Tasty Mess

Headlines of Milk and Chocolate

Headlines about milk and chocolate have been a little bit upside down lately. Some are suggesting that milk might lead to an untimely death, while chocolate will sharpen your memory. How can this be?

In the case of milk, epidemiologists in Sweden published a study in BMJ of more than 100,000 Swedish men and women to look for evidence of an effect on fractures and mortality from drinking milk. Instead of finding fewer fractures and less mortality in people who drank three or more glasses of milk daily, they found the opposite. They found more fractures in women who drank more milk and they found a higher risk of mortality in both men and women who drank more milk. They also studied risks associated with yogurt and cheese and found very different results — less mortality and fewer fractures. The authors speculated that the risks observed with milk might be explained by D-galactose, which milk contains in higher quantities than yogurt and cheese.

Does this study prove that drinking milk will lead to fractures and death? Hardly! The authors point out in their conclusions:

Given the observational study designs with the inherent possibility of residual confounding and reverse causation phenomena, a cautious interpretation of the results is recommended.

In other words, it might be that having a higher risk of mortality or bone fractures might cause people to drink more milk. Nonetheless, it does raise doubts about dietary guidelines that recommend drinking 3 glasses of milk daily. A companion editorial quite reasonably calls for more definitive studies.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the New York Times telling us “To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate.” Marketers at Nestlé and Hershey could hardly have written a better headline. Trouble is, the study in question proved nothing about eating chocolate because that’s not what was studied. They studied flavanols extracted from cocoa and administered in much higher doses than you would get from eating chocolate. Chocolate is good stuff, but don’t count on it to sharpen your memory.

So if you like milk and chocolate, enjoy them in moderation. They will neither kill you nor redeem you.

Click here to read more on the milk study from the LA Times, here to read more from Weighty Matters, here to read the study, and here to read the companion editorial. Click here to read about chocolate and memory in the NY Times, here to read a critique of the reporting, and here to read the study.

Tasty Mess, photograph © / flickr

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