Don’t sweat over the siesta, the swearing, or the chocolate stash. It seems that many of our vices can be surprisingly beneficial, and here’s why

Dark chocolate

Chocolate

The bad:

‘Chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine, so eating too much may overstimulate your adrenal glands and nervous system,’ says Brighton-based nutritionist Kirsten Chick (connectwithnutrition.co.uk).

The good:

Dark and raw chocolate are also rich in catechins, the antioxidant group thought to protect against heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. A study published by the British Journal Of Nutrition earlier this year revealed that eating 100g of chocolate per day can help to prevent type 2 diabetes.

What to watch:

Milk hinders catechins, and a sugary diet puts us at increased risk of type 2 diabetes, so go for dark or raw chocolate that’s low in sugar or perhaps contains a sugar substitute.

Swearing

The bad:

If swearing is part of a fit of temper, much damage can be done – eg, 66% of traffic fatalities are caused by road rage.

The good:

At the right time, in the right place, swearing is a great way of letting off steam that, in turn, can benefit our wellbeing. A study by the University of East Anglia found that swearing at work helps employees to cope with stress, and can raise team spirits.

What to watch:

Curse the computer and the lawnmower, but not other people – offending the wrong person could cause you – and of course them – a whole lot more stress!

Lie-ins

The bad:

Sleeping for nine hours or more each night can increase our risk of heart attack, and stroke.

The good:

A long lie-in at the weekend will restore a week of poor or restricted sleep, and boost your performance at work the following Monday, according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania. Plus new research shows that a lie-in can decrease our risk of type 2 diabetes.

What to watch:

The optimum nightly amount of kip (to reduce risk of diabetes, cancer, stroke and heart attack) is seven-and-a-half hours. So aim for that, but don’t worry if you need the odd lie-in at weekends.

Red Wine

The bad:

Although we used to regard moderate red wine consumption as healthy, earlier this year the government modified its guidance to say that any alcohol consumption can increase our risk of cancer.

A recent study by University College London found that those who gave up alcohol for a month had improved liver function, and less risk of diabetes.

The good:

‘Red wine contains an antioxidant called resveratrol, thought to have beneficial effects on the heart and circulatory system,’ says dietitian Felicity Lyons.

What to watch:

The Chief Medical Officer advises a maximum of 14 units per week (about five large glasses). So enjoy a tipple of red wine with your meal but stick to one small glass and make sure you have at least two alcohol-free days.

Silly Videos

The bad:

Spending too much time online can weaken our immune systems and increase stress levels, according to new research at Swansea University.

The good:

Laughing at funny YouTube videos is a great way to boost health. A study at the University of Oxford found that we feel less pain after a good giggle, and researchers believe that this relates to the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins.

What’s more, research by the University of California shows that using the internet can boost brainpower in middle-aged and older web users, in turn promoting cognitive health and reducing risk of dementia.

What to watch:

Hunching over a computer can create neck and shoulder issues, so sit in a tension-free, upright posture while surfing the web – and make sure you have plenty of breaks away from the screen.

Avocados

The bad:

‘People with gallstones or who do not process fats well (signs of this can include nausea, headaches, floating stools and fatty lumps under the skin) should limit their avocado intake,’ warns Kirsten.

The good:

‘Avocados are full of carotenoids that help to keep the skin, heart, eyes, and brain healthy,’ says Kirsten.

‘They are anti-inflammatory, which means they help to prevent chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes; and they’re full of nutrients, including folic acid and vitamins K, E and B5, which relieves stress.’

Research shows that the optimum amount to eat for heart health is one avocado per day.

What to watch:

Try to avoid avocados imported from Mexico, as buying these can mean unwittingly supporting drug cartels.

Pasta

The bad:

Creamy white sauces, and shop-bought sauces containing sugar, can be very calorific.

The good:

A new study shows that pasta might actually help us lose weight. Researchers at Italy’s IRCCS Neuromed Institute found a correlation between pasta intake and low obesity rates in a survey of over 23,000 people.

What to watch:

If you’re gluten-intolerant, try pasta made from brown rice flour, or protein-rich mung bean pasta. And opt for lower-fat, tomato-based sauces.

Sunbathing

The bad:

Unprotected and/or prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays puts us at risk of skin cancer.

The good:

The body replenishes its vital stores of vitamin D, essential for bone health, when exposed to the sun without SPF.

Advice from organisations, including the British Association of Dermatologists and Cancer Research UK, is that the time needed in the sun without protection in order to raise vitamin D levels varies, but in the UK should be about 10-20 minutes around midday, for most people.

The more skin that you can expose, the more vitamin D you’ll make.

What to watch:

If you’re worried about producing enough vitamin D to protect against the risk of osteoporosis, especially in rainy and cloudy weather, you could try a vitamin D supplement oral spray, such as BetterYou DLux 3000 (£7.99, from Holland & Barrett).

Catnaps

The bad:

Napping during the day should not be a regular substitute for a good night’s sleep, which is vital for overall health.

The good:

Research reported at the European Society of Cardiology conference in London last year proves that a short sleep at noon reduces blood pressure in middle-aged nappers; and further studies have shown that a quick kip boosts mental performance.

Stopping on a long journey to have a 15-minute nap (followed by a hit of caffeine) was found to significantly reduce driving impairments caused by sleepiness, in research by Loughborough University.

What to watch:

The time – researchers have found that a 10- to 20-minute nap is ideal. Five minutes is insufficient, and 30-60 minutes is too long, causing grogginess.

Coffee

The bad:

The high caffeine content in coffee can create adrenal stress, and depletes levels of magnesium, a mineral which is vital for muscle function, the nervous system, bone and bowel health, and energy levels – without sufficient magnesium, we can suffer palpitations, restlessness, and anxiety.

The good: As well as delivering that much-needed morning hit of mental focus, coffee has many long-term benefits, including potentially lowering our risk of depression, diabetes, liver cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

What to watch:

Decaffeinated coffee is not as well researched as caffeinated, but studies suggest that it protects us against depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and bowel cancer, and may also prevent dementia. Swiss Water Organic Decaf (non-chemical extraction) is one of the healthiest options.