Eat that chocolate!

It doesn’t matter how good the relationship you build with kids “mess with their diet and you’re in trouble.

Every family magazine and academic medical journal seems to be filled with the gloomy news that everything you could possibly like ... is bad for you. These "facts" soon become the stuff of urban legend. Have people around to dinner, and some doomsayer will quickly tell you that the mayonnaise you’re mixing up is "lethal" “and will quote chapter and verse of some "scientific experiment". Ease up on the saturated fatty acids “or whatever.

I remember as a kid pushing a stack of green beans around my plate, trying to camouflage them under some unused mashed potato “or in a moment of creative genius, lining them up in the shadow of a strategically placed dinner knife “but mothers, just like child and youth care workers, are rigorously trained in adult boot camp to spot pathetic ploys like this, and just as you are congratulating yourself on your subversion skills ... "Eat your beans!" says she. "They’re good for you!"

There are no shades of grey in this. Parents know that certain foods are bad for you, and others are good for you. And, wouldn’t you know it, "good" in this sense is always inversely proportional to "nice". If parents (and medical journals) had their way we would all be eating broccoli, egg plant and whole-grain barley, washed down with skim milk or boring plain water.

But kids get you in one, whichever way you broach the subject. There’s the foolhardy direct command "No more Coke!" which is the ultimately unpoliceable and unenforceable law. There’s the social-work-speak angle "Don’t you think that perhaps you would be better off having less of of ..." or the Dreikursian choice approach of "Would you like some orange juice or carrot juice?" Nice try. Parents and care workers don’t stand a chance against the neighbourhood kids” lore, not to mention the millions thrown into their side of the battle by the advertising corps. The area within one metre of any refrigerator is a war zone “a war of wills. The grown-ups will always say that there is too much sugar, too much fat, not enough greens or not enough fibre. The kids say what the hell and eat what they want.

*     *     *

Anyway, the point of all this is that in the November 2001 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (no arguing with such an authoritative title) the tables are turned. Headline news here is that (gasp!) chocolate is good for you! Read on ...
"Chocolate lovers now have one more reason to indulge themselves in the decadent confection. A new study says that dark chocolate and cocoa powder have favorable effects on heart health. It is widely known that chocolate, like other plant-based foods such as tea, red wine, and apples, contains beneficial antioxidant compounds called flavonoids ... Cocoa and chocolate provided a protective effect against heart disease by slowing the oxidation of LDL," says Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, lead author of the study and professor of nutrition at Penn State University at University Park, Pennsylvania."

This is going to wreak havoc with the family cash book. Whole slabs of expenditure are going to shift from the (illegitimate) candy budget to the (legitimate) health budget. Allowances across the country will come in for renegotiation. Watch out for new budget headlines like antioxidants and flavonoids. Watch out also for new levels of blackmail and manipulation “"I may have to tell my school doctor that you are exacerbating the oxidation of my LDLs by this wanton slashing of the chocolate budget."

But the news is not all that good. In the fine print of the same report we read that killjoy Harold Schmitz, PhD, visiting professor of nutrition at the University of California at Davis (and also director of scientific research at chocolate manufacturer Mars Incorporated!) says that it is very important to know that not all chocolate and cocoas are created equal. "Not all chocolate can give you this potential benefit," says Schmitz.

Then Kris-Etherton herself crosses the floor and cautions that cocoa and chocolate shouldn't be considered significant sources of flavonoids in the same category as fruits and vegetables, which also have fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Chocolate, she says, should be incorporated sensibly and prudently in a healthy diet that emphasizes the intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, skim milk, reduced-fat dairy products, fatty fish and lean meats, fish, and poultry. Spoilsport! We would, she says, be remiss in endorsing unlimited quantities of chocolate.

Now that’s why I prefer to read only the headlines and look at the pictures when I am perusing scholarly journals.

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