IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  May 1, 2006

Dark Chocolate

Eat dark chocolate, but not too much.

Few foods have the tasty and magical history that chocolate has.
In the Aztec culture, creation of the cocoa plant on earth was attributed to Quetzalcoatl, who they believed descended from heaven carrying a cocoa tree from paradise. Cocoa was combined with spices to make a frothy drink. (They didn't have sugar.)

Today, chocolate's allure lies in its sweet or bittersweet taste, but chemical reactions are at work. Chocolate stimulates the secretion of endorphins, which produce a pleasurable sensation, and serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant.

Chocolate does more than please the taste buds and make people feel good. It's packed with polyphenol antioxidants that reduce the risk of heart disease. Antioxidants in raw cocoa can dilate blood vessels, a healthful effect, and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Researchers in Italy have found that eating dark chocolate can help to control diabetes by increasing the body's ability to metabolize sugar. Chocolate is also high in potassium, magnesium, and vitamins B1, B2, D, and E. (But it's very high in fat and calories.)

Chocolate Cheesecake.

On a baking sheet, toast 2/3 cup chopped almonds at 350 degrees for 3 to 4 minutes. Cool, then grind to fine in a food processor. Combine 1 1/4 cups crushed vanilla wafers, the ground almonds, and 1/3 cup melted butter. Press onto a springform pan. Bake 8 minutes, then cool.

Melt 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler and set aside.
In a bowl, beat 8 ounces softened cream cheese until smooth, gradually adding 1 cup sugar, 3 eggs, 1 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup almond-flavored liqueur, and a little salt and blend. Divide the batter in half. Add melted chocolate to half of the batter and pour it into the crust to make one layer.

Put remaining batter on top for the second layer. Bake at 325 degrees for 50-60 min. Let it stand in the turned-off oven for 1/2 hour more.

Cool, move from pan, and chill for at least 8 hours before serving.


Eat fish to Fight Depression

If you think the health claims for fish oil are beginning to sound like "snake oil," think again.

Psychiatrists at the National Institutes of Health say the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are like neuronal fertilizer. They make brain cells grow more connections.

Researchers now say omega-3s benefit not only the heart but also a range of psychiatric and neurological problems including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The brain is 60 percent fat, they say, and it needs omega-3s for optimal function.

Studies suggest omega-3s also help build cell membranes and boost levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin.

Food contains two varieties of omega-3s. Those found in walnuts, canola oil, and leafy greens are called ALA and are not quite as effective as those found in seafood and enriched eggs. They contain EPA and DHA omega-3s.

The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish such as salmon and cod at least twice a week.


Get Ahead by Staying Sharp

Resting the brain more important than resting the body.

More than 70 percent of American adults and 85 percent of teens don't get enough sleep to be sharp the next day, according to scientists at Harvard Medical School.

They say part of the problem is we are so used to being sleep deprived that we have become adept at coping with the condition. We don't realize that the purpose of sleep may be more to rest the mind than to rest the body.

Sleep helps consolidate memory, improve judgment, promote learning and concentration, boost mood, speed reaction time, and sharpen problem solving and accuracy.

To get more sleep, researchers suggest getting to bed half an hour earlier. If you can arrange a brief nap in the afternoon, it can help. They advise against sleeping late on weekends because it could disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it harder later to get a full night's rest.

The American Time Use survey shows that the main reason for lost sleep is work. But when you lose sleep, you could be 12 percent less productive the next day.

If mental sharpness is important to you, get a good night's sleep.


Type 2 and the 'Good Fats'

Eating nutritionally balanced meals is important for people with type 2 diabetes. Consuming the right amount of "good fats" is a part of eating the right portions from each food group.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical Centers recommend eating 1 oz. of walnuts every day to get healthy fats.

Walnuts contributed even more when fish rich in omega-3s, like tuna and salmon, were on the menu.


Extra Pounds and the Heart

Doctors have known for a long time that carrying around extra pounds increases the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. New studies, however, show that even without these conditions, extra weight puts the heart in jeopardy.

Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that people who were significantly overweight at ages 31 to 64 had a higher risk of hospitalization and death from heart disease later in life.

It was true for heavy people even if they did not have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, and if they did not smoke during middle age.

New Osteoporosis Treatment

Two types of medication are used to treat osteoporosis.

Biophosphates (Fosamax, Actonel, and Boniva) stop or slow reabsorption of bone.

Parathyroid hormone (PTH) injections help to build new bone. It is usually used only in severe cases, but the increase in bone mineral density was lost after treatment was discontinued.

New studies at the University of California, San Francisco, show that a one-year treatment with PTH, followed by biophosphates immediately afterward maintained or increased bone density.

Doctors at the National Osteoporosis Foundation say the drugs complement each other when used sequentially.

Cervical Cancer Recurrence

Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of death in women.

Treatment of precancerous cells in the cervix has an excellent outcome for the short term. But one study reported in the British Medical Journal shows the risk of recurrence in the following 10 to 20 years was higher than expected. In the 7,500 Finnish women participating in the study, doctors identified 448 new cases of cancer, 96 more than expected. Risk also increased for other types of cancer.


Colorful Foods Help Keep Cancer Away

Cancer and heart disease may seem to be very different, but the same healthy lifestyle is recommended for preventing both diseases.

That means maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating healthful foods. Certain foods, however, are powerful cancer fighters and stimulants of the immune system. When you think about cancer prevention, keep colors in mind.

Doctors at The Cancer Project in Washington, D.C., say color dictates what cancer-fighting compounds a food contains.

Red: Tomatoes, tomato products, watermelons, and pink grapefruits contain lycopene, which decreases the risk of prostate cancer.

Orange: Carrots, yams, and mangoes are rich in beta-carotene, which aids the immune system.

Yellow-orange: Citrus fruits contain vitamin C and flavonoids, which inhibit tumor cell growth.

Green-white: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower contain indoles and lutein, which rid the body of excess estrogen and carcinogens.

White-green: garlic, onions, chives, and asparagus contain allyl sulfides, which help to destroy cancer cells, reduce cell division, and boost the immune system.

Blue: Blueberries, purple grapes, and plums contain anthocyanins, which eliminate free radicals.

Brown: Whole grains and legumes are rich in fiber, which rid the body of carcinogens.

When you put a rainbow of colors on your plate, you take a step forward in cancer prevention.


Don't Believe It!

Some common cancer beliefs are wrong.

Researchers quoted in HealthNews tell of five mistakes people make when thinking about cancer.

Wrong: "Stress can cause cancer."

Oncologists at Toronto Sunnybrook Cancer Center examined 70 studies of conditions such as distress, psychological problems, poor coping styles, and personality factors. Chronic daily stress, they conclude, may actually reduce the incidence of some cancers.

Wrong: "A strong immune system decreases risk of cancer recurrence."

One typical finding: even as chemotherapy weakens the immune system, it cures some cancers.

Wrong: "There's nothing I can do to prevent cancer." First identify your risks and deal with them, smoking, for example. Smoking causes one-third of all cancer deaths.

Wrong: "Elderly people don't benefit from intense cancer care."

Oncologists at The Cleveland Clinic say patients in their 80s and beyond who are in otherwise good condition benefit significantly from careful selection of treatments.

Wrong: "Why get screened because cancer is rarely cured.

Screenings such as the Pap test, mammography, and colonoscopy prevent huge numbers of cancer deaths each year.


New Prescription Inserts

The Food and Drug Administration has mandated that 120 days after its January ruling, drug package inserts must be more readable. Now, they are in small print that is hard to understand, which is one cause of 300,000 cases of preventable deaths that occur in the nation's hospitals each year.

Drug package inserts will include "highlights" at the top, table of contents, and how doctors counsel patients.


Preventing Cataracts

Tufts University researchers have found evidence suggesting that vitamin supplements, particularly long-term use of vitamin E may slow the development of cataracts.

The studies done for the Nutritional Epidemiology Program and the USDA show that people reporting supplementing their diets with vitamin E for at least 10 years showed significantly less progression of cataract development.

Those who reported higher intakes of riboflavin and thiamin had a similar decrease. In 2001, Tufts researchers also saw a similar role for vitamin C, all indicating that taking a multivitamin is recommended.

Lutein is also important for eye health.

Orange Juice and Arthritis Risk

People who think taking a vitamin pill containing vitamin C lets them skip their orange juice are being proved wrong.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, colorful foods such as oranges and bell peppers contain beta-cryptoxanthin, an antioxidant that may help ward off the onset of inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Scientists say a modest increase in beta-cryptoxanthin is enough, the equivalent of one glass of orange juice a day.

Walking: Key to Weight Loss

If you want to lose 30 pounds or more and keep it off, brisk walking could be the answer for you.

It worked for 191 participants in a two-year program at the University of Pittsburgh. They were advised to eat a low-fat diet of about 1,500 calories a day and walk briskly for exercise.

The amount of time participants walked varied from 150 to 300 minutes per week.

Participants lost an average of 7.2 percent of their body weight, but those who walked 300 minutes per week lost 13 percent of their starting weight.

It's important to walk with intensity, says leader John Jakicic, and most people have to work up to that many minutes.