Digestion, Men's Health, Women's Health | November 9, 2016 | Author: Naturopath
While it is certainly true that many different foods can have a good impact on your health, some of them take on an almost legendary nature. Coffee cures hangovers, chocolate eases menstrual cramps, red wine is good for your heart; there are so many claims like these that it’s hard to trust almost any health-related food “fact”. That’s a good instinct, because you shouldn’t believe any of them unless you have seen the supporting evidence.
Background information is rarely supplied by the people and websites that offer “facts” about the health effects of various foods, so don’t be discouraged if you need to do some searching from time to time. We’ll save you a significant amount of effort by looking at three of the most popular food items that are often the subject of such health-related claims: chocolate, coffee and red wine. More importantly, all of the information is based on readily available academic evidence.
Ok, here’s the harsh truth. Brace yourself. Chocolate isn’t guaranteed to be good for you. I’m sorry, take a moment to grieve if you need to, I did…but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Moving on to the good news! Cocoa is indeed healthy (Cooper et al., 2008), and since it makes up the base of chocolate, we still get to enjoy those health benefits from just about any chocolate concoction (Messerli et al., 2012). The cocoa plant grows naturally in Central America and Mexico. Its fruit is harvested and the inner beans undergo a fermenting/drying process resulting in the ingredients that give chocolate its distinct flavor.
Some of the health benefits associated with cocoa include:
So, what’s the problem? Why is chocolate not guaranteed to be healthy if there are these clearly identified benefits? Well, chocolate making is a complex process that involves much more than just cocoa. There are a wide range of chocolate types and other cocoa-including mixtures that also contain relatively unhealthy additives like processed sugar and fat. These additions introduce health risks to chocolate that weren’t there when it was just cocoa.
Coffee is made from roasted beans (seeds) that are obtained from the associated plants. It has many natural health qualities that are largely preserved throughout the harvesting and processing of the product.
Long-term coffee consumption at moderate daily rates of intake (2 to 3 cups) has been found to be associated with several impressive outcomes (O’Keefe et al., 2013), such as:
However, people that don’t drink their coffee black must remember that what they consume isn’t just coffee. The hot beverage is often enjoyed with at least one of several possible additives that bring with them inherent risks. Luckily, we have a large amount of control over these additions. Too much sugar, milk, cream or whatever you like, can add unhealthy elements to coffee that may even outweigh the benefits in extreme cases.
Perhaps unexpectedly, research also suggests that the potential negative effects of caffeine in coffee are neutralized by other compounds (de Mejia & Ramirez-Mares, 2014). Excess caffeine is generally looked at as a threat to our health, so the elimination of its effects by natural processes is an impressive feature of coffee. Of course, people can also buy decaffeinated beans to eliminate the associated risks all together.
Maybe you didn’t know that chocolate isn’t equal to cocoa, perhaps you hadn’t thought about how the coffee we drink isn’t necessarily comprised of coffee alone, but I don’t expect anyone will be surprised to hear that red wine is made of…drum roll…grapes!
Similarly, you likely realize that red wine doesn’t have the same health benefits as grapes (if this is new information to you then, again, sorry to be the bearer of bad news) but this doesn’t mean that red wine has no health benefits at all. In fact, many studies have found evidence of wine’s positive contributions to human health, like:
The riskiest aspect of drinking red wine when it comes to health is the fact that it contains alcohol and therefore inherits all of the potential outcomes that are associated with its consumption. It was traditionally thought that alcohol in small to moderate amounts has a positive effect on cardiovascular systems and other areas of health, but these claims have been challenged as of late (Chikritzhs et al., 2015) Regardless, excessively drinking red wine will negate most of the positives (Boban et al., 2016) and could result in any of several serious medical conditions like alcoholism, cirrhosis and brain damage.
Common threads between the above assessments are that natural is healthier and moderation is critical. The advantages of natural foods aren’t news, but their importance cannot be understated. Processing almost always adds health risks to food that weren’t there when the product was in its natural state. Accordingly, choosing foods that are free of artificial additives is a great way to start maximizing the health benefits (and to greatly reduce the risks) associated with your diet.
Granted, sometimes there is no natural alternative and processing is necessary to actually create the desired product (turning grapes into wine for example). In these cases, we must remain vigilant to not overindulge and to avoid some things all together, depending on our individual health goals. The key is to make your decisions based on evidence like that which is presented above and not on “common sense” advice.
Artero, A., Artero, A., Tarín, J. J., & Cano, A. (2015). The impact of moderate wine consumption on health. Maturitas, 80(1), 3-13.
Boban, M., Stockley, C., Teissedre, P. L., Restani, P., Fradera, U., Stein-Hammer, C., & Ruf, J. C. (2016). Drinking pattern of wine and effects on human health: Why should we drink moderately and with meals? Food & Function, 7(7), 2937-2942.
Chikritzhs, T., Stockwell, T., Naimi, T., Andreasson, S., Dangardt, F., & Liang, W. (2015). Has the leaning tower of presumed health benefits from ‘moderate’ alcohol use finally collapsed? Addiction, 110(5), 726-727.
Cooper, K. A., Donovan, J. L., Waterhouse, A. L., & Williamson, G. (2008). Cocoa and health: A decade of research. British Journal of Nutrition, 99(01), 1-11.
de Mejia, E. G., & Ramirez-Mares, M. V. (2014). Impact of caffeine and coffee on our health. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 25(10), 489-492.
Katz, D. L., Doughty, K., & Ali, A. (2011). Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, 15(10), 2779-2811.
Messerli, F. H., Sarmadi, B., Aminuddin, F., Hamid, M., Saari, N., Abdul-Hamid, A., & Ismail, A. (2012). Chocolate and your health. New England Journal of Medicine, 367(16), 1562-4.
Nunes, C., Ferreira, E., Freitas, V., Almeida, L., Barbosa, R. M., & Laranjinha, J. (2013). Intestinal anti-inflammatory activity of red wine extract: unveiling the mechanisms in colonic epithelial cells. Food & Function, 4(3), 373-383.
Schrieks, I. C., van den Berg, R., Sierksma, A., Beulens, J. W., Vaes, W. H., & Hendriks, H. F. (2013). Effect of red wine consumption on biomarkers of oxidative stress. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 48(2), 153-159.