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Plant Sterols in Chocolate
I'm sure you've seen them at the supermarket: foods that have been enriched with plant sterols. These compounds have been shown to help improve cholesterol scores - so much so that the FDA has approved the use of a health claim about it on foods that contain plant sterols.
Hot Chocolate for High Blood Pressure?
It's a good idea for those with high blood pressure to make sure they're getting enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Not just for overall health, but because the polyphenols, or flavonoids, in fruits and vegetables have been linked with reduced blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease.
Why Do You Crave Chocolate at That Time of the Month?
Chocolate cravings are an interesting phenomenon: over 45% of undergraduate women in the United States report having a regular craving for chocolate, and over 90% of women admit to craving chocolate at least once in their lives.
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The effect of food stimuli and the resulting feeling of satisfaction (or "satiety") in the brain can actually be observed by performing Medical Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans on the brain. While sex differences in eating behavior have been documented, most research on brain activation related to eating has been limited to men only or have lumped men and women together.
Researchers in the Netherlands reasoned that it might be useful to differentiate between men and women in order to better understand the brain's role in the regulation of food intake (Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83(6):1297-305). So they recruited 24 young, normal-weight volunteers, 12 men and 12 women, who were otherwise healthy, not on a diet, diabetes-free, and most notably, were not "unwilling to consume a large amount of chocolate". (Sometimes I'd like to be a test subject.)
The subjects fasted overnight and then were subjected to an MRI both before eating, then after eating as much dark chocolate as they wanted—that is, to satiety. During the second MRI they were given chocolate milk to drink to stimulate the centers of the brain that react to the flavor of chocolate, and at several points throughout the experiment the subjects were asked about their general level of hunger, their feeling of fullness, and their general desire to eat more chocolate.
You won't be surprised to find out that women's brains reacted to chocolate differently than men. Most interesting, however, is that women who were more hungry in general at the beginning of the study reported reaching satisfaction with less chocolate than men. Indeed, the more satisfied women felt, the less the taste activation centers in the brain were stimulated, implying that the more they ate, the less they tasted.
Clearly satiety works differently in men and women, and this information will need to be incorporated into subsequent studies on food intake. In the mean time, have yourself a small piece of Chocolate Cheesecake or put a small amount of Chocolate Sauce on your dessert. You’ll be satisfied with less than you think.
First posted: June 20, 2006