Four for Valentines Day: Chocolate 101, Sexy Underwear, Love is Heart Healthy, and Where Love Resides


Valentine's Day! Chocolate 101
Here’s a brief look at where chocolate comes from, nutritional information, how it’s made, and the ingredients that make chocolate -- whether milk, dark or white -- a memorable treat.

Cocoa Seeds, Not Beans
Cocoa comes from the cocoa plant grown in the remote areas of West Africa, Asia and South America. While often called cocoa beans, cocoa plants actually are large, brightly colored pods filled with many seeds.

Cocoa to Chocolate
Cocoa seeds are removed from the pod, dried and roasted, giving them a distinct dark color and unique flavor. After roasting, cocoa seeds are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. The liquor separates into dry cocoa and cocoa butter, or fat.

Chocolate Ingredients
Cocoa is heated and combined with other ingredients, such as sugar and milk, to create chocolate bars and candy. Dark chocolate is at least 35 percent cocoa liquor; and milk chocolate, 10 percent. White chocolate has cocoa butter, but no chocolate liquor. Chocolate contains protein, magnesium, and flavanols (antioxidants). Dark chocolate has caffeine; white chocolate does not. Dairy-based chocolate provides calcium.

Chocolate Safety
The roasting process kills bacteria on the cocoa seeds. Because of the high fat, low moisture content, chocolate generally does not spoil. A white coating, called "chocolate bloom," may appear on the surface of a chocolate bar. This is either the cocoa butter or sugar rising to the top of the chocolate, often due to high temperatures or sun. The presence of chocolate bloom does not mean that the chocolate is unsafe to eat.

Chocolate for Heath
Antioxidants, like the flavonols found in chocolate, may boost the body's immune system. There is still a lot more research that needs to be done, but exciting emerging research shows that chocolate may be good for both cardiovascular health and even memory. The sweetness in chocolate certainly makes it taste good, but chocolate should always be consumed in moderation due to sugar and fat content.
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Sexy Underwear is Underwear That Makes You Feel Sexy

Television makeover shows and glossy magazines can leave women feeling guilty for not wearing “sexy” lingerie – especially on Valentine’s Day.  But in fact, many different types of underwear could make them feel feminine, according to an expert on underwear consumption.

Dr Christiana Tsaousi, a lecturer in marketing and consumption at the University of Leicester’s School of Management, believes underwear choices are hugely affected by personal taste influenced by social background, professional status and upbringing, and why every woman's underwear needs are individual.

"On Valentine's Day, some women may feel the only way to feel feminine is to wear the "sexy" underwear promoted by the media in general. But this is really not the case.  Reality makeover shows and media in general have one purpose – to make women look feminine in line with western ideals,” she said.

“They present femininity as this thing where you feel nice about yourself because you have a body that needs to be expressed. Having that as an aim, participants on the shows are given underwear that’s going to mold the body in a certain way.”

But Dr Tsaousi, who has conducted extensive research into the consumption of underwear, says that women think very carefully about choosing the right underwear for the right situation – and that comfort is often as important as “sexiness”.

“Women learn to choose underwear for the right situation. In an ideal world, it would be good if reality shows acknowledge that women can feel feminine by wearing different underwear.

“Some women don’t like these shows because they always show a specific type of femininity, which is not the reality in most cases. They can make you feel guilty about the way you look and the way you feel about your body if you aren’t wearing underwear considered sexy.

“When partners are looking to buy underwear as Valentine’s gifts for their wives or girlfriends, they should choose underwear which will fit their partners well and will make them feel comfortable – rather than the stereotypical tiny, uncomfortable types. This will ultimately lead to them feeling nice about themselves.”
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Being in Love is Heart Healthy
Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologist Julie Damp, M.D., says being involved in a healthy, loving relationship is good for the heart.  "There are different theories behind why that might be," Damp said.

Most of the theories seem to be related to the fact that people who are married or who are in close, healthy relationships tend to be less likely to smoke, are more physically active and are more likely to have a well-developed social structure. Along with that, they may have lower levels of stress and anxiety in their day-to-day lives, may seek medical attention more quickly, and may be more likely to take preventive medications.
A recent study from Finland showed that married men and women had a significantly lower risk of both having heart attacks and dying from a heart attack compared to people who were single.

"There is also a theory that people who are in loving relationships may experience neuro-hormonal changes that have positive effects on the body, including the cardiovascular system," she said, explaining that there are certain hormone levels in the body that vary depending on the level of an individual's stress and anxiety.

"This has not been proven, but the idea is that being in a relationship that is positive may have positive effects on your cardiovascular system over long periods of time," Damp said. In fact, studies have shown that relationships that involve conflict or negativity are associated with an increase in risk for coronary artery disease.

Giving your loved one a box of dark chocolates and a bottle of red wine won't hurt either. Studies suggest they are good for the heart, as well.

  • Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants have positive effects on many different body systems including the cardiovascular system. The high concentration of cocoa in dark chocolate appears to be what offers the flavonoid benefit.
  • "Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax," Damp said.

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Where Love Resides

PIC: Posterior Insula
AIC Anterior Insula
A region deep inside the brain controls how quickly people make decisions about love, according to new research at the University of Chicago.  The finding, made in an examination of a 48-year-old man who suffered a stroke, provides the first causal clinical evidence that an area of the brain called the anterior insula "plays an instrumental role in love," said UChicago neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo, lead author of the study.

In an earlier paper that analyzed research on the topic, Cacioppo and colleagues defined love as "an intentional state for intense [and long-term] longing for union with another" while lust, or sexual desire, is characterized by an intentional state for a short-term, pleasurable goal.

In this study, the patient made decisions normally about lust but showed slower reaction times when making decisions about love, in contrast to neurologically typical participants matched on age, gender and ethnicity.

Other studies show that the anterior insula is associated with love, and the posterior insula is associated with lust.  In this study, researchers examined a 48-year-old heterosexual male in Argentina, who had suffered a stroke that damaged the function of his anterior insula. He was matched with a control group of seven Argentinian heterosexual men of the same age who had healthy anterior insula.

The patient and the control group were shown 40 photographs at random of attractive, young women dressed in appealing, short and long dresses and asked whether these women were objects of sexual desire or love. The patient with the damaged anterior insula showed a much slower response when asked if the women in the photos could be objects of love.  "The current work makes it possible to disentangle love from other biological drives," the authors wrote.
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Story sources:

  1. Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). "Valentine's Day! Chocolate 101." ScienceDaily.
  2. Tsaousi, C. ‘What underwear I like?’ Taste and (embodied) cultural capital in the consumption of women’s underwear. Journal of Consumer Culture, 2014 
  3. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Love is good for the heart, cardiologist says." ScienceDaily.
  4. Stephanie Cacioppo et al. Selective decision-making deficit in love following damage to the anterior insula. Current Trends in Neurology, February 2014

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