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Entries in Chocolate (12)

Wednesday
Aug292012

Chocolate May Help Men Dodge Strokes, Too

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Men who consume moderate amounts of chocolate each week may have a lower risk of stroke, a new study finds.

Published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, the study looked at the diet patterns in more than 37,000 Swedish men between the ages of 39 and 75, asking about their consumption of various foods and drinks, specifically chocolate, and then reviewed their medical records going back 10 years.

The  researchers found the stroke risk was lower in men who’d  consumed chocolate, especially in those who reported consuming it in large amounts.

Men who reported eating the largest amount of chocolate — about one-third of a cup per week — had a 17-percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who did not consume any chocolate, the study found.

“While other studies have looked at how chocolate may help cardiovascular health, this is the first of its kind to find that chocolate may be beneficial in reducing stroke in men,” the authors, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, wrote.

When the investigators compared their results to those of previous studies, they found that they reinforced what had been previously suspected about chocolate’s link to lower stroke risk. But the previous studies looked only at the stroke risk in women; none had looked specifically at men.

“This will likely provide a rationale for chocolate lovers around the world to enjoy their treats with less guilt,” says Dr. Gary W. Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center, who was not involved in this new research.

Surprisingly, the new study found that this chocolate effect was not specific to dark chocolate – about 90 percent of the chocolate the men in this study consumed was milk chocolate. Previous studies had suggested that the reduction of stroke risk was linked only to dark chocolate.

Many of chocolate’s benefits have been linked to substances called flavanoids, which appear to protect against cardiovascular disease, an effect researchers have attributed largely to their antioxidant, anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties. While present in most forms of chocolate, flavanoids are most prevalent in dark chocolate.  It’s suggested that their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects may improve blood flow, reduce blood pressure and decrease levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Not everyone is buying into the idea that milk chocolate is what people should be reaching for if they’re at risk for stroke.  Dr. Roger A. Brumback, a professor of pathology, psychiatry and neurology at Creighton University Medical Center, who was not involved in the current study, says that all chocolate is not created equal.

“The major advantage of dark chocolate over milk chocolate is that the flavonoids are not diluted by the addition of milk,” Brumback says. “Dark chocolate is about 35 percent cocoa, while milk chocolate can be as low as 10 percent. The patient would have to consume more milk chocolate, which would give a higher dose of sugars with its consequent negative possibilities.”

Other experts were quick to note that chocolate should not form the basis of anyone’s stroke prevention strategy — either for men or women.

“Stroke prevention would be one of the many cardioprotective effects, but I would also note that the effect is modest and pales in comparison to overall diet, regular physical activity and avoiding tobacco,” says Dr. David Katz,  founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Aug152012

Rx for Chocolate? Study May Sway Some Docs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If your doctor has said you have prehypertension, a low-salt diet and exercise was likely recommended to avoid taking blood pressure medication. But given a new study’s findings of the effects of chocolate on blood pressure, some doctors may start prescribing cocoa to  patients at risk for hypertension.

But not everyone is convinced that this study, published Tuesday in the Cochrane Library, is the “tipping point” for such a bold move. The study has little to do with the merits of a favorite candy bar. It looked at the substances in cocoa — flavanols — and their potential benefits for blood pressure.

Flavanols are natural compounds found in cocoa beans, which have been previously proposed as a route to improved heart health. Flavanols are found at varying levels in cocoa products, and studying the amount of flavanol itself rather than the amount of cocoa might be the key.

“Based on this study,” said Dr. Randal Thomas, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, “I’ll mention to my patients that a small amount of chocolate may help reduce cardiovascular risk by reducing blood pressure.”

Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, agreed, saying he would “tell patients that a little — emphasis on little — dark chocolate may be a good thing … and cocoa powder is probably the best way to get their flavanols.”

Cardiologist Thomas said that while previous studies had found that chocolate intake was associated with a reduced risk of certain heart-related ills, “this study provides new information that suggests that the mechanism for reducing the risk may be related to its effect on lowering blood pressure.”

In the current study, Dr. Karin Ried and colleagues at the University of Adelaide in Australia reviewed 20 studies between 2003 and 2011 to examine the effects of cocoa on blood pressure.

Across these trials, 856 for the most part healthy individuals were given an average of 545.5mg of flavanol. They ingested a certain amount of cocoa contingent on the ideal amount of flavanol daily over a minimum of two weeks, and had their blood pressure checked before and after the study was completed.

What they found was that the people who had been consuming high flavanol-containing cocoa had a two- to three-point reduction in their blood pressure compared with the participants who drank nonflavanol-containing cocoa.

Flavanols form a chemical called nitric oxide in the blood, which is known to relax blood vessels. Several blood pressure medications affect levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which strengthens the case that flavanols are having some kind of therapeutic effect. “It follows sound reasoning that dilated blood vessels could lower blood pressure,” Ayoob said.

“[This study] likely represents the best data analysis to date of the topic,” said Dr. Scott Wright, cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic. “This has the potential for a significant public health impact, for if further science supports the use of flavanol-enriched foods, we can substitute chocolate for some of the sodium-enriched foods we eat for pleasure and thus improve blood pressure in both ways.”

Still, some experts advise caution.

Dr. Carol Horowitz, an internist at Mount Sinai Medical Center, believes the “impact is small and extremely short-lived.” She said she would tell her patients to enjoy small amounts of chocolate if it’s a food they like, “but eat it if you love it, not because it will make you healthier, as it may not.”

“The thorough Cochrane analysis … shows a disappointingly small effect of chocolate consumption on blood pressure,” said Dr. Franz Messerli, cardiologist at Columbia University. “The health benefits of chocolate, similar to those of red wine, may be multifactorial.”

But for anyone who is a few blood pressure points shy of hypertension, chocolate might be the answer.

“The drop in blood pressure is not huge, but it’s certainly important for people with borderline hypertension,” Ayoob said, speculating that adjusting one’s diet to exclude salt and include cocoa “might even have enough positive effects to prevent at least some people from needing medication.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Aug132012

Chocolate Good for Heart and Soul -- And Mind?

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- We all know that chocolate is comforting to the soul, but it may also be just as good for your body and mind.

A new study suggests that consuming more flavanol, a component of cocoa, improves cognitive function and blood pressure in elderly patients who have mild cognitive impairment.

In the study, elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment consumed drinks that were either low, intermediate or high in cocoa flavanol. Cognitive function -- including executive function, short-term and long-term memory, processing speed and overall thinking skills -- was tested after eight weeks. Scores improved in patients who drank intermediate and high levels of flavanol.

"This is the first dietary intervention study demonstrating that the regular consumption of cocoa flavanols might be effective in improving cognitive function in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment," wrote study author Giovambattista Desideri, associate professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of L’Aquila in Italy. The results add to a growing body of evidence that consuming moderate amounts of chocolate may be good for you -- and some health experts said the results appear encouraging.

"There is a large and growing body of evidence linking foods concentrated in bioflavanoids -- and cocoa specifically -- with beneficial health effects," says Dr. David Katz, director of medical public health studies at Yale University.

For example, a recent study found that dark chocolate reduces the risk of heart problems. Flavanols, which can also be found in tea and in dark fruits such as red grapes, cherries and apples, are also known to help with kidney function, weight problems, anemia, gout, diabetes and stroke.

Others, however, cautioned that the study falls short of a ringing endorsement for everyone who fears dementia to start loading up on chocolate. First of all, the study had no control group. In other words, people who consumed a large amount of the cocoa flavanols were compared to those who consumed less, not people who had consumed none at all.

Second, the eight-week trial was short.  Since flavonols are known to improve heart function in the short term, it is possible that the improvements in cognitive function were just a result of improved blood flow to the brain.

The improved cognition, "might…be due to favorable effects on blood pressure and blood flow," Katz said. "I have long recommended foods rich in bioflavanoids and have long pointed out that most cognitive impairment is, in fact, vascular disease."

Still, for chocolate-lovers, doctors agree that chocolate is a tasty and practical way to consume flavanol.

"Cocoa powder is probably the best way to get their flavanols, as it delivers the most flavanols with the least amount of calories," says Keith Ayoob, an associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Though cocoa should not be used alone as a treatment for cognitive impairment, it may be a promising complementary approach to management of early dementia.

"As far as treatment, it could be offered to patients and families in a disease in which there is little in the way of good therapy," says Dr. Roger A. Brumback, a professor of pathology, psychiatry and neurology at Creighton University Medical Center.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr242012

Chocolate for Heart Health: The Darker the Better

Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- When it comes to heart health, not all chocolate is created equal.

This was the finding of a new study in which researchers at San Diego State University pitted dark chocolate against white chocolate to see which one offered the most benefit.

The researchers suspected that dark chocolate consumers would see the most health benefits from the dark chocolate, which among the various types of chocolate has the highest concentration of flavonoids. Flavonoids are compounds produced by plants that function as important pigment molecules. They’ve gained popularity as the substance responsible for the cardioprotective effects of red wine.

Specifically, researchers sought to discover what good things would happen if they studied people who ate chocolate every day, and whether different kinds of chocolates produced different health effects. The flavonoids are in highest concentration in the cocoa, which is absent in white chocolate.

The researchers fed either one of two types of dark chocolate or white chocolate to 31 experimental subjects over 15 days, after which they monitored their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

They found that those who ate either form of dark chocolate had lower blood sugar levels and better cholesterol ratios, more “good” cholesterol, or HDL, and less “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, compared to the white chocolate group.

Given these positive changes in factors associated with heart disease, researchers concluded that dark chocolate was the most likely to reduce risk of future cardiovascular disease.

The researcher presented the results at the conference Experimental Biology in San Diego.

In past animal studies and select human studies, flavonoids have been shown to be good antioxidants, scavenging oxygen radicals responsible for damage and aging.  Anti-microbial, anti-cancer, and cardio-protective effects have also been attributed to this special substance.

The new study adds to the evidence that chocolate, in small amounts, can be a good thing. A 2009 Swedish study found that small amounts of dark chocolate helped patients improve blood pressure control, and other studies have found protective benefits against diabetes in small doses.

But a small amount is the key detail. And for some of the study participants, it was a hard message to stomach.

“Compliance with our study subjects were great because everybody wanted to eat chocolate,” the researchers said. “We actually had to tell them not to eat more than 50 grams a day.”

Along with flavonoids, 50 grams of dark chocolate has about 252 calories -- and half of those calories are from fat.  To put this in perspective, a single chocolate chip gives you enough calories to provide energy to walk about 150 feet.

Most Americans don’t need more calories; more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Fortunately, flavonoids are found in many different fruits and berries, which are associated with many fewer calories and much less fat.

So while preliminary results are hopeful for chocolate lovers everywhere, don’t indulge just yet.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar272012

Snacking on Chocolate Linked to Low BMI

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- A new study suggests snacking on chocolate could help fight weight gain.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, asked more than 1,000 healthy men and women about their chocolate consumption as well as the rest of their diet and physical activity. Those who ate chocolate more often during the week had a lower body mass index, or BMI, a measure of body fat content. In fact, eating “chocolate five times a week was associated with a decrease in BMI of 1 kg/m2,” the researchers reported.

“The study is provocative and confirms what we have been calling the chocolate/obesity paradox: Despite chocolate’s high caloric load, its regular intake does not result in weight gain,” said Dr. Franz Messerli, the director of the hypertension program at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, who was not involved in the study. “Thus, to put it pointedly, chocolate could be called a lazy man’s exercise.”

People who ate more chocolate consumed more calories and saturated fat, and did not exercise any more than those who ate chocolate less, according to the study. Yet they still had a lower BMI.

Previous studies suggest dark chocolate can lower blood pressure, bad cholesterol and even the risk of diabetes. This study, however, did not distinguish between dark and milk chocolate.

“This is a rather vague study, not specifying the kind of chocolate, so it only adds to what we know in general terms,”  said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “We have strong evidence of net cardiovascular benefit from routine intake of moderate amounts of dark chocolate.”

The best quantity of chocolate is also unclear, as the study only examined the frequency of consumption.

Katz said he worries the benefits of snacking on chocolate might be offset by the risks of weight gain over time.

“This study suggests that is not the case,” he said.

Some experts say the evidence for chocolate’s health benefits is strong enough to recommend the odd indulgence.

“I’ve often told patients who love chocolate that it’s OK to include [chocolate in their diet],” said Keith Ayoob, director of the Nutrition Clinic at Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York. “Best is dark chocolate, and best is to keep it to about an ounce per day. That amounts to only about 150 calories -- a lot less than any pastry they’d eat.”

How could a treat filled with sugar and fat fight weight gain? It might be due to the high concentration of epicatechin, a flavonoid found in cocoa, tea, blueberries and grapes.

“Epicatechin from cocoa causes greater control over food urges and is more satisfying than other treats,” said Dr. Peter McCullough, a cardiologist at St. John Providence Health in Warren, Mich. “Higher cocoa chocolate is relatively low in sugar and the fatty acid in chocolate products is probably not as worrisome as other fats. On the whole, a little superior quality chocolate is good to add to the diet of those trying to lose weight.”

Experts agree more research is needed to clarify how chocolate fits in with weight control. But in the meantime, a little chocolate certainly won’t hurt.

“Dark chocolate is a health indulgence. If you choose wisely, and ‘dose’ moderately, it can fit into a healthful diet and not cause weight gain,” Katz said. “What is clear is that dark chocolate stands out as an example of a food we love that has considerable potential to love us back.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar262012

Bugging Out: Chocolate Allergy Linked to Roaches

Diana Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Allergy sufferers who react to chocolate might be shocked to learn their allergy could be linked to something other than the cocoa bean: an allergy to cockroaches.

An average of 8 insect parts are found in a chocolate bar and deemed safe, according to the FDA’s guidelines.

“Most foods have natural contaminants in them, but there are levels which the FDA deems safe,” said allergist Dr. Morton M. Teich.  “Anything more than 60 insect pieces per 100 grams of chocolate is rejected by the FDA.”

Trace amounts of insect parts are ground into the food and can affect people with allergies and asthma.  Some side effects include migraines, cramps, itching or hives.

Chocolate isn’t the only food product to blame for contamination. Other foods like peanut butter, macaroni, fruit, cheese, popcorn, wheat and some cheese also contain this material.

Allergists can help patients with cockroach allergies by giving them allergy shots with small amounts of the insect as well as removing chocolate from their diet.

First reported in 1943, allergists began skin testing for cockroaches in 1959.  “Allergists are testing now because they’re finding that asthma can be caused by cockroaches,” said Teich. “I have patients whom we’ve tested for cockroach who really get reactions.”

Teich says most of his patients are shocked at this information and swear off chocolate after discovering its contaminants. “Most of them say, ‘I’m not going to eat that anymore!’”

However if you think a simple switch of brands will keep you from safe from roaches, you’re wrong–cockroaches and their droppings seem to be indigenous to the cocoa bean.

“To avoid [insects in your food], it’s almost impossible,” said Teich.  ”You probably would have to stop eating completely.”

To consume foods without traces of insects, producers would have to use more pesticides, which Teich believes are much worse than eating a few insects.  Some argue that the pricier chocolate brands take extra precautions in separating the bugs from the beans but there is no evidence that proves it.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct102011

Eat Chocolate, Reduce Stroke Risk?

Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Thinkstock(STOCKHOLM) -- Swedish scientists this week may have provided yet another reason to love chocolate, suggesting that women who have a couple of small chocolate bars every week were 20 percent less prone to debilitating strokes than those who eat none.

"Even consuming a relatively small amount of chocolate had quite a large impact on stroke risk," said Susanna Larsson, from Sweden's National Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, who led a large investigation that found chocolate reduced the risk of strokes caused by bleeds in the brain (hemorrhagic strokes) and strokes caused by a cutoff of blood flow through the brain (ischemic strokes).

However, Larsson said the benefit appeared proportional to the amount of chocolate in the women's diets. Subjects who ate about two bars of antioxidant-rich Swedish milk chocolate every week had "significantly reduced risk of stroke," compared with those who ate no chocolate, "suggesting that higher intakes are necessary for a potentially protective effect."

Larsson's two-bar approximation was based on the effects associated with consuming about 66.5 grams, or about 2.33 ounces, weekly.

The findings, released Monday, appear in the Oct. 18 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

But before you run down to the corner store to load up on chocolate bars, be aware of some caveats. First, the Swedish findings don't prove that chocolate protects against strokes; they suggest a link. Second, the findings won't likely translate as well in this country because 90 percent of the chocolate eaten in Sweden at the time the study began was Swedish milk chocolate, which contains a higher concentration of antioxidant-rich cocoa solids (about 30 percent) than American chocolate bars.

Larsson suggested that Americans might want to stick with dark chocolate, but noted that U.S. chocolate bars need only contain 15 percent cocoa to be called sweet dark chocolate. Dark chocolate, she said, typically is lower in sugar than milk chocolate and contains more of the important antioxidants that give cocoa its heart-healthy properties.

Third, the study was based on people's self-reports of what they ate, and self-reports are notoriously unreliable. Fourth, chocolate is higher in fat, sugar and calories than many other foods, so it should be consumed in moderation, Larsson suggested, echoing nutritionists' frequent reminder: adding chocolate to an otherwise balanced diet means cutting back elsewhere. Finally, like other research into chocolate's benefits, the newest findings need more follow-up.

Past studies have found that chocolate reduces blood pressure, which applies to stroke protection because hypertension is a major contributor to stroke. It also improves the way blood vessels function and helps the body use insulin to break down sugar to fuel the muscles and brain.

In late August, researchers announced at the European Society of Cardiology 2011 that a meta-analysis of previous studies found that people who ate the most chocolate had a 37 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent lower risk of stroke than those who ate the least chocolate. Those findings also appeared in the British Medical Journal.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Aug292011

Heart Disease, Diabetes and Stroke: More Chocolate, Less Risk?

Pixland/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- A new review of previously published studies adds weight to the claim that chocolate is good for the heart.

Taken together, five of seven studies included in the review linked high chocolate consumption with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease risk, a 31 percent reduction in diabetes risk and a 29 percent reduction in stroke risk when compared to low chocolate consumption.

"Although over-consumption can have harmful effects, the existing studies generally agree on a potential beneficial association of chocolate consumption with a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders," Adriana Buitrago-Lopez of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and colleagues reported Monday in BMJ.

The findings held up even when factors such as age, diet, physical activity, body mass index and smoking were controlled for.  But the review stopped short of concluding that chocolate itself makes people healthier.

"This paper merely shows us that the association between habitual intake of chocolate and lower cardiometabolic risk is 'statistically robust,'" said Dr. David Katz, director of medical studies in public health at Yale University.  "But what if happier people eat more chocolate, and are at lower cardiometabolic risk because they are happier?  This paper cannot address such subtleties."

The review included data collected from more than 114,000 people.  But the large numbers don't prove cause and effect, Katz said.  The review does, however, support chocolate as a healthful indulgence -- in moderation, of course.

This is a wonderful example of the opportunity to love food that loves us back," said Katz.  "However, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing."

Katz, who has published studies on the health effects of chocolate, said the next step is to establish a therapeutic window similar to that for red wine.

"Our conclusion is that dark chocolate -- 60 percent cocoa or higher -- and liquid cocoa have clear, potential benefits in terms of overall cardiac risk, but that we don't yet know enough about optimal dosing to best use this food 'as medicine,'" Katz said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr282011

Smartphone Users: 33% Would Give Up Chocolate Before Phones

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Smartphone users love their phones so much, a full one-third would give up chocolate in order to keep using their devices.  That’s according to a new survey commissioned by Google of 5,013 U.S. adult smartphone users.

Additional stats from the survey:

  • 81 percent use their smartphones to browse the Internet.
  • 72 percent use their devices while involved in other media.
  • One in five would give up cable TV in order to keep their smartphones.
  • 33 percent use smartphones while watching TV.
  • 22 percent use smartphones while reading the newspaper.
  • 79 percent use smartphones to help with shopping, with 70 percent using it while in the store.
  • Nine out of 10 users have made a purchase because of a mobile ad received on their smartphone.
  • 95 percent use smartphones to find local information, such as nearby pizza shops and movie times.
  • 48 percent use smartphones to watch videos.
  • One in 3 users would give up chocolate to keep using their smartphone.
  • The average smartphone user spent $300 ordering items online with their device.  Twenty-seven percent or those orders were made through a mobile website and 22 percent were made through apps.

The survey, which was reported by TechCrunch.com, also found that 39 percent of smartphone owners use the devices while in the bathroom.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb142011

Valentine's Day Food That Will Put You in the Mood

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CLEVELAND) -- The key to a woman's heart is chocolate, or more specifically, phenylethylamine.

A number of foods, including dark chocolate, contain compounds that boost that "lovin' feelin'" in the heart and in the brain.  So this Valentine's Day, cozy up with that special someone for some surprising heart-healthy treats that will get you ready for love.

Oysters have long been considered an aphrodisiac, but they are also a great source of libido-lifting zinc, according to Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic.  Zinc has been linked to improved testosterone production, which can help men get in the mood.

Another hormone-heightening food is avocado.  "Avocados are high in vitamin B6, which increases hormone production and tends to reduce erectile dysfunction in men," Jamieson-Petonic said.

Avocados have also been shown to lower the "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and raise the "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) variety, which can help keep the heart healthy long term.

Garlic might not be ideal for kissing, but it's great for sex.  "Garlic is high in a chemical called 'allicin,' which tends to increases blood flow to the sex organs," Jamieson-Petonic said.

Guys might also want to consider a sausage and sauerkraut, Jamieson-Petonic said, citing a study that found eating sauerkraut made men feel sexier.

It might be hard to get close right after garlic and sauerkraut, but a chocolately, nutty or fruity dessert can cleanse the pallet and sweeten the mood.

"Dark chocolate contains serotonin, which is a chemical that helps to increase your mood," Jamieson-Petonic said.  And chocolate's other mood-lifting compound, phenylethylamine, can "mimic the feeling of being in love."

Nuts are a great treat for the heart.  But almonds are an especially great source of zinc, selenium, vitamin E, and arginine, which can help increase circulation and improve erectile function, Jamieson-Petonic said.

Strawberries and citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, are high in folic acid and vitamin C, making them a great choice for reproductive health.

A glass of red wine with Valentine's Day dinner can also help get blood flowing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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