Decadently Wholesome

The latest health trend? Pop open a cold beer. It's just one of a few guilty pleasures that have gotten an image makeover: They're now downright good for you! If you're ready to indulge, we've got great news.

Wait long enough, and even high-waisted pants come back in style. In similar fashion, it may be time to pull some of your old, banned habits out of the closet: A number of formerly sinful luxuries now seem to be healthy -- and this according to scientists from highly regarded universities. 

In fact, if you didn't cheat, you'd be cheating yourself.

Old Rep: Lazy pastime
New Cred: Recharge tactic
Sneaking in an afternoon snooze can seem irresponsible with email, deadlines, and crusty dishes piling up. But a nap is exactly what your brain and body need to recharge. Call it Mother Nature's patented Ritalin: an antidote to mental fuzziness without the unpleasant side effects.

Even rocket scientists are recommending naps. In one NASA study, 21 long-haul pilots were assigned to one of two groups before boarding their regularly scheduled transpacific flights. Those in the first group were allowed a 40-minute nap (don't worry, other crew members maintained the flight); pilots in the second group were told to keep working. 

Afterward, as the pilots completed tasks (like hitting a button when a light flashed), the nappers' reaction time was significantly faster than before the nap -- 16 percent -- while their alertness shot up by 100 percent.

A 20-minute nap helps sharpen the mind and enhance muscle coordination; 30 to 60 minutes typically lets you sink into slow-wave sleep, which can boost memory, according to Sara C. Mednick, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and author of "Take a Nap! Change Your Life." 

Proceeding on to REM sleep (likely to occur after 50 to 60 minutes) adds heightened creativity to the list of benefits. To get a mental lift without the grogginess, Mednick says, a mid-afternoon nap should be about 20 minutes.

Cheese Omelet
Old Rep: Heart attack on a plate
New Cred: The breakfast of champions
Ever since fat and cholesterol phobia swept the country in the 1980s, both eggs and cheese have suffered an image problem -- and don't even think about mixing the two. 

But the combo isn't so bad, after all: Of the 4.9 grams of fat in an egg, 1.6 of them are saturated; the rest are unsaturated -- the type that actually helps lower cholesterol in blood. And not all cheeses are high in fat: Parmesan contains only 1.4 grams (and 22 calories) per tablespoon. 

As for cholesterol, an egg has 212 grams -- under the 300-gram daily maximum recommended by the American Heart Association for healthy adults.

Furthermore, an average egg with a tablespoon (or shredded cubic inch) of cheese offers more nutrients than a doughy bagel: calcium (from the cheese), 13 vitamins (from the egg), and protein (from both). 

You can sprinkle on oregano or basil for a hit of antioxidants. And all you need for cooking is a spritz of olive oil.

To increase the filling factor (and the protein) of your omelet, mix in the whites from two additional eggs, which adds only a few calories (32) and barely any fat. And if you choose a strong cheese, like feta (45 calories and 3.6 grams of fat) or Parmesan, chances are you won't be tempted to overdo it.

Old Rep: Mean-girl entertainment
New Cred: Bonding technique
Whose ears don't perk up when word gets around about a co-worker's tussle with the boss or a friend's tragic fashion sense? Research suggests that gossiping isn't so much a moral slip-up as it is a way of bonding. 

Furthermore, we're wired to do it. As Robin Dunbar, Ph.D., a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford, writes in "Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language," gossip among humans serves the same purpose as social grooming among apes: The participants share a common interest or goal, and in taking part, they're made to feel included.

Speaking negatively about someone may, in fact, bring you closer to your fellow gossiper, explains Jennifer Bosson, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. You'd say nice things to anyone, but being critical or mean is reserved for trusted confidants (the ones who won't rat you out or turn you into the next gossip target). 

Of course, there are more virtuous ways to bond (like joining a book club), but gossip, social scientists agree, does build community -- and that's been shown by countless studies to help maintain good overall mental health.

Old Rep: Gut bloater 
New Cred: Wine replacement
Wine may be the toast of the health-conscious, but beer is just as good for you, claims Charles Bamforth, Ph.D., chair of food science and technology at the University of California, Davis, and author of "Grape vs. Grain." 

It's true that your brewski doesn't contain resveratrol, wine's so-called antiaging antioxidant, but it's got more calcium and magnesium than a Cabernet or Merlot, and four to five times the level of free-radical-fighting polyphenols as a glass of white. 

In fact, a 12-ounce bottle of beer a day (but no more than that) may up "good" HDL cholesterol, decrease the risk of blood clots, and reduce coronary heart disease rates by 30 to 40 percent.

iPhone Fiddling
Old Rep: Brain drainer
New Cred: Brain trainer
Still fondling your iPhone? Surely there's something more useful you could be doing? Maybe not. 

Research suggests that interacting with new smart-phone apps or computer programs stimulates your neural circuits, says Gary Small, M.D., author of "iBrain" and director of the Center on Aging at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research suggests that Web searching, even more than reading online, activates neural areas responsible for decision making and reasoning. It keeps the brain fit, he says.

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