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All, It's pretty much unimaginable that anyone reading this would not by now have heard about the cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate, both in terms of preventing cardiovascular disease and even improving cardiovascular (athletic) performance. And you've probably heard the news that chocolate is good for brain health & cognition as well. Nevertheless, this new study , posted by Al, is noteworthy for several reasons. In it, researchers followed 530 elderly people over four years to see how their dietary habits, particularly wrt chocolate consumption, correlated with cognitive decline. The first surprising thing was the magnitude of the benefits of chocolate on cognitive health. Even after controlling for a host of potentially confounding risk factors, they found that chocolate consumption was associated with a whopping 40% reduction in likelihood of cognitive decline over the four year period. That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that this benefit was only seen in participants who eschewed caffeine. In fact, if limited to folks who consumed less than 75mg of caffeine a day (~1 cup of coffee), the cognitive protection associated with chocolate was even greater - a 50% lower risk of cognitive decline. They don't report it explicitly in the abstract (full text not available), but presumably caffeine drinkers did not see a significant cognitive benefit (nor harm!) from also consuming chocolate. This suggests the cognitive benefits of chocolate overlap and are hence redundant with (and not additive with) the beneficial effects of coffee/tea polyphenols and/or the caffeine they contain. Nevertheless, I'm going to continue consuming both cacao and caffeine products, because this is only one study, and heck, I enjoy them both ☺. --Dean ---------  J Alzheimers Dis. 2016 May 6. [Epub ahead of print] Chocolate Consumption is Associated with a Lower Risk of Cognitive Decline. Moreira A, Di?genes MJ, de Mendon?a A, Lunet N, Barros H. Abstract Cocoa-related products like chocolate have taken an important place in our food habits and culture. In this work, we aim to examine the relationship between chocolate consumption and cognitive decline in an elderly cognitively healthy population. In the present longitudinal prospective study, a cohort of 531 participants aged 65 and over with normal Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE; median 28) was selected. The median follow-up was 48 months. Dietary habits were evaluated at baseline. The MMSE was used to assess global cognitive function at baseline and at follow-up. Cognitive decline was defined by a decrease =/> 2 points in the MMSE score between evaluations. Relative risk (RR) and 95% confidence interval (95% CI) estimates were adjusted for age, education, smoking, alcohol drinking, body mass index, hypertension, and diabetes. Chocolate intake was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline (RR = 0.59, 95% CI 0.38-0.92). This protective effect was observed only among subjects with an average daily consumption of caffeine lower than 75 mg (69% of the participants; RR = 0.50, 95% CI 0.31-0.82). To our knowledge, this is the first prospective cohort study to show an inverse association between regular long-term chocolate consumption and cognitive decline in humans. KEYWORDS: Adenosine A2A receptors; Alzheimer?s disease; chocolate; cognition; prevention; theobromine PMID: 27163823
Dean Pomerleau posted a topic in General Health and LongevityI expect by now we've all heard the news that beets and beet juice boost cardiovascular performance. I love beets, but for those who don't it appears you now have another, more palatable option - dark chocolate! This recent study  (popular press story) found in a randomized crossover design that daily consumption of dark chocolate (40g Dove Dark Chocolate, 50-60% cacao) for two weeks, but not the equivalent calories of white 'chocolate' <sic> (0% cacao), resulted in a 6% increase in VO2max relative to baseline in nine trained cyclists. These cyclists were able to cover 17 percent greater distance on average in a two minute maximum effort time trial relative to controls, but the effect wasn't statistically significant due to small sample size. It looks like the mechanism involved might be the same as beets - namely that the epicatechins in cacao increases nitric oxide levels in the blood, and boosting cardiovascular performance. --Dean -------------  J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Dec 15;12:47. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0106-7. eCollection 2015. Dark chocolate supplementation reduces the oxygen cost of moderate intensity cycling. Patel RK(1), Brouner J(1), Spendiff O(1). Free full text: http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0106-7 BACKGROUND: Dark chocolate (DC) is abundant in flavanols which have been reported to increase the bioavailability and bioactivity of nitric oxide (NO). Increasing NO bioavailability has often demonstrated reduced oxygen cost and performance enhancement during submaximal exercise. METHODS: Nine moderately-trained male participants volunteered to undertake baseline (BL) measurements that comprised a cycle V̇O(2max) test followed by cycling at 80% of their established gas exchange threshold (GET) for 20-min and then immediately followed by a two-minute time-trial (TT). Using a randomised crossover design participants performed two further trials, two weeks apart, with either 40 g of DC or white chocolate (WC) being consumed daily. Oxygen consumption, RER, heart rate and blood lactate (BLa) were measured during each trial. RESULTS: DC consumption increased GET and TT performance compared to both BL and WC (P < 0.05). DC consumption increased V̇O(2max) by 6% compared to BL (P < 0.05), but did not reach statistical significance compared to WC. There were no differences in the moderate-intensity cycling for V̇O₂, RER, BLa and heart rate between conditions, although, V̇O₂ and RER exhibited consistently lower trends following DC consumption compared to BL and WC, these did not reach statistical significance. CONCLUSION: Chronic supplementation with DC resulted in a higher GET and enhanced TT performance. Consequently, ingestion of DC reduced the oxygen cost of moderate intensity exercise and may be an effective ergogenic aid for short-duration moderate intensity exercise. PMCID: PMC4678700 PMID: 26674253
All, So (dark) chocolate and other cacao-derived products (i.e. cacao beans, nibs, cocoa powder) have a lot of beneficial phytochemicals (polyphenols, flavonols, etc). These have been shown to be beneficial for both the cardiovascular system and the brain - this is pretty well established, so I'm not including references (I know you are disappointed...). Alright - maybe one reference  - a review of CVD benefits of chocolate. Later... - here is another , on brain benefits of chocolate. But as we've discussed recently, these chocolate products have some things we'd rather avoid ingesting, including saturated fat (except for cocoa powder), and potential heavy metal contaminants, especially cadmium. What other food items have this same "take the good with the bad" quality? Two spring to mind - coffee and tea. But in these two cases, we don't take the good with the bad. We process them in such a way as to get the good without the bad. I was reminded of this today when responding to this post on the potential heavy metal contamination associated with consuming matcha green tea - where the tradition is to eat the tea leaves. By brewing green tea, and discarding the leaves, we retain the beneficial tea polyphenols but eliminate the heavy metals. Similarly, in this discussion we talked about getting the benefits of coffee beans by brewing and then filtering them, with paper (or possibly? metal) filters to eliminates the cholesterol-raising diterpenes cafestol and kahweol that the beans naturally contain, while retaining the health-promoting phytochemicals in coffee. So why don't we do the same thing for chocolate? Namely, why don't we grind, brew and filter the coffee beans to extract that beneficial polyphenols into the water, while leaving (most?) of the heavy metals and saturated fat in the solid "chocolate grounds"? Well, I can think of one possible reason we don't do this - we like the taste and mouth feel of actually eating the chocolate. But putting that (admittedly big deterrent for some) aside, is there reason to believe this strategy wouldn't work to get most of the health benefits of chocolate without the potential downsides of heavy metals and saturated fat, not to mention the extra calories? First, regarding eliminating the 'bad stuff' by brewing and filtering chocolate. For heavy metals, it would seem no different from tea or coffee. Since the heavy metals appear to remain locked in the plant matrix of the discarded solids (coffee grounds or tea leaves), I see no good reason to think it would be different with the heavy metal contaminants in cacao beans. Anyone think otherwise? Regarding the other 'bad stuff' in cacao / chocolate - the saturated fat. Its hard to find nutrition information on coffee beans (as eaten) - without any chocolate coating... CRON-O-Meter comes up empty. But I did find two references to the calories in coffee beans themselves. The first lists 100g of coffee beans as having 406kcal, 10.2g of fat, with 4.8g of it saturated. Not too far from raw cacao beans in fact. The second also listed 10g of fat per 100g of beans, with somewhat fewer calories (300kcal). Either way, these illustrate that coffee beans themselves contain a lot of fat, but as we all know, brewed coffee has virtually none. So clearly fat doesn't get extracted to the liquid as a result of brewing and filtering coffee beans, so I would expect the same for cacao beans - right? What about the other side of the equation - should we expect the 'good stuff' in chocolate to get extracted to the water when brewed and filtered, like it does for tea and coffee? Again - I don't see why not. As I understand it, based on information from  (a very good source of info about polyphenols in cacao, BTW) and  (also a good source), the taxonomy of beneficial phytochemicals (with special emphasis on those in cacao) goes something like this: All Phytochemicals All Polyphenols All Flavonoids All proanthocyanidin? All Flavanols catechins - in either monomeric or multimeric (procyanidin) forms epicatechins - in either monomeric or multimeric (procyanidin) forms ... ... See here for list ... .. Note: I'm not exactly sure about this taxonomy, especially where proanthocyanidin fits in - the literature is very confusing. But the important thing is that the main phytochemicals in cacao are catechins and epicatechins, which should be familiar to people. They are (among) the healthy phytochemicals found in green tea. So clearly if they are water-soluble in green tea, they should be water soluble in ground cacao beans as well, it would seem. So, as a result of all this, it seems logical to me that grinding, brewing and filtering cacao beans should get rid of the bad stuff (heavy metals, saturated fat, and calories) and extract the good stuff (the polyphenols) into the resulting watery brew. Note - I should have said this earlier, we aren't talking about brewing hot chocolate here - where the cocoa powder is mixed in with the liquid and consumed. We're brewing ground cacao beans, filtering (with a paper filter) to separate the liquid from the grounds, then discarding the grounds and drinking the coffee-like chocolate brew. But what to do with the beans before grinding them? In particular, should they be roasted, like coffee beans are? Perhaps to reduce bitterness, but if one wants to maximize polyphenols, it seems from  that grinding raw beans would be best. You won't be surprised to learn that this isn't a novel idea. In fact, there are several commercially-available products for brewing cacao as you would coffee. The two most popular are Crio Bru and Choffy (cute name!). They are both a bit more expensive than coffee, although pretty close to the price of premium coffee beans. Not surprisingly, they are both roasted, presumably to improve flavor and reduce bitterness. They recommend using a french press to brew, which I have, but I wonder if the Aeropress will work as well (Choffy's website says yes! and gives instructions). Here is a good overview from a "chocolate geek" about brewing chocolate, including a review of Crio Bru and Choffy products. It sounds very promising, and not hard to do. You can also buy ground brewing chocolate from his website as well. In the long-run if I like it and the above reasoning isn't shot down..., I'll probably grind my own raw beans or lightly roast the beans myself before grinding (I've roasted coffee beans before using an air popcorn popper - its a piece of cake). But for now, I've ordered one of the Crio Bru varieties from Amazon (Choffy was more expensive and not available via Amazon Prime). It should arrive in a couple days and I'll let you know what it is like relative to coffee. In the meantime, I'm very curious about what other people think of this idea. I can certainly imagine people balking at the diminished enjoyment of drinking coffee-like chocolate rather than eating the 'real thing' or even drinking cocoa, but I'm most interested about people's thoughts on the health angle. Also if you've ever actually tried brewed chocolate, I'd love to hear what you think! --Dean ------------  Food Chem. 2015 May 1;174:256-62. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.11.019. Epub 2014 Nov 8. Flavanols, proanthocyanidins and antioxidant activity changes during cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) roasting as affected by temperature and time of processing. Ioannone F(1), Di Mattia CD(2), De Gregorio M(2), Sergi M(2), Serafini M(3), Sacchetti G(4). The effect of roasting on the content of flavanols and proanthocyanidins and on the antioxidant activity of cocoa beans was investigated. Cocoa beans were roasted at three temperatures (125, 135 and 145 °C), for different times, to reach moisture contents of about 2 g 100 g(-1). Flavanols and proanthocyanidins were determined, and the antioxidant activity was tested by total phenolic index (TPI), ferric reducing antioxidant power (FRAP) and total radical trapping antioxidant parameter (TRAP) methods. The rates of flavanol and total proanthocyanidin loss increased with roasting temperatures. Moisture content of the roasted beans being equal, high temperature-short time processes minimised proanthocyanidins loss. Moisture content being equal, the average roasting temperature (135 °C) determined the highest TPI and FRAP values and the highest temperature (145 °C) determined the lowest TPI values. Moisture content being equal, low temperature-long time roasting processes maximised the chain-breaking activity, as determined by the TRAP method. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. PMID: 25529678 ----------------  Nutrients. 2014 Feb 21;6(2):844-80. doi: 10.3390/nu6020844. Cocoa polyphenols and inflammatory markers of cardiovascular disease. Khan N(1), Khymenets O(2), Urpí-Sardà M(3), Tulipani S(4), Garcia-Aloy M(5), Full text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942736/ Monagas M(6), Mora-Cubillos X(7), Llorach R(8), Andres-Lacueva C(9). Epidemiological studies have demonstrated the beneficial effect of plant-derived food intake in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The potential bioactivity of cocoa and its polyphenolic components in modulating cardiovascular health is now being studied worldwide and continues to grow at a rapid pace. In fact, the high polyphenol content of cocoa is of particular interest from the nutritional and pharmacological viewpoints. Cocoa polyphenols are shown to possess a range of cardiovascular-protective properties, and can play a meaningful role through modulating different inflammatory markers involved in atherosclerosis. Accumulated evidence on related anti-inflammatory effects of cocoa polyphenols is summarized in the present review. PMCID: PMC3942736 PMID: 24566441  http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/590371 Quoting from it: The main flavanols present in the cocoa powder are catechins and epicatechins in either monomeric or multimeric (procyanidin) forms. -------- http://newsroom.cumc.columbia.edu/blog/2014/10/26/flavanols-memory-decline/ "Dietary cocoa flavanols—naturally occurring bioactives found in cocoa—reversed age-related memory decline in healthy older adults, according to a study led by Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) scientists. The study, published today in the advance online issue of Nature Neuroscience, provides the first direct evidence that one component of age-related memory decline in humans is caused by changes in a specific region of the brain and that this form of memory decline can be improved by a dietary intervention."
Dean Pomerleau posted a topic in CR PracticeIn this post to a thread about nuts and mortality, I pointed out that the fatty acid profile in 'bakers chocolate' contains a significant amount of the (probably) harmful 16:0 (palmitic acid) saturated fatty acid than any of usual nuts/seeds that we normally consume, and in fact more than cheese. That got me started on an investigation on the composition, and potential health implications of various chocolate products. As everyone probably knows, the family of different chocolate products is extensive, and the processing that creates them is quite involved. Here is a handy flowchart showing the various steps and products in the chocolate processing pipeline: As you can see, the first step is the pods from the cacao plant are split open to separate the cacao beans, which are allowed to dry and ferment for a few days. These beans are the first edible form of chocolate, and are in fact how I get a significant amount of the chocolate I eat, purchased as 'raw' cacao beans from Nuts.com. Continuing with processing, these beans are split open to remove the 'nibs' and discard the shells, which are edible but mostly fiber (although see below!?) and so don't add much to what we consider the 'chocolaty goodness' - although I rather enjoy the crunchiness of the whole beans sometimes, in moderation of course . The nibs are then ground into what is called chocolate liquor, which is further separated into the fat-free cocoa powder (where most of the healthy polyphenols etc reside) and the cocoa fats called cocoa butter. This cocoa powder and cocoa butter are then mixed back together, along with various other ingredients, and tempered to form the wide variety of chocolate products that we know and love.We can make a list of the various, commonly consumed chocolate-containing products and their ingredients as follows: Cacao Beans = (unprocessed) cocoa powder + (unprocessed) cocoa butter + fiber Cacao Nibs = (roasted) cocoa powder + (roasted) cocoa butter Cocoa Powder = (unsurprisingly) cocoa powder Unsweetened bakers chocolate = (nearly) 100% cocoa powder + cocoa butter Dark Chocolate (70-85% cacao) = 70-85% from cocoa (powder and butter) + 15-30% from other stuff, mostly added sugar. Dark Chocolate (60-69% cacao) = 60-69% from cocoa (powder and butter) + 30-40% from other stuff, mostly added sugar. Milk Chocolate = Dark Chocolate Ingredients + milk or other dairy products With these seven forms of chocolate in mind, I became curious above the relative nutrient profiles of each. So I decided to try to build a scaled-down table like Zeta's table of nut nutrition, discussed in several threads, but the latest version of which (as of 11/7/2015) is available in this post. In fact, rather than reinventing the wheel, I figured I try to add these six additional items to Zeta's latest nut nutrition table (he already has included baker's chocolate). I realized I can't attach XLS files to posts, so I've emailed Zeta the updated table in case he wants to keep the chocolate items in it. But for the purpose of this post (comparing chocolate products) here is a stripped down, rearranged, slightly augmented version with only the chocolates, and only for the fields I was able to dig up and willing to enter (click to enlarge): First, the easy observation. If you are going to eat chocolate in bar form, the four bar options at the bottom show you're getting more chocolate (likely a mixed blessing since it includes the saturated fats) and less added sugar the darker the chocolate you eat. Not surprisingly, as you can see from the two green arrows, fat content drops, and sugar content increases, as you go down in cacao content. The manufacturers are basically substituting sugar (and other ingredients) for real chocolate components as you move away from the darkest form (unsweetened baking chocolate). So, ignoring the (controversial) saturated fat, from a health perspective its probably "the darker the chocolate the better". This web page has good information about the details of dark chocolate, for those interested in learning more about what "cocoa %" really means. Next, another easy observation. If you want to avoid the saturated fats in chocolate, but still get the healthy polyphenols etc, your best choice is to eat your chocolate in cocoa powder form. Without the fat, it is a lot less calorie dense, and has a lot more fiber than the various chocolates in bar form. Obviously palatability is an issue, but I find mixing it into coffee, perhaps with a little sweetener (I prefer erythritol or pure stevia), makes it quite pleasant. See the bottom of this post for other suggestions in this regard. Now the complicated bit. I was disappointed with the nutrition information I could find on the two least processed forms of chocolate - raw cacao beans and cacao nibs. If fact, I'm skeptical about the nutrition information for these two listed in the table above, especially for the beans. But let me first address the nibs. I expected the nibs to be pretty nearly equivalent to unsweetened baking chocolate in composition, and therefore nutrient content, believing baking chocolate to be (more or less) the melted down nibs formed into bars/squares. But at least if the available nutrition information is to be believed, this isn't the case. Somewhere between nibs and unsweetened baking chocolate, quite a bit of fiber is removed, and (perhaps) replaced by cocoa butter. As you can see from the kcal/g comparison of the two, the baking chocolate is significantly more calorie-dense than the nibs. So, if you're looking to get the good stuff from chocolate, while retaining the "mouth feel" of the fat chocolate normally contains, I'd say its better to go with the nibs rather than baking chocolate. With the nibs, you get more chocolatey-bang for your calorie-buck, and they are less refined than baking chocolate, which is probably a good thing. Finally, my personal favorite, the least refined of all, the raw cacao beans. As I said, I was disappointed with the dearth of nutrition information, and the conflicting information that is available. There is definitely something fishy, which you can see if you compare the beans with the nibs in the table above. The biggest red flag can be seen in the kcal/g comparison. According to the available nutrition information, the beans are more calorie-dense than the nibs. I'm virtually certain this isn't the case. First off, as you can see the nibs are where all the fat is - with the beans containing about half the total fat per 250kcal as the nibs. How can the beans be more calorie dense when they contain half the amount of the densest macronutrient? Something strange is going on. The second red flag with the bean data is that the fiber content per 250kcal is virtually identical between the beans and the nibs (17.9g vs. 17.3g). This seems crazy, since the difference between the dried beans and the nibs is that the beans contains both the nibs and the shells, and the shells have got to be relatively high in fiber. Finally, and most mysteriously, the nutrition data for the beans seems to be missing a whole lot of calories. If we use the (admittedly somewhat naive and inaccurate) Atwater equations for converting from grams of fat, net carbohydrates (i.e. total carbs - fiber) and protein to calories (i.e. calories = 9 * fat + 4 * net_carbs + 4 * protein) we get (9 * 12.5) + (4 * (25 - 17.9)) + (4 * 7.1) = 169.3 kcal. But according to the nutrition database, we're supposed to be looking at a 250kcal portion! So that's 1/3rd of the calories missing. Even if we give a calorie or two per gram for the fiber, there is still quite a few calories missing from the available nutrition data. In contrast, if we apply the basic Atwater equation to the nibs, we get 246.3 kcal for what is supposed to be a 250kcal portion size - i.e. almost perfect, even without adding any extra calories from fiber. So what I started out this investigation most interested in discovering, namely how the nutrition of raw cacao beans compares to other forms of chocolate, ends up being left pretty much unanswered. I'm going to continue to consume a mixture of (ground) cacao beans and cocoa powder (with more cocoa powder than beans) in my coffee, to get both the pleasure and the health benefits of chocolate. Speaking of health benefits, for anyone who's gotten this far, Dr. Greger just sent a good write-up on the cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate, with links his own recipes / strategies for getting the health benefits of chocolate without the saturated fat. --Dean