Wine, chocolate and your health
Would M'sieu prefer to peruse the menu, or may we tempt your taste buds with the heart healthy "Polymeal"?
Just in time to assist with those dark, depressing New Year's resolutions that deal with eating and drinking less, eating and drinking healthier and, most likely, enduring such a boring regime for as brief a period as possible, a team of Australian and Dutch researchers offers excellent news. Their study, published last week in The British Medical Journal, suggests that a hypothetical "polymeal" containing seven key ingredients could reduce heart disease by 76 percent and extend average life expectancy by nearly seven years in men and five years in women.
What's in this miracle bill of fare? That's the good news. There's not much to dislike in a menu that features fish, dark chocolate, fruits and vegetables, almonds and garlic and best of all, a modest daily ration of wine.
The study, timed for the holidays and perhaps presented with tongue at least partly in cheek, followed up on a 2003 report on a hypothetical "polypill," a combination of drugs with the potential to reduce the incidence of heart disease by up to 80 percent.
Reasoning that this melange of medications harbors worrisome side effects and that the multitasking prescription pill would be costly, a team of researchers from Monash University in Victoria, Australia, and Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands came up with the polymeal as a more appealing and alternative that researchers call "more natural, safer, and probably tastier than the Polypill."
But could an approach as simple as fashioning a regular menu from heart-healthy fare be as effective as the best that the modern pharmaceutical industry has to offer? Apparently so. "Our objective was to define a safer, nonpharmacological, and tastier alternative to the Polypill in the general population: the Polymeal," the researchers wrote. Research based on the long-term Framingham heart study indicates that the polymeal would be as effective as the polypill, Senior Researcher Anna Peeters of Monash University told the Brisbane Sunday Mail.
Researchers based their menu selections on studies about a wide variety of foods and drinks thought to be effective against heart disease, ranking each on the basis of the amount and quality of published evidence. The seven ingredients chosen for the polymeal were those that ranked the highest; despite considerable information suggesting its effectiveness, olive oil did not make the cut.
Of particular interest, Peeters told the Brisbane newspaper, the polymeal appears most effective when all the ingredients are taken in combination. "On their own, the level of effect [of each ingredient] is only 14-20 percent, but it's in combination with all these others that you get such a big reduction [in cardiovascular disease] of 76 percent," she said.
She also noted that more is not necessarily better. The recommended daily intake of wine, for instance, is only 150ml (about one 5-ounce glass); for dark chocolate it's only 100g (about 3 ounces).
Other serving amounts were 114g (about 3 1/2 ounces) of fish, eaten four times a week; 400g (about 14 ounces) of fruits and vegetables daily; 68g (a little over 2 ounces) of almonds daily and 2.7g (about 1/10 of an ounce) of fresh garlic.
The study carried the usual warning against overdoing the wine, but this and other tidbits strongly suggested that the authors were having a little gentle fun, or else they are extremely talented at unintentional humor.
About vinous overconsumption, for instance, they advised, "The Polymeal should not be combined with additional consumption of alcohol, in order to avoid intoxication and conflicts with friends, relatives, and authorities."
Other chuckle-worthy snippets, "Adverse effects reported for garlic include malodorous breath and body odour. As garlic is destined for mass treatment, few people will still notice this after a while. ... Moreover, considering the disturbing adverse effects of garlic, we do not recommend taking the Polymeal before a romantic rendezvous, unless the partner also complies with the Polymeal."
Also, "Although we do not recommend particular brands, spending more - for example, on your favourite bottle of wine or brand of chocolate - might also be rewarded by an improved quality of life."
Indeed, in the Australian newspaper interview, Peeters hinted that the study was done more in fun than as a serious health recommendation: "We're not advocating that people should take this particular set of ingredients for the rest of their lives," she said. "It was more a paper to illustrate that using a dietary combination, you could get effects similar to pharmaceutical combinations."
Still, the study's formal abstract ended on an upbeat note: "Conclusion: The Polymeal promises to be an effective, non-pharmacological, safe, cheap, and tasty alternative to reduce cardiovascular morbidity and increase life expectancy in the general population. "
Prefer primary sources? Here's the full study in the Dec. 18 edition of the British Medical Journal:
Finally, if you enjoy a challenge, the British Medical Journal is sponsoring a competition, inviting readers to "Design a Polymeal," submitting recipes that take advantage of this heart-healthy combination. Winners and their entries will be announced in February. For details, and sample recipes, see
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Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2004