This Week's Nutrition News Feed

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Stacked chocolate bars

In this week's nutrition news: another reason to eat chocolate; acid reflux doctor cautions against late-night eating; and nutrition labels are poised for a major makeover.

Eat Your Chocolate

A recent study – small-scale and partly funded by chocolate maker Mars, Inc., but led by respected researchers – suggests antioxidants in chocolate called cocoa flavanols may boost the memory skills of healthy people that sometimes deteriorate with age. Study participants, ages 50 to 69, who drank a high-flavanol mixture for three months performed about 25 percent better on memory tests than those given a mixture low in flavanols. The high-flavanol group performed like people 20 to 30 years younger. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean your doctor is likely to prescribe a daily candy bar. Most flavanols are removed in milk chocolate processing. (Sorry, Halloween candy lovers.) Still, a neurobiologist not involved in the study has called the results are “exciting.”

No More Midnight Snacks

We know whopping midnight snacks can wreak havoc on our waistlines, but a New York physician who specializes in acid reflux warns in the New York Times, late-night eating can have other consequences as well. By letting busy schedules push back our dinner hours and nibbling (especially high-fat foods) right up until bedtime, we are risking acid reflux, an affliction that is now epidemic, “affecting as many as 40 percent of Americans,” and can contribute to esophageal cancer. "To stop the remarkable increase in reflux disease, we have to stop eating by 8 p.m., or whatever time falls at least three hours before bed,” Jamie A. Koufman writes. "For many people, eating dinner early represents a significant lifestyle shift. It will require eating well-planned breakfasts, lunches and snacks, with healthy food and beverage choices."

Deconstructing the Nutrition Label
About half of U.S. consumers read the nutrition labels on packaged foods, according to New York Times personal health writer Jane E. Brody, but sadly, even those of us who do so may not come away fully informed – because those labels, as they now are, paint an extremely blurry, if not outright misleading, picture of the products' true nutritional value. Mystifying measurements for sugar and sodium (how much is a gram, anyway?) and serving sizes that are woefully underestimated are just two of many confusing features. That's about to change, Brody reports. The FDA is set to revise labels to make them more helpful and illuminating, with improvements including clarifying the amount of "added sugars" in a product and giving serving sizes a reality check. It will take a while for the changes to go into effect and, Brody notes, they may not go far enough. But still, progress is progress, right?
Amy Reiter also contributes to FN Dish.
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Is Chocolate the New Coffee?

When the midday slump hits, try reaching for some chocolate instead of a cup of joe. Your brain may thank you.