1. Cocoa improves cardiovascular, metabolic health

    Don't fall for the Candyman's cure for heart disease

    Happy Halloween!

    We've been seeing a lot of headlines about the health benefits of chocolate, which is being touted as a magical food that can do everything from lower your blood pressure and you're your appetite to protect your heart and sharpen your mind.

    But remember: Don't believe everything you read. Because if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

    The truth is, there really is a ton of research that supports the claim that natural, antioxidant compounds called cocoa flavanols can make you healthier.

    For example, a new review of data from 19 clinical trials found solid evidence that chocolate can benefit cardiovascular and metabolic health.

    Doctors from Brown University analyzed data from more than 1,100 participants and found that consuming cocoa products was linked to:

    • Lowered insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar, and if you are insulin resistant, glucose can build up in your blood, leading to diabetes.
    • A drop in triglycerides. Triglycerides make your body store fat, so a high level of triglycerides is associated with weight gain.
    • Reduction of chronic inflammation. Systemic (chronic) inflammation can undermine your health in a variety of ways, including contributing to heart disease.

    The most benefit was seen for participants who consumed 200 to 600 milligrams of flavanols a day. In fact, unlike both lower AND higher doses, this sweet spot was also associated with an increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol.

    Now, I'd like to point out that this study was funded by Mars Symbioscience, the division of the Big Sugar company (whose brands include M&Ms) devoted to researching the health benefits of cocoa flavanols. And while I think it's a good thing for big corporations to allocate funds to conduct (sometimes costly) scientific research, the association still makes me take the results -- and the headlines -- with a grain of salt (or refined sugar, as it were).

    So while there's a nugget of truth to many of these claims, unfortunately gorging yourself on Halloween candy will NOT make you healthier.

    The good news is: You can get these health benefits without eating several hundred calories' worth of chocolate. (Even if it's good dark chocolate -- a delicious choice if you're looking for an occasional treat -- that's a lot of calories and sugar.)

    Because you can also find those flavanols in 20 to 60 calories' worth of unsweetened cocoa powder.

    Natural cocoa powder is inexpensive, and you can find it on the shelf at any grocery store. Avoid the "Dutch process" stuff -- it's had most of the flavanols stripped out of it during processing.

    Try mixing 2 to 3 tablespoons of natural cocoa powder into your coffee or morning smoothie. You can even find surprising ways to cook with cocoa -- like cocoa black bean soup, mocha-rubbed beef pot roast, or chicken with a Mexican mole ("mo-lay") sauce.

  2. Candy companies smell sweet cash in cocoa craze

    Sugar slingers getting sweet on natural cocoa

    Any time I hear a gal claiming that chocolate is a substitute for sex, I have to hit her with some bad news.

    She's not doing it right.

    No, chocolate can't do EVERYTHING, friend, but it can do plenty. Specifically, raw, real cocoa controls inflammation and can tackle everything from brain-robbing dementia to heart disease.

    Well, leave it to the corporate fat cats to try to make a buck off something Mother Nature has already perfected. And you won't BELIEVE who is trying to cash in on the cocoa health craze.

    The Mars candy company has patented a way to extract cocoa and stuff it into tiny capsules, and these modern-day Willy Wonkas are even working with scientists on a study to up the dose.

    Hey, if you want to trust your health to the company that brought us the Snickers bar, knock yourself out. There are plenty of funeral homes that will be happy to take ten grand from your grieving widow.

    You have to hand it to them, though. Before long, Mars will have one division that could give you heart disease with their sugar-loaded garbage (which is NOT the same thing as natural cocoa), and another that could cure it. Talk about a brilliant business plan!

    When it comes to cocoa, I'm not just the latest doc jumping on the bandwagon. I'm the guy who backed the bandwagon out of the garage. For decades I've been recommending cocoa to my patients, and watched as it helped quite a few of them roll back the odometers on their health.

    It can do the same for you, and you don't even need to wait for those sugar-slingers at Mars to perfect their little cocoa capsule. You can grab real cocoa today at any health food store near you.


  3. Cocoa vs. fluoride

    A secret ingredient in cocoa can protect teeth better than fluoride.
  4. Cocoa protects against dementia

    Nutrients found in cocoa can protect brain cells from the damage linked to dementia, according to new research.
  5. The right way to get your chocolate fix

    I always cringe when I read a news report on the health benefits of cocoa -- the takeaway is almost always "eat more chocolate."

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