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True or False – Chocolate is good for your health

Posted on January 29, 2013


Are you one of the millions of people who love chocolate?  If you are, do you sometimes feel guilty after indulging yourself?  If the answer to that is yes, please keep reading!  Cocoa and chocolate have been consumed for thousands of years, however, very few of us think about the health benefits associated with chocolate.  In fact, it’s only been recently that scientists have started paying attention to the health benefits of chocolate.  Chocolate contains compounds called flavonoids, which have been shown to have antioxidant properties, and be very beneficial to health.  Research is starting to show that consuming chocolate may help reduce the risk for having a heart attack or stroke, aid in cancer prevention, lower blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, decrease blood clotting, and even improve skin health.  In fact, there was a conference in 2007 in Milan, Italy where researchers gathered to discuss current research on how chocolate consumption impacts health.  Visioli et. al, (2009) published an article in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition summarizing research presented at the conference.  These authors concluded “While the near entirety of experimental data indicate healthful consequences of cocoa intake, the caloric load of chocolate should not be overlooked and its consumption is to be positioned within a balanced and isocaloric diet.”  Keep in mind that dark chocolate is much higher in flavonoid content than say milk chocolate which may contain few of these compounds as they can be destroyed during processing.  Also be aware of the calories when eating chocolate (there’s always a downside), more isn’t always better.  Even a quarter or a half an ounce of dark chocolate per day will likely improve health.   Go ahead and indulge yourself, but remember, the darker the chocolate the better, and enjoy in moderation.

Visioli F, Bernaert H, Corti R, Ferri C, Heptinstall S, Molinari E, Poli A, Serafini M, Smit H, Vinson J, Violi F, Paoletti R: Chocolate, lifestyle, and health.  Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition (2009), Vol 49, pps. 299-312.

True or False – If you wait to drink until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated

Posted on January 22, 2013


I usually get thirsty two or three times during a normal day.  If it is a weekend and I am at home working in the yard or the garden, or playing sports with my three children, I might actually experience thirst a half dozen or more times during the day.  Should I be afraid that I am chronically dehydrated and that my health is at risk?  Most experts are now saying no.  This notion of “If you wait to drink until you are thirsty you are already dehydrated” has been around for some time and is something that many people believe.  However, there really is very little scientific evidence to support the idea.  Heinz Valtin (2002) in an article published in The American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology states this notion or fear of being dehydrated if you experience thirst is a myth.  He writes that a rise in plasma osmolality (the proportion of materials like glucose and sodium in blood) of 2% can elicit thirst and that a plasma osmolality increase of roughly 5% is when someone would be considered dehydrated. 

I spoke with one of my colleagues, Dr. Carl Foster about this.  Dr. Foster is a well respected exercise physiologist and a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.  Dr. Foster stated that the idea of already being dehydrated if you got thirsty was a common belief 8 to 10 years ago, and that most experts today think it is perfectly acceptable to let thirst be your guide in regards to drinking fluids.  There certainly is nothing wrong with consuming fluids before you are thirsty, but it seems that our society has gotten to the point where the expected norm is to carry a water bottle everywhere you go and be sipping water every 10 or 15 minutes.  I’m sure the companies that are making millions keeping us all well hydrated will continue to be in support of that idea.

Valtin H: “Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.” Really? Is there scientific evidence for “8 X 8”? The American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology (2002), Vol 283, pp. 993-1004.

True or False – When eating celery, you burn more calories than you consume

Posted on January 14, 2013


It is a common belief that eating certain foods results in your body burning more calories than are actually contained in the food itself.  These foods are referred to as negative calorie foods.  The belief revolves around the fact that when we eat food we do expend some energy breaking down and absorbing that food.  This is referred to as the thermal effect of a meal (TEM), the thermal effect of food (TEF), the thermal effect of eating (TEE), or diet induced thermogenesis (DIT). Celery is one of the foods that many claim to be a negative calorie food.  Other foods often listed as negative calorie foods include cucumbers, mushrooms, lettuce, onions, zucchini, etc.  When you think about it, most of these foods are basically water and fiber.  With the number of people who struggle with being overweight now days, this concept of eating negative calorie foods for weight loss purposes has gotten to be very popular.  In fact, I did an internet search using the terms “negative calorie foods” and quickly found lots of information on negative calorie diets.   I got really excited when I read more information on the negative calorie diet.  Apparently, when you follow this diet you can eat all the food you want!  While eating all the food you want, you will lose lots of weight.  Best of all, if you try this diet you will never be hungry again.  I’ll have to admit, I am a bit skeptical.  When I read material like that I often think back to my parents telling me the old adage “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is”.  I recently came across a book written by Registered Dietician Roberta Larson Duyff for the American Dietetic Association (1999).  The author does say that the notion of eating celery as a weight loss aid because you burn more calories than it contains is a myth, and if there is a weight loss benefit it is likely because you are eating the celery in place of higher calorie foods.

American Dietetic Association: Food folklore: tales and truths about what we eat. Nutrition Now Series – Tips From the Nutrition Experts (1999), pg 80.

True or False – Eating while watching TV increases caloric consumption

Posted on January 7, 2013


Watching TV has become a routine part of most of our lives.  Different sources report slightly different statistics on just how much TV we watch.  Generally speaking adults tend to watch 2-3 hours of TV a day, with children watching more like 3-4 hours of TV a day.  Many people like to eat while watching TV and my wife and I are no different.  Like most people we live busy lives, jobs, kids, hobbies, etc., and watching 30 to 60 minutes of television before bed is one way we relax and unwind at night.  When we watch TV, we tend to eat.  For me, it usually starts with a large bowl of popcorn (we are popcorn addicts)!  Then I often make a sandwich, when that’s gone I eat an ice cream cone, I’m somewhat health conscious so I usually have a piece of fruit, and top it off with a large bowl of cereal.  Research supports the idea that we tend to eat more calories when we watch TV.  Blass and colleagues (2006) did a study and reported that college students ate more pizza (36% more calories) and more macaroni and cheese (71% more calories) during a 30-minute meal while watching TV. 

Also, consider the types of food people generally eat while watching TV.  We often chose foods like pizza, chips, cookies, ice cream, etc., foods that are calorie dense, but not necessarily nutritionally dense.  Very rarely will you find someone sitting down and gorging themselves on broccoli, asparagus, tofu, carrots, spinach, egg whites, and tomatoes while watching TV.  What can you do to try and limit the number of calories you eat in front of the TV?  If you eat some or all of your meals in front of the TV, turn it off!  Try to make healthier choices, eat some cherries instead of the ice cream.  Finally, if you must eat things like chips, put a serving or two on a plate and put the bag back in the cupboard.  That will help keep you from mindlessly eating until you hit the bottom of the bag.

Blass E, Anderson D, Kirkorian H, Pempek T, Price I, Koleini F: On the road to obesity: Television viewing increases intake of high-density foods. Physiology and Behavior (2006), Vol 88, pps. 597-604.

True or False – Caffeine improves exercise performance

Posted on January 3, 2013


The majority of people consume beverages that contain caffeine at some point during their day.  For many, it’s the two or three cups of coffee they drink early in the morning, for others, it comes in the form of tea or soda.  Individuals who purposely consume beverages that contain caffeine often say it gives them a bit of a jolt, helps they wake up or feel more awake, and helps give them energy.  Might this translate into improved performance when exercise or physical activity is involved?  The overwhelming answer from the research that has been conducted up to this point is yes, caffeine consumption does improve exercise performance.  Caffeine is considered an ergogenic aid, something that enhances performance.  There have been a tremendous number of studies conducted on caffeine and performance with many of the studies showing that performance is improved by about 10% with the aid of caffeine. 

Graham (2001) published an extensive review article on the topic in the journal Sports Medicine, and stated that there is no doubt that caffeine enhances physical performance; he referenced many articles to support the claim.  He also stated that he was not aware of any published study that has shown a negative effect of caffeine on performance.  Keep in mind, though, that not everyone responds the same to caffeine.  Don’t assume you can drink a cup or two of coffee and immediately knock off 3 or 4 minutes from your 5k race time or go out and bike an additional 20 miles.  For some, consuming caffeine can result in getting jittery or fidgety and can contribute to increased nervousness or anxiety in others.  The International Olympic Committee has set a limit on how much caffeine can be ingested by Olympic athletes.  Consuming 1 or 2 cups of coffee likely wouldn’t cause an athlete to be over the limit, but consuming 5 or 6 cups certainly could.

Graham T: Caffeine and Exercise: Metabolism, Endurance and Performance. Sports Medicine (2001), Vol 31, pps. 785-807.