Black coffee and dark chocolate
Do you like your coffee black and your chocolate dark? According to new research by caffeine researcher Marilyn Cornelis, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, it might be more than just a whim. It might be in your genes. That’s right, you might have a genetic preference for your taste. And if you do, you’ve won the genetic lottery because drinking moderate amounts of black coffee (3-5 cups/day) reduces the risk of Parkinson’s, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and various types of cancer. But you’ve got to drink it black – no dairy products, no sugar and no flavorings. “We know there’s growing evidence suggesting there’s a beneficial impact of coffee consumption on health. But reading between the lines, anyone advising someone to consume coffee would typically advise them to consume black coffee due to the difference between consuming black coffee and coffee with milk and sugar,” according to Cornelis. “One is naturally calorie-free. The second can add possibly hundreds of calories to your coffee, and the health benefits could be quite different,” Cornelis stressed.
Why do some people enjoy many cups of coffee each day while others don’t? And why does it have to have a bitter taste? Cornelis believes the answer is in your genes. Individuals with this gene can metabolize caffeine quicker, making the stimulating effects disappear quicker. And that leads to consuming more coffee. “This could explain why some individuals seem to be fine consuming a lot more coffee relative to someone else who might get jitters or become very anxious,” according to Cornelis. Her research also found that the same gene is present in people who prefer plain tea and bitter dark chocolate. But it’s not about the taste itself, Cornelis added. It’s because people with this gene link the bitter flavor with the boost in mental alertness they crave from caffeine. “Our interpretation is these people equate caffeine’s natural bitterness with a psycho-stimulation effect,” according to Cornelis. “They learn to associate bitterness with caffeine and the boost they feel.” And the same is true when it comes to dark chocolate.
I’m reasonably sure that I don’t need to acquaint you with this highly delicious delight that dates back to 2000 BC. The Maya from Central America were the first to enjoy chocolate, drinking it as a bitter fermented beverage that they often mixed with spices or wine. While dark chocolate contains some caffeine, it’s chock full of something called theobromine, which is a known caffeine-related stimulant. But too much of this substance can increase heart rate and ruin mood. All you need is a small piece each day to promote heart health – thanks to antioxidant flavanols that improve blood flow – and reduce your risk of diabetes. Dr. Chayakrit Krittanawong of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, says, “Our study suggests that chocolate helps keep the heart’s blood vessels healthy. Chocolate contains heart-healthy nutrients such as flavonoids, methylxanthines, polyphenols and stearic acid, which may reduce inflammation and increase good cholesterol,” he added.
In other words, dark chocolate contains antioxidants that help reduce inflammation, block the uptake of bad cholesterol (LDL), improve blood flow and boost mood and concentration. Other studies have shown that consuming dark chocolate helps prevent plaque from building up in the lining of blood vessels, reduces blood pressure and helps prevent stroke and heart failure. But chocolate does more than just help the heart. It’s been linked to improving blood flow to the brain, which may help with cognitive function, and it may even boost oxygen delivery during fitness training, according to prior studies. However, dark chocolate is also chock full of calories, so chowing down on chocolate is probably not a good idea if you’re watching your waistline. Make sure you choose 70% dark chocolate or higher to obtain the most flavanols. And remember, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more bitter the flavor.
Coffee or tea?
It turns out that it doesn’t really matter. They’re both good for you, especially when it comes to preventing stroke and dementia, according to a new study. Researchers from Tianjin Medical University in Tianjin, China, found that people who drank two to three cups of coffee, three to five cups of tea or a combination of coffee and tea (four to six cups) daily had the lowest risk of stroke and dementia. “Our findings suggested that moderate consumption of coffee and tea separately or in combination were associated with lower risk of stroke and dementia,” according to the authors of the study, which was published in the Lancet. The results showed a 28% lower risk of dementia and a 32% lower risk of stroke than those who didn’t drink coffee or tea. It’s also possible, of course, that individuals who are genetically predisposed to consume more coffee, tea and dark chocolate engage in other potentially healthy behaviors. Whichever the case, I’m not giving up coffee, tea or dark chocolate after reading these studies. Are you?