4.6.06

Chocolate and Brain Power

Chocolate lovers rejoice. A new study hints that eating milk chocolate may boost brain function.

"Chocolate contains many substances that act as stimulants, such as theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine," said Dr Bryan Raudenbush from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

"These substances by themselves have previously been found to increase alertness and attention, and what we have found is that by consuming chocolate you can get the stimulating effects, which then lead to increased mental performance."

To study the effects of various chocolate types on brain power, Raudenbush and colleagues had a group of volunteers consume, on four separate occasions, 85 grams of milk chocolate, 85 grams of dark chocolate, 85 grams of carob and nothing (the control condition).

After a 15-minute digestive period, participants completed a variety of computer-based neuropsychological tests designed to assess cognitive performance including memory, attention span, reaction time and problem solving.

"Composite scores for verbal and visual memory were significantly higher for milk chocolate than the other conditions," Raudenbush said.

And consumption of milk and dark chocolate was associated with improved impulse control and reaction time.

Previous research has shown some nutrients in food aid in glucose release and increased blood flow, which may augment cognitive performance.

The findings, said Raudenbush, "provide support for nutrient release via chocolate consumption to enhance cognitive performance".

Source: Reuters

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Salt

Often regarded as a nutritional bad guy, salt (sodium chloride) is essential for a healthy body. It helps carry nutrients into cells and regulates various bodily functions, including blood pressure.

Most people know that too much salt is bad for you. A high-salt diet contributes to high blood pressure, for instance, with associated cardiovascular risks. And the amount of salt that we need each day is small - merely a couple of grams.

But if you're already careful about what you eat and you're doing a lot of exercise and sweating heavily, you risk developing low blood-sodium levels, which can lead to low blood pressure and dizziness. Adding a little salt to a snack or consuming a sports drink should replace the sodium your body needs.

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Frozen Food

Most vitamins are preserved fairly well during freezing. For carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body, freezing is a bonus.

One study found that frozen peas contain about 60 per cent more carotene than the fresh variety. (It's not the freezing that provides the advantage - the packaging screens vegetables from light, which causes carotene to break down.)

However, levels of vitamin C and folate drop during the commercial freezing process, as do levels of thiamin (vitamin B1). The good news is that once fresh vegetables are cooked, the vitamin content is pretty similar to that of frozen vegetables that have been thawed and cooked.

So if you're struggling to keep up with those five servings of vegetables a day, don't feel bad if you reach into the freezer.

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17.5.06

Snails

If you can get over the "yuck" factor, snails are low in saturated fat and relatively high in vitamins A and D. In Australia, if you ask for edible snails you're most likely to get Helix aspersa, the common garden snail (and a Mediterranean import - although researchers in Queensland are investigating the potential of native snails.)

If you feel like following the French example, go for farmed snails, rather than plucking something out of the backyard. Anyone who eats wild, uncooked or undercooked snails and slugs runs the risk of becoming infected with a parasite that can cause meningitis (swelling of the brain). One Sydney man who ate garden slugs as a dare unknowingly also swallowed larvae of the worm Angiostrongylus cantonensis - and nearly died.

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Raspberries

Rich in vitamin C, raspberries are also a good source of folate, iron and potassium and contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. The fruit is also known for its relatively high concentration of ellagic acid (which is sold as a supplement in health food shops).

Research suggests that ellagic acid might act to mop up some cancer-causing chemicals, rendering them inactive in the body. (Raspberry jam should provide the same benefits, since the compound isn't destroyed by cooking.)

The chemicals that cause raspberries' red colour is also good for you. Anthocyanins, which create the red pigment, act as anti-oxidants, and research suggests they can help reduce the risk of heart disease and also possibly help to control diabetes and even act against cancer.

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16.5.06

Yoghurt beats bugs

The stomach bug Helicobacter pylori is the cause of most stomach ulcers, so doctors often try to eradicate it with antibiotic therapy.

When this doesn't work, as is the case 10 to 23 per cent of the time, a yogurt may help, according to a study conducted in Taiwan.

Specifically, eating yogurt containing the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (AB-yogurt) before trying a second round of combo antibiotic therapy can improve its efficacy in eradicating residual H. pylori, the researchers found.

- Reuters

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

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Laugh, or even pretend to

A good belly laugh - or even the anticipation of laughter - appears to beneficially affect the body's hormones.

Researchers in California discovered this in a study of 32 healthy men, half of whom were instructed to view a one-hour humorous video of their own selection.

The other half simply sat in a room with an assortment of magazines. The scientists found that those watching the funny videos had, on average, 27 per cent more beta-endorphins and 87 per cent more human growth hormone in their blood than the control group - before the video clips even started to roll.

The levels of these beneficial hormones remained elevated during and after the experiment.

- Washington Post

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