Dark Chocolate Helps Ease Emotional Stress: A new study found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in people who felt highly stressed. The chocolate also partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances. "The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams [1.4 ounces] during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers," the scientists say.
That led me to a study from last December. It's rather small and involves self-reporting, but it could be a promising line for further research, and could be something you experiment with yourself to see if it works for you:
Dark Chocolate Lessens Cravings: Dark chocolate is far more filling than milk chocolate, lessening our craving for sweet, salty and fatty foods. In other words, eating dark chocolate may be an efficient way to keep your weight down over the holidays (and throughout the year!) The dark chocolate gives a feeling of satiety.
To compare the effects of dark and milk chocolate on both appetite and subsequent calorie intake, 16 young and healthy men of normal weight who all liked both dark and milk chocolate took part in a so-called crossover experiment. This meant that they reported for two separate sessions, the first time testing the dark chocolate, and the second time the milk chocolate.
They had all fasted for 12 hours beforehand and were offered 100g of chocolate, which they consumed in the course of 15 minutes. The calorific content was virtually the same for the milk and dark chocolate.
During the following 5 hours, participants were asked to register their appetite every half hour, i.e. their hunger, satiety, craving for special foods and how they liked the chocolate.
Two and a half hours after eating the chocolate, participants were offered pizza ad lib. They were instructed to eat until they felt comfortably satiated. After the meal, the individuals’ calorie intake was registered.
The results were significant. The calorie intake at the subsequent meal where they could eat as much pizza as they liked was 15 per cent lower when they had eaten dark chocolate beforehand.
The participants also stated that the plain chocolate made them feel less like eating sweet, salty or fatty foods.
So apart from providing us with the healthier fatty acids and many antioxidants, dark chocolate can now also help us steer clear of all the sweet, salty and fattening Christmas foods.
That led me to an even older study (2006) about smokers' arteries and dark chocolate. I'm sure it benefits nonsmokers as well. This study is also small, but promising.
A Few Squares Of Dark Chocolate A Day May Stave Off Artery Hardening In Smokers: Dark chocolate may stave off artery hardening in smokers, and a few squares every day could potentially cut the risk of serious heart disease.
Researchers compared the effects of dark (74% cocoa solids) and white chocolate on the smoothness of arterial blood flow in 20 male smokers.
In smokers the activity of both endothelial cells, which line the artery walls, and platelets, which are involved in the formation of blood clots, are continuously disrupted, making the arteries susceptible to the narrowing and hardening characteristic of coronary artery disease.
Before eating 40 g of chocolate (about 2 oz), smokers were first asked to abstain from other foods rich in antioxidants, such as onions, apples, cabbage, and cocoa products for 24 hours.
After two hours, ultrasound scans revealed that dark chocolate significantly improved the smoothness of arterial flow, an effect which lasted for eight hours. Blood sample analysis also showed that dark chocolate almost halved platelet activity. Antioxidant levels rose sharply after two hours.
White chocolate had no effect on endothelial cells, platelets, or antioxidant levels.
Dark chocolate has more antioxidants per gram than other foods laden with the substances, such as red wine, green tea, and berry fruits, say the authors, who suggest that the beneficial effects of dark chocolate lie in its antioxidant content.
"...Only a small daily treat of dark chocolate may substantially increase the amount of antioxidant intake and beneficially affect vascular health," conclude the authors.
Of course, these studies are not conclusive. They are all small. But hey, it's dark chocolate. It tastes great and is full of chocolatey goodness. With all the other stuff you eat, if it could help you in these three ways, some of which you can experiment with yourself to see if it's actually working for you, why not give it a try?
I had some bars in my fridge that I had been saving for a special occasion but decided, since I get stressed out easily, I'd try to do an experiment. I will eat 40 grams a day (if I can get my hands on that much) and keep a log of food cravings, food intake and stress levels. So far I've had it for two days but have been quite lax about the log bit. I guess we can't all be diligent. :P
I thought while I have you here, I'd share some other links that might interest you.
We have all been inundated with swine flu madness over the past several months. But what is hype and what is science-based reality? Is the vaccine safe? Do I have to worry about this?
I've gotten a lot of information just from listening to The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, which is honestly the best skeptical podcast I've found. I'm usually a couple of episodes behind, but hey, look at what they have for the November 15 epsiode: Special Report: H1N1 Pandemic Update! I'd recommend listening to back issues as well. They are quite an education in skepticism. You'll learn a great deal!
Dr. Steven Novella, the main Rogue of the SGU, also has a blog called Science-Based Medicine. (I know, what a concept, medicine based on science!) This site has different contributors who cover all kinds of issues with solid facts, no hype, no pseudoscience BS. Want to know the facts about H1N1? Go here. Want to know if chiropractic is mainly pseudoscience mumbo-jumbo? You know where to go.
On that note, you can also go to Quackwatch. I haven't investigated it much, but the SGU recommends it and for this kind of thing, I'd consider that a good endorsement.
Now, just to remind you of some other podcasty goodness, and so that we don't ignore our minds with all this science talk, there is Reasonable Doubts, the podcast for people who refuse to "just take things on faith." These guys know their religion. They mainly focus on christianity and its flaws, but they've also tackled issues like Determinism, islam, Profiles of the Godless (a survey study done by one of their own), and much, much more.
I love these guys and get so much out of each podcast. I only found them through a friend several months ago, so I am still not caught up with the old episodes. I highly recommend listening to their full library.
Like the SGU, you can subscribe to Reasonable Doubts through iTunes. :)
Ok, that's it. Have fun. If you have suggestions for great podcasts, websites or resources for science-based medicine, studies, facts over hype, skepticism, and of course atheism, please feel free to share in the comments. :)