Of Cheese and Chocolate

The Easter eggs may have disappeared but, as any parent will know, the next shrill demand for chocolate is never far away. It’s not only children who demand it: there’s a shrill inner voice in my head demanding chocolate that frequently makes itself heard and occasionally is given into. As I slightly ashamedly add some to my shopping basket I’m sometimes struck by the proof of the old cliché that most pleasures are illegal, immoral or fattening.

There’s also a fourth issue these days, that of a general sense of official disapproval re-inforced by legislation. Our vices are increasingly being tucked away out of sight – dodgy magazines on high shelves, betting counters and slot machines behind frosted glass, tobacco in drawers or cupboards – as if the shops are trying to convince themselves that they don’t really sell these things at all. The fact that chocolate has in many supermarkets been moved away from the till area to a slightly less prominent place reinforces the idea that it is naughty. This not only makes it, to some, more desirable but also turns the whole business of buying and eating it something faintly furtive – a guilty pleasure, in other words, which officialdom frowns on but hasn’t yet found the evidence, or the will, to ban.

Another of the many foodstuffs for which I have a passion is cheese. Although this has so far escaped the searchlight of censure it is probably not part of any calorie-controlled diet. Depending on what newspapers you read, it’s doubtless responsible for a range of problems from diabetes and dementia to illegal immigrants or a fall in house prices. None the less, the pleasure of being confronted with a large hunk of cheddar or brie is still a fairly untainted one. Even so, there’s a faint voice I can sometime hear saying ‘when did you last weigh yourself’?

Judge, then, of my delight when I received the latest email newsletter from the Lambourn Valley Dental Practice which mentioned both cheese and chocolate. Their advice, understandably, was mainly regarding matters of the teeth but that’s a pretty good place to start with any consideration of food or drink. The information was encouraging. I then looked up a few things online as well and have combined these into the few points below. Some of these are open to more than one interpretation: moreover, I’m not a dentist or a scientist – or anything really – so you might want to look into the matter yourself and come to your own conclusions. Finally, if anything in my summary misrepresents the LVDP’s advice then apologies in advance and I’ll make any necessary correction.

• Although chocolate, certainly in the form we most often eat it, contains sugars and fats which are not very good for us, the same accusation cannot be made against the essential ingredient, cocoa. There are many online claims about its benefits. Some of these may not be objective and many are quite cautious but the overall verdict is positive rather than the reverse. One of these articles can be found here. There are loads more. It’s worth remembering that milk chocolate may contain less than 10% cocoa and dark chocolate as much as 40%. This suggests that the latter is four times better for you (or four times less harmful, depending on your point of view).

• There’s also the point made by another dental newsletter that not only might cocoa be good for your teeth but also that it is certainly better for them than sweets or even dried fruit as these are more likely to leave residues on or betweenthem.

• All the sources seem to agree that rinsing you mouth, drinking water, flossing or brushing your teeth after eating chocolate is a good idea. The LVDP goes on to remind us that we should be looking to drink about eight glasses of water a day.

• Particularly with children in mind, get used to the idea of having a little bit of something rather than gorging on it. As far as stimulating and perhaps satisfying the brain’s reward centres, this might be enough. Again, everyone seems to agree that too much chocolate is bad for you – indeed, that’s what ‘too much’ means.

• Finally, this was a particularly welcome suggestion from the LVDP. Eating cheese at the end of a meal, particularly if it contained (as many meals do) acidic ingredients and particularly if you’ve just had a sweet dessert, can help restore the PH balance not only in your mouth (so reducing tooth decay) but also in your body generally. This puts the whole trans-manche debate about which should come first (the French generally prefer cheese before the dessert) on a more official footing. Personally, I’ve always preferred the cheese last. Having something you can nibble without fiddling about with cutlery, perhaps accompanied with some grapes and another glass of red, seems a much more gentle and satisfying way of ending a dinner than grappling with a tarte tatin or sticky toffee pud. Of course, the addition of the grapes and red wine into the equation rather undermine the PH benefits, and perhaps others. So I guess the aim should be to finish with slice of cheese and a glass of water; and then, probably go to bed. This is not advice from any official source, I must stress, but it works for me.

Nor do I have anything about another debate, whether the washing up should be done that night or the next day. Although I’m a procrastinator in many things, I’m very much of the ‘do it now’ school when it comes to the aftermath of a large meal. Perhaps it’s less do with a sense of tidyness than a desire to clear away the evidence of any dinner-party excesses so I don’t have to confront them the following morning. It perhaps therefore qualifies – like buying chocolate, which is where we started – as a guilty pleasure. If so, I think it’s one I can live with.

For all your dental needs (including advice about preventing tooth decay), contact the Lambourn Valley Dental Practice.

Photo: try as I might, I couldn’t find a good picture of both chocolate and cheese from our usual sources. I then came across this one from the Massachusetts Dairy Promotion Board, in an article which discusses some cheese and chocolate pairings. Some of the specific products mentioned may not be available over here but there are some mouth-watering general suggestions. Eat a bit of cheese last, though (see above). Enjoy.



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