6 ‘Unhealthy’ Habits That Can Be Good for You

Life is full of things you’re told to avoid. Most of us spend our day resisting substances and activities we’re told are unhealthy. The very act of careful avoidance and the guilt that follows when you slip up can induce stress, which is one thing you probably don’t need more of.

Considering life is already hard enough, we’ve come up with a list of things that are commonly thought of as unhealthy, but aren’t. It turns out, when applied in moderation, some of those foods, habits, and activities you’ve spent years avoiding may actually have some surprising health benefits. Prepare to switch up your diet!

1. Fats

whole and halved avocado in a wooden bowl

Fats are not as bad as they were once assumed to be. | iStock.com

Chances are you’ve probably spent quite a bit of energy avoiding fats. Olive oil, butter, and even foods like avocado and peanut butter have gotten a bad rap in the wake of low-fat diets. When it comes to dairy, there are a million nonfat or low-fat options that make purchasing whole-fat yogurt, milk, and ice cream feel indulgent and unhealthy. However, the anti-fat craze has recently been debunked.

Your body needs the fat found in foods. It helps you absorb vitamins and minerals, builds cell membranes, and aids in muscle movement. Eat your fill of healthy fats like those found in oils, avocados, fish, and nuts; keep your intake of saturated fats found in red meat and whole-milk dairy products to a minimum; but maintain a diet free of trans fats, which are commonly labeled on processed foods as hydrogenated oil.

2. Sunshine

Woman under beach umbrella

Sunshine provides plenty of vitamin D. | iStock.com

There are two opposing schools of thought when it comes to sun exposure. In one corner is the person who revels in the sun every chance they get. They probably have an enviable tan (once the burn fades) and scoff at those who cower in the shade. In the other camp is the person who does everything they can to avoid sun exposure. They can probably be found buried under a sun hat, long sleeves, layer upon layer of sunscreen, a beach umbrella, and a palm tree.

It turns out that neither extreme has it right. Researchers are increasingly finding that sunshine, in moderation, can be beneficial. Exposure to sunlight prompts your body to produce vitamin D, which is essential to strong bones and as some research suggests, can help prevent colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers. While some sun is good, too much can be deadly (ahem, skin cancer). You should only get a few minutes of daily sun exposure, the Canadian Dermatology Association’s Sun Awareness Program for the Prevention of Skin Cancer explains to Reader’s Digest. In addition, you should always wear a light sunscreen and stay in the shade between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest.

3. Carbohydrates

a man eating a sandwich

Choose your carbohydrates wisely — not all of them are the same. | iStock.com

For a period of time, anti-carb diets were all the rage. People were ordering their turkey sandwiches in low-carb wraps or even lettuce to avoid two slices of bread. However once again, this trend is showing its holes. For starters the high number of carbs found in both a Pop-Tart and a pear are not the same thing. Neither are the carbs found in a bag of Cheetos and those found in a piece of whole-grain bread. Eat good carbs, but limit your intake of refined and highly-processed carbs like those found in packaged foods.

4. Coffee

Man drinking coffee

Coffee is packed with plenty of antioxidants. | iStock.com

This long-running debate is quite controversial. Is coffee incredibly harmful or super healthy? Once again, moderation wins. Coffee has a lot of great qualities. For starters, it’s extremely high in antioxidants and stimulates a boost in your metabolism and brain function. Some studies have shown coffee drinkers have up to a 65% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and a 32% to 60% decreased risk of getting Parkinson’s disease. Coffee has numerous benefits, but like most good things, drinking too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, heart palpitations, and trouble sleeping. The takeaway? Enjoy your morning cup of Joe, but skip the refill.

5. Running

man going for a morning run outside

Going for a morning run definitely has it’s benefits. | iStock.com

When it comes to exercise, running often has a bad reputation. Some blame it for being too hard on the knees, which can cause osteoarthritis. An opposing study found regular runners are actually less likely to develop the condition than those who don’t run. In addition to providing you with a dose of cardio, upping your heart rate, and burning calories, running strengthens the cartilage around the knee, preventing degeneration. A study at Stanford University found older people engaging in regular exercise, including running, reported 25% less musculoskeletal pain than sedentary people. Running is a great way for people of all ages to stay in shape — the key is taking it slow and investing in a good pair of running shoes, fitted by an expert.

6. Alcohol

four different alcoholic drinks in glasses

Yes, you can even have a drink without feeling guilty. | iStock.com

It’s one thing to chug beer at a frat party and quite another to have a glass of wine with dinner. Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, actually has some great health benefits. It should be noted that “moderate” as defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is one drink per day for a woman and two a day for men. When you keep your drinking habits within these healthy guidelines, alcohol can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, improve your libido, and lower your chances of developing type-2 diabetes.