Chew on this: Fruit and chocolate have healthy qualities
Chocolate, coffee and fruit have long been the stars of food myths throughout the ages, breaking hearts every time a new study is conducted that finds these food favorites are playing negatively in our health. It’s time to find out what to believe, and what not to believe through the various sources available at our fingertips.
First and foremost, it is important to analyze the studies and use a critical mind to evaluate all aspects of the findings, says Grand Forks Public Health Dietitian Allen Anderson. “One of the primary things for folks to look at when these studies come out is to make sure the funding source is legitimate,” he says, giving the example of Hershey’s funding a project on the positive effects of chocolate as untrustworthy. “In the medical field, we’re looking at the legitimate sources. Universities, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and Mayo Clinic are more legit sites, as opposed to off-thewall sites you may never have heard of.”
With the ease of access to building sites on the web, anyone can cause confusion with just a few sentences of misinformation.
“In this day and age, it’s kind of tough to take things at face value,” Anderson says. “It seems, when I go out and talk in the community, I get a lot of questions about certain topics usually originating on the internet. There are a lot of websites out there that aren’t running on the most scientific data.”
No more guilt
Among the most scrutinized foods is chocolate. Often, it is credited with having nutritional value to support a healthy lifestyle to ease the guilty conscience. Generally, it is dark chocolate that is considered the healthiest option because of the antioxidants it provides, not milk chocolate.
The Cleveland Clinic says a little chocolate in moderation is believed to protect the cardiovascular system with the cocoa bean’s rich flavonoids. These nutrients, found in fruits and vegetables, have proven to protect plants from environmental toxins and repair damage, and does the same inside the human body. The antioxidants in dark chocolate might also be resisting damage in cells caused by free radicals in the body, the clinic says. Flavonols in dark chocolate also have been found to reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain and heart.
But don’t forget moderation is the key. “They may say that certain properties in chocolate have a positive effect on something,” Anderson says. “Are they talking about 2 ounces per day? Five ounces per day? I want to balance that.”
Rob van Dam, assistant professor at the Department of Nutrition for the Harvard School of Public Health, says coffee drinkers should not fear their addiction.
In a study with 130,000 volunteers, healthy men and women in their 40s and 50s were monitored for 18 to 24 years. Coffee consumption and lifestyle habits were tracked, finding no evidence coffee drinking had any serious detrimental health effects.
Van Dam suggests coffee consumption can inhibit sleep and induce tremors or stress and discomfort. Should those sideeffects occur, drinkers are encouraged to tone down the amount of cups per day. Van Dam also says the cups of coffee involved in the study were black with little or no milk and sugar, not lattes and designer beverages.
Researchers have found that coffee consumption can protect against type-II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, certain types of cancer and heart disease, and can even add a couple years to the life expectancy.
The discussion about fruit has been a confusing topic for years gone by. A part of the Food Pyramid since its inception, it’s hard to believe something so natural could cause negative effects on the body. But with its sugar content, fruit has unfortunately gotten a reputation for being a rascal in trying to maintain a healthy weight.
“Poor fruit,” Anderson says. “Fruit, in general, has been assaulted, and I’m not entirely sure why.” He mentions the reluctance of dieters to bring fruit into a diet, because of the fructose content in most fruits, which is then thought to cause heart disease. “Antioxidants are great,” he confirms. “For people trying to manage their weight, it’s a great thing, because of high water and fiber content, coupled with minimal calories.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says, “Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke,” noting most fruits are low in fat, sodium and calories.
Cutting fruits and vegetables from a regular diet can cause health problems. Daily doses of fiber, potassium, vitamin C, folic acid and some sugars help regulate body function, and it is suggested that the combination can ward off certain diseases and cancers.
Fine-tuning for health
An individual’s diet should be discussed with a doctor or health care professional in order to create a dietary guide based upon needs and restrictions.
Anderson cautions that scientific discoveries don’t always relate to the majority. “Folks should approach things with a critical mind,” he says. “They should consult the health department or their health care providers with any questions they may have. We’re in a day and age where information abounds, but it’s just not always the most accurate information.”
While he agrees fruits and vegetables are recommended across the board, Anderson reiterates that quantity is an important factor when ingesting anything, even fruit.
And even with its newfound health-supporting qualities, chocolate has yet to be pegged as the Fountain of Youth. Chocolate should continue to be avoided in large quantities, though a few ounces of dark chocolate here and there won’t hurt.
Questions and concerns about the latest research studies should be directed to health professionals or the Grand Forks Health Department.