Back when food was way scarcer, our ancient ancestors needed to take every advantage they had to consume high calorie foods. So the human brain evolved to perceive sugar—and fat—as very rewarding, says Schwartz. Today, our brains are still wired for feast or famine, even though you can buy thousands of calories of food for a couple bucks at the local convenience store.
When we’re under stress, our bodies immediately kick into fight-or-flight mode, releasing large amounts of hormones. Surprisingly, the body has the same chemical response when blood sugar is low. After you eat a sweet snack, stress hormones begin to compensate for the crash by raising your blood sugar. The result? Unexplained anxiousness, irritability, and even shakiness.
Due to the higher cocoa content, dark chocolate has a much richer flavor than milk chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the richer the taste. Cocoa is naturally bitter and very strong-tasting. Chocolate-makers (especially makers of milk chocolate) mellow this flavor by processes, such as alkalizing, fermenting, roasting, and adding milk and/or sugar, all of which can destroy healthy flavanols, alter our ability to use them or negate their health effects all together with unhealthy additives.
If you eat a piece of fruit, for example, you’re not only consuming sugar (in the form of fructose), but also fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. All of these things help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut and help your body metabolize the sugar found in the fruit. Instead of craving more and more sugar, you’ll stay satiated for a longer period without the massive blood sugar spikes from consuming a treat with a bunch of refined sugar, she says.
The new study is more complete and accurate (thanks to updated technology) than previous USDA antioxidant data and includes more foods than the previous study, the researchers say. They analyzed antioxidant levels in over 100 different foods, including fruits and vegetables. In addition, the new study includes data on spices and nuts for the first time.
The antioxidant measurements have been conducted over a period of eight years, from 2000 to 2008. The samples were procured from local stores and markets in Scandinavia, USA and Europe and from the African, Asian and South American continents. Many of the samples of plant material, like berries, mushrooms and herbs, were handpicked. Commercially procured food samples were stored according to the description on the packing and analyzed within four weeks. Handpicked samples were either stored at 4°C and analyzed within three days or frozen at -20°C and analyzed within four weeks. Products that needed preparation such as coffee, tea, processed vegetables etc. were prepared on the day of analysis. Furthermore, all samples were homogenized, dry samples were pulverized and solid samples were chopped in a food processor. After homogenizing, analytical aliquots were weighed. Included in the database are 1113 of the food samples obtained from the US Department of Agriculture National Food and Nutrient Analysis Program. They were collected, homogenized, and stored as previously described . Three replicates were weighed out for each sample. All samples were extracted in water/methanol, except vegetable oils which were extracted in 2-propanol and some fat-rich samples which were extracted in water/2-propanol. The extracts were mixed, sonicated in ice water bath for 15 min, mixed once more and centrifuged in 1.5 mL tubes at 12.402 × g for 2 min at 4°C. The concentration of antioxidants was measured in triplicate of the supernatant of the centrifuged samples.
Our results show large variations both between as well as within each food category; all of the food categories contain products almost devoid of antioxidants (Table (Table1).1). Please refer to Additional file 1, the Antioxidant Food Table, for the FRAP results on all 3139 products analyzed. The categories "Spices and herbs", "Herbal/traditional plant medicine" and "Vitamin and dietary supplements" include the most antioxidant rich products analyzed in the study. The categories "Berries and berry products", "Fruit and fruit juices", "Nuts and seeds", "Breakfast Cereals", "Chocolate and sweets", "Beverages" and "Vegetables and vegetable products" include most of the common foods and beverages which have medium to high antioxidant values (Table (Table1).1). We find that plant-based foods are generally higher in antioxidant content than animal-based and mixed food products, with median antioxidant values of 0.88, 0.10 and 0.31 mmol/100 g, respectively (Table (Table1).1). Furthermore, the 75th percentile of plant-based foods is 4.11 mmol/100 g compared to 0.21 and 0.68 mmol/100 g for animal-based and mixed foods, respectively. The high mean value of plant-based foods is due to a minority of products with very high antioxidant values, found among the plant medicines, spices and herbs. In the following, summarized results from the 24 categories are presented.
Most of the spices and herbs analyzed have particularly high antioxidant contents. Although spices and herbs contribute little weight on the dinner plate, they may still be important contributors to our antioxidant intake, especially in dietary cultures where spices and herbs are used regularly. We interpret the elevated concentration of antioxidants observed in several dried herbs compared to fresh samples, as a normal consequence of the drying process leaving most of the antioxidants intact in the dried end product. This tendency is also seen in some fruits and their dried counterparts. Thus, dried herbs and fruit are potentially excellent sources of antioxidants.
A recent study by Swedish researchers found that women who ate high amounts of chocolate — about two candy bars per week — had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke. In a similar study, British researchers also found that people who ate more chocolate were 30 percent less likely to have a stroke. However, researchers added that more study is needed to determine the exact amount and types of flavonoid-rich chocolates that would be most help lessen stroke risk.
Among dark chocolate’s most researched benefit is its role in preventing heart disease. British researchers analyzed seven studies on chocolate and cardiovascular health involving more than 114,000 people in the United States, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and Sweden and found that people who ate more chocolate significantly reduced their risk for heart disease. Researchers concluded that people who ate the most chocolate weekly had a 37 percent lower risk of any heart disease than those who ate the least amounts of dark chocolate.
The "glycemic index" is a measure of how a given food affects blood-glucose levels, with each food being assigned a numbered rating. The lower the rating, the slower the absorption and digestion process, which provides a more gradual, healthier infusion of sugars into the bloodstream. On the other hand, a high rating means that blood-glucose levels are increased quickly, which stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin to drop blood-sugar levels. These rapid fluctuations of blood-sugar levels are not healthy because of the stress they place on the body.
As I’m writing this article, there are already 75 scientific articles looking at dark chocolate and blood pressure. A study published in 2015 compared type 2 diabetics’ consumption of white chocolate versus high-cocoa, polyphenol-rich dark chocolate. The subjects consumed 25 grams (a little under one ounce) of dark or white chocolate for eight weeks. The researchers found that not only did dark chocolate lower the blood pressure of the hypertensive diabetics, but it also decreased fasting blood sugar. (10)
Have a big meeting, test or dinner with the in-laws? Eating dark chocolate can give your brain a short-term boost—increasing your alertness—for two to three hours, a University of Nottingham study found. Flavanols, one of dark chocolate’s key components, dilates blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and blood to reach key areas of the brain, which can help you soldier against fatigue and the effects of aging. The study participants consumed a flavanol-rich cocoa drink, but you can eat dark chocolate by itself—or any foods high in flavanols like red wine, green tea and blueberries.
After you scarf dark chocolate down, “good” microbes in your gut feast on it, fermenting it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for your heart, according to research presented at the 2014 American Chemical Society meeting. Antioxidants and fiber present in cocoa powder aren’t fully digested until they reach the colon where the compounds are absorbed into the body, lessening inflammation within cardiovascular tissue and reducing long-term risk of stroke.
Most of the breakfast cereals have antioxidant content in the range of 0.5 to 2.25 mmol/100 g, while 4 single products are above this range. Among grains and grain products, buckwheat, millet and barley flours are the flours with the highest antioxidant values in our study (Table (Table3),3), while crisp bread and whole meal bread with fiber are the grain products containing most antioxidants. Beans and lentils have mean antioxidant values ranging from 0.1 to 1.97 mmol/100 g. Different types of rice have antioxidant values between 0.01 and 0.36 mmol/100 g.
Chocolate tastes sinfully sweet, but you may no longer need to feel guilty about indulging in an ounce or two a few times a week. A growing number of studies show that chocolate, especially antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, has health benefits that put it squarely on the latest list of superfoods. A key reason chocolate has so many health benefits is that it is rich in flavonoids, which are naturally occurring substances found in plants that can provide a serious boost in antioxidant action for you.
In the nuts and seeds category we analyzed 90 different products, with antioxidant contents varying from 0.03 mmol/100 g in poppy seeds to 33.3 mmol/100 g in walnuts, with pellicle and purchased with nut shell intact. Pecans with pellicle, sunflower seeds and chestnuts with pellicle, have mean antioxidant content in the range of 4.7 to 8.5 mmol/100 g (Table (Table3).3). Walnuts, chestnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds have higher values when analyzed with the pellicle intact compared to without pellicle.
Frequent exposure to high glucose levels diminishes mental capacity, as higher HbA1c levels have been associated with a greater degree of brain shrinkage. Even in those without diabetes, higher sugar consumption is associated with lower scores on tests of cognitive function. These effects are thought to be due to a combination of hyperglycemia, hypertension, insulin resistance, and elevated cholesterol.
The samples were classified into 24 different categories covering products from the plant kingdom, products from the animal kingdom and mixed food products. Information about sample processing (raw, cooked, dried etc), if any, was included, along with all sample specifications, i.e. product name, brand name, where the product/sample was procured and country of origin. The product information in the database was collected from the packing of the product, from supplier or purchaser. When this information was not available or the samples were handpicked, only country of origin is presented. Each sample is assigned to only one category. The classification was done according to information from the supplier or purchaser, or according to common traditional use of the food. Some foods may therefore be categorized otherwise in other food cultures. For products in the categories "Herbal/traditional plant medicine" and "Vitamin and dietary Supplements" some products may rightfully be classified as both an herbal medicine and a supplement, but are still assigned to only one category. All berries, fruits, and vegetables were fresh samples unless otherwise noted in the database. The Antioxidant Food Table contains 3139 samples. About 1300 of these samples have been published before [16,17,28] but for comparison and completeness we have included them in the present publication. All individual samples previously published are identified by a comment in the Antioxidant Food Table. The categories and products in the database are presented in alphabetic order. Information about brand names and product trademarks does not imply endorsement by the authors, and are reported as descriptive information for research applications only. The Antioxidant Food Table will in the future be available online as a searchable database. In addition to the products mentioned in this paper, other foods will in the future be analyzed and incorporated into the online version, which will be posted on the University of Oslo's web site.
Many of us take the bait at the word “antioxidant,” buying health and beauty products without knowing exactly how these mysterious compounds actually benefit us. Let's clear that up: “Antioxidants act like little bodyguards to protect our cells from damage that can lead to premature aging and disease,” explains Cynthia Sass, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. They neutralize harmful free radicals, molecules that play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and more.
In the recent years, this humble vegetable has created a lot of noise because of its cancer-fighting antioxidants. Out of all the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli is one of the best sources of antioxidants like carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene. The best way to have broccoli is to steam it. Remember that some antioxidants like Vitamin C are completely destroyed by heat while others like beta-carotene become more potent on cooking the vegetable.
Your dark chocolate of choice should also be made from cocoa butter, not palm and/or coconut oils. Also look out for any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list. Now that huge commercial chocolate makers are responding to the love of dark chocolate and making their own versions, you have to be careful. A label that reads “dark chocolate” doesn’t automatically make it a healthy choice. The healthiest or best dark chocolate is made from cacao or cocoa that’s organic, minimally processed and definitely not dutched.
The research is piling up that soda is bad for your brain, as are other added sugars. An animal study from Oregon State University found that a high-sugar diet led to cognitive impairments, including memory problems. And a UK study recently found the “tipping point” at which blood sugar negatively affects the progression of Alzheimer’s. “Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets,” study author Dr. Omar Kassaar of the University of Bath said in a press release.