CAT | General Health
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle will soon begin the first large-scale study of its kind to look at whether the beneficial nutrients found in cocoa beans may help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Instead of candy bars, scientists will be handing out capsules containing 750 mg of cocoa flavanols daily to 18,000 participants (though some will receive a placebo) and keeping track of their heart health over a period of four years. Flavanols are a type of plant nutrient found abundantly in cocoa beans that have been shown to support cardiovascular health in several ways.
“In smaller trials [flavanols have] been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve the cholesterol profile, improve sensitivity to insulin and also help the blood vessels to dilate,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s and one of the study’s lead researchers.
Cocoa Powder and Gut Bacteria: The Link to Heart Health
In a similar study, food scientists from Louisiana State University recently discovered the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts love chocolate just as much as we do—well, cocoa powder, to be exact.
When our gut microbes consume cocoa powder, they convert it into heart-healthy compounds that support a healthy inflammatory response, protect our blood vessels from stress, and promote healthy arteries. Cocoa powder contains high amounts of antioxidant polyphenols, known to support cardiovascular health and protect against disease.
In addition, by gobbling up the fiber found naturally in cocoa beans and breaking it down into beneficial short-chain fatty acids, gut bacteria help us feel full longer after eating—which in turn promotes healthy weight management.
It seems the beautiful people in Hollywood are finally catching on to the concept of inner beauty. Beauty nutritionist and nutricosmetics formulator Paula Simpson recently talked to Access Hollywood about stars and their beauty secrets, and guess what? Pop icons like Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga go nuts over nutrient-rich “beauty drinks” loaded with essential fatty acids, antioxidant plant compounds, and… prebiotics and probiotics!
Just what are Prebiotics?
While we hear a lot these days about probiotics (the friendly bacteria in the gut that support optimal digestion and immune health†), we don’t often hear too much about prebiotics—but the two go hand in hand. That’s because prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of probiotics in the gut.† They are essentially food for your beneficial gut bacteria and are often found in the form of soluble fibers, such as FOS (fructooligosaccharides) and acacia fiber.
If you think about it, soluble fibers escape digestion, arriving in the colon (large intestine) largely intact. Then, good bacteria use the soluble fibers like food. A fermentation process occurs, yielding beneficial compounds such as the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which fuels intestinal lining cells, and lactic acid, which lowers the colon pH to a healthy level.† When found together, prebiotics and probiotics form what’s called a “synbiotic” relationship—pretty much a win-win for your gut!
Cleansing Greens for Inner Balance
And what would a beauty drink be without cleansing greens for good digestion and detox? Says Simpson, “Greens or ‘cleansing’ foods supercharge the body and support the eliminative organs such as the digestive system to support optimal nutrient absorption and remove byproducts or toxins before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream (and get to the skin). Spinach, kale, dandelion greens or concentrated greens, such as wheatgrass, barley grass, spirulina are great to add to smoothies for a detox beauty boost.”