‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Choc-It-Up To Chocolate

Chocolate's been all the rage in the news lately. Finally! Something positive to read and write about. It's delicious, it has health benefits and better, it's got evidence to support them. We've hit the trifecta!

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans and contains protein, fat, iron, caffeine, antioxidants, sugar and a few other things. Certain compounds in chocolate are protective against illnesses like cancer and heart disease. And as if you needed more good news, but in case you did: There's no evidence linking chocolate consumption to acne.

Chocolate is high in flavonoids, in particular, 'catechins' and 'anthocyanins' which promote health due to their antioxidant, anti-hypertensive and anti-inflammatory effects. Those flavonoids/antioxidants also influence insulin sensitivity and vascular endothelial (heart tissue) function. See, I can write an article that doesn't bash antioxidants.

So what's the recent hype about? New findings show stomach bacteria 'eat' and ferment dark chocolate causing a release in anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds, when absorbed, benefit the heart by lessening the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue which reduces long-term risk of stroke. Basically, it's another reason not to hate on bacteria.

People worry about chocolate being 'fattening', which, I think, means they're worried about chocolate making them fat. It's true, chocolate is 30-45% fat, and we all know saturated fat increases blood cholesterol which is a factor in heart disease and other chronic illnesses. BUT, almost half the saturated fat in chocolate is stearic acid - a fat that doesn't appear to effect blood cholesterol levels. Not too flabby... I mean, shabby!

Back to chocolate being 'fattening', new research shows people who consumed higher amounts of chocolate actually had lower levels of central body fat, independent of diet and exercise. Some people may think that's counterintuative, but if the science says so, take it and run!

Another study, the largest and best controlled chocolate study that focuses on adolescents, demonstrated the above health effects in 1,500 12-17 year olds. The results were independent of age, sex, sexual maturation, physical activity and consumption of foods also high in catechins like tea, coffee, fruits and vegetables.

Yet another study found that in young adults, 8 grams/day of dark (70%) cocoa for 1 month improved their endothelial function, compared to those in the placebo group.

But wait, before we all run to the vending machine for a chocolate bar, too much of this good thing isn't great either. Not all chocolate is created equal: Dark chocolate is much higher in protective catechins compared to white chocolate (which, let's be honest, isn't really chocolate) and even milk chocolate. That's because dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cocoa solids (see Figure 1).
Fig 1: Comparison of chocolate type, antioxidant level and % cocoa.
Source: http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/dark_chocolate.htm

Following that line of logic, dark chocolate (>60% cocoa) is the best option antioxidant-wise (and, if you ask me, taste-wise too). After all, once you go black...

Something else to think about is cocoa powder. It tends to have a substantially lower sugar and fat content compared to bar chocolate.

Lastly, some tantilising tempered take home tips:
  • Chocolate (the dark and cocoa varieties) are rich in beneficial antioxidants
  • Chocolate is still high in fat/calories compared with fruit, vegetables, whole grains and tea that also boast opulent antioxidant levels
  • If you're making brownies, having a hot chocolate or adding some flavour to your smoothie, use straight cocoa powder rather than the sugared-up versions like Ovaltine, Swiss Miss and Nestle (not to name names or anything)
  • Don't write articles about chocolate... constantly thinking and reading about the stuff can't be good for your health

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Should BPA Be Canned... I mean 'Banned'?

It's another topic receiving catchy headlines. Avid lovers of all things conspiracy theory are, as usual, quick to jump on the bandwagon. This week's bandwagon: Bisphenol A. Sound familiar? BPA, the stuff found in hard plastics and epoxy can liners. I know it's not food, but it finds its way into the body via the pie hole route, thereby making it fair game. So let's discuss: Is this estrogen-mimicking monomer morphing us into menstruating mademoiselles?

BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics, used in the manufacture of medical supplies, phones, CDs and some food/beverage packaging like water bottles. Epoxy resins are used in the lacquer lining of canned foods (to prevent bacterial growth), bottle lids and water pipes. Some dental sealants and composites also contain BPA.

Many articles present BPA as being "toxic". However, pretty much anything can be toxic. The more appropriate question is "do typical doses of BPA present a risk to human health?" Another problem with the reporting of BPA exposure is many articles use the term "low dose". But that's a relative term.

Before BPA gender-bends our proverbial panties in a twist, it's probably pertinent to ponder this question: "are the BPA doses tested in 'low-dose' studies similar to what humans are typically exposed to?"

A new study found that 91-99% of studies claiming to test 'low-dose' exposure to BPA actually tested doses much higher than concentrations corresponding to true peak human exposure. Well, that in and of itself is a problem.

Another problem is many studies draw blood and test urine via plastic medical supplies. See where this is going? Even a BPA-free blood sample will become contaminated with BPA if the plastics used to obtain the sample contain BPA. New studies specifically testing for BPA use BPA-free plastics like polypropylene.

About 90% of BPA is ingested orally. BPA gets its bad wrap as an estrogen mimicking compound - meaning it can bind to estrogen receptors. Estradiol (a steroid hormone) binds 1:1 with estrogen receptors, translation: It binds perfectly. BPA on the other hand has a binding capacity of 1:10,000 meaning that every one in 10,000 BPA molecules are able to bind. Genistein, a soy isoflavone, has a binding capacity of 1:250, much higher than BPA. Genistein is even conveniently sold in supplement form and purported to reduce heart disease, breast and prostate cancer, and post-menopausal ailments.
 Still not convinced? BPA is almost entirely inactivated during digestion by your liver; that rather amazing organ, capable of detoxifying things like BPA. A glucose molecule is added to BPA in this process, preventing its ability to bind at estrogen receptor sites. Finally, BPA is excreted in urine or bile 5-7 hours after ingestion. Insert toilet joke here.

A study found that median and 95th percentile values of BPA intake in Americans, 0.1ug/kg/day and 0.4ug/kg/day respectively, were two to three orders of magnitude below health-based guidance values (50ug/kg/day). Again, showing that even those consuming high levels of BPA in the US population are well below the 'tolerable daily intake' of BPA.

In the general population, are levels of BPA sufficient to negatively impact health by way of interfering with estrogen binding? The evidence says no (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

Take home points:
  • BPA is found in many products
  • BPA is often found in human urine
  • BPA being found in products and urine doesn't equate to BPA being toxic or dangerous for humans - human urine also contains water and electrolytes... just like Gatorade, think on that
  • BPA has a very, very weak affinity to bind with estrogen receptors (that is, until it's digested and gets that glucose molecule added and has zero affinity)