chocolate

  1. The health benefits of chocolate

    The 'forbidden food' that's good for your arteries

    Eat more chocolate? It's not often you hear that kind of advice from a doctor -- but today I'm giving you permission to tear open that foil wrapper and treat yourself to a square or two of the best chocolate you can find.

    No, it's not a reward for good behavior. Eating chocolate IS good behavior -- it's good for your heart, good for your brain and new research on the health benefits of chocolate shows how it's especially good for your arteries in at least two critical ways.

    First, a daily dose of chocolate can improve flow-mediate dilation by 1 percent. FMD, as it's known, is such an important measure of vascular health that even a 1 percent improvement can cut your heart risk by 12 percent.

    And second, chocolate can also stop white blood cells from sticking to artery walls, which in turn will help make sure those arteries remain flexible, according to the study in The FASEB Journal.

    Put it together, and you have a delicious and healthy habit that can reduce your risk of serious cardiovascular problems, especially if you make it part of an already-healthy lifestyle.

    The one caveat here is the obvious one: It's easy to go overboard on chocolate and eat too much -- and too much chocolate contains too much sugar, which can hurt you in other ways.

    The new study of the health benefits of chocolate used a fairly large amount of chocolate, too: 70 grams per day, or nearly 2.5 ounces. That's almost the size of a "king-size" Hershey bar, and if you ask me that's probably a little too much.

    Eat a little less.

    If you're a chocoholic who can't stop once the package is open, buy individually wrapped squares instead to help control your portion size.

    I also recommend paying a little more for high-quality dark chocolates with fewer preservatives and other additives. It's worth the extra money, and not just because it's better for you.

    It tastes better, too.

  2. The peanut butter cups of bad meds

    For drug makers, it must have been a "you got your peanut butter in my chocolate" moment -- but instead of "two great tastes that taste great together," you're about to get two bad meds that are even worse together.

    The "peanut butter" in this case is the daily aspirin millions of heart patients are told to take -- and taken by millions of others in the mistaken belief it can prevent those heart problems from happening in the first place.

    The "chocolate" is omeprazole, aka Prilosec -- part of a badly overused class of heartburn meds called proton pump inhibitors.

    Now, I don't have a problem with someone eating a little fresh-ground peanut butter, or even an occasional snack of dark chocolate.

    But I have a big problem with people taking daily aspirin or proton pump inhibitors on a long-term basis -- because both of these drugs come with huge health risks and minimal... to no... benefits.

    Daily aspirin use isn't nearly as beneficial as years and years of relentless marketing would have you believe. What's more, it comes with a host of serious side effects such as bleeding problems, including ulcers, and even bleeding in the brain.

    One of the milder but more immediate side effects, however, is heartburn -- and that's why the new peanut butter cup of pills mixes 325 mg of aspirin with the PPI omeprazole.

    It's supposed to prevent that heartburn and make it easier for people to take the daily aspirin. And to that extent, you could say it "works" -- because PPIs are great at hiding the symptoms of heartburn and other stomach acid problems.

    But PPIs also bring stomach acid to dangerously low levels.

    In fact, the levels are so low that when you stop taking the drugs, the stomach tries to overcompensate and produces more acid than ever. Most people think it's their acid problem coming back with a vengeance.

    In reality, this "acid rebound," as it's called, is caused by the drug itself -- and a reason many people can't stop taking a PPI once they start.

    PPIs can also block the absorption of key nutrients, leaving you seriously deficient in calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and other essentials and putting you at risk for everything from bone breaks to death.

    Pain, heartburn, and even cardiovascular health all have better and more natural answers. Work with your doctor to find them.

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