Archive for the ‘chocolate’ Category

Chocolate, Part Two: the French paradox, free radicals and flavonoids

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

I need his size of brain to take in all the background material

I wanted to examine the possible health benefits of chocolate further and found myself immersed in nutritional and biochemical articles. So now I’ve slogged though eight different sources, ranging from a University of Mumbai review of health benefits of some of the chemicals in chocolate (and green tea, onions, red wine and apples) to three nutrition journals, a WebMD piece on antioxidants and a Harvard School of Public Health article titled, “Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype.”

There’s a concept known as the French paradox, first popularized in a 1991 segment on CBS’s show, “Sixty Minutes.” The French eat chocolate and cheeses and drink red wine, yet  their obesity rate is the lowest in Europe, and although they smoke and eat a moderately high-fat diet their cardiovascular death is also fairly low. Those statistics are worsening as the invasion of the Western Diet spreads through the country, but they still hold true.

Let’s concentrate on chocolate for now and I’ll return to that paradox some other time

In simplest terms I think of atoms as being like tiny solar systems with a sun (the nucleus) in the middle and “planets,” electrons circling around. The center has relatively large particles with no charge (neutrons) and positive electrical charges (protons); the shells have tiny particles with negative charges (electrons). The latter are not just arranged in orbits like planets; a closer analogy would be Russian Nesting Dolls.

When you eat, your body uses glucose for fuel. In doing so it produces some extremely harmful molecules called free radicals. These are atoms with an electron missing and they try to regain electrical balance by stealing negatively charged particles from other atoms. You can also pick up free radicals from air, food or sunlight’s effect on your skin. They can harm your DNA, cause “bad cholesterol’ to get stuck in the wall of a blood vessel, or speed up the aging process of your skin.

We do have some defences against those nasty free radicals and they’re called antioxidants. A variety of studies done on these chemical weapons have yielded inconclusive results, but one long-term study, part of the Physicians Health Study, appeared to show a significant benefit in cognitive function and another showed a decrease in the risk of heart attacks in men aged 50 or older.

Even these mixed results led to a huge antioxidant supplement industry with sales estimated over $500 million a year.

another antioxidant source

We’re much better off, many think, consuming natural sources, especially fruits and vegetables and red wine (not beer or white wine).

And now there’s chocolate. Dark, bitter chocolate appears to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and improve insulin sensitivity. Dean Ornish’s Newsweek  article, mentioned in my last post, says there’s four times as much cocoa flavonoids per serving than in red wine or tea.

I asked my wife to buy some dark chocolate and ate a half a bar last night and the other half tonight. I ate it slowly, savored each taste and put the half remaining in the refrigerator last evening.
I plan to buy more tomorrow.

 

Chocolate: a new medicine? Part One

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Dark chocolate, in small amounts, is good for youI was reading The Wall Street Journal this morning and came across an article titled “A Chocolate a Day to Get Slimmer?” I’m not a major chocolate eater, but had heard something on NPR about this study yesterday, so ate eight small pieces of dark chocolate at a board meeting last evening. Then, when I weighed myself before breakfast today, I realized I was down 2.8 pounds.

Should I continue this increased chocolate consumption or was that, as I of course knew, just “water weight” I’d lost? The previous night I’d eaten a prolonged meal with friends at our favorite Thai restaurant and the next morning had gained over three pounds.

Let me digress a bit. Whenever I mention water weight I’m really referring to fluid that the body keeps because of dietary salt excess. I normally don’t use table salt, as I have a family history of high blood pressure and was aware that most of us, eating a typical American diet, were ingesting far too much sodium, the crucial element in table salt. When I eat out I expect my weight to bounce up a few pounds and don’t worry about that short-term increase. The salt in the food causes me to retain fluid and therefore to gain weight temporarily. Many diet plans that advertise losing five or more pounds in the first week are really helping people get rid of water weight.

Okay, back to chocolate. The article I mentioned is important, but the message it’s carrying is nothing new. In 1973 I saw Woody Allen’s movie, “Sleeper” in which he plays a nerdish store owner who is revived out of cryostasis (a form of preservation using ultra-cold temperatures) after 200 years. In that future world science has shown chocolate to be good for you.

Two prominent food gurus, Andrew Weil and Den Ornish, mention health benefits of chocolate. I found Dr. Ornish’s 2007 Newsweek article,”Chocolate to Live For,” in which he mentions a host of medical studies showing dark chocolate, which has higher amounts of beneficial chemicals called flavinoids, may lower blood pressure and and improve blood flow to your brain and heart. White chocolate and milk chocolate have very small amounts of flavinoids and bitter dark chocolate has the most.

Eat a small bite of dark chocolate and meditate

The phrase “moderation in all things” dates back more than two thousand years to a Roman “comic dramatist.” It certainly applies here. None of the articles I read were about eating a lot of extra calories in the form of chocolate. Dr. Ornish’s approach made sense to me; he very slowly eats a bite of dark chocolate, meditates while doing so by focusing on the experience with all of his senses, and regards the very first bite as being the most pleasurable.

What a great way to eat something he regards as a special treat as well as a health food.

I’ve never tried that with chocolate, but having read his magazine piece, I’ll try that approach.

I’ll continue with more medical background on chocolate in my next post, but to whet your appetite will give you a link to today’s article in WSJ.

Happy chocolating.