Ian Barnett examines some surprisingly healthy foods 

 

Well alright, the first one is more of a drink. Traditionally, coffee is considered a teeth-staining evil, which gives us palpitations if we drink too much, stops us drifting off at night and allows a certain Seattle coffee shop to make billions from us annually. However, it turns out that a caffeine high is not the only benefit of an espresso. Caffeine counteracts the harmful effects of cholesterol on the brain, which may reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer’s Disease. It helps prevent the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, according to a US study at the University of North Dakota. When the blood-brain barrier is damaged, harmful chemicals are allowed to enter the nervous system, intensifying the effects of Alzheimer’s. Other studies suggest that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee per day in mid life leads to a 65% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease in later life.

Peanut butter is another surprisingly healthy food. Although high in fat, these natural fatty acids are good for you, especially oleic acid which is proven to reduce blood pressure. Natural peanut butter contains no cholesterol and is full of vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin E, with 23% of the recommended daily amount coming from a 30 gram portion. Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant, meaning that it helps prevent heart disease and removes free radicals from the body, reducing the risk of cancer. Peanut butter is also a rich source of Vitamin B6, which helps concentration and memory by increasing the oxygen carrying efficiency of haemoglobin. The brain has one of the highest oxygen demands of any organ, using around 20% of the total oxygen consumed by the body, coming a close second to the long suffering liver. So peanut butter is actually great for breakfast, refreshing the brain and providing plenty of energy for the day ahead.

Dark chocolate is fantastic in almost every sense, not just taste. Chocolate stimulates endorphin production in the brain, giving us a feeling of happiness and euphoria. It also contains the essential amino acid tryptophan which is necessary in the production of the anti-depressant chemical serotonin. The combination of serotonin and endorphins explains the pleasure most of us feel after indulging in chocolate. It is also rich in magnesium and iron, metals necessary for strong bones and preventing anaemia respectively; and if you’re worried about your teeth, dark chocolate also reduces the activity of bacteria on the teeth, therefore slowing tooth decay. Arguably the most positive health benefits are yet to come: chocolate contains catechins, which can help prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease and strokes. This miraculous group of chemicals are found in the cacao bean, from which chocolate is made, and are present in highest concentrations in dark chocolate.  Unfortunately, your health doesn’t necessarily improve with the amount of chocolate eaten. Dark chocolate is over 40% fat, with the majority being saturated, so stick to the motto, “one square a day keeps the doctor away”!

 

Ian Barnett

Image credit – jules:stonesoup