Ask EN

June 2015 Issue

Chokeberries for Health; Whole Milk vs. Fat-Free Milk

Q. Do chokeberry supplements have proven health benefits?

AThe chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is an edible fruit of the deciduous shrub in the rose family, often used as an ornamental plant due to its resilience and color. Chokeberries are increasingly popular as a food source because they are rich in the phytochemical group called polyphenols. These antioxidants scavenge the body for damaging free radicals and aid in chronic disease prevention. Varieties include red and purple, but black chokeberries have one of the highest concentrations of polyphenols, especially the disease-fighting group known as anthocyanins.

Photo: Thinkstock

Some research has shown that the antioxidant capabilities of polyphenol-rich foods, like chokeberries, play an important role in the health of artery walls, as well as helping to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Limited studies on chokeberries show that they may reduce blood clot formation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, such as stroke and heart disease. What about chokeberry supplements? It’s too soon to say if the benefits of chokeberries and their phytochemicals is limited to consuming the whole berry, or if you can gain similar benefits by consuming chokeberries’ polyphenol-rich extracts in supplement form. In most cases, eating the food itself is more beneficial than a supplement, so the same is probably true for chokeberries.

—Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Q. Which milk is better for you: whole or fat-free?

AFor many years healthy diet recommendations have included the words “low fat” as a descriptor for dairy foods because of the belief that the saturated fats found in milk fat could contribute to heart disease as well as obesity. Recent scientific findings have shown that the link between heart disease and saturated fat really depends on what kinds of saturated fats are being consumed. Milk fat is a combination of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. According to the latest research, not all saturated fats should be avoided, as some found in full fat milk can raise HDL, the protective factor in blood cholesterol. Additionally, recent studies have linked consumption of whole fat dairy foods to reduced body fat and obesity. A published meta-analysis of 16 observational studies revealed that eating high-fat dairy foods was associated with a lower risk for obesity. Dairy foods, milk in particular, offer important nutrients like calcium, vitamins A, D and E, and beneficial fatty acids, all of which are best absorbed in the presence of some fat. (These findings are not, however, a license to gorge on full fat cheeses and cream!)

—Sharon Salomon, MS, RD

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