Caffeine consumption and miscarriage

Parents-to-be who consume too much caffeine during sensitive times of fetal development are at greater risk of a miscarriage, researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University, Columbus, have found.

Using data from the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment Study, NIH researchers compared lifestyle factors as cigarette use, caffeinated beverage consumption, and multivitamin use among 344 couples with a single pregnancy, from weeks before conception through the seventh week of pregnancy.

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Reuters / Jorge Silva

They found that a woman is more likely to miscarry if she and her partner drank more than two caffeinated beverages a day during the weeks leading up to conception. If a woman drank more than two daily caffeinated beverages during the first seven weeks of pregnancy, she was also more likely to miscarry.

Of the 344 pregnancies, 98 ended in miscarriage, or about 28 percent.

“Our findings prove useful information for couples who are planning a pregnancy and who would like to minimize their risk for early pregnancy loss,” said the study’s lead author, Germaine Buck Louis, director of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in a statement. “Our findings also indicate that the male partner matters, too. Male preconception consumption of caffeinated beverages was just as strongly associated with pregnancy loss as females.”

Miscarriage was also linked to older mothers, over age 35, who experienced nearly twice the miscarriage risk of younger women.

Researchers also found, however, a reduction in miscarriage risk for women who took a daily multivitamin. If the mother took a multivitamin during the preconception period, there was a 55 percent reduction in risk of pregnancy loss. If they continued to take it during early pregnancy, there was an even greater reduction.

“For women, there was almost an 80 percent reduction in risk of miscarriage just by taking a multivitamin, if she took it daily while she was trying to become pregnant and in the first seven weeks of pregnancy,” Louis, the lead author, said, adding there was no association in men taking a multivitamin.

READ MORE: Just 6 cups of coffee a day may keep MS away – scientists

The study authors said other research has shown that vitamin B6 and folic acid can reduce miscarriage risk as well as the chances of having a baby with a neural tube defect, a serious health complication.

The study was published online in Fertility and Sterility.

40 teaspoons of sugar a day!?!

That Sugar Film/YouTube

Damon Gameau loads his body with sugar for 60 days, what happens next will shock you.

With so much information and mixed messages around sugar, how do we clearly teach our children about how eating too much of it can negatively affect our body and mind?

Actor, father-of-one and author of That Sugar Guide Damon Gameau swapped his low-sugar lifestyle for a sweeter few months, with the damaging and freaky changes to his body being the catalyst to create That Sugar Film – an entertaining and easy-to-follow documentary about sugar that kids (and adults) will actually want to watch.

In an personal challenge Gameau swears he will “never do again”, the Australian television star took on a 60-day “experiment” to pack his usually low-sugar diet with an additional 40 teaspoons of sugar each day.

This may may sound excessive, but alarmingly 40 teaspoons is the amount of sugar many of us consume on a daily basis, knowingly or not.

Damon Gameau's "extreme" sugar experiment was to help kids think twice about what they're eating.


Damon Gameau’s “extreme” sugar experiment was to help kids think twice about what they’re eating.

The rules were to stick to his regular exercise routine and to only consume sugar in the form of perceived “healthy” foods, things like cereal, low-fat yoghurt and fruit juice.

For the duration of the experiment he was monitored and tested regularly by health professionals who were alarmed at how fast sugar’s negative affects were spreading through his body.

By the first fortnight, serious negative changes were seen in Gameau’s organs, blood levels, physical appearance, weight (he gained girth fast, particularly around his belly) energy levels and moods.

Sugary drinks marketed for 'health' and 'energy' were a quick and easy way for Damon Gameau to boost his daily sugar intake.


Sugary drinks marketed for ‘health’ and ‘energy’ were a quick and easy way for Damon Gameau to boost his daily sugar intake.

Fatigue and lack of focus took over his normally clear mind as he began to register how fast and furiously sugar had taken its toll. While it was tempting to surrender, he stuck with his two month “goal” for the sake of the next generation’s health education.

Gameau travelled to many international communities meeting people whose health – and in many cases, their life – was being compromised due to sugar. Perhaps most memorably, Louisianian teen Larry whose teeth were completely decayed and gums riddled with bacteria from being addicted to Mountain Dew since he was a toddler. Larry lives in pain and is aware what causes it, yet he continues to drink the sugar-filled fizzy each day.

The findings highlight what studies have shown us for years: on a global scale, we are getting sicker, all the while sugary food and drinks companies (and no doubt their advertising agencies) get constant healthy boosts to their bank balance.

Damon Gameau's documentary 'That Sugar Film' is a humourously animated creation to help us understand what sugar is ...


Damon Gameau’s documentary ‘That Sugar Film’ is a humourously animated creation to help us understand what sugar is doing to our bodies.

“The objective was to get the message through to people who need to see [the film], and children,” says Gameau.

“I get it, there’s a lot of information out there about sugar, but there’s still a long way to go.

“We’ve woken up a lot to the negative impacts of smoking and how the companies selling it to us are doing so purely for profit, but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to understanding what sugar is doing to our health.

“We’re bombarded by fearful images and messages and we too could have easily made this a fear-based film, but that is not how we want people to feel after watching it.

“I obviously did something really dramatic by suddenly introducing so much sugar than my body was used to, but it wasn’t just how I felt physically that was most surprising, it was the mental shift. I’ll never do it again.

Gameau was relieved to return to his usual diet, consisting of boiled eggs, avocado, full-fat yoghurt as breakfast options, quinoa salad with tuna and a banana or smoothie for lunch, and a protein-based dish with lots of vegetables for dinner.

He snacks on almonds, and for a treat he’ll enjoy a small amount of dark chocolate. When Gameau and his wife dine in restaurants they’ll order what they want, but be aware about what’s in their food.

“I personally never want to feel like that again, but for many people that’s all they’ve ever known, and it’s not our fault.

“We’ve been misled for years, living our lives without realising that we can, and should, feel better.”

Four herbs to give you shiny, healthy hair

Want healthy, shiny hair? The right herbs could help.

Eduard Titov

Want healthy, shiny hair? The right herbs could help.

As you age, maintaining your hair’s health means that you need to maintain all-round good health as well as maintain a good hair-care regime.

Diet is the foundation of healthy hair – you need vitamin B complex, vitamin A, calcium, silica, iron, zinc, protein and also unsaturated oils or fatty acids. As is the norm, you’ll also need plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and salads, water and about eight hours sleep each night.

Even after taking the most sensible measures, hair loss in inevitable. However, the right herbs could be what your diet is missing.

Here are four common herbs that can be used to help to keep your hair healthy (and also have intoxicating scents).

Lavender oil stimulates circulation in the scalp and strengthens new hair growth.


Lavender oil stimulates circulation in the scalp and strengthens new hair growth.


The oil of Lavandula angustifolia is a powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-septic.

Lavender oil stimulates circulation in the scalp, strengthens new hair growth, and helps to balance the natural oil production of the scalp, making it a popular choice for people of all skin types.

As an added bonus, lavender oil is also a natural insect repellent for protection against fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and head lice.  It can also soothe symptoms of stress and headaches.


Basil is rich in magnesium, an often overlooked mineral that is essential for hundreds of chemical processes within the human body.

When applied to hair and scalp as an herbal rinse, basil also acts as an anti-inflammatory, strengthens your hair against breakage, and improves circulation in the hair follicles. This can eventually help to stimulate growth.

Basil can strengthen your hair against breakage and improve circulation in the hair follicles.

Sally Tagg

Basil can strengthen your hair against breakage and improve circulation in the hair follicles.


Glycosides, triterpene saponins, and flavonoids naturally occurring in licorice root work to nourish the scalp and heal damage caused by fungal infection, eczema, environmental allergens, and chemical exposure.

To make a licorice root cleanser, add one tablespoon of dried licorice root to three cups of boiling water.  Allow the roots to steep for an hour or more on low heat (simmer.)  Strain and cool the infused liquid to room temperature before applying to hair and scalp.


We bet you haven’t heard of this one! The roots of Althea officinalis, or the common marshmallow, contain lauric acid.

This is the medium chain fatty-acid that is present in coconut oil, which gives the fruit its outstanding list of health benefits. Marshmallow root is also rich in mucilage, a natural hair detangler.

To harness its benefits, boil dried marshmallow for about fifteen minutes, then strain to extract mucilage, which can then be combined with your favourite natural conditioner.


What does eating clean really mean?

Eating, buying and cooking clean is about the pathway that the food has taken from its origin to your plate. The focus is on wholefoods that have been minimally processed, refined or handled, making them as close to their natural state as possible.

Here are five ways to clean up your diet today.

Cut out heavily processed foods

Fresh fruit and vegetables straight off the vine, pulled from the tree or out of the ground, are wholefoods. So are fresh eggs, meat, fish and chicken and legumes such as chickpeas and lentils. “Processed” foods are those which have had their nutrients altered. This includes processed meats such as salami, bacon and sausages.

Choose unrefined or less refined

Unrefined seeds, nuts and wholegrains leave more of the healthy fibre in place and less destruction of the foods natural vitamins. Examples of these are quinoa, millet, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, regular oats, brown rice and seeds such as chia, sunflower and sesame.

Be mindful of additives

Fresh wholefoods (especially those that don’t come with a label) may contain naturally occurring fats, salt and sugar so try not to add more. Clean foods such as olive oil should have a simple label with minimal ingredients and shouldn’t read like a science experiment with lists of additives and numbers.

Cook from scratch

While this may not always be feasible, it’s a great way to eat clean. Using fresh herbs and spices, onions and garlic with fresh vegetables and meats, chicken and fish eliminates the need for bottled sauces.

Keep to the perimeter

Rather than spend time trolling through the central packaged food aisles, stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables, and dairy foods such as milk and yoghurt. Your tastebuds will come alive to taste more than the sugar that’s been added to processed products.

Why am I so tired all the time?

Question: I’m feeling really tired lately and no matter what I do I can’t seem to change it. I’ve tried going to bed earlier, I’ve tried reducing my coffee consumption but I feel tired to my bones. I’m a female and 32 years of age. Do you have any suggestions for what I should do? Thanks, Sharon.

Hi Sharon, there are many reasons why you could be experiencing this tiredness.

Without knowing more about your health history or your diet, looking at your iron status would be a great place to start.Iron deficiency is still the most common nutritional deficiency in the Western world. In Australia and New Zealand, 20 to 30 per cent of women of child-bearing age are iron deficient.

There are so many consequences to this and fatigue is just the beginning. Low iron levels can be caused by multiple factors, including poor dietary iron intake, poor absorption due to digestive insufficiencies, or too many competing factors blocking the absorption of iron.For example, calcium and iron compete for absorption and calcium always wins, as it is a bigger substance. So if you only eat iron-rich foods at t he same meal as calcium-rich foods, then you will absorb very little iron from that meal.

Another reason for low iron levels can be blood loss, most commonly from long-term, heavy menstruation. The flipside of this, however, is that some people accumulate iron and store too much of it, so it is wise to see your GP and have “iron studies” blood tests to know if you are deficient or not.


Email your questions for Dr Libby to [email protected]. Please note, only a selection of questions can be answered.

Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. Dr Libby is touring New Zealand during October.

Is decaf worse than ordinary coffee?

Bruce Mercer

Decaffeinated coffee used to be the poorer choice but is now a better alternative thanks to companies using a different process to extract the caffeine.

I’ve recently changed to decaffeinated coffee but someone told me it’s worse for you than ordinary coffee – is this true? Thanks Greg.

Hi Greg. The answer to this question truly depends on the individual, their biochemistry and how sensitive they are to caffeine.

Originally the process used to extract caffeine from the coffee used chemicals, which meant the decaffeinated coffee was essentially a poorer choice than caffeinated coffee. However, now more and more companies use a water extraction method, also known as the Swiss water extraction process, which is certainly a better alternative.

However, green tea is a preferential choice as it contains many other health benefits including the calming effect of an amino acid l-theanine, and plenty of antioxidants. Be aware that green tea still contains some caffeine though.

If you want a caffeine free milky drink, try roasted dandelion tea (available from the supermarket) and add your favourite frothed milk to it. That way you support liver detoxification pathways and can enjoy a lovely flavour.

Why is it that any time I become stressed I gain weight? I try to eat less but I just feel my clothes getting tighter and tighter. Thanks, Sarah

Hi Sarah. The human body makes two dominant stress hormones. They are adrenalin and cortisol. Cortisol is our chronic stress hormone. In other words, we tend to make too much of it when we are stressed for a long time.

Historically, the only long-term stresses humans had were floods, famines and wars; all scenarios where food may have been scarce. Today, our long-term stress tends to come from relationship or financial worries, or health or weight concerns.

However, because cortisol was designed to save your life when food was scarce, even though food may be abundant for you today, cortisol sends a message to every cell in your body that your metabolism needs to be slowed down so that those precious fat stores can keep you going until the food supply returns.

Cortisol has a distinct fat deposition pattern. It lays fat down around your middle, on the back of your arms and you grow what I lovingly call a back verandah. Most people’s response to fat accumulation around their tummies is to go on a diet, which means eating less food. This only confirms to your body what cortisol has driven your body to believe is true, when in fact the opposite is true and food is likely to be abundant for you.

When you restrict your food intake on your “diet” you slow your metabolism even further, making it feel like you only have to look at food for weight to go on. Stress is having a huge impact on our ability to lose weight and secondly, to keep it off, something I talk about in my book Accidentally Overweight.

Email your questions for Dr Libby to [email protected]. Please note, only a selection of questions can be answered.

Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional.  To read more from Dr Libby, be sure to get her monthly newsletter. Simply complete the form at

How do I get my cooking mojo back?

Try making something different like Moroccan or Indian food if you find yourself losing your creativity in the kitchen.

I used to enjoy cooking nutritious food but recently I’ve really lost my cooking mojo. I can’t be bothered and I am tending to buy more takeaways, which I know aren’t as good for me. How do I get my love of cooking back? Thanks, Jane

Hi Jane. That’s an interesting one. Any time we lose an interest or a passion it’s worth taking a little bit of time to reflect on what is going on around this. Are you more stressed? Taking on more work commitments and so on? There could be a number of reasons here. However, it’s not uncommon for the main chef in the household to become sick of cooking, particularly when you add in time pressure and hungry children. We can often get into a routine of cooking the same dishes, which is helpful for efficiency but not necessarily for a creative outlet which cooking can most definitely be.

To re-engage your interest in cooking I suggest going to the library and getting out some new cookbooks. Try some really different options like Middle Eastern, Moroccan or Indian cuisine. Or dust off your cookbook collection at home and aim to cook at least one new recipe a week. Get back in touch with what food means to you. Let it be nourishment and reconnect with the joy and value of cooking delicious and nutritious meals.

Ask Dr Libby: lifestyle changes to prevent type 2 diabetes

Ask Dr Libby: Breaking the coffee habit
Ask Dr Libby: Is IBS causing my foggy brain?

Portion control is a big issue for me, I eat well but I eat too much. What’s the best way to manage portion control without weighing food/becoming obsessed with it? Thank you, Claire

Hi Claire. Portion control is most definitely an issue for many people. Especially if you’re from a family where more equals better, or your parent/s like to display their love through large quantities of food. Aside from the emotional reasons why we might serve ourselves larger portions such as a stressful day, anxious or overwhelmed feelings etc. there are a number of ways you can reduce or manage your portion sizes.

Here are some easy tips:

– Serve dinner on a smaller plate.

– Eat slowly and chew each mouthful 20 times. This takes time – be patient! Give it some practise and it will become a habit. Start with chewing each bite 10 times.

– Enjoy the tastes and textures of food – really savour the experience!

– Put your knife and fork down after each bite.

– As a rough guide use your fists to indicate portion sizes – 1 for protein, 1 for carbohydrate and as many as you like for non-starchy vegetables. However, please note every body is different and this may not suit your nutritional requirements.

– Avoid eating when you’re stressed or anxious – go for a walk, have a cup of tea or read a book. More often than not people overindulge when they’re stressed.

For more information about portion sizes check out Dr Libby book The Calorie Fallacy available from all good bookstores and

Email your questions for Dr Libby to [email protected]. Please note, only a selection of questions can be answered.

Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional.  To read more from Dr Libby, be sure to get her monthly newsletter. Simply complete the form at

Are Meal Replacement Shakes Actually Useful?

Let’s first clarify that meal replacement shakes are not to be confused with protein shakes, though the differences are nit-picky: a meal replacement shake typically has between 200-500 calories and tick off a bunch of nutritional checkmarks with added vitamins, minerals, fiber, and some protein.

Meanwhile, a protein shake might be between 80 to 180 calories, has a narrower spectrum of vitamins, offers more versatility in what you can do with it, and unsurprisingly, contains a lot more protein. Most meal replacement shakes are marketed as weight loss aids, but others, like Soylent, are meant to eliminate the very first-world problem of wasting time to prepare and chew your food.

I agree with you that the Kool-Aid hype is strong in this one. There’s a lot of fanfare around Shakeology, and social proof is one of the most powerful biases to get people to believe something may be good, or at least worth trying.Shakeology seems reasonable at a glance: a serving of chocolate flavored Shakeology offers a respectable 17 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber with an impressively long list of vitamins and healthy-sounding “superfood” ingredients. Sounds great, but now let’s put on our skeptic’s hats.

It’s easy to pat yourself on the back for the one vegetable you ate today—and if you normally eat…Read more

In general, added vitamins tend to have a big, fat health halo. People may believe that just because vitamins have been added to a food, it’s nowsupposedly better for you (case in point: Vitamin Suga—I mean, Water) and it’s okay to have more of it. Don’t be fooled. In fact, if your diet is varied and balanced, mineral or vitamin supplements have no clear benefit, writes the editors of this article in the Annals of Internal Medicine. More importantly, shakes (whether they’re protein or meal replacement ones) aren’t regulated very closely by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so don’t expect the product to fulfill its promises on the label, or contain the ingredients it says it does either.I’m not picking on just Shakeology here. These apply to any plastic bottle full of hopes and dreams.

One thing’s for sure, Shakeology has convenience going for it, but it’s expensive. If we do the math and break down the cost of a single container, it comes out to about $4.33 a serving. It doesn’t seem so absurd now. It’s about on par with a smoothie from Jamba Juice or a bottle of Protein Zone by Naked Juice, but still, there are more reasonably priced alternatives if you really, really want shakes.

Ideas for nutritious breakfasts to fuel your body

Question: I’m looking for different options for breakfast, as I’m a bit bored with the muesli I have most mornings. What are some nutritious breakfast options?

There is one piece of advice that most nutritionists reach unanimous agreement with and that is the importance of eating breakfast. Starting your day with the right nutrition is as essential as keeping the petrol tank in your car topped up with the right fuel.

Evidence suggests eating a nourishing breakfast is one of the best habits you can adopt to improve your health and wellness. Its many benefits include everything from improved mental function to weight loss, weight management and improved mood.

A fruit smoothie is a quick alternative if you need breakfast on the go.

Turn convention on its head and opt for a breakfast high in plant foods. Try lightly steamed or stir-fried vegetables with a fist-sized serving of protein or start the day with a green smoothie. Higher protein breakfasts decrease ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone) while high-carb breakfasts can do the opposite. Having said that, you know your body better than anyone else does and what fuels you may differ. Many people enjoy bircher mueslis or home made nut-based mueslis and feel energised by these choices.

Paying attention to what gives you energy and vitality is critical in helping you better understand the needs of your individual body.

5 nourishing breakfast ideas:

– Omelette filled with greens and herbs.

– Bircher muesli made with oats (if tolerated), nuts and seeds and a small amount of fruit, preferably fresh.

– For a quick breakfast on the run try avocado and lemon juice or nut butter on good quality toast.

– Poached eggs with greens with/without good quality toast.

– Breakfast smoothie with berries, banana, nuts or seeds or avocado, and greens.

The magical thing eating chocolate does to your brain

A study suggests people who eat chocolate at least once a week tend to perform better cognitively.

In the mid 1970s, psychologist Merrill Elias began tracking the cognitive abilities of more than a thousand people in the state of New York. The goal was fairly specific: to observe the relationship between people’s blood pressure and brain performance.

And for decades he did just that, eventually expanding the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) to observe other cardiovascular risk factors, including diabetes, obesity, and smoking. There was never an inkling that his research would lead to any sort of discovery about chocolate.

And yet, 40 years later, it seems to have done just that.

Late in the study, Elias and his team had an idea. Why not ask the participants what they were eating too? It wasn’t unreasonable to wonder if what someone ate might add to the discussion. Diets, after all, had been shown to affect the risk factors Elias was already monitoring. Plus, they had this large pool of participants at their disposal, a perfect chance to learn a bit more about the decisions people were making about food.

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The researchers incorporated a new questionnaire into the sixth wave of their data collection, which spanned the five years between 2001 and 2006 (there have been seven waves in all, each conducted in five year intervals). The questionnaire gathered all sorts of information about the dietary habits of the participants. And the dietary habits of the participants revealed an interesting pattern.

“We found that people who eat chocolate at least once a week tend to perform better cognitively,” said Elias. “It’s significant – it touches a number of cognitive domains.”

The findings, chronicled in a new study published last month, come largely thanks to the interest of Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia, who led the analysis. Others had previously shown that eating chocolate correlated with various positive health outcomes, but few had explored the treat’s effect on the brain and behaviour, and even fewer had observed the effect of habitual chocolate consumption. This, Crichton knew, was a unique opportunity.

Not only was the sample size large – a shade under 1,000 people when the new questionnaire was added – but the cognitive data were perhaps the most comprehensive of any study ever undertaken.

The chocolate effect

In the first of two analyses, Crichton, along with Elias and Ala’a Alkerwi, an epidemiologist at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, compared the mean scores on various cognitive tests of participants who reported eating chocolate less than once a week and those who reported eating it at least once a week. They found “significant positive associations” between chocolate intake and cognitive performance, associations which held even after adjusting for various variables that might have skewed the results, including age, education, cardiovascular risk factors, and dietary habits.

In scientific terms, eating chocolate was significantly associated with superior “visual-spatial memory and [organisation], working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination”.

But as Crichton explained, these functions translate to every day tasks, “such as remembering a phone number, or your shopping list, or being able to do two things at once, like talking and driving at the same time”.

In the second analysis, the researchers tested whether chocolate consumption predicted cognitive ability, or if it was actually the other way around – that people with better performing brains tended to gravitate toward chocolate. In order to do this, they zeroed in on a group of more than 300 participants who had taken part in the first four waves of the MSLS as well as the sixth, which included the dietary questionnaire. If better cognitive ability predicted chocolate consumption, there should have been an association between the people’s cognitive performance prior to answering the questionnaire and their reported chocolate intake. But there wasn’t.

“It’s not possible to talk about causality, because that’s nearly impossible to prove with our design,” said Elias. “But we can talk about direction. Our study definitely indicates that the direction is not that cognitive ability affects chocolate consumption, but that chocolate consumption affects cognitive ability.”

What’s going on?

Why exactly eating chocolate is associated with improved brain function Crichton can’t say with absolute certainty. Nor can Elias, who admits that he expected to observe the opposite effect – that chocolate, given its sugar content, would be correlated with stunted rather than enhanced cognitive abilities. But they have a few ideas.

They know, for instance, that nutrients called cocoa flavanols, which are found naturally in cocoa, and thus chocolate, seem to have a positive effect on people’s brains. In 2014, one concluded that eating the nutrient can “reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction.” A 2011 study, meanwhile found that cocoa flavanols “positively influence psychological processes.” The suspicion is that eating the nutrient increases blood flow to the brain, which in turn improves a number of its functions.

Chocolate, like both coffee and tea, also has methylxanthines, plant produced compounds that enhance various bodily functions. Among them: concentration levels. A number of studies have shown this, including one in 2004, and another in 2005.

Experts have known about the wonders of eating chocolate for some time. A lot of previous research has shown that there are, or at least could be, immediate cognitive benefits from eating chocolate. But rarely, if ever, have researchers been able to observe the impact of habitual chocolate eating on the brain.

The takeaway isn’t that everyone should rush to stuff their faces with the magical sweet. “I think what we can say for now is that you can eat small amounts of chocolate without guilt if you don’t substitute chocolate for a normal balanced healthy diet,” Elias said.

The research, he says, isn’t finished yet. There are more questions to ask, more answers to pursue.

“We didn’t look at dark chocolate and lighter chocolate separately,” he pointed out. “That next study could tell us a lot more about what’s going on.”

“We also only looked at people who were eating chocolate never or rarely versus once a week or more than once a week,” he added. “I’d really like to see what happens when people eat chocolate more often than they reported in our study.”

Glycemic index carb-rating scale isn’t giving you the full picture

The way a food affects your blood sugar – the concentration of glucose in your blood – matters. In the short term, a meal that rapidly raises your blood sugar triggers the release of insulin, which then causes your blood sugar to crash, leaving you foggy-headed and hungry soon after eating.

Over the long term, repeated surges like these put you at risk for diabetes and heart disease and are linked to obesity and cancer.

“Blood sugar is at the centre of our energy metabolism. It is critically important that it stays in the middle range,” says endocrinologist David Ludwig, professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the new book Always Hungry?

Most people look toward the glycemic index for blood sugar guidance, but it has come under scrutiny with a recent study ...


Most people look toward the glycemic index for blood sugar guidance, but it has come under scrutiny with a recent study because a person’s blood sugar response might be as unique as that individual.

But how do you know which foods spike your blood sugar and which leave you on even keel? Most people look to the glycemic index (GI) for that answer. It has become common vernacular to talk about foods, particularly those containing carbohydrates, as having a high or low GI and saying they have “fast” or “slow” carbs.

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But the glycemic index has long been known to be an imperfect tool, and it has come under new scrutiny with the publication of a study in the scientific journal Cell last November demonstrating that a person’s blood sugar response doesn’t neatly abide by the glycemic index but rather might be as unique as that individual.

The glycemic index, developed in 1981 by David Jenkins at the University of Toronto, is a comparative ranking of the effect that 50 grams of carbohydrate from a given food has on blood sugar.

Foods with a score of one to 55 are considered low-glycemic, 56 to 69 medium, and 70 or more high-glycemic. Pure glucose has a GI of 100. For the most part, less-processed, fiber-rich foods such as non-starchy vegetables, beans and whole grains have a lower GI than sugary or highly processed foods such as sodas and white bread.

One issue with the glycemic index is that it doesn’t take portion size into account. For example, you have to eat more than 2 1/2 cups of peas or 4 cups of watermelon to consume the 50 grams of carbohydrate measured by the GI, so the blood sugar impacts of those foods are inflated compared with a more typically consumed portion.

Another tool, the glycemic load (GL), helps to correct this issue by taking portion size into account. So peas and watermelon, which have GIs of 51 and 70, respectively, both have very low GLs of 4 when their commonly consumed portion sizes are accounted for. (On the GL scale, 1 to 10 is considered low-glycemic, 11 to 19 moderate, and 20 and above high-glycemic.) Most listings of the glycemic index of foods now have a column for the glycemic load as well, and the two are often referred to jointly.

Many variables affect a food’s GI/GL, including how it is processed, its ripeness and how it is cooked. As a rule, the more finely a grain is milled, the higher its GI/GL, so steel-cut oats have a lower GI/GL than instant oats. Well-ripened fruit has a higher GI/GL than less-ripe fruit, as do grains that are cooked until soft compared with those done al dente.

Interestingly, potatoes that are cooked and then cooled, as for a potato salad, have a much lower GI/GL than, say, a baked potato, because “resistant starch” is formed when cooked potatoes are chilled. You can make some tweaks to your routine here, such as using coarse-cut grains and not overcooking them, for example, but it is not practical for the average person to take into account all of the variables present for each food at a given meal.

Perhaps the biggest variable in determining someone’s glycemic response to a food is that person’s own body. According to the study in Cell, each person has a unique blood sugar response that could differ vastly from what the GI/GL would predict. Lead researchers Eran Segal and Eran Elinav said: “We found a great deal of variability in people’s blood glucose response to identical meals. For any given food the variability was so huge that some people had very high and others very low glycemic responses.”

They found that a set of personal factors, including sleep, activity and overall dietary habits, but most important, an individual’s microbiome (their population of gut bacteria), had a tremendous influence on one’s blood glucose response to a food.

“The population averages of the glycemic index are correct, but without taking into account the person, any general dietary guidelines will have limited utility,” Elinav said.

That is, in fact, true of any number we assign to food. The US Agriculture Department nutritional database, for example, says that a medium orange has 62 calories and 70 milligrams of vitamin C. But those numbers are indicators, not absolutes. First of all, they are averages from the oranges that were tested. Any individual orange of the same size might have a different number of calories and a different amount of vitamin C depending on its variety, where it was grown, the soil and weather conditions, and so on.

But the person eating the orange also impacts the calories and vitamin C that will ultimately be absorbed and metabolised, probably depending on the same factors that influenced glycemic response in the Cell study: microbiome, sleep, activity, eating patterns and so on. With this in mind, GI/GL may be considered in the same category as other numerical values we give to food: general guidance, but only part of the story.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that just because a food has a low GI/GL (or is low in calories and high in vitamin C, for that matter) doesn’t mean it is healthy. Case in point: Premium ice cream has a lower GI/GL than a medium apple, but that doesn’t make it better for you. It’s important to look at all of the facets of what a food has to offer in terms of nutrition and in the context of the diet as a whole.

“No single dietary factor could ever fully describe a healthful diet,” Ludwig said. To be on the best-known path for steady blood glucose, and for the bigger health picture, consider your overall eating pattern, focusing on meals that have a balance of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates, and opt for minimally processed, carbohydrate-rich foods that are naturally nutrient dense, including vegetables, whole fruit, whole grains and beans.

Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author. 

What These Ancient Statuettes of Obese People Say About Paleo Diets

What These Ancient Statuettes of Obese People Say About Paleo DietsA 40,000-year-old figurine, carved from a mammoth tusk, recovered from a site in Germany. MUST CREDIT: Handout photo courtesy of the Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren)

The fat billows and pools around the belly button. The flesh spills over the hip bones. The thighs are fused. Long celebrated as one of the oldest known works of art, the “Venus of Willendorf,” provokes a sense of wonder: How did the Stone Age sculptor render obesity that was so life-like?

While other ancient artifacts are mere stick figures or stylized images, the Venus of Willendorf, believed to be more than 28,000 years old, gives people the sense that it was drawn from real life. So, too, do other figurines of obese women recovered from Paleolithic sites.

“She has a quite unformalized vitality,” the archaeologist and historian Nancy Sandars wrote in her book, Prehistoric Art in Europe of the Venus of Willendorf. “She does not impress us as an abstraction, an idea, or ideal of the female and the fecund; rather one feels in spite of facelessness and gross exaggeration, that this is actual woman.”

In an era when countless advocates of a “Paleo” diet argue that the Paleolithic way of life was optimized for human health, it’s worth wondering what these figurines are telling us: Could some of the “cavemen” have been fat?

To be sure, no one knows why these images were carved. Were they related to fertility gods or beliefs, as some have suggested? A hope for plentiful food? Or are they, as some have proposed, a form of Paleo porn? The answers so far seem to be a matter of speculation. But whatever the purpose of the figurines, their anatomical correctness indicates that the sculptors must have seen fat people, some experts say, meaning that obesity was not unknown to the Paleolithic peoples, however harsh their lives may have been in general.

The Venus of Willendorf “tells us that obesity has been a human issue for a very long time,” said George Bray, a professor emeritus at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center of Louisiana State University, an expert who has written on the topic.

“The figurines are certainly based on real life body morphology. They are anatomically accurate, and bear no resemblance to pregnant women,” said David Haslam, a British physician and chair of the National Obesity Forum, a professional organization. He has written about the artifacts. “Similar figurines exist in Malta, Israel and all over Europe, proving that obesity existed in antiquity.”

Other doctors have argued that it was highly unlikely that Paleolithic people could get fat – food was too scarce, life too demanding and besides, most did not live long enough to get the middle age spread. “Several lines of reasoning suggest that obesity must have been exceedingly rare, if it existed at all, during prehistoric times,” Eric Colman, a doctor at the FDA, wrote.

But the prevalence of obesity is largely a matter of speculation and Colman allowed, that we “cannot discount the existence of a singular case of obesity” due to disease. Haslam, likewise, suggests that Paleo obesity was “rare,” especially in contrast to the U.S. and United Kingdom today, where “it is present in epidemic proportions.”

What does seem clear, however, is that Stone Age sculptors quite often turned to depicting overweight people. A 2011 paper by a Hungarian pathologist Laszlo Jozsa looked at 97 female idols from the Upper Paleolithic and found that 24 were skinny – and mainly young and 15 were normal weight. The majority – 51 – were overweight or very obese females, however.

“The Venus of Willendorf was not unique – they’ve been found from western Europe and into Russia – it was a far-reaching phenomenon,” Bray said. “How prevalent obesity was – we have no idea. But it was there.”

(c) 2016, The Washington Post

5 steps to end sugar cravings

5 steps to end sugar cravings

You know the drill – you eat lunch, then soon after you’re heading for the vending machine for a chocolate bar. Or you need another coffee with sugar at 3pm. And how many of us are thinking about dessert before we’ve even finished (or ordered) dinner? Why does this happen, and how can you take back control of your sugar intake?

1. Cut the salt

The first step to reducing sugar cravings is to eat less salt as salty foods make us crave sweet foods. Think about when you eat a pizza or sushi with lots of soy sauce – we usually want alcohol or a soft drink with it, or a chocolate gelato straight afterwards.

2. Deal with candida

If you’re battling a sugar addiction, it’s worth investigating if you have an overgrowth of the yeast candida in your gut. This can cause a strong desire to eat sweet foods as the yeast feeds off sugar.

Signs of an overgrowth, or yeast infection as it’s often called, include being bloated, tired or cranky, and having skin problems or fungal infections such as thrush or tinea.

It’s easy to get and can be easy to pass on through physical contact. Anything that puts your gut bacteria or flora out of balance will cause it, such as taking the contraceptive pill, antibiotics, vomiting, stress and consuming too many sweet things.

Treat candida by taking a good broad-spectrum probiotic, enjoyingmanuka honey, trying herbal medicines such as pau d’arco and horopito (available from a herbalist or health food store), and avoiding alcohol, refined grains and any foods that are high in sugar.

3. Chew mindfully

Chewing properly and mindfully is vital. Complex carbohydrates – such asfruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds and legumes – have a sweet flavour that’s only released if they’re thoroughly chewed. Getting your sweet hit from these foods is far more nutritionally beneficial than eating handfuls of lollies or a donut.

Chewing also helps you assimilate the nutrients in your food; wolfing down a meal means you miss out on all that goodness, leaving you tired and a bit off, which is likely because you’re malnourished. And guess what you’ll crave then? Sugar.

4. Get sweet support

You may need some sweet support while you’re going through sugar withdrawal. Try the herb gymnema, which closes the tastebuds that detect sweet flavours and helps balance blood sugar levels, reducing your cravings. Ginseng and fenugreek can also help balance your blood sugar and take the edge off cravings.

Supplement with chromium picolinate, which balances blood sugar, and try stevia, a herb that’s 300 times sweeter than sugar and is readily available in a powder form.

5. Find a replacement

There’s no need to feel guilty about wanting something sweet. It’s a flavour like any other – sour, pungent, bitter, salty and astringent – and they all need to be included in our diet.

Depriving yourself only leads to bingeing, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid. Instead, choose to eat complex sweeteners as a substitute to refined ones. Try ingredients such as maple, raw agave or brown rice syrup, raw honey and other complex sugars such as rapadura, muscovado and coconut palm sugar.

Yacon, a syrup derived from a South American root veg, is available from health food stores. It’s low GI so it has little impact on blood sugar levels, and it’s also a natural prebiotic, which helps improve gut health.

When it comes to chocolate, there’s no need to avoid it, just choose one that’s 70 or 80 per cent cocoa, raw and organic. It’s still high in sugar, so eat it sparingly, and enjoy it.

Are you a worrier?

The effect our emotions have on our health is becoming more known. According to traditional Chinese medicine, a sweet flavour is associated with the spleen and stomach, and this is where we store worry and obsessive thoughts. If you go over and over things in your mind, you’re using up a lot of energy and that needs to be replaced, often by something sweet. This craving could be for sweet treats or a wine at the end of the day. Try to take time out for yourself daily, and ease stress with activities such as yoga and meditation.


Tea of Coffee – which is best for you?

Countless arguments have been waged over the superiority of one beverage over the other. But what does the scientific evidence say?

George Orwell may have written that “tea is one of the mainstays of civilization in this country” – but even we British have to acknowledge that our national drink is facing stiff competition from the espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes invading our shores.

Despite the dangers of wading into such a charged argument, BBC Future decided to weigh up the relative merits of each drink. There’s no accounting for taste, of course, but we have combed the scientific literature for their real, measurable effects on our body and mind.

The wake-up call
For many, the caffeine kick is the primary reason we choose either beverage; it’s the oil to our engines when we’re still feeling a bit creaky in the morning. Based purely on its composition, coffee should win hands down: a cup of tea has about half the dose (40 milligrams) of the stimulant caffeine that you would find in a standard cup of brewed filter coffee (80 to 115 milligrams). Yet this doesn’t necessarily reflect the jolt of the wake-up call.

Caffeine dose is not the whole story: perhaps our expectations also determine how alert we feel

Dosing subjects with either tea or coffee, one (admittedly small) study found that both beverages left subjects feeling similarly alert later in the morning. Although that study was based on self-reported feelings of alertness, clear differences have failed to emerge in more objective measures of concentration, either – such as reaction times. Indeed, when you dose up on tea made to the equivalent strength as coffee, it actually proves to be more effective at sharpening the mind.

The scientists conclude that the caffeine dose is not the whole story: perhaps our expectations also determine how alert we feel, or it could be that it’s the overall experience of the tastes, and smells, of our favourite drink that awakens our senses.

Verdict: Against logic, tea seems to provide just as powerful a wake-up call as coffee. It’s a draw.

Sleep qualityThe biggest differences between coffee and tea may emerge once your head hits the pillow.

Comparing people drinking the same volume of tea or coffee over a single day, researchers at the University of Surrey in the UK confirmed that although both drinks lend similar benefits to your attention during the day, coffee drinkers tend to find it harder to drop off at night – perhaps because the higher caffeine content finally catches up with you.

Tea drinkers, in contrast, had longer and more restful slumbers.

Verdict: Tea offers many of the benefits of coffee, without the sleepless nights – a clear win.

Tooth stainingAlong with red wine, coffee and tea are both known to turn our pearly whites a murky yellow and brown. But which is worse?

Most dentists seem to agree that tea’s natural pigments are more likely to adhere to dental enamel than coffee’s – particularly if you use a mouthwash containing the common antiseptic chlorhexidine, which seems to attract and bind to the microscopic particles.

Verdict: If you want a perfect smile, coffee may be the lesser of two evils.

A balm for troubled souls…
In England, it’s common to give “tea and sympathy” to a distressed friend – the idea being that a cup of Earl Grey is medicine for troubled minds. In fact, there is some evidence that tea can soothe your nerves: regular tea drinkers do tend to show a calmer physiological response to unsettling situations (such as public speaking), compared to people drinking herbal infusions. Overall, people who drink three cups a day appear to have a 37% lower risk of depression than those who do not drink tea.

Coffee doesn’t have the same reputation; indeed, some report that it makes them feel like their nerves are jangling. Yet there is some evidence that it too may protect against long-term mental health problems. A recent “meta-analysis” (summarising the results of studies involving more than 300,000 participants) found that each cup of coffee a day seems to reduce your risk of developing depression by around 8%. In contrast, other beverages (such as sweetened soft drinks) only increase your risk of developing mental health problems.

We need to take such results with a pinch of salt: despite the scientists’ best efforts, in this kind of large epidemiological study it’s hard to rule out other factors that may be behind the link – but it could be that both drinks offer a cocktail of nutrients that dampen down stress responses and boost mood in the long-term.

Verdict: Based on this limited evidence, it’s a draw.

…and a balm for bodies
Similarly tantalising, though preliminary, epidemiological studies have suggested that both coffee and tea offer many other health-giving benefits. A few cups of either beverage a day appears to reduce your risk of diabetes, for instance. (The exact size of the benefit is still under discussion – estimates vary from around 5 to 40%.) Since even decaf coffee confers the same benefits, it seems likely that other nutrients may be oiling the metabolism so that it can still efficiently process blood glucose without becoming insensitive to insulin – the cause of diabetes.

Both drinks also seem to moderately protect the heart, although the evidence seems to be slightly stronger for coffee, while tea also appears to be slightly protective against developing a range of cancers – perhaps because of its antioxidants.

Verdict: Another draw – both drinks are a surprising, health-giving elixir.

Overall verdict: Much as we Brits would have liked tea to come out the clear victor, we have to admit there is little between the two drinks besides personal taste. Based solely on the fact that it allows you to get a better night’s sleep, we declare tea the winner – but why not share your own thoughts with us through social media?