Numerous studies indicate that a little imbibing can help protect your heart and may lower the risk of diabetes. Other research touts the many benefits of resveratrol, the powerful antioxidant in red wine. One recent finding even showed that older adults who drink alcohol moderately often live longer than teetotalers. “There’s no reason to feel guilty about light drinking,” says Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian in Yorktown, Virginia. However, if you’ve had breast cancer, you may want to abstain completely: A new study from Kaiser Permanente, a not-for-profit health-plan provider in Oakland, California, showed that even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a 30 percent recurrence of the disease.
The middle ground: For most women, moderate drinking means one alcoholic drink daily (men get two a day). A single 12-ounce serving of beer a day is considered healthfully beneficial. Prefer wine? Stick to five ounces (most bottles contain about 25 ounces, or five glasses). If you love a martini, limit yourself to 1½ ounces of liquor in the glass. And, no, you can’t save up your alcohol allowance for the weekend.
2 of 9Hector M. Sanchez
They’re a good source of protein, and even better, the fatty kinds (salmon, sardines, albacore tuna) contain omega-3 fatty acids, whose health benefits―including a lower risk of heart attack and stroke and a probable immunity boost―continue to be discovered. What’s not so clear: how to eat fish safely, since many contain contaminants, like mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), that can damage the brain, the kidneys, and the lungs. “It’s easy to have blood levels of these chemicals higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe,” says Deborah Rice, Ph.D., a toxicologist for the state of Maine.
The middle ground: Each week, eat two to three servings of wild-caught fish, as farm-raised varieties have higher levels of added chemicals, says Amy Goodson, a registered dietitian at the Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital, in Fort Worth. Fish to avoid include imported swordfish, non-domestic tilapia, and shark. To see if a fish you like is a healthy choice, go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website (montereybayaquarium.org).
3 of 9Frances Janisch
This important mineral controls fluids in your body and helps regulate your heart and metabolism. Too little can cause muscle cramps, fatigue, nausea, and cognitive problems. Too much forces your heart to work harder. Sodium is found in nearly every processed food―even, counterintuitively, in sweets like doughnuts.
The middle ground: The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day (about one teaspoon). African-Americans, people with hypertension, and those who are middle-aged and older need less than 1,500 milligrams a day. But the average American gets nearly double that. “The best way to reduce sodium is to minimize processed foods,” says Goodson. Then take the salt shaker off the table; if you need a flavor kick, try cumin, tarragon, or oregano.
4 of 9Frances Janisch
Studies link moderate caffeine consumption to a decrease in type 2 diabetes and to better defenses against endometrial cancer and possibly Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, both coffee and tea are rich in the antioxidants that may help lower the risk of stroke. Even more compelling, recent research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology shows that caffeine may offer protection against sun damage. However, other reports suggest that too much can cause breast cysts, migraines, and, you guessed it, sleep problems.
The middle ground: For most, 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine―about two cups of coffee daily―is plenty.
5 of 9Amy Neunsinger
On its own, a bit of the sweet stuff isn’t so bad. “But it’s in many foods with little nutritional benefit,” says Toby Smithson, a dietitian in Lake County, Illinois, and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. That means excess calories, which puts you at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The middle ground: New guidelines from the American Heart Association state that women should have no more than 100 calories of added sugar a day, or about six teaspoons (this is in addition to the sugar that occurs naturally in whole foods, like fruit and dairy products). And in general it’s wise to scan food labels to manage your sugar intake, Goodson says. Look at the grams of carbohydrates; if sugar accounts for half of those grams or more, you’re probably better off skipping the item.
6 of 9James Baigrie
In Your Life
Nine out of 10 Americans use them. Despite no definitive evidence, rumors of health risks have continued to crop up. Recently a joint review published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology concluded that the radio-frequency waves emitted by cell phones could, in fact, be linked to a mild increased risk of brain tumors.
The middle ground: “In general, the shorter the conversation, the smaller your exposure,” says Leeka I. Kheifets, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied the effects of cell-phone radiation. For calls lasting more than two minutes, use an earpiece or the phone’s speaker; this can cut wave exposure by 1,000 times. And when you have a weak signal, don’t make a call. Your body is subjected to a higher exposure when a phone has to boost its radio signal to get connected.
7 of 9Burcu Avsar
TV and Internet
Many adults spend 80 to 90 hours a week in front of screens. Research suggests they interact with one another 40 percent less when there’s a TV on in the room, says Glenn G. Sparks, a communications professor at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana. “We’re learning that intimate social interactions benefit our health, and too much screen time sabotages that,” he notes.
The middle ground: You may work in front of a computer all day, but at home try not to tune in to more than three hours of TV and computer time daily. “Turn off all screens during meals,” Sparks says, and take the TV out of the bedroom, since it can “hinder your ability to fall asleep.”
8 of 9 Chris Shipman
It’s well-known that aerobic exercise helps lower blood pressure, prevents type 2 diabetes and some cancers, manages weight, and improves mood. But too much can weaken the immune system and cause injury.
The middle ground: Move 30 minutes a day; even a brisk walk or a slow jog will do. Research also shows it’s key to work on balance and strength training for healthy aging.
9 of 9Alison Gootee
Sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, which may protect against breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, and colon cancer. However, prolonged exposure can lead to deadly skin cancers.
The middle ground: It’s crucial to avoid unprotected sun exposure, regardless of its vitamin D benefits. Rely on a supplement for your daily 1,000 I.U. (international units) of vitamin D, and always wear SPF 30 on your face and body. Yes, in some cases abstinence is the surest path to moderation.