Natural Foods Merchandiser

Nutrition Q&A with Dan Lukaczer, N.D.

Q: Can you really be ?addicted? to chocolate?
A: Yes, at some level. Cravings for chocolate are a complicated issue. Cravings in and of themselves are probably not related to the cocoa from chocolate. However, the mood-altering effect of chocolate does appear to relate to the presence of pharmacologically active compounds found in chocolate.

Recently, two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies measured the effects on cognitive performance and mood using the amount of cocoa powder found in a 50 gram bar of dark chocolate. Cocoa found in dark chocolate contains the methylxanthines (a category of alkaloid molecules) caffeine and theobromine, which the researchers thought may act on the brain. (The amount of caffeine in 50 grams of chocolate is between 17mg and 36 mg; the amount of theobromine between 237 and 519 mg.) The researchers first gave participants either encapsulated cocoa powder, a combination of pure caffeine and theobromine, or placebo. They found improvements in mood and cognitive function when subjects consumed the cocoa powder and the caffeine and theobromine combination capsules, but not when consuming placebo. They also found that the craving for chocolate was no different in any group. This suggests that that craving feeling has to do with the sweet, creamy taste sensation, and possibly the sugar, but not the cocoa itself.

The researchers then did a second experiment in which subjects ate bars containing either white chocolate, which does not contain methylxanthines, or dark or milk chocolate, which does. They again showed it was the methylxanthines, and not the sugar or fat in the bars, that appeared to have the mood-altering effect.1 So in order to get the positive mood some associate with chocolate, you need to eat chocolate that contains cocoa with methylxanthines. To satisfy that craving feeling, however, you can probably eat any kind of chocolate you want.

Here?s an interesting added thought. Chocolate may have an effect on babies of mothers who eat it regularly. Mothers who reported daily consumption of chocolate rated more positively the temperament of their infants at six months.2 That may be because the mother felt better or the child was getting the chocolate, too, and in fact had a better temperament. Hard to say, but this will probably make some chocoholics very happy.

Q: My doctor recently told me I was ?prehypertensive.? She said my blood pressure was 128/85. I thought that was normal.
A: Your doctor is keeping up with the new guidelines released last year. ?The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure,? known as JNC 7, suggested new guidance on blood pressure.3 It states that patients with a systolic blood pressure of 120-139 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure of 80-89 mm Hg should be considered ?prehypertensive.? Under this new guideline, some 45 million Americans previously considered to be normal would now be classified as having ?pre? hypertension. This change was made because of studies that suggested this previously accepted normal blood pressure put individuals at increased risk for cardiovascular problems—primarily strokes. While the risk is lower in this category than what is termed Stage 1 hypertension (140-159/90-99), it is still increased compared to those who have a blood pressure less then 120/80.

Q: Does TV make you fat?
A: Only if you turn it on. Sometimes one doesn?t need a study to realize an obvious truth. However, scientists did one just to hammer home the point. As you may have guessed, they found increased obesity and diabetes in those who watched the most television. Each two-hour/day increment in TV watching was associated with a 23 percent increase in obesity and a 14 percent increase in risk of diabetes. An interesting caveat was that even when they controlled for exercise, the more television a woman watched (while getting the same amount of exercise as someone who watched less television) the higher the risk for diabetes and obesity.4,5 My hypothesis would be that if you are doing something else, even when not called exercise, you are moving a bit—i.e., housework, shopping, lawn mowing, etc.—instead of sitting on the couch. It?s good some things turn out as you?d expect.

Dan Lukaczer, N.D., is director of clinical research at the Functional Medicine Research Center, a division of Metagenics Inc., in Gig Harbor, Wash.

1. Smit, HJ, et al. Methylxanthines are the psycho-pharmacologically active constituents of chocolate. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 2004;10.1007/s00213-004-1898-3.
2. Raikkonen K, et al. Sweet babies: chocolate consumption during pregnancy and infant temperament at six months. Early Hum Dev, 2004;76(2):139-45.
3. Chobanian AV, et al. The seventh report of the joint national committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure: the JNC 7 report. JAMA 2003;289(19):2560-72.
4. Hu FB, et al. Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA 2003;289(14):1785-91.
5. Hu FB, Sedentary lifestyle and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Lipids 2003;38(2):103-8.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 11/p. 50

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