As far as the economy goes, I'm guessing last Sunday went pretty well. I'm, of course, speaking of Valentine's Day, a day when Americans are expected to shell out around $19 billion for cards, candy, flowers and other expressions of affection for that special someone. If you don't happen to celebrate the day, that's perfectly acceptable as well. You are not alone. Nearly half of Americans — 43 percent — are not expected to have joined in on the festivities. Apparently, over the years, we've developed this love/hate thing with this annual February event.
A lot of it has to do with the stress of it. Psychologist Regina Barreca has even dubbed it as "the holiday of inadequacy" due to the strain it puts upon people to find the perfect gift for your loved one. It's not that easy. So, if you are receiving some disappointment from the object of your affection because you didn't follow up on the advice to make a bold statement with your gift purchase, but instead resorted to fall back mode and got them a box of chocolates, let me suggest a novel response — you did it for the sake of their health.
Tell them that, not only is it a pleasurable sweet treat my dear, eating these little morsels could lower your blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease, help control blood sugar and decrease stress. Chocolate, I might add, is a good antioxidant.
The greatest benefit from chocolate comes from varieties containing the highest concentration of cocoa and a substance called "flavanols." These flavanols are what act as antioxidants, mopping up potentially damaging free radicals produced by the body during the process of metabolism. They can also reduce resistance to insulin, and make blood vessels more elastic, which results in reducing blood pressure. Just a little chocolate can go a long way in helping you live longer.
The operative word here is "little."
How much chocolate should one eat before its advantages are cancelled out by overindulgence? It's hard to say. If you eat more calories than your body can burn off, you can expect to gain weight. A recent study conducted in Germany exploring this subject of "how much?" concluded that 6 grams (or 0.2 oz) of chocolate per day proved to be beneficial. That's about half a single square of a typical chocolate bar.
Complicating the matter, not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate tends to have more flavanols than milk chocolate. White chocolate (which does not actually contain chocolate) is not a good source of flavanols. Chocolate that has gone through a chemical step known as "ditching" — such as in Dutch chocolate — has essentially lost all traces of essential flavanols. For the present, it's probably safe to say that dark chocolate is good for you, or at very least, not bad for you in moderation.
It's just a matter of willpower, except according to recent studies our brains may be hard-wired to work against our sense of will and our best intentions. New research shows that our brain is, in fact, our biggest saboteur of success and it can lead to self-deception on a grand scale.
When we experience or anticipate pleasure or a reward, a chemical called dopamine is released in the brain. It's this process that beckons us to take that extra bite. To get the dopamine flowing, all we need is a reminder of a past reward. According to experts, even without the promise of new, similar experiences, the image in the mind is enough to render self-control useless. This applies whether our weakness is for doughnuts, a double latte, or something more serious. It's also why addiction cycles are notoriously hard to break. And why this line of research is so promising.
The study may help medical science better understand addiction and what has been identified as the biggest problem with addiction — relapse.
"When you see this biological correlation between those who are and those who are not able to resist something, you can build on that," says Shelly Flagel, of the University of Michigan, who has long been studying how dopamine works in animals.
When it comes to drugs or alcohol, people can relapse when they encounter certain places or paraphernalia they previously associated with their drug-taking behavior. Even if they have been clean for years and aren't paying attention to these cues, their brains might be aware of them and trigger a craving.
This study, and subsequent studies being conducted by the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, could lead to drug treatments to help people with addictive behavior and lead to recovery.
They come not a moment too soon. On a monetary level, abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs costs our nation more than $700 billion annually in crime, lost work productivity and health care. What of the human toll?
This past week, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics published some shocking findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Drug overdosing is one of the three main reasons why Americans die, on average, much younger than people in other advanced countries. Along with gun injuries and motor vehicle crashes, this accounts for more than 100,000 deaths per year in this country. These three causes of death were responsible for 48 percent of the gap in men's life expectancy between the United States and similar countries. For women, they accounted for 19 percent of the discrepancy.
It's a trend that we must put a stop to.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Hideto KOBAYASHI