The Surprising Things That Make You Healthier, According to Science
With almost daily new studies that reveal evidence to the contrary, it can be a virtual minefield trying to figure out which advice you should implement into your own life. We're in the middle of a war on sugar and now red and processed meats are off the menu, but these aren't even the most surprising health findings. Scroll down for some of the most startling data from scientific studies that claim to make you healthier.
We've heard the mantra "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" on repeat since childhood, but how much gravitas does it actually carry in real life? Well, a lot, actually. According to research by the Department of Food Science and Institute of Comparative and Environmental Toxicology at Cornell University in New York, the antioxidant properties of one fresh apple are equal to 1500 milligrams of vitamin C and that people would benefit from eating an apple a day over consuming the supplement equivalent. "There is a huge amount of scientific evidence showing that fruits and vegetables lower the risk of cancer and heart disease, but scientists have mostly been isolating single compounds like beta-carotene and vitamin C," lead researcher Rui Hai Liu, MD, Ph.D., told WebMD. "Over the years, no single compound has been proven to have a protective effect by itself. An apple could have hundreds of phytochemicals. We think the combination is the important thing." But think again before you peel that next apple for your kid's lunch, because all the phytochemicals (and the bulk of the fruit's anticancer and antioxidant properties) are found mainly in the skin. And if you're still not convinced, here are nine reasons why you should eat apples daily.
Nothing beats the taste and the crunch of a deep-fried vegetable, and who doesn't love tempura, but we tend to steer clear of the oily treat because of its high fat content. But fear no more. According to a study from the University of Granada in Spain, vegetables fried in olive oil have more beneficial properties than when boiled. Yep, you heard right. The key here is using olive oil, not the usual vegetable or safflower varieties. Why is it healthier? Well, the study found that frying the vegetables in extra-virgin olive oil actually produces higher levels of natural phenols, and these "antioxidants have been linked to the prevention of chronic degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and macular degeneration (a disease which causes blindness)." But before you start frying all of your vegetables from now on, lead researcher Cristina Samaniego Sánchez said that along with the increase in antioxidants, the calorie density of the food also went up. So maybe save your homemade vegetable chips for Friday nights.
It seems like the opposite of what we're usually told, but recent findings prove intermittent fasting will lengthen your life and improve it. Scientific American states that a "large portion of the data supports the idea that limiting food intake reduces the risks of diseases common in old age and lengthens the period of life spent in good health." So what exactly does intermittent fasting entail? It just means you opt to fast periodically throughout the day or skip a meal or two on certain days of the week. If you've been trying, unsuccessfully, to reduce your calorie intake, then this could be an assuring alternative. Why should you consider fasting over calorie restriction? With fasting, you don't have to deny yourself—feasting one day and fasting the next—whereas curbing your calorie intake every single day can make you feel miserable.
Despite the myriad of media outlets telling us otherwise, dieting for the purpose of weight loss alone isn't reason enough to go on one, so don't. In fact, recent research proves that "losing weight doesn't actually improve health biomarkers such as blood pressure, fasting glucose, or triglyceride levels for most people." In fact, scientists now believe that being overweight can actually protect your health. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist Katherine Flegal was the lead researcher behind "The Big Fat Truth," and her recent analysis incorporated data from almost 100 studies and close to three million people. Her findings, published by the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, showed the "lowest mortality rates among people in the overweight to mildly obese categories."
Backing her up is Mercedes Carnethon, an epidemiologist at Northwestern University who analyzed data on diabetes patients. According to Quartz, "Carnethon began by excluding patients who died within two years of diagnosis, to account for people who were already sick but didn't know it; she still found higher mortality rates among thin people." So based on these findings, health can be found at every size, and "healthy behaviors, including nutrition and physical activity, matter more than weight."
There have been countless studies on happiness, from daily habits that will improve it to training for it like an athlete—one professor even proclaimed money can buy it—but new evidence published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows it might not be as good for your health as first thought. In fact, a psychology study delved deeper into the difference between having a happy life and a meaningful one. So what's the difference, and why does it matter? According to The Atlantic, the report found that "being happy is about feeling good and meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way." One the researchers, Roy Baumeister, told The Atlantic, "Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.” So based on these findings, merely the act of feeling good simply isn't good enough and "people need meaning to thrive."
When you're young, it seems like you can do and eat anything. Thanks to a typically high metabolism and active lifestyle, you get away with it. But new research shows that being young isn't an excuse for bad eating habits anymore. In fact, your future and long-term health depend on healthy choices as a young adult. If you want to prevent heart disease and calcified arteries in old age, then it's crucial you start eating more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day as a young adult. "People shouldn't assume that they can wait until they're older to eat healthy—our study suggests that what you eat as a young adult may be as important as what you eat as an older adult," says study author Dr. Michael Miedema, senior consulting cardiologist and clinical investigator at the Minneapolis Heart Institute.
For years we were led to believe that eating before bed was bad for your health, but new research in Time proves otherwise. In fact, a late-night snack can actually help you sleep and have you waking up feeling refreshed. The catch of course is the type of snack you reach for. Turns out we need energy to sleep, and registered dietician Cassie Bjork told Time that the right bedtime snack actually "calms the release of hunger hormones that tell your body to store fat." Of course, sugar-loaded treats such as chocolate or ice cream are off the midnight menu, but complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread, non-starchy vegetables, popcorn, and fruit are definitely okay. Because these foods break down slowly, Bjork says they help to "stave off the blood sugar spikes or crashes that could mess with your sleep or appetite," and adding protein can even "help with muscle repair during the night while also providing a hit of an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which is beneficial for sleep." It's a win-win, really.
Do you know a surprising fact about what makes people healthier? Will you change some of your habits based on these studies?