survival mechanism. Having a cheat meal keeps our metabolism going and actually increases our long term success.

Bottom line: A few simple rules to prevent it from resembling, well, a train that has gone off the tracks: first, you must earn your cheat meal by staying on course throughout the week. Second, if your weight is up three to four days later, you’ve overdone it or included items that don’t agree with your chemistry. Choose to avoid sugar, gluten, dairy, if needed. Lastly, have it as the last meal of the day versus the first to prevent you from nibbling from morning to night.

4. Satisfying those chocolate cravings
Believe it or not, a square or two of dark chocolate can help to reduce blood pressure. Researchers reviewed evidence from short-term trials in which participants were given dark chocolate or cocoa powder daily and found that their blood pressure dropped when compared to a control group. The cocoa inhibits an enzyme in the body that is known to raise blood pressure.

Other studies have shown that cocoa has a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases.

Bottom line: Have the urge to splurge? Chop up a square of dark chocolate and mix it with your Greek yogurt, along with a handful of berries and some slivered almonds. Select 70 percent dark chocolate or higher for best results.

5. Reaching for sugar alternatives
If you’re steering clear of sugar but still have that nagging sweet tooth you don’t have to deny yourself forever. Whereas those pink, blue and yellow packets may be more toxic than sugar itself, other sweeteners such as xylitol can help you shed the pounds while improving your health.

On the glycemic index (which measures the impact on blood sugar) xylitol is low at seven, whereas honey is 62 and glucose is 100 — and it looks, tastes and even bakes like sugar. As the antithesis to sugar, it can actually help prevent tooth decay by keeping a neutral pH level in the mouth and preventing bacteria from sticking to the teeth. You can also try stevia and/or coconut sap.

6. Eating red meat
During a detox I always recommend that my patients remove red meat as it can be inflammatory for some individuals, however that’s not to say that it can never return to your plate. Very recently, red meat consumption has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (yes, you read that correctly).

This protein source also packs a powerful fatty acid that’s been linked to long-term weight management — conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. Previous studies have shown that CLA reduces body fat while preserving muscle tissue and may also boost your metabolism.

Bottom line: If you’ve tested it during a detox and it was given the green light then be sure to look for organic, grass-fed beef.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here