Myth-Melting Study Finds Chocolate Burns Belly Fat, Improves Cholesterol

healthy chocolate

A new study published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences has revealed something quite counterintuitive about chocolate, one of the world’s most prized ‘high-fat’ foods.  This strangely medicinal ‘sweet treat,’ which ironically you find in the candy aisle at the pharmacy, improved markers of cardiovascular disease, including the reduction of belly fat, and only after one week of consumption.

Researchers from the Department of Neuroscience, Division of Human Nutrition, University of Tor Vergata, Rome, in a paper titled ‘Effects of dark chocolate in a population of Normal Weight Obese women: a pilot study,’ describe the effects of 100 gram of dark chocolate taken for one week (approximately a 3 ounce bar) in so-called ‘normal weight obese (NWO)’ syndrome subjects.

NWO syndrome is defined as ‘an excessive body fat associated with a normal body mass index and characterized by a higher risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,’ and has been found to be associated with a 2.2 fold increased risk of cardiovascular mortality in women compared with those with low body fat.  Generally, those with NWO have 30% or more total body fat mass percentage and significantly higher values of proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-1, IL-6, IL-8 and TNF-α.

The study looked at the effects of dark chocolate consumption on the following:

  •   Blood lipid profiles
  •   Biochemical parameters (e.g. interleukins)
  •   Blood pressure
  •   Abdominal circumference (i.e. ‘belly fat’)

A modest sample size of 15 women with NWO syndrome, aged 20-40 years, were included in the study. They received 100 grams of dark chocolate (DC) containing 70% cocoa for 7-days. Dual energy-X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) was used to measure body composition. Blood pressure, anthropometric measurements, biochemical parameters and plasma levels of some cytokines were measured before and after DC consumption.

The results were described as follows:

After DC [dark chocolate] consumption, we observed a significant increase in the HDL cholesterol level, a significant decrease of total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio, LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio, and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra). In addition, a reduction in abdomen circumference was observed. We also found a positive correlation between changes in atherogenic indices, and IL-1Ra, abdomen reduction.

The authors concluded:

Our findings suggest that regular consumption of DC could be useful in maintaining a good atherogenic profile, due to the favorable effects on HDL cholesterol, lipoprotein ratios and inflammation markers.

This study should debunk several myths regarding chocolate consumption, such as ‘it makes you fat,’ ‘it clogs your arteries,’ or ‘it is bad for blood sugar.’ While low-cocoa chocolate, which is often high in sugar and may contain cow’s milk products, preservatives and lower quality fats, may not translate into the benefits observed in this study, a high-quality, high-cocoa chocolate may go quite a long way in enhancing general health and well-being. This is especially so if one chooses organically-produced, fair-trade and preferably raw chocolate. The raw part is especially important as the potent antioxidant compounds in cocoa are found at much higher and physiologically relevant concentrations in the non-heated and unprocessed forms.  Indeed, according to the authors of this study, “[the] health properties of cocoa consumption were mainly related [in previous research] to the antioxidant properties of polyphenolic compounds, among others monomeric flavanols, epicatechin, catechin and oligomeric, procyanidins.”

The specific sample of dark chocolate used in this study was assayed to contain the following compounds:

It is believed that one of the primary lipid-modulating, and HDL-raising compounds in high-quality chocolate is the saturated stearic acid found in the cocoa butter. This is also a counterintuitive finding since many decades of propaganda has convinced the mainstream that ‘saturated’ fats are bad and ‘unsaturated’ fats are good.  As the researchers state:

Because of its high saturated fat content, chocolate is often postulated to have a hypercholesterolemic effect. However, the high content of stearic acid (~30% of fatty acids) is considered to be neutral with respect to total and LDL cholesterol, and positive on serum concentration of HDL.”

It is truly remarkable that the dark chocolate was capable of raising the so-called ‘good’ HDL cholesterol 10% within only 7 days. This is a feat pharmaceutical lipid-modulating drugs can not accomplish, unless we are talking about patented forms of niacin (Niaspan) or fish oil (Lovaza), which really don’t count since they are really just glorified dietary supplements.

Previously, we looked at how chocolate – believe it or not – could replace the need for the $29 billion dollar plus cholesterol-lowering statin drug industry, by addressing and remedying the underlying pathology of the blood vessels (endothelial dysfunction) that leads to atherosclerosis and eventual cardiac morbidity and mortality. We feel the research, if you would like to peruse it, is remarkably compelling: Chocolate Gives Statins A $29 Billion Run For Their Money.

When it is all said and done, chocolate should not be viewed simply as a natural “medicine,’ to suppress bodily symptoms or clinical parameters, as anyone who ‘loves’ the way it makes them feel can plainly tell. As my friend Marc David pointed out in his recent article on Vitamin P[leasure], the experience of joy within the enjoyment of chocolate is itself a highly medicinal ‘nutritional fact’ that will never make it onto the label of a product, nor will be easily (if ever) comprehended through clinical trials.  Let the research support what most of us already know: food can be medicine, yes, but the point is to use it in moderate, culinary doses so that mega-dose, heroic ‘medicine’ will never become necessary.

Raw, organic unprocessed dark chocolate is available at


Whey Protein Cuts Appetite



Whey protein supplements promote satiety (feeling of fullness) and prevent overeating.  The body tries to maintain a constant weight that scientists call the weight “set point.”  Go on a diet and lose 20 pounds and the weight set point control mechanisms increase hunger and slow metabolism.  High-protein meals help people lose weight because they prevent hunger.  One reason may be that the amino acids that make up proteins are converted to blood sugar in the liver, which maintains a steady flow of nutrients to the brain.  A study from the University of California, Davis showed that whey protein increases the secretion of appetite-controlling hormones such as cholecystokinin.  The main controlling center for the weight set point is in the hypothalamus, located in the lower part of the brain.  Metabolic hormones such as insulin, glucagon and growth hormone; environmental temperature, fat cell hormones such as leptin and gut hormones such as cholecystokinin, peptide YY and ghrelin influence it.  These chemicals and brain centers are part of a sophisticated system that regulates hunger, satiety (fullness), energy absorption, food transit time in the gut and metabolic rate.  Cholecystokinin, released while eating whey protein, promotes satiety and prevents overeating.  (Physiology & Behavior, in press; published online October 2007)


Power Up!

ultra 40

Can’t figure out why you’re always dragging?  Lack of iron may be to blame – even if you’re not anemic.  When fatigued women with normal blood levels took iron supplements for 12 weeks, they reported feeling 50 percent less tired, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.  It’s possible that they had enough of the mineral in their bloodstream but inadequate amounts stored in their brain, muscles, and other tissues, probably because of blood loss during menstruation, says lead study author Paul Vaucher, a Ph.D. student at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.  Participants took 80 milligrams each day, which is much more than the recommended daily value of the 18 mg contained in many multivitamins.  However, don’t self-treat with larger doses without talking to your doctor first, as too much iron can be dangerous.  And keep in mind that a pill isn’t the only answer:  Beef, seafood, and poultry are also great sources of iron.

Miracle Food of the Month: Spinach



It’s a miracle people still make salads with iceberg lettuce!  A member of the brassica family, spinach is an exceptionally nutritious food.  These leafy greens are packed with antioxidants such as beta-carotene, carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin.  Besides fighting off cancer, spinach is a great source of folate (containing nearly 25 percent of your daily requirement).  It also wards off eye disease and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  If the texture of spinach turns you off, pick up a bag of baby spinach – you’ll never buy lettuce again.

Sports Nutrition for Beginners

If you are new to training and exercise, you undoubtedly have may questions.  Where do I start?  How do I train?  What supplements should I be taking?  How long will it take to reach my goals?  As you’ll learn along the way, the answers to these and other questions ultimately lie within.  Each athlete is unique, and therefore has completely unique likes, dislikes, needs, and potential.  What works for your training partner may have little effect on you, and vice versa.  Physical fitness is more than merely a pastime – it is a way of life that requires knowledge, discipline, and desire.

Set Goals for Success

Setting realistic goals is an effective way to stay consistent throughout training, while learning how your body responds to different types of training.  When setting goals, remember that nothing happens overnight.  The body responds gradually to physical training, and it can take years to realize one’s true potential.  Be honest and set goals that are both measurable and challenging.  They should be modest and attainable, though significant enough to reward you with feelings of true accomplishment.  For the first year, try tracking the results over a three, four, or six month period.  Taking before-and-after pictures, keeing a training journal, and charting your progress can serve as reminders of where you started, and where you want to be.

Respect Yourself, Physically

Injury is a very real part of training that often comes with little or no warning.  Failure to warm-up, cool-down, stretch, and listen to your body’s warning signs are among the most common causes of sport-related injury.  Every training session should include time to prepare physically and mentally for your workout.  This should include ample stretching, a light warm up movement (such as stationary bike, elliptical, or skipping rope), and a few moments of concentration to clear the mind of distractions.  At the conclusion of your workout, perform a cool-down movement to help return your heart rate to normal.  Never end a workout on a heavy set or high-intensity exercise.  Finally, always be mindful of what your body is telling you.  Intense cramps, nausea, dizziness, fatique, and chills are all signs that the body has been pushed beyond a safe threshold.  If this happens, take a few minutes to rest and replensih fluid levels.

Choose the Right Supplements

Diet and nutrition are vital to the success of any athlete.  The body uses the nutrients from the foods and supplements consumed to construct new muscle fibers, repair damaged tissues, and replenish your energy reserves.  One of the worst mistakes a new athlete can make is to begin taking dietary supplements without first developing a firm understanding of what they are.  They body is incredibly productive and self-sufficient at younger ages, provided that it is being fed a well-balanced diet.  Some of the most fundamental sports nutrition supplements include whey protein, amino acids, and glutamine. Used as directed, they may provide the natural sports nutritional edge needed to excel.


When the goal is to lose fat, sometimes people focus on the quantity of what they are eating more than on the quality and types of food they are putting in their mouths.  In all reality, up to 80% of successful results in weight loss depends on diet alone.  While food quantity is definitely important, fat loss results will almost certainly plateau if the wrong foods are being consumed.

Today’s society is very fast-moving and busy so it’s often hard to resist all the “quick and easy” meal options that are available.  The problem with fast food or packaged meals and snacks is that they are highly processed and contain chemicals, preservatives, excess sodium and are often packed with saturated fat and sugar.  Even pre-packaged “diet” meals contain added sodium and preservatives.  These foods can result in blood sugar spikes, excess fat storage, low energy levels, and bloating.  In order to attain the best fat loss (and health) results,iIt’s best to stick to foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.


Whole grain and whole wheat pasta, brown rice, rolled oats, potatoes and sweet potatoes, cream of wheat, 100% whole wheat bread, beans and legumes, fruits such as berries, apples, and melons, and veggies are all carbs that are unprocessed and retain all of their natural nutrients and fiber.  They won’t spike blood sugar and will be used more efficiently for energy instead of fat for storage!


As with carbs, protein that is unprocessed is always best.  Also, some protein can be high in saturated animal fats, which should be highly avoided.  Lean protein that is close to its natural state includes skinless chicken breast, skinless turkey breast, pork  tenderloin, white fish and salmon, shellfish, lean beef (loin or round), egg whites, and low-fat cottage cheese.  Whey protein powder is also a great way to consume lean protein.


Anything natural and unsaturated is the way to go.  It’s best to stick to Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, flax seed oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, and natural nut butters.

Switching over to an unprocessed and natural food diet might take some getting used to and will probably require more cooking and preparation in some cases, but the results will be incomparable.  Fat loss can be a difficult task, but if the diet is clean and natural, fat won’t have a chance!

By Becky Conti, C.P.T.  Fitness & Physique, Summer 2011

The High-Antioxidant Answer to Weight Loss


The Xocai High-Antioxidant Wellness System is the first and only of its kind

Everyone loves chocolate, right?  But when it comes to healhty foods, most people don’t typically include chocolate on the list.  For decades, we’ve been told repeatedly that chocolate is a sinful indulgence, loaded with fat, sugar and calories, that contributes only to poor health.  That view, however, is changing as a huge body of research overwhelmingly shows that cocoa and chocolate possess a wide range of health benefits from cardiovascular and brain health to improved energy and immune function.

When talking about chocolate and its health benefits, it’s crucial to know one thing – not all chocolate is created equal.  Steven Warren, M.D., Xocai’s chief scientific officer, says that unlike commercially produced chocolate, Xocai’s products utilize a premium-grade, healthy chocolate unlike any other on the market.  “Because we process our cocao properly, our chocolate retains optimal levels of natural antioxidants, cocoa butter and other vital nutrients,” says Dr. Warren.  “Even better is that our chocolate delivers a rich, robust chocolate flavor that surpasses most chocolates out there.”

Cacao is an Antioxidant Powerhouse

Over the last couple of decades, scientists have increasingly focused on cocoa and chocolate as well as cacao, the plant food they are made from, as a source of optimal nutrition.  The primary aspect of cacao’s health benefits resides in it being one of the top antioxidant containing foods known today.  Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize free radicals or rogue molecules that damage cells and tissues in the body and contribute to literally dozens of diseases.

Cacao contains several classes of antioxidants, including flavanols and flavonoids, both of which are known to protect the body in a variety of ways.  “Cacao truly is unique in its antioxidant profile,” says Dr. Warren.  “Hundreds of studies show that the flavanols and other antioxidants in cacao are powerful protectors of the human body.”

Chocolate Comes Full Circle

When chocolate was first created from cacao beans by Mesoamerican cultures thousands of years ago, it was a drink that retained the antioxidant richness of cacao.  Not too long after it was imported to Europe, however, chocolatiers discovered that adding alkali to cacao, a process called “dutching,” could reduce the bitterness of the cacao and improve its flavor.  Unfortunately, dutching also significantly degraded the nutrient content of the chocolate.

Modern chocolate manufacturers have continued the practice of “dutching,” as well as the incorporation of sugars, unhealthy fats, and chemicals.  “The end product of most chocolates little resembles the antioxidant-rich cacao brought forth centuries ago,” says Dr. Warren.  “In fact, chocolate candy became one of the modern world’s first ‘junk’ foods.”

The good news is that Xocai has recaptured the original nutritional goodness of cacao, thanks to a proprietary cold-processing method that does not destroy the flavanols and other nutrients found naturally in cacao.  Xocai’s chocolate also retains natural cocoa butter, uses low-glycemic natural sweetners, and does not contain “fillers” such as milk solids, oils, or artificial preservatives.

In fact, so revolutionary was Xocai’s chocolate that it was the original creator of the healthy chocolate category.  Its continued development of unique products and commitment to the highest quality of nutrient-rich chocolate allows Xocai to continue at the forefront of the healthy chocolate industry.

Xocai Shows Weight Loss Potential

Mentioned earlier are several health benefits of dark, healthy chocolate.  One other benefit of regularly consuming cacao that is now coming to light is that of healthy, sustained weight loss.

The obesity plague in modern society is real.  In fact, health experts are now saying that obesity is overtaking heart disease as the number-one killer in America.  Obesity costs the country as much as $147 billion every year, not to mention countless lives and untold suffering, and that amount will certainly contiue to grow.

Interestingly, however, science is beginning to make a strong connection between free radical damage, also known as oxidative stress, and weight gain.  Free radicals are unstable rogue molecules that roam the body, damaging cells, tissues and organs.  The results of oxidative stress are widespread and include heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  Now, scientists are adding obesity to that list.

The good news is that a high-antioxidant diet can help neutralize free radicals and the increased tendency of gaining weight.  Xocai High-Antioxidant Weight-Loss System, which features its renowned antioxidant powerhouse cacao, is the first and only high-antioxidant program to give consumers the tools they need to get rid of those unwanted pounds.


1) WALNUTS  All nuts do contain some amount of the omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid, but most only contain trace amounts.  The real fat hero in most nuts is monounsaturated fats.  Walnuts are actually a rich source of omega-3s.  One ounce provides almost 3 g of alpha-linolenic acid.

2) GINGER Used for centuries to help relieve digestive upset/disturbances, ginger can also help reduce inflammation, boost blood flow to muscles and aid muscle recovery.  It has also been shown to boost calorie burn when eaten.

3) OATMEAL This very slow-digesting carb keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low, so fat burning can stay high.  In fact, research has shown that athletes who consume slow-digesting carbs in the morning burn more fat throughout the entire day and during workouts than those consuming fast-digesting carbs.

4) AVOCADO The monounsaturated fats found in avocados are burned readily for fuel during exercise and actually encourage fat burning.  Avocados also contain a very interesting carb called mannoheptulose, a sugar that actually blunts insulin release and enhances calcium absorption, both of which are critical for encouraging fat loss.

5) SALMON This fish is one of the richest sources of the omega-3 essential fats EPA and DHA.  Unlike flaxseeds, which provide a type of omega-3 that has to be converted into EPA and DHA, salmon provides your body a direct supply of them with no conversion required.  This way you know you’re getting a direct supply of the fats that turn on fat burning and block fat storage.

6) SOYBEANS (EDAMAME) Soybeans are the direct origin of soy protein, which has been shown to build muscle as efficiently as other forms of protein like whey and beef.  Soy has also been shown to aid fat loss, possibly by decreasing appetite and calorie intake.

7) WATER This just may be your ally in fighting bodyfat.  Studies have shown that drinking 2 cups of cold water before breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a year can burn 17,400 extra calories, which translates into a little more than 5 pounds of bodyfat!

8) FLAXSEEDS They contain the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid.  These omega-3 fats have been found to turn on genes that stimulate fat burning and turn off genes that increase fat storage.

9) GRAPEFRUIT A study from the Scripps Clinic (San Diego, California) reported that subjects eating half of a grapefruit or drinking 8 oz of grapefruit juice three times a day while maintaining their normal diet lost an average of 4 pounds over 12 weeks – and some lost more than 10 pounds without even dieting!  Results were likely due to grapefruit’s ability to reduce insulin levels and to a chemical in grapefruit known as naringin, which prevents fat from being stored in the body.

10) HONEY Yes, it’s a sugar, but it’s fairly low on the glycemic index.  Keeping insulin levels low and steady is critical for maintaining a fat-burning environment in your body.  Honey is also a rich source of nitric oxide (NO) metabolites; ultimately, that means it actually encourages fat release from the body’s fat cells.

11) PEANUT BUTTER Another source of helpful monounsaturated fat that can actually aid fat loss.  What’s funny is that many food manufacturers make low-fat peanut butters!  Of course, they replace these healthy monounsaturated fats with carbs, namely sugar.  Avoid these and stick with natural peanut butters that don’t add the type of fat you surely want to avoid – trans fats.

12) EGGS Research supports the notion that those who start their day with eggs not only eat fewer calories throughout the day, but also lose significantly more bodyfat.

13) CHILI PEPPER FLAKES Hot peppers contain the active ingredient capsaicin, a chemical that can enhance calorie burning at rest as well as reduce hunger and food intake.  The boost in calorie burn is particularly enhanced when capsaicin is used with caffeine.

14) BROCCOLI This fibrous carb doesn’t provide many net carbs or calories, but it can make you feel full – one reason why it’s a great food for getting lean.  Broccoli also contains phytochemicals that can help enhance fat loss.

15) OLIVE OIL Like avocados, olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats.  Not only do they lower levels of the “bad” type of cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health, but they’re also more likely to be burned as fuel, which means they’re less likely to be sticking around your midsection.

M&F Hers, Jul/Aug 2011



When Should I Take My Protein?


 WHEN IT COMES TO PROTEIN, it’s not just what you take; it’s when you take it.  Although the human body processes protein every time that you consume it, there are certain instances when your system is more receptive to protein.  More specifically, there are times when you should consume different kinds of proteins.  Don’t miss out on these five important occasions.

FIRST THING IN THE MORNING:  The period between when you go to bed and wake up in the morning is the longest that your body goes without food.  “Break the fast” with protein.  In addition to providing much needed amino acids for muscle maintenance and rebuilding, proteins provide more stable, sustained energy than that donut or bagel that you’re currently chowing on.  Opt for a faster-acting protein like whey first thing in the morning.

PRE-WORKOUT:  By drinking a protein shake about an hour before your workout, you’ll prime your body for growth with BCAAs and other essential amino acids.  Whey and egg proteins are a good choice, because they are easy to drink and quickly digested.

POST-WORKOUT:  The 30-60 minute timeframe following exercise is the single most important time of the day to get protein.  Enzymes and hormones are actively repairing and rebuilding exercise-induced damage as well as replenishing glycogen stores, so your muscles are especially receptive to nutrients.  By supplying a post-workout recovery protein containing whey, casein, egg, and simple carbohydrates during this window of opportunity, you’ll help ensure that you’re recharged and ready for your next training session.

BETWEEN MEALS:  Consuming a protein shake in between meals not only helps keep muscle synthesis maximized, it also helps keep body fat and body weight in check.  Proteins help stimulate the release of gut hormones that trigger a feeling of fullness or satiety.  Dairy proteins (whey, casein, and milk) are considered to be better appetite blunters than other protein sources – especially when combined with dietary fiber – so choose a product with one or more of these proteins if weight control is part of your goals.

BEFORE BED:  Prepare your body for the long fast ahead with a casein protein shake a half an hour before bed.  Unlike whey which is rapidly broken down in the gut, casein is digested at a much slower rate releasing its amino acid constituents over several hours throughout the night while you sleep.  For this reason, casein is commonly referred to as a time-released protein.  Casein is also considered anti-catabolic because it’s rich in glutamine and other amino acids that help protect against muscle breakdown.

How to Select a Protein


BUYING A PROTEIN ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE, but don’t underestimate the process either.  Choose the wrong type and you’ll buy more than you need.  Worse yet, spend less than you should and you may not get satisfactory results – or any results at all.  The type (or types) of protein you select, the amount of protein per serving, and the absence or presence of carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, are other areas where you can wander astray.  Avoid these and other pitfalls by following these simple rules.

 FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH YOU NEED  For most individuals, 1 gram of protein pound of body weight per day is a good target.  Those who are looking to add size may need as much as 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.  You should also plan on eating some extra protein (1.25 – 1.5 g/lb/day) if you’re trying to lose weight on higher-protein, lower carbohydrate diets, as some of the amino acids will be burned for fuel.  These amounts include all of the protein consumed through foods, beverages, and supplements.  What’s  more, your daily protein allotment should be spread out over 4-6 smaller meals to enhance absorption and utilization.  If you’re a big meat, fish, poultry, egg, and dariy food eater, you can probably get by with a smaller “hit” of protein from your powdered mix.  Vegetarians and others who eat lots of starchy foods will benefit more from a higher-protein formula.

DETERMINE WHAT YOUR BUDGET AND SCHEDULE ALLOW  Single-source proteins offer more precise benefits.  Ideally, you might use a fast-acting whey protein first thing in the morning and 30 minutes before workouts, a recovery product containing protein plus carbohydrates immediately after workouts, a moderately-digested egg protein in beetween meals, and an all-micellar casein protein at bedtime for sustained amino acid delivery throughout the night while you sleep.  Now, here’s where you need to be realistic and honest with yourself.  Even if you can afford multiple products, are you the type of person who’s disciplined enough to follow such a regimen?  If you answered “no”, consider a protein blend.  While not as fast as the fastest or as slow as the slowest single-source proteins, blends offer many of the disirable qualities of a variety of different proteins.

MAKE YOUR SELECTION AND STICK WITH IT – AT LEAST FOR A WHILE  To do something positive for your physique, you need to take your protein(s) continually and consistently for at least 60 days.  After a couple months, evaluate and, if necessary, modify your program to add in other proteins, to increase or decrease the amounts used, or to change to a different type of protein altogether.