As the senior writer here at Connecticut Magazine, my duties include writing restaurant reviews and a craft beverage column. In the process of this job, I often indulge in more than my fair share of vices. Luckily for me, when it comes to health, that is not always a bad thing.
Over the past few years, I’ve written a book with my dad, Dr. Harry Ofgang, for Penguin Random House called The Good Vices: From Beer to Sex, the Surprising Truth About What’s Actually Good for You. In the book we examine how many of the foods and behaviors we’ve been told to avoid all our lives can actually be good for us when enjoyed in moderation. Conducting “field research” for this book in Connecticut has been particularly enjoyable thanks to the wealth of high-quality “good vices” in the Nutmeg State. Here are some of my favorites.
Three cheers for beer
It’s no secret the state’s brewing industry has exploded with growth in recent years — increasing from fewer than 10 breweries a decade ago to more than 90 today. Less known is that moderate beer drinking, about one glass a day, may be linked to increased longevity. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, more than 100 studies have found an association between moderate drinking and a reduced risk of death from all cardiovascular causes. There are plenty of options to enjoy this vice in Connecticut, but my personal favorites are Kent Falls and OEC in Oxford. Many a beer from both breweries was consumed while writing the book.
Gluten-haters gonna hate, but for those of us without an allergy or sensitivity to gluten or some other wheat ingredient, bread has a lot to offer when it comes to health. Bread is rich in vitamins and iron and is a good source of dietary fiber. Whole grain bread is particularly good for us. A 2016 analysis of several studies with a combined 786,076 participants found that compared to those who ate the least whole-grain foods, those who ate the most had a 16 percent decreased risk of all-cause mortality. The problem with bread is that, in general, most mass-produced white bread is stripped of nutritional value. Thankfully there are some great Connecticut producers that offer whole-grain options, as well as sourdough breads made from non-commercial yeasts. You can find quality bread at spots like Hartford Baking Co., Bantam Bread and The Bakehouse in Litchfield.
Wake up and smell the coffee
Despite generations of myths about this caffeinated beverage, recent research indicates that moderate coffee drinking is good for us. An American Heart Association paper looked at long-term consumption of coffee among 1.27 million individuals and concluded that moderate coffee drinkers were at the lowest risk for cardiovascular disease. Loading your coffee with sugar and cream can detract from these potential health benefits — coffee seems to be healthiest when consumed black, or with just a little cream. This may sound like bad news to some, but true coffee connoisseurs actually prefer black coffee. If it is well made from high-quality beans, you get the real tastes of the coffee which can have rich flavor notes ranging from fruits to chocolate. You’ll see just what I mean if you try a pour-over at one of the state’s elite coffeehouses such as Source in Bridgeport, The Coffee Pedaler in New Haven or Story and Soil in Hartford.
Soak up the sun
As summer rolls in, we’re reminded to slather on sunscreen and avoid the sun. It’s good advice not to get sunburned, but it’s also important to remember that some sun is actually good for us non-vampires, as long as we don’t get too much. Just as getting sunburned poses health risks, not getting enough vitamin D can be harmful. A study published in 2016 in the Journal of Internal Medicine proclaimed “avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking.” On top of this, too much sunscreen may not be good for the environment. Last year Hawaii banned sunscreens with chemicals thought to be harmful to coral reefs. During Connecticut’s cold winters many of us get very little sun, so it’s extra important for us to build vitamin D in the summer. The trick is to do so without getting burned. While you can get sunlight almost anywhere in the state, Connecticut’s coastline is perfect for doubling down on these rays. Silver Sands State Park in Milford is one of many state beaches where you can enjoy a mix of sun exposure, water views, swimming and plenty of walking options. You might want to bring coffee and bread along, and maybe even stop for a beer afterward.