Genius On Diet

Nobel and Chocolat
We are what we eat. Yep, pretty much so. We hear (and often ignore) this simple verity. Apple a day, broccoli on the side, whole grain but preferably gluten free bread will make us healthy, wealthy and… gluten free.

Two years ago almost to a day, New England Journal of Medicine reported on a peculiar study. Geniuses among us are more likely to eat lots of… broccoli? No, chocolate. Good heavens! 

Franz Messerli,  a doctor by persuasion, hypertension expert from New York, who researched the phenomenon, reports a highly significant correlation between a nation’s per capita chocolate consumption and the rate at which its citizens win Nobel Prizes.

Food of Geniuses -- chocolate violin

Food of Geniuses — chocolate violin

The flavanols in chocolate may be responsible for stimulating cognitive performance. Messerli  wondered “whether there would be a correlation between a country’s level of chocolate consumption and its population’s cognitive function.” The number of Nobel Prizes serves as a surrogate for “the proportion with superior cognitive function” in a country. Messerli then attempted to analyze the relationship between the number of Nobel laureates per capita in a country with that country’s per capita chocolate consumption.

According to the paper, there is, indeed,  “a close, significant linear correlation (r=0.791, p<0.0001) between chocolate consumption per capita and the number of Nobel laureates per 10 million persons in a total of 23 countries.”

Interesting that Sweden, the home of the Nobel Prize, was removed from the calculations. As it happens, Sweden has more Nobel laureates than would have been expected based on its chocolate intake.

“[…]one cannot quite escape the notion that either the Nobel Committee in Stockholm has some inherent patriotic bias when assessing the candidates for these awards or, perhaps, that the Swedes are particularly sensitive to chocolate, and even minuscule amounts greatly enhance their cognition.”

Switzerland, on the other hand, “was the top performer in terms of both the number of Nobel Laureates and chocolate consumption.”

Eat chocolate and smarten up! As simple as this. Great news for aspiring geniuses and chocolate lovers.

Well, not so fast. Messerli duly points out that correlation does not prove causation.

“[…] since chocolate consumption has been documented to improve cognitive function, it seems most likely that in a dose-dependent way, chocolate intake provides the abundant fertile ground needed for the sprouting of Nobel laureates. Obviously, these findings are hypothesis-generating only and will have to be tested in a prospective, randomized trial.”

In a word, staffing yourself with chocolate may or may not make you a genius. In the very least, it might heighten your cognitive abilities to realize you aren’t a genius after all.

Messerli is not averse to the idea of reverse causation: “enhanced cognitive performance could stimulate countrywide chocolate consumption.” That is, inherently smart people eat more chocolate. Smart!

Some people — chocolate haters, perhaps? — raise a quizzical brow:

A randomized controlled trial is warranted to validate the hypothesis raised by this study. The pressing question, in my opinion, is who would sponsor such a study – the chocolate makers or the Nobel Committee? (Sanjay Kaul )

Drink of a Genius -- milkA somewhat similar study was conducted in Britain a few years prior. British experts have turned their attention on milk, and found a definitive link between the number of Nobel laureates and its consumption. It explains the “Swedish mystery” quite differently. It turned out, a statistical Swede (in a country’s 31,855 awards to 10 million people) drink about 350 kg of milk per year, whereas a statistical putinChinese —  only 50 kg per year.

Russia wasn’t included in either study. Perhaps, because such inclusion would’ve greatly undermined the results of both studies.  Chocolate consumption (appr. 4.5 kg per person per year) would
have put statistical Russian somewhere in the middle of the “chocolate rating”, between the United States, Netherlands and Australia. Nobel Chocolate Rankings, however, makes Russia an exception from the rule. Whereas United States and the Netherlands have 10 winners for 10 million of their population, and Australia — 5.5, Russia has only 1.614.

Dairy figures: Russian consumption (246 kg per person per year) is nearly equal to the American (250 kg), while the number of winners is much lower.
So, either Russian cows are inferior bovines or Russian metabolism is screwed up big time.

Unless there is an additional factor here… And there is! Either scientifically or in jest, the statistical Nobel laureate killer is… yes, you guessed it — alcohol.

He could've been Nobel laureate...

He could’ve been a Nobel laureate…


According to WHO (World Health Organization), Russia consumes 15.76 liters alcohol per person per year, ranking 4th in the world, while in the US the number is considerably lower — 9.44 liters per person per year (57th place). Thus — simple arithmetic to the rescue! — it is easy to calculate every additional 0.7 liters of alcohol per capita kill one Nobel laureate, metaphorically speaking.

Rabindranath Tagore

On the topic: Indian writer, Nobel Prize winner (literature, 1913) Rabindranath Tagore drank fresh goat milk every single day of his life. He was keen on bringing his favorite goat to Stockholm for the award ceremony in 1913, but the Nobel committee and the organizers of the award ceremony gently but firmly refused to allow such extravagance.


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