Monday, February 16, 2009

Is chocolate good for you?

Opinion see-saws on this but it seems that dark chocolate in particular might be beneficial. One summary below:

Scientists from around the world have studied chocolate's effect on people's health. For example:

* Antioxidant activity - Scientists from Italy and Scotland fed dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate and a glass of whole milk to healthy volunteers. Dark chocolate boosted the volunteers' blood antioxidant activity. But milk, either in the chocolate or a glass, prevented the effect.

* Vascular function - The inner layer of arteries makes a tiny chemical that widens blood vessels and keeps their linings smooth. Doctors in Greece think chocolate may help keep vessels open. They fed 100 grams (about 3« ounces) of dark chocolate to 17 healthy volunteers. Their vascular function improved rapidly. Swiss investigators found similar effects from dark chocolate but no benefit from white chocolate.

* Blood pressure - Because good vascular function widens blood vessels, it's logical that chocolate might help lower blood pressure. Studies from Italy, Argentina, Germany and the United States have shown that dark chocolate can lower blood pressure in healthy adults and in patients with hypertension. But the benefit is modest and it wears off within a few days of stopping "treatment" with a daily "dose" of dark chocolate.

* Insulin sensitivity - People with diabetes have good reason to avoid chocolate. It's got lots of sugar and calories. But an Italian study suggested that dark, not white, chocolate can improve insulin sensitivity. However, a 2008 investigation of flavanol-enriched cocoa found no improvement in blood sugar or blood pressure.

* Blood clotting - Most heart attacks and many strokes are caused by fatty deposits called plaques that contain cholesterol. The build-up of plaque can cause a blood clot to form. Researchers in Switzerland and the United States found that dark chocolate reduces blood cell activity that can lead to clot formation.

Given this evidence, chocolate could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. But all of these hopeful results are based on short-term experiments in a small number of volunteers. Do these bits and pieces of data apply to real life?

Perhaps. The strongest support for chocolate as a health food comes from a 2006 report from the widely respected Zutphen Elderly Study. Researchers evaluated 470 Dutch men between the ages of 65 and 84. All subjects were free of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer when the study began in 1985. Each volunteer provided comprehensive dietary information, and had his blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat, and other cardiovascular risk factors evaluated.

Researchers tracked the men for 15 years. They found that the men who ate the most cocoa-containing products had lower blood pressures than those who ate the least. The average difference was 3.7 mm Hg in systolic pressure and 2.1 mm Hg in diastolic. These differences may not seen substantial, but even after taking other risk factors into account, the chocolate lovers also enjoyed a 47% lower death rate. Most of the benefit was due to a sharply decreased risk of heart disease. And the largest single source of cocoa was dark chocolate.

More here

The Zutphen study is of course epidemiological but there are no obvious confounding factors

Fat fanaticism very dangerous for anorexics

Excerpt from a story about office life by an anorexic -- passed on by Sandy Szwarc

For several months (until I quit in protest), I lived with calories, fat grams and sugar grams labeled on the coffee creamers, having the bowl of chocolates I kept on my desk forcibly removed (by vote, no less! And might I add that I did not get to vote in this Survivor-esque "election"), and as much food/weight chatter going on outside my head as there was inside.

Why won't anyone say how dangerous this is? No one appeared remotely concerned that this man lost too much weight, just that they might lose their bet. Raise your hand if this makes you proud of humanity... I can't tell you how many stories I've heard from men and women with eating disorders whose illness was triggered by a pact to lose weight or eat healthier. Yet dieting and exercise are treated as if they are fail safe and no ill can possibly come from a group of people trying to see who can lose the most weight. People on pro-anorexia sites do this, and people judge these "silly girls" who are no different from anyone else. It's not healthy, period.

"It makes life easier if everyone around you is cutting calories, and the amicable competition keeps people driven. You are less likely to eat bad things from the candy jar," says nutritionist Joy Bauer.

Yeah, except if you're the person who realizes that dieting is a) futile, b) stupid, and c) not likely to increase your health in the long run and then you realize you are completely shut out of this. To me, that was the worst part of the workplace diet bonanza: I had nothing to discuss with my co-workers. All they would talk about was food, weight, and exercise, and I couldn't or wouldn't participate. I was totally isolated and desperately lonely in a time when I really needed the support.

More here

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