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Finally Some Good News

by Cath Murphy

September 5, 2011

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Donate Finally a piece of health news I want to hear. Scientists from Cambridge University have reviewed several studies and come to a joyous conclusion.

Chocolate is good for you.

Now I could have told them this a while ago. Nothing cures the pangs of unrequited love or just general “the world sucks” than a good thick slab of Walters pecan and hint of chili. But this news isn’t just about emotional wellbeing. The researchers have discovered that regular chocolate use (I say “use” rather than “eat” because this is about medication not mouth pleasure) can lower the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

Before you all jump on the skeptical bandwagon, I’ll come clean and admit it isn’t quite as simple as that. First, the study is a meta-analysis, not new research. None of the studies included in the analysis was a randomized trial and there was substantial variation in how chocolate consumption was measured (for example, if they came to my house, the researchers would have to use “truckload” as a unit). Allowing for these factors, the researchers concluded that the seven studies they considered demonstrated a reduction of 37% in all types of cardiovascular risk for those people with a high consumption of chocolate. Note the word “risk”. This isn’t about chocolate curing disease, it’s about not becoming ill in the first place. And while 37% might sound huge, a great deal depends on the population under study. If the risk of the disease is low (because the population used as the norm are fit young people for example) then a 37% drop in risk isn’t quite as spectacular as it sounds.

Another cautionary note before you all reach for your family size bag of M&Ms in the name of healthy eating. The past decade is littered with stories about foods which were supposed to make us fitter and which turned out to be (putting it politely) exaggerated. Here are just two examples. Last year food company Dannon was found by the FTC to have exaggerated claims for Activia yoghurts and drinks, specifically that probiotics relieve irregularity (a polite way of saying they prevent constipation) and guard against colds. The year before, Kellogg agreed to a settlement with the FTC over its claim that Frosted Mini-Wheats improved attention span. Add those to the more nebulous claims made for foods like green tea, acai berries, agave syrup, hemp seed, fish oils, blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate juice and kombucha and it starts to feel as if just about every food has its proponent pushing it as the sure way to live a longer life. Given time and a marketing budget, someone will begin sermonizing on the health giving properties of chicken pot pies and Krispy Kreme Butterscotch Fudge Donuts.

Still, the study at least doesn’t demonstrate chocolate is bad for us and with that in mind, I’m going to spend my Friday evening curled up with my life companion. And a bar of chocolate.

by Cath Murphy

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