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Dark chocolate boosts athletic performance and endurance

Dark chocolate has quickly earned a reputation as a superfood with vast human health benefits. Scientists continue to reveal the vast benefits of dark chocolate, including supporting cardiovascular health, providing powerful antioxidants to combat free radical damage, and enhancing brain function. On April 19, 2016, scientists at London’s Kingston University announced an impressive reason for athletes to also celebrate and eat dark chocolate — eating it enhances athletic performance and endurance.

Dark chocolate (chocolate with 70% or more cacao content) is highly nutritious, providing such valuable nutrients as fiber, fatty acids, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese. In addition, dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants like polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins; and combats free radicals better than other superfoods such as acai berries.(1)

Now, the caveat is dark chocolate is also high in calories — a whopping 600 calories per 100 grams — and contains about six teaspoons of sugar in the same serving, so only small amounts should be consumed on a regular basis. A reasonable daily amount to consume may be 30 to 50 g daily, aiming for 85% cacao content.

Evidence demonstrates that dark chocolate relaxes the arteries to allow blood to flow more freely and mildly lowers blood pressure.(2) In addition, dark chocolate favorably affects cholesterol levels—decreasing LDL cholesterol and oxidized cholesterol while simultaneously increasing HDL cholesterol.(3) These two benefits may contribute to an overall decrease in cardiovascular disease risk. Indeed, research suggests eating dark chocolate most days of the week decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease by 57%.(4)

Adding to the mounting body of evidence that dark chocolate is a beneficial superfood, scientists at London’s Kingston University suggest that dark chocolate may give athletes and weekend warriors an edge to achieve their fitness goals. The team of researchers led by Rishikesh Kanesh Patel sought to investigate whether epicatechin — a flavanol found in dark chocolate known to increase nitric oxide production in the body — could enhance athletic performance similarly to beetroot juice.

Beet root juice contains nitrates that the body converts to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels and reduces the consumption of oxygen, allowing athletes to work harder and longer. The benefits of increased nitric oxide production particularly improve endurance.

The study authors evaluated the physical fitness of nine amateur cyclists at the beginning of the study. The nine cyclists were divided into two groups. The first group consumed 40 grams of dark chocolate daily for two weeks, whereas the control group consumed 40 grams of white chocolate instead. White chocolate has a much lower cocoa content and therefore fewer epicatechins.

At the end of the two weeks, the cyclists’ physical fitness — heart rate and oxygen consumption — were measured during moderate exercise and time trials. After a seven-day break, the two groups swapped chocolate types and the two-week trial and physical fitness performance measures were repeated.

What the researchers found was that when the groups consumed dark chocolate they had better overall physical fitness. The cyclists’ who consumed dark chocolate used less oxygen and were able to cover more distance during the time trials.

The study requires further larger and controlled studies to confirm the findings but suggests that eating 40 grams of dark chocolate daily could boost athletic performance — particularly among endurance athletes. Mr. Patel is currently conducting further research as part of his doctoral thesis and plans to test dark chocolate against beetroot juice as part of a comparative study.

(1) Crozier SJ, Preston AG, Hurst JW, et al. Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. Chem Cent J. 2011 Feb 7;5:5.

(2) Sudarma V, Sukmaniah S, Siregar P. Effect of dark chocolate on nitric oxide serum levels and blood pressure in prehypertension subjects. Acta Med Indones. 2011 Oct;43(4):224-8.

(3) Baba S, Natsume M, Yasuda A, et al. Plasma LDL and HDL Cholesterol and Oxidized LDL Concentrations Are Altered in Normo- and Hypercholesterolemic Humans after Intake of Different Levels of Cocoa Powder. J Nutr. 2007 Jun;137(6):1436-41.

(4) Djousse L, Hopkins PN, North KE, et al. Chocolate Consumption is Inversely Associated with Prevalent Coronary Heart Disease: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;30(2):182–87.

Bloated portions bloat American’s waistlines

When was the last time you had a reasonably portioned meal at a restaurant? Food portions at restaurants these days seem to be intended to serve more than one. Some portion sizes have doubled and even tripled at American restaurants over the last 20 years leading to excess calorie consumption. And these distorted portion sizes are a significant contributor to the growing overweight and obesity epidemic in America.

According to the National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Obesity Education Initiative, in just over 20 years the average size bagel has more than doubled in size and calories. Likewise, your average plate of spaghetti and meatballs doubled in size and calories, now providing a whopping 1,025 calories per serving. During that same time period, soda servings have increased from an average of 6.5 ounces and 85 calories to 20 ounces and 250 calories. Is it any wonder that American’s waistlines are expanding as these bloated portions become the expectation for your typical meal?

The U.S. National Institutes of Health estimates that today’s excessive portions could easily lead to the consumption of an additional 500,000 calories per year. Those excess calories are a significant contributor to the rapidly increasing number of Americans who are overweight or obese — currently estimated to be two-thirds of Americans.

Fortunately, with the TransformWise approach to sensible portions, you can combat this trend of oversized portions and waistlines.

Each person is biologically unique with different calorie requirements — a 90-pound woman does not need the same amount of calories as a 225-pound man. That is why the TransformWise sensible portion approach relies on your hands as guide to determine reasonable portions.

  • Vegetables and fruits should make up the bulk of your diet, with a sensible portion being the size of your entire hand.
  • Wholesome carbohydrates should fit into your cupped hand.
  • Fats, preferably healthy fats, should be about the size of your thumb
  • And lean protein sources that cover your open palm is a reasonable portion of protein.

In addition, TransformWise advocates five to six smaller, metabolically balanced meals per day. The growing body of research suggests that eating five to six smaller meals and snacks per day offers myriad benefits, including better blood sugar control, balanced hormone levels, improved appetite control and increased thermogenesis — when your body uses excess calories to produce heat rather than storing them as fat.

For a more information and a complete guide to revealing your ideal physique and managing your weight, read TransformWise: Your Complete Guide to a Wise Body Transformation.

Single cheat meal causes diminished cardiovascular function

Many people allow themselves a “cheat meal,” or unhealthy meal, as a reward for reaching their fitness or health goals. Or they, may eat better during the week and lapse in those healthy eating habits over the weekend. Maybe it’s a holiday or party that destroys your eating plan. In fact, many nutritionists regard an occasional cheat meal as a beneficial practice when attempting to lose weight. What could one meal hurt anyway, right?

Well according to a 2012 study that single junk meal — with a significant portion of calories from saturated fat — harms your cardiovascular function immediately following the meal.(1) Specifically, cheat meals, or typical meals of the Standard American Diet (SAD), adversely affect vascular endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels) function. Conversely, meals that more closely resemble the Mediterranean diet — rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids (like omega-3s) — may produce positive effects on vascular endothelium function.

Vascular endothelial function is one of the most significant predictors of and precursors to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a common disorder characterized by the hardening, thickening or lossburger-1140824_1920 of elasticity of the arterial walls. It is caused by a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances that form plaque in the walls of the arteries. This buildup may eventually result in the blockage of the arteries, leading to a host of health problems including heart attack and stroke.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Anil Nigam, Director of Research and the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre (EPIC), and colleagues compared the effects of junk food meals to a typical Mediterranean meal. The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with a reduction in heart disease and atherosclerosis.

The study included 28 non-smoking men, who ate a Mediterranean meal (salmon, almonds, and vegetables cooked in olive oil) one week followed by a junk food meal (a sandwich with sausage, egg and cheese, and three hash browns) one week later. After each meal, the researchers measured endothelial function in response to the foods consumed.

Surprisingly, it took only one junk food meal for the researchers to observe a 24 percent decline in endothelial function among participants when compared to their baseline before meals. Participant’s endothelial function remained normal following the consumption of the Mediterranean meal. This is a remarkable finding and should provide a reason to pause before succumbing to that double cheeseburger and fries the next time you are tempted to cheat.

salmon-923964_1920The study authors also discovered that participants with higher blood triglyceride levels benefited more from the Mediterranean meal when compared to participants with low blood triglyceride levels. Their arteries responded better after eating the Mediterranean meal, which suggests that a single healthy meal may also provide dramatic benefits to the cardiovascular system.

What we learn from this research is that every meal matters and can contribute positively or negatively to our health. To discover more benefits of omega-3 fatty acids read pages 41-44 of The Doctor’s Guide to Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails. Eat better and feel better!

(1) Cantin J, Lacroix S, Tardif J, et al. Does the Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet Influence Baseline and Postprandial Endothelial Function? Canadian J Cardiology. 2012 Sep-Oct;28(5):S245.