Red Wine, Coffee, and Chocolate: What All Those Conflicting Studies Really Mean

Updated 04/17/19
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We've reached the point where our Pavlovian response to the words "red wine," "chocolate" and "research" is a deep eye roll. Sleep and coffee, too. What's the verdict this week? we wonder when a new study pops up on our Facebook feeds. Is seven hours of shut-eye considered ideal, or is it seven hours and seven minutes? Will that fourth cup of coffee kill me, or will it make me live longer? Is chocolate good for my heart or not?

It's understandable, given that we're constantly bombarded with new research that seems to perpetually contradict itself. The information is so overwrought that honestly, the best strategy seems to just focus on all the purported benefits, ignore the bad, and call it a day. But then again, being the health-minded folks that we are, there's that nagging instinct to wade through all the murkiness to get to the truth. 

So that's exactly what we did, so you don't have to. Read ahead to find the most up-to-date, substantiated, no-B.S. pros and cons of coffee, wine, sleep, and more.

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The pros: These days, the general verdict seems to be in coffee's favor—studies have found that it reduces the risk for a variety of ailments ranging from cancer to heart disease to back pain, believe it or not. (This is, of course, if you avoid calorie-laden add-ins like cream and sugar.)

The cons: In excess, however, caffeine still isn't the best for concentration (hello, jitters) or sleep quality. A 2015 study found that it really messes with our circadian rhythm, aka our natural tendency to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. It's also habit-forming, which is definitely why this writer has worked her way up to five cups a day (sorry, science). 

Your best bet is to stick to a daily maximum of three to four cups (ideally less), and for your best night of sleep, try not to consume any caffeine after noon. (Also keep in mind that decaf still has traces of caffeine in it.)

The pros: Quantity and quality are key here. Scientists have narrowed down eight hours as the true sweet spot for a solid night's sleep (not to mention better heart health), although seven to nine hours is a good range to shoot for. For your deepest sleep, research favors a cool, very quiet, very dark atmosphere. You can up the ante even further by sleeping according to your circadian rhythm—the app Sleep Cycle (free) can help with that. (Just make sure you set the app well before bedtime—more on that in a minute.)

The cons: After a hectic work week, it often feel like we could snooze for days—but that's not wise, since while the detriments of sleep deprivation are widely known, oversleeping carries its own set of health hazards. A recent study found that getting more than nine hours on a regular basis can increase your mortality rate up to 44%—that's compared to a mere 9% from getting less than seven. That's not to say that getting too little sleep is ultimately preferable: It can have a negative impact on your immune system, waistline, digestion, vision, and of course, your mood.

Then, there's the fact that most of us see our electronics as extensions of our limbs. The blue light emitted from our phones and computers can warp our circadian rhythm and natural ability to fall asleep, which is why it's important to unplug at least an hour before bed. 

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Red Wine

The pros: The truth is that many of the benefits attributed red wine—things like preventing heart disease and diabetes—aren't necessarily specific to red wine, but other forms of alcohol as well. You do, however, get a boost of antioxidants with a glass of dark vino. 

The cons: You've likely seen studies that claim red wine can do anything from cure cancer to prevent dementia—but this is where things get murky. Studies on these subjects are so conflicting at this point, that scientists can't settle on a definitive answer. And of course, it's important to remember the risks you take by drinking any kind of alcoholic beverage. The calorie and carbohydrate content is good to keep in mind as well. 

The pros: We just NEED to know: Can we eat our dark chocolate in good conscience? The research says it's a go, in moderation of course. (We'll take it!) It's actually brain food, as eating a square of the good stuff can lengthen our attention span and improve alertness. Plus, its high antioxidant content ultimately makes it a beautifying superfood

The cons: Chocolate loses a lot of those benefits when it's processed, and added sugars, milk, or flavoring essentially negate the good. Moral of the story: Reach for unsweetened dark chocolate or cacao, and keep your serving sizes small—even the unprocessed stuff is high in fat and calories. 

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