Top cardiologist gives verdict on chocolate, coffee and wine

As editor of the European Heart Journal for more than a decade, Prof Thomas Lüscher led a team that sifted through 3,200 manuscripts from scientists and doctors every year. Only a fraction – those deemed “truly novel” and backed up with “solid data” – would be selected for publication.

After stepping down from his role in charge of the world’s top cardiovascular medicine journal, Lüscher has given his verdict on one of the most frequently asked heart health research questions: are wine, chocolate and coffee good or bad for you?

…Lüscher, a consultant cardiologist and director of research, education and development at the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, says the answer is “more complex than a simple yes or no”…Lüscher also cautions that the evidence should be considered “seriously”, given the large numbers of people worldwide that regularly enjoy a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate. There are pros and cons to each of them, he suggests, and these can differ depending on how often and how much of each is consumed, as well as by whom.

“Are wine, chocolate, coffee forbidden joys? Well, wine is truly a joy but at best neutral when consumed in moderation. Chocolate is a joy for our CV [cardiovascular] system, if consumed in dark, bitter form. And coffee? It wakes us up, less so if you drink it regularly, and at that dose of up to four cups a day, might even be protective.”

RTFA. Keep on searching and reading if you think you need to. If you’re like me, you’ve already addressed this question a number of times. My experience has the analysis definitely coming down on the side of coffee and chocolate. Wine, not so much or often.

Over time – and I’ve already used up a whole bunch of that – I find I rarely consume anything alcoholic anymore. No special reason. Tastes change. My wife’s coffee is a delight. Strong and dark, I have four cups in the morning – consistently. I think of it as a minimum; but, rarely exceed that number. Dark, unsweetened chocolate is part of my nutrition set, weekly, if not, daily.

Oh no! A global chocolate shortage

Surging consumption of chocolate in Asia is pushing cocoa-bean prices to the highest level in three years as buyers including Barry Callebaut AG expand their search for more supply.

While demand in the region ranked as the world’s lowest per capita in 2013, the market will grow at almost twice the global rate over the next four years, according to researcher Euromonitor International Ltd. Barry Callebaut, based in Zurich and the world’s largest producer of bulk chocolate, has doubled capacity in Asia since 2009 as Cargill Inc. and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. added bean-processing plants.

Growth in Asian demand has contributed to a rally in cocoa, the key ingredient for chocolate, which climbed to the highest level since August 2011 in New York on July 3. Rising consumption in emerging markets including China and India may spur shortages that extend into the next decade, with the global bean deficit seen reaching 1 million metric tons by 2020, according to Hardman & Co., a London-based research firm.

“In the longer term, the scarcity of quality cocoa is a serious concern for our entire industry,” Barry Callebaut Chief Executive Officer Juergen Steinemann said by e-mail in reply to Bloomberg questions.

A serious concern for chocoholics, too!

I already checked. The climate here in high desert country is not amenable to growing cocoa trees. What will we do?

My kind of wearable tech

As part of Cadbury’s “Joyville” campaign, UK based creative technology firm, Hirsch & Mann, was approached by PR company Golin Harris to develop a set of interactive jackets that respond and change as a user eats one of two Cadbury chocolate bars.

Powered by embedded Raspberry Pi and Arduino controllers, the two jackets also pack Bespoke DMX LED system and tape, a bespoke Arduino shield, CMU Cam and Raspberry Pi Camera, CO2 Inflators, CNC embroidering and a 4.0 amp hour 18 V battery pack.

When the wearer’s hands are raised to their mouth, flex sensors in the arms trigger the inbuilt cameras that detect whether they are holding a Cadbury + Daim bar or a Cadbury + Oreo dairy bar. Once one of these chocolate bars has been detected, LED lights sewn around the heart area and in the cuffs start to flash.

To draw further attention to the individual’s chocolate-induced joyous state, servos in the hem of the jacket lift the bottom of the jacket to reveal a purple lining fitted with pulsing heart shaped LEDs. Following the coat-lift, hidden micro-controllers activate motorized hinges in the shoulder tabs that open up accordion style and start flapping about.

And if pulsing cuffs and rising hems weren’t enough, an sunburst in Cadbury’s signature purple, inflates from underneath the collar to frame the wearer’s head. During this entire show, speakers hidden in the jacket play music synced to the transformation. Upon reaching a crescendo point, a hidden confetti gun in the now flared out, inflatable hood is triggered, shooting confetti everywhere.

Now, I wonder if I can convince TRADER JOE’S to produce a version of this for customers like me. I buy a stash of their 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate to get me through the week – every week.

I wouldn’t mind wearing a happy dark chocolate Trader Joe’s Joy Jacket whilst munching in the living room of an evening. They can leave off the confetti gun.

Rejoice — More chocolate means less body fat!

In what may be the best news for chocoholics since scientists at the University of Cambridge found that higher chocolate consumption was associated with a significant reduction in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke, researchers at the University of Granada are reporting that it’s also associated with lower levels of total fat deposits – in the bodies of adolescents at least.

The researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences at the University of Granada conducted a study comprising 1,458 European adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years old and found that not only did higher chocolate consumption not lead to an increase in fat deposits in the participants, but it was actually associated with lower levels of total fat – fat deposits all over the body and central-abdominal fat – regardless of physical activity and diet…

The researchers suggest the results could be partly due to catechins, a type of flavonoid that chocolate is especially rich in that boasts multiple health benefits and influences cortisol production and insulin sensitivity in the body. “They have important antioxidant, antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects and can help prevent ischemic heart disease,” explains Magdalena Cuenca-García who was the principle author of the study…

The researchers warn that, as with most things, chocolate should be consumed in moderation.

“In moderate quantities, chocolate can be good for you, as our study has shown. But, undoubtedly, excessive consumption is prejudicial. As they say: you can have too much of a good thing.”

The team’s study is published in the journal Nutrition. It’s $31+ for civilians like me to get a copy, right now. I’ll wait.

There are factors I’d love to know. Most of all – how chocolate was their chocolate? I presume that since the study was performed in Europe they used dark chocolate. A plus. But, how much? Most of the chocolate I consume is 72% cocoa – since that seems to be a benchmark minimum for healthy chocolate.

Chocolate may lower men’s stroke risk

Men may be able to reduce their risk of having a stroke by about one-sixth, simply by eating one chocolate bar per week.

[This must mean I cut my risk by about five/sixths]

That’s the appetizing conclusion of a large new study from Sweden, the first in a long line of recent studies on the potential heart and vascular benefits of chocolate to look specifically at men.

Researchers at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute followed more than 37,000 men between the ages of 45 and 79 for about 10 years. Compared to those who ate little or no chocolate, men who ate the most — about 2.2 ounces per week — had a 17% lower risk of having a stroke during that timespan.

To bolster these findings, the researchers pooled their data with that from four previous studies, including a near-identical 2011 study they conducted in women. A re-analysis of the combined data produced similar results: Men and women who ate the most chocolate had a 19% lower risk of stroke, compared to those who ate the least…

The study, which was funded by a Swedish research council and published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, adds to the growing evidence that chocolate, or rather cocoa, has some heart-healthy properties.

Cocoa contains flavonoids, compounds that have been shown to lower blood pressure, increase “good” cholesterol (HDL) and improve the function of arteries.

Flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, also may thin the blood and prevent clotting, which could help stave off heart attacks and strokes.

The authors note, however, other substances in chocolate may also explain the results of their study. Or that the lifestyle and attitude of chocolate lovers leads to a longer life. All I know is that I get to do one of these posts pretty much every week! 🙂

I joke that if I was starting out all over again I’d probably center my career on computational analysis in science in general – or medicine specifically. If I was guaranteed a career investigating chocolate – I might even consider coming out of retirement, tomorrow.

Drinking coffee reduces risk of the most common skin cancer

Increasing the number of cups of caffeinated coffee you drink could lower your risk of developing the most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, according to a study published in Cancer Research…

“I would not recommend increasing your coffee intake based on these data alone,” said Jiali Han. “However, our results add basal cell carcinoma to a list of conditions for which risk is decreased with increasing coffee consumption. This list includes conditions with serious negative health consequences such as type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.”

Basal cell carcinoma is the form of skin cancer most commonly diagnosed in the United States. Even though it is slow-growing, it causes considerable morbidity and places a burden on health care systems…

Of the 112,897 participants included in the analyses, 22,786 developed basal cell carcinoma during the more than 20 years of follow-up in the two studies. An inverse association was observed between all coffee consumption and risk of basal cell carcinoma. Similarly, an inverse association was seen between intake of caffeine from all dietary sources (coffee, tea, cola and chocolate) and risk of basal cell carcinoma.

Little or no change was associated with drinking decaf. Stick with the real fuel. It’s better for you.


Worlds largest all-bamboo factory building – a chocolate factory

We’ve seen cutting boards, bicycles, floors, even houses made of bamboo, but an organic chocolate factory? Evidently, when Ben Ripple and Frederick Schilling, the two co-CEOs of specialty food company Big Tree Farms talked about sustainably building their new plant, they put their money where their mouths are. Now, the Indonesian island of Bali is home to what BTF claims is the largest all-bamboo commercial building ever constructed, and soon, it’ll be cranking out tasty chocolate bars by the thousands.

Bamboo is definitely regarded as one of the most sustainable building materials in the world,” said Schilling. “What we’ve done here is created this very, very practical building using bamboo with, obviously, sustainability at the core purpose, but at the same time, we were able to create a very aesthetically beautiful building…”

As amazing as it is structurally, bamboo still has a few limitations that need to be addressed before it can be used in open construction. Savvy builders now know to treat the wood with both borax (fire retardant) and boric acid (insecticide), to help protect the occupants and keep termites and other wood-boring pests at bay. A majority of the interior walls, made from woven bamboo strips, were also sealed with a food-grade coating to satisfy local building code requirements.

BTF’s intention is for its traditionally-styled new 26,500 square foot structure to be a “beans to bar” processing plant that will take the organic cacao from thousands of regional farmers and blend it with locally-harvested coconut-palm sugar to create a truly sustainable (and presumably delicious) new line of chocolates. How sweet is that?

Rock on, guys! Offer dark chocolate variations on the theme and I’ll be first in line.

Daily dose of chocolate cuts risk of strokes, heart disease

Those who eat more chocolate have a 37 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who eat little, according to a Cambridge University analysis of seven separate studies, containing in total over 100,000 people.

They also have a 29 per cent lower chance of stroke, although they do not have a lower risk of heart failure.

The studies, which followed people in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the US and Japan for about a decade on average, did not focus on dark chocolate alone, which is believed to be the most beneficial type.

Rather, they included consumption of other types including milk chocolate and chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts.

Dr Oscar Franco, from the university’s Cardiovascular Epidemiology Unit, said no one really understood why chocolate appeared to be so good for heart health.

He said: “Foods are very complex structures where many substances interact to have a beneficial effect…”

Dr Franco presented the results at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Paris on Monday, while a paper has also been published in the British Medical Journal…

He said it only suggested two pieces of chocolate a day; while other studies have indicated a mere 20 to 50g – a small bar’s worth – is enough…

And while the analysis did not differentiate between different types of chocolate, he said it was clear that dark chocolate was the healthier option, as it contained less sugar and fat.

We’ve posted about the chocolate effect before. I certainly take it to heart [pun intended] as does my partner in the Deep South, KB.

I eat a little bit of chocolate almost every evening. Sometimes 72% dark chocolate, sometimes 85% dark.

Border officials seize Canadian’s Kinder egg – and store it?

Linda Bird couldn’t believe it when agents from the U.S. Border patrol at the crossing between Manitoba and Minnesota told her she had illegal contraband in her car – and that she faced the possibility of a $300 fine.

The unlawful property in question: a Kinder Surprise egg she had bought as a gift…

The family was driving to Ontario to visit her two daughters and going through the United States, which is a shorter drive, Bird said…

“They told us it was prohibited,” she said in an interview with the Star. Then they handed her a list of prohibited items that are not allowed in the United States which she took, escaping with just a warning.

“We kind of thought of it as more of a nuisance. We left. I didn’t think anything more about it.” That is until last week when she got a seven-page letter from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. The letter asked her if she wanted the egg back or if she was going to abandon any rights to it.

I was in disbelief,” she said. “It’s a two-dollar egg. Why make a big fuss over it? Just throw it in the garbage.”

If she doesn’t sign the letter, let U.S. Customs and Border officials know whether she wants the egg, and return it within five business days, she also could be liable for $250 in storage costs for the egg in the event of a legal challenge.

When President Obama speaks of eliminating foolish spending by the government, he might wish to start with crap like this. Especially the part about storing confiscated items, charging for the storage – and I’ll bet there’s an equally complex and useless procedure for their disposal.

Yes, we could also start with removing some of the nanny state oversight of “dangerous” objects like Kinder Eggs. Maintaining a premise that anyone of child-bearing age in the United States is as dumb as a hoe handle – results in self-fulfilling prophecies.

Thanks, Mr. Fusion