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Chocolate, red wine or aspirin: Which should you be ingesting daily?

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Ready to add to your daily doses of super foods, liquids and vitamins? A study published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who frequently indulge in chocolate weigh less than people who rarely touch the stuff. A scientist-endorsed daily chocolate fix is sweet news. But it adds to the towering pile of studies suggesting we gobble all manner of foods, supplements, medicines and liquids to improve our health. What do we really need a daily dose of?


The claim: A daily pill helps prevent cardiac events and even cancer.

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Science says: Three different studies published last month in the medical journal The Lancet found that daily aspirin use reduced a person's risk of a cancer death by up to 37 per cent, and that it reduced the spread of several cancers. As well, previous studies have shown that aspirin can help prevent a second heart attack or stroke, thanks to its anti-clotting properties.

Swallow it? With caution. Studies, including one published in February, have shown that taking a daily aspirin has no demonstrable effect on preventing fatal heart attacks or strokes in healthy individuals. It does, however, significantly raise the likelihood of gastrointestinal bleeding, as well as increasing the risk of brain bleeds, known as hemorrhagic strokes.


The claim: You need to drink eight glasses of water a day to be adequately hydrated.

Science says: Not only is that idea nonsense, it is "thoroughly debunked nonsense," according to a commentary by Dr. Margaret McCartney in the British Medical Journal last summer. The eight-glass myth has persisted simply because it's easy to remember, but multiple sources all concur it's just that – a myth. Health Canada does not specify how much water should be consumed daily since a review of data on the subject found a wide range of intakes are compatible with normal hydration.

Swallow it? No. Drink when thirsty, experts say. One caveat: With increasing age our sense of thirst declines. Since you can be dehydrated but not feel thirsty, look at the colour of your urine. If it's light, you're well-hydrated; if it's dark yellow or amber, you need fluids.


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The claim: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil capsules lower your risk of a range of illnesses, especially heart disease.

Science says: Multiple studies suggest that omega-3 fish oils can reduce the risk of heart attack, hardening of the arteries, strokes and risk of death, as well as lowering blood pressure. As well, low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to prostate, breast and colorectal cancers as well as dementia, macular degeneration and Type 2 diabetes.

Swallow it? One or two servings of fish each week can cut your risk of dying from heart disease by 36 per cent, according to estimates. Or you can take a daily capsule.


The claim: One a day keeps the doctor away.

Science says: It might not keep the doctor away, but a large Dutch study published last year suggested it might keep strokes at bay. Each 25 grams of apple and pear (about one-sixth), consumed per day lowered stroke risk by seven per cent. And a separate study released last year by researchers at Florida State University found that women who ate a third of a cup of dried apples every day for a year had lower levels of bad cholesterol compared to a second group who ate another dried fruit. The apple eaters also lost an average of 3.3 pounds over the course of the study.

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Swallow it? Apples may be a "miracle fruit," as the Florida State researcher called them, but they shouldn't be the only fruit you eat each day.


The claim: Take vitamin D to boost overall health.

Science says: Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to heart disease, several types of cancer, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis and even your chances of catching the flu. One study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2007 that looked at 18 separate randomized controlled trials involving nearly 60,000 participants found that taking vitamin D supplements was linked to a seven per cent reduction in mortality from any cause.

Swallow it? Yes. The Canadian Cancer Society suggests Canadian adults should pop a pill containing 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day during the fall and winter. The society also says that some people – such as those with dark skin or over the age of 50 – should take supplements year-round.


The claim: A little bit of dark chocolate every day works as a sugary miracle.

Science says: Studies in recent years have found dark chocolate reduces blood pressure – good news for the nearly one in five Canadians over the age of 12 who have hypertension – as well as inflammation, which can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. On top of that, it is also believed to ease emotional stress. Why? Thank flavonoids, the powerful antioxidant found in dark chocolate.

Swallow it? Yes, but not as much as you might want. One or two squares a day is optimal, researchers say. More than that could lead to weight gain, which might cancel out the health benefits.


The claim: A glass of red wine every day is good for your heart.

Science says: It's not just red wine. Any alcohol, consumed in moderation, will improve cardiac health. A study published last week in the European Heart Journal found men who have two drinks a day after a first heart attack have a lower mortality risk from heart disease compared to non-drinkers. A Canadian study published last year also found that people who have one drink or fewer each day are up to 25 per cent less likely to develop heart disease than teetotallers. Other studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption to a decreased likelihood of stroke

Swallow it? Yes, but not too much of it. A scientific review published in 2011 found that women who drink three or more alcoholic beverages a day are up to 50 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than women who abstain.

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