If you pay attention to news about food and nutrition you will notice that there is a great deal of controversy about what we should eat. Often it is very black and white: Some foods are good for you, while others are bad. In reality, nutrition information almost always falls in the gray area between good and bad. There are very few foods that are always bad for you, but some are certainly more healthful than others.
Eating more vegetables and drinking enough water are two examples of things that everyone should do and are included in nutrition recommendations, almost without exception. Everyone should eat more vegetables and drink more water!
There are some foods, though, that seem to have health benefits, but aren’t necessarily recommended for everyone. You don’t have to consume these foods, but if you do, they may be beneficial. This is usually due to the presence of a nutrient or other component of the food, and the health effect is usually small.
My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week provides three examples of foods that have some health benefits. You don’t have to eat them, but you may want to—in moderation, of course!
Chocolate contains phytochemicals, plant-derived compounds that have health benefits. Indeed, chocolate does contain antioxidant flavonoids that have been shown to affect a variety of physiological systems. The beneficial effects include dilation of blood vessels, improved blood clotting, and reduced inflammation, all of which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke. Additionally, these flavonoids may lower blood pressure, regulate insulin levels, and reduce stress. These flavonoids are what give dark chocolate more of a bitter flavor than milk or white chocolate. Look for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa (sometimes listed on the label as cacao or cocoa solids) and remember that a small amount is enough. Since chocolate does contain sugar and calories, eating more may not be the best idea.
Coffee also contains many of the same or similar flavonoids as chocolate that have similar effects and benefits. Research shows that moderate coffee consumption (2-3 cups per day) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Coffee also contains caffeine which can have additional benefits related to alertness, attention, and exercise performance. If you choose not to consume caffeine, decaffeinated coffee still contains the beneficial phytochemicals. But make sure you are drinking coffee. Many popular coffee drinks are more like milkshakes, with lots of added sugar and calories.
You have probably heard that red wine is good for you. This is because it has many of the same antioxidant phytochemicals found in chocolate and coffee, wine can be a good source of these nutrients. Indeed, drinking 1-2 glasses of red wine has been shown to reduce the risk of hypertension and heart disease. Obviously, wine contains alcohol so more isn’t better and non-drinkers are not encouraged to start.
The good news is that there are some foods you may enjoy that can actually be good for you. With all of these, more isn’t better, so moderation is the key. Also keep in mind that many fruits contain the same antioxidants as chocolate, so a serving of berries, for example, may be a better choice. And finally, achieving good health requires more than simply changing one aspect of what you eat, so include these foods as part of a diet that includes real food balanced by daily physical activity.
Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. But it doesn't have to be that way. What can I help you with? firstname.lastname@example.org | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr