Monday, February 23, 2009

Chocolate, wine & tea helping you make a decision

Clever people, appointed by the government, are going to re-assess the essential Core Food Groups we should all consume daily. Currently, they are: 1) breads and cereals; 2) vegetables and legumes; 3) fruit; 4) milk, yoghurt and cheese; and 5) meat, fish, poultry, eggs and nuts. They will tell us what the new food groups will be around September this year.

If you and I had been asked, we could have the job done by Friday lunchtime. Sure, we would have the predictable food groups, just like the clever people will have. The key difference would be that we would also have the Mmmmmm Group: chocolate, wine and tea. Ok, you can add coffee if you wish. And Guinness.

The Mmmmmm Food Group
The beauty of the Mmmmmm Group is that their attractiveness goes beyond pleasure. A study of over two thousand 70-74 year olds determined the amount of Mmmmmm Group foods habitually consumed and compared it to the cognitive ability of these well-experienced men and women. They were given six cognitive tests and asked about their consumption within the Mmmmmm Group.

The thinking person’s dietary needs
If there had been no effect, then I wouldn’t have told you about it. Like many people, I have my biases and love to tell you about research that supports a bias. Distinct benefits to the subjects’ brains were seen with each food. That’s the good news. The excitement-tempering news is that the “dose” of each food was less than I hoped. A lot less.

The best result for chocolate was a mere 10g a day. Yes, I would love to move the decimal point one place to the right too. Up to 100 mL of wine also showed a benefit to thinking ability, while 200 mL of tea, one cuppa, was the level at which brain power peaked, after which it remained level with increasing cups of tea. The effect of each food was additive, meaning your brain is better off when you include all three in your diet - chocolate, tea and wine.

This supports previous research indicating that Mmmmmm foods are linked to a lower risk of dementia later in life. This could be due to the flavonoids in the chocolate, wine and tea protecting the brain from decline. It could also be that those people who delight in a modest serve of Mmmmmm foods are less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise and eat their veggies.

What does it all mean?
Some will say it supports that top 10 cliché – all things in moderation. For me, it is a reminder that good health is not about adhering to some evangelical diet of perfection, avoiding any food that gets some bad press. Good health is about enjoying, without guilt, a range of foods. In my lifetime, I bet no government committee will permit a Mmmmmm Food Group, no matter what the research says. Sad, isn’t it?

Reference: Journal of Nutrition 2009; 139: 120-127

Monday, February 9, 2009

A story without teeth

A 51 year old man complained of coughing fits whenever he ate and recurring chest infections. His X-rays were clear. There was no obvious cause of his illness. On questioning the patient further, it was revealed that 10 years previously he had swallowed his dentures. He had then gone to his doctor, told him that he had swallowed his dentures and now had difficulty swallowing food. An X-ray was performed, but with no metallic component to the dentures, nothing was found.

It was presumed that the dentures had passed through the digestive system as the man gradually recovered. A decade later the doctors now found the dentures lodged in his eosophagus. Over time they had perforated the throat and gone into his larynx allowing food particles to enter his lungs, explaining his frequent chest infections.

So, if you ever swallow your dentures, and nothing bites you on the bum, assume the lump in your throat is not from the sad story of your share portfolio.

(From: Diseases of the Esophagus 2006; 19: 53-55)

It is how you eat, not what you eat

The favourite line of attack of weight loss programs and experts (now there’s an oxymoron – weight loss expert) is that you should watch what you eat. This is followed with a list of what you can eat and a list of what is taboo. The latter list comprises of whatever is popular hatred at the time – carbohydrate foods, fatty foods, white foods, processed foods. More recently, there is research suggesting that how you eat is having a significant effect on your weight, with rapid eating being associated with overweight.

Slow down, eat less
Over 3000 adults were asked whether they ate until they were full (chockers) and whether they ate quickly (speed-eaters), or if they did both.

There was a strong association between how the subjects ate and the chance of them being overweight. The authors of the research were reluctant to say the level of risk, but it appears that the chockers group and the speed-eaters group were one and half to twice as likely to be overweight. If they were both a chockers and speed-eater then they were around three times more likely to be overweight, with the odds being slightly higher in women.

This research supported previous research in the area that linked rapid eating to fullness to portliness. One limitation of any research is basing your results on a survey. When you ask people about their eating habits, they are likely to lie, giving answers closer to the socially accepted norm. Even if this was the case here and less people admitted to being a chocker or a speed-eater than in reality, then the results even more strongly hint that eating quickly until you are full is not great for the waistline.

Hara hachi bu
It’s Japanese. The best translation is “eat until your stomach is 80% full”. Try it. It is not easy in a society that offers more food than you need, encourages you to try a bit of everything on offer and expects you to eat until you need to loosen your belt for comfort. With practice, hara hachi bu will make you feel better, sleep better, think better, and may provide the added bonus of weight loss. Hara hachi bu is critical if you attend a conference, or any time you are offered “free food”, as over-eating makes you less inclined to stay alert.

What does it all mean?
Making you focus solely on what you eat sounds like an easy solution, yet so many of our long-standing eating habits could be having a greater influence on how much we eat. If you eat until you are full, or even overfull, you are likely to eat more that you need. If you eat quickly, you do not allow time for the satiating hormones to signal your brain that enough is enough. If you are a “plate cleaner”, or eat for psychological comfort, then you are adding more factors to the over-eating equation. That’s why we hand out diet books and diet plans: it’s dogmatic and so much easier than discussing our relationship with food.

Reference: British Medical Journal 2008; 337: a2002 doi: 10.1136/bmj.a2002