Obesity: Can Simple Approaches Reduce Complex Risks?

Obesity Prevalance 2017
Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among U.S. Adults by State and Territory, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 2017. Prevalence estimates reflect BRFSS methodological changes started in 2011. These estimates should not be compared to prevalence estimates before 2011. Source: BRFSS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Obesity Epidemic

For over a decade, obesity has been called an “epidemic”, both in the popular and scientific literature. Traditionally, the term “epidemic” is associated with a highly contagious disease that carries with it a significant risk of mortality. A comprehensive review of observational studies (1) suggested that obesity did not fit this definition, despite the use of the term in a widely disseminated report by the World Health Organization in 2002.

Regardless of the etymological fine points, the worldwide prevalence of obesity and its associated health risks are clear. These risks include type 2 diabetes, hypertension, several cancers, gall bladder disease, coronary artery disease and stroke (2). Yet, the debate over obesity and options for reducing its risks has become increasingly polarized. As a result, some health researchers are advocating a “health at every size” (HAES) approach to address the social, cultural and lifestyle implications of obesity (2).

Continue reading “Obesity: Can Simple Approaches Reduce Complex Risks?”

Dark Chocolate Benefits Improved by Fiber

Add pomegranate to your chocolate, says researcher Finley, to aid it's digestion, health benefits.
Add pomegranate to your chocolate, says researcher Finley, to aid it’s digestion and health benefits.

For chocolate lovers (and chocolate makers) it has been a great decade or so. Scientific research continues to prove what our brains have been saying for years; chocolate really IS good for us.

Research over the past decade or so has studied dark chocolate and its polyphenolic compounds, such as catechin and epicatechin, for their effects on inflammation, and cardiac and endothelial cell function. Today, from the American Chemical Society meeting in Dallas, TX, we learn new details about how dark chocolate brings its health benefits.

Before beneficial compounds in dark chocolate can reach the heart and other tissues in the body, digestive processes must occur to release the beneficial compounds from the chocolate.

Researcher John Finley and cohorts from Louisiana State University created a model digestive system by which to study what happens when cocoa combines with typical gut bacteria.

Their research showed that bacterial species in the colon ferment the fiber found in cocoa, which in turn aids in digestion of the larger polyphenols in cocoa, into smaller, more easily absorbed molecules. These smaller molecules, the catechins and epicatechins then enter the bloodstream and exert their anti-inflammatory effects.

Finley emphasized the role of dietary fiber, such as the fiber in the cocoa powders tested in this research, in the digestion process. He noted that prebiotics, carbohydrates in foods like raw garlic or cooked whole wheat flour, while not digested by humans, aid digestion and absorption of healthful food components, in this case polyphenols in dark chocolate.  Continue reading “Dark Chocolate Benefits Improved by Fiber”

Chocolate: The Newest Health Food?

Squares of chocolate

It seems that everyone is watching their cholesterol levels these days. I probably should too, but I’m just not willing to give up some of my favorite high-fat foods. However, after reading a recent paper in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (1), I might not have to feel so guilty about eating one of my favorite foods: chocolate. Those of you who enjoy an occasional bite of the rich, creamy goodness that is chocolate will want to continue reading to learn how chocolate might help in the fight against cholesterol. I won’t go so far as to say that chocolate is a health food, but at least I can feel less guilty when I indulge in a few squares.
Continue reading “Chocolate: The Newest Health Food?”

A Good Cup of Tea

Tea

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty. ~Japanese Proverb

There is nothing like a good cup of tea. On that there is little dispute. Growing up in Britain, I was introduced to tea at an early age. It was impossible to avoid it. We had tea after every meal, twice in between meals (elevenses and afternoon tea), and additional cups whenever anyone came for a visit. The news that tea might actually be good for you came as a welcome relief to those of us who grew up steeped in the stuff. At last– something enjoyable that wasn’t bad for you.

What Makes a Good Cup of Tea?
From George Orwell to Wikihow, many have weighed in over the years with an opinion on how to make the best cup of tea–pronouncing on such details as loose leaves vs teabags, why it is uncouth to drink from the saucer, and why you should never put the milk in first. The details of what makes a good cup of tea are hotly debated and ultimately a matter of personal preference. Properly boiled water and good quality tea are vital, warming the teapot is helpful, and allowing the tea to properly infuse makes a big difference to the final outcome (no cutting corners by squashing a teabag against the side of the cup). But what makes a cup of tea good for you may be harder to figure out. Continue reading “A Good Cup of Tea”