Surprisingly Healthy Foods

Although the best diets contain a large amount of vegetarian, raw foods, several commonly eaten foods have remarkably robust health benefits. Even if your busy life makes it hard to eat right, simply adding chocolate, coffee and orange juice to your menus can offer a distinct boost to your well-being.

Chocolaty Health

I’ve heard and laughed at the health claims for chocolate over the years. The chocolate you buy and eat has been processed and formulated with refined sugar. However, even though many of the potent antioxidant flavonoids in raw cacao (the original source of chocolate) are depleted, the processed chocolate you buy still shows clear health benefits.

The August 2011 British Medical Journal includes a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and observational studies with a total of 114,009 participants that demonstrated a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke for people who consumed the highest levels of chocolate compared to those who consumed the least.1

Other recent data suggests that eating chocolate also lowers blood pressure and heart disease risk. In a large European study including more than 19,000 volunteers over eight years, researchers found that participants in the top group of chocolate consumers had a 27 percent reduced risk of heart attack and 48 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who hardly ever indulged.2

Moreover, flavonoids in chocolate also “decrease cholesterol, lower blood pressure, inhibit sticky platelets, and improve blood flow to vital organs” according to a 2009 article in Circulation. This report found that dark chocolate is superior to milk chocolate when it comes to health benefits. The researchers conclude that eating 1-ounce portions of chocolate several times a week helps lower your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. They also note the benefits of other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, cranberries, grapes, orange juice, peanuts, onions, red wine and tea.3

A Healthy Cup of Coffee

Coffee studies have produced mixed results. A study of 45,589 subjects reported in 1989 showed a trivial increase in cardiovascular disease in folks who consume more than four cups of coffee a day. Unfortunately, for those who stick to decaffeinated coffee, the same study found that there was a strong correlation between decaffeinated coffee consumption and the risk of heart disease.4 But, also in 1989, a six-year study of 2,975 men reported in Archives of Internal Medicine found that coffee consumption of more than eight cups per day actually decreased the risk of a first heart attack by 67 percent.5

More recent studies are also mixed, but mostly show that moderate consumption of coffee benefits health. A 1996 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association that analyzed results of the Nurses’ Health Study showed no association between heart disease and coffee consumption among 85,747 women who were followed for 10 years.6

A 2008 prospective study in the American Journal of Cardiology revealed a strong heart-protective association for coffee in elderly subjects (aged 65-97 years) without high blood pressure. As part of the Framingham Heart Study, 1,354 subjects were followed for 10 years, and the scientists found a 43 percent reduction in heart disease for people who drank regular coffee.7

Even more interesting is a Kaiser Permanente study reported in 2010 that showed that drinking more than four cups of coffee daily produced an 18 percent reduction in hospitalizations for heart rhythm disturbances in men, women, different ethnic groups and even smokers. However, decaf coffee did not reduce the risk. This seems to indicate that the protection came from the caffeine.8

Lastly, two large studies have found a reduction in the incidence of Parkinson’s disease (PD) when you drink coffee. In one study, researchers examined the association of coffee and tea consumption with the risk of new cases of PD among 29,335 Finnish subjects aged 25 to 74 years. Researchers concluded that both coffee and tea drinking are associated with a lower risk of PD.9

In Japan a study involving 249 people with PD and another 368 folks without the disease concluded that “the intake of coffee, black tea, and Japanese (or) Chinese teas in the highest consuming quartile was half that of the lowest consuming quartile of subjects for consumption.”10

Orange Juice Fights Inflammation

I have long held that only fresh-juiced oranges can produce a clear health benefit, not orange juice from frozen concentrate or from a carton. However, a 2010 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that drinking orange juice with meals counters the pro-inflammatory effects of high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. High-fat, high-carbohydrate foods have been found to induce a damaging cytokine-signaling protein that promotes insulin resistance. This research implies that orange juice could help lower the risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.11

1 Buitrago-Lopez A, Sanderson J, Johnson L, Warnakula S, Wood A, Di Angelantonio E, Franco OH.
Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2011 Aug 26;343:d4488.

2 Buijsse B, Weikert C, Drogan D, Bergmann M, Boeing H. Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults. European Heart Journal. 2010;31(13):1616—1623.

3 Corti R, Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Luscher TF. Cocoa and cardiovascular health. Circulation. 2009;119(10):1433—1441.

4 Wilson PWF, Garrison RJ, Kannel WB, McGee DL, Castelli WP. Is coffee consumption a contributor to cardiovascular disease? Insights from the Framingham study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1989;149(5):1169—1172.

5 Wilson PWF, Garrison RJ, Kannel WB, McGee DL, Castelli WP. Is coffee consumption a contributor to cardiovascular disease? Insights from the Framingham study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1989;149(5):1169—1172.

6 Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, et. al. Coffee consumption and coronary heart disease in women. A ten-year follow-up. JAMA 1996 Feb 14;275(6):458-62.

7 Greenberg JA, Chow G, Ziegelstein RC. Caffeinated coffee consumption, cardiovascular disease, and heart valve disease in the elderly (from the Framingham Study) American Journal of Cardiology. 2008;102(11):1502—1508.

8 Hasan AS, Morton C, Armstrong MA, Udaltsova N, Klatsky AL. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of hospitalization for arrhythmias. American Heart Association Epidemiology and Prevention Nutrition and Physical Activity and Metabolism. 2010;461, San Francisco, Calif, USA

9 Hu G, Bidel S, Jousilahti P, Antikainen R, Tuomilehto J. Coffee and tea consumption and the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Mov Disord. 2007 Nov 15;22(15):2242-8.

10 Tanaka K, Miyake Y, Fukushima W, Sasaki S, Kiyohara C, Tsuboi Y, Yamada T, Oeda T, Miki T, Kawamura N, Sakae N, Fukuyama H, Hirota Y, Nagai M; the Fukuoka Kinki Parkinson’s Disease Study Group. Intake of Japanese and Chinese teas reduces risk of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2011 Mar 30.

11 Ghanim H, Sia CL, Upadhyay M, et al. Orange juice neutralizes the pro-inflammatory effect of a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal and prevents endotoxin increase and toll-like receptor expression. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010;91(4):940—949.

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