As it now turns out that coffee, chocolate and wine are actually good for you
It has long been my fantasy that science would one day discover that all the stuff that we enjoy eating and drinking – potato chips, chocolate, red wine, coffee – is good for us. And that all the stuff that we loathe – salad, low-fat dressing, green tea, and other such ‘healthy’ options – are actually bad for us. Well, this week I am happy to report that we are half-way there.
A recent study conducted by the Luxembourg Institute of Health, the University of Warwick Medical School, the University of South Australia and the University of Maine (phew! It takes a global village to bring you good news these days), found that those who ate 100 gms of chocolate a day – equivalent to a bar – had reduced insulin resistance and improved liver enzymes. And since insulin resistance is often a precursor to diabetes, which is a risk factor in cardiovascular health, having a chocolate bar could potentially be better for your health than glugging glasses of wheatgrass (that bit of extrapolation is entirely mine, not to be laid at the door of those worthy professors!).
In fact, the same study also looked at the consumption of chocolate alongside tea and coffee. Both these drinks are high in polyphenols, a substance that exists in chocolate and makes it beneficial to cardio and metabolic health. So, the best think you can do is eat your chocolate with a nice steaming cup of coffee or tea.
But don’t celebrate just yet. This is not a license to cut a generous slice of chocolate cake or even tear open a bar of Snickers at snack time. The kind of chocolate that is good for you is one that is closest to the natural product, cocoa; not the processed, sugar-heavy stuff that is stocked in your fridge. So yes to dark chocolate bars with a high cocoa content; no to milk chocolate with industrial quantities of sugar and fat added to it.
Okay, I admit, this is not ideal. But I will take it. Especially since it comes close on the heels of another bit of good news. A joint study carried out by researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands on gut bacteria concluded that diversity – in terms of having many different kinds of bacteria – was good for your gut, and hence, for your health. And one way of increasing that diversity was to drink red wine and coffee.
Red wine has always has its cheerleaders, who credit it with doing everything from reducing cholesterol to bettering cardiovascular health. It is rich in antioxidants, such as quercetin and resveratrol, which play a part in reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. And red wine is credited with playing a major part in the famous ‘French paradox’, which refers to the fact that while the French eat more dairy and fat, their rates of heart disease are much lower than, say, those of Americans.
Red wine is also an essential element in the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is widely believed to be the healthiest way to eat and drink your way to a long and happy life. Have a glass or two (low to moderate consumption is the key; drink the way Europeans do, no British-style binge-drinking) along with a diet high in fruits, vegetables, unrefined cereals, lots of fish, very little red meat, and lots of olive oil, and you are good to go for another few decades.
But while you clearly can’t go wrong with red wine (so long as you remember to drink only a couple of glasses), coffee too has been getting good press of late. An American Diabetes Association study last year found ‘strong’ evidence that drinking six cups of coffee per day could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 33 per cent for both men and women. However, the results were the same with both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, so it is unlikely that the magic ingredient is caffeine. But either way, I’ll take it (black and with just a splash of Stevia, thank you).
Especially since coffee seems to offer other health benefits as well. There is evidence that it increases dopamine production in the brain, which explains why you feel so good after that first cup of coffee in the morning. Studies have shown that those drinking four cups of coffee a day had an 11 per cent lower risk of heart failure. And high coffee consumption has also been linked to a lower risk of Parkinson’s, though this benefit seems to be limited to men. (Coffee? Sexist? Who knew?)
So, this Sunday morning, as I sip on my fourth cup of an Italian roast and decant a nice bottle of a light fruity red so that it is ready to drink by the time lunch is served, I send up a silent prayer. Please God, make goji berries and quinoa evil, and turn potatoes into the next super-food. And cheese. Oh yes, please don’t forget cheese!