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

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