And Now —- Vaccinated Chocolate

World’s chocolate supply threatened by devastating pathogen

Mathematics Prof. Benito Chen-Charpentier of the University of Texas at Arlington© (photo credit: University of Texas at Arlington)

About 50% of the world’s chocolate comes from cacao trees in the West Africa countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana. The devastating news coming from there is that a quickly spreading virus threatens the health of the cacao tree and the dried seeds from which chocolate is made, jeopardizing the global supply of the world’s most popular treat.

The damaging pathogen is attacking cacao trees in Ghana, resulting in harvest losses of between 15% and 50%. Spread by small insects called mealybugs (Pseudococcidae, Homoptera) that eat the buds, flowers, and leaves, the cacao swollen shoot virus disease (CSSVD) is among the most damaging threats to the root ingredient of chocolate.

CSSVD was first observed in the eastern region of Ghana in 1936 by a farmer and its virus nature was confirmed in 1939, but in recent years, it has proliferated.

“This virus is a real threat to the global supply of chocolate,” said mathematics Prof. Benito Chen-Charpentier of the University of Texas at Arlington and an author of the study in the journal PLOS One under the title “Cacao sustainability: The case of cacao swollen-shoot virus co-infection.”

Austrian man Carl Schweizer (R) trades cocoa cobs and beans with local farmers in Piedra de Plata, Ecuador, June 4, 2016. (credit: REUTERS/GUILLERMO GRANJA)© Provided by The Jerusalem Post

Austrian man Carl Schweizer (R) trades cocoa cobs and beans with local farmers in Piedra de Plata, Ecuador, June 4, 2016. (credit: REUTERS/GUILLERMO GRANJA)

Globalization as a root cause

A recent increase in the spread of plant pests and diseases is caused by globalization, climate change, agricultural intensification, and reduced resilience in production systems. A vast number of plant pathogens pose a serious threat to food safety and security, national economies, biodiversity, and rural environment, he said.

 “Pesticides don’t work well against mealybugs, leaving farmers to try to prevent the spread of the disease by cutting out infected trees and breeding resistant trees. But despite these efforts, Ghana has lost more than 254 million cacao trees in recent years,” he warned.

Farmers can combat the mealybugs by giving vaccines to the trees to inoculate them from the virus – but the vaccines are expensive, especially for low-wage farmers, and vaccinated trees produce a smaller harvest of cacao, thus compounding the devastation of the virus.

Chen-Charpentier and colleagues from the University of Kansas, Prairie View A&M, the University of South Florida, and the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana have developed a new strategy: using mathematical data to determine how far apart farmers can plant vaccinated trees to prevent mealybugs from jumping from one tree to another and spreading the virus.

“These insects have several ways of movement, including moving from canopy to canopy, being carried by ants, or blown by the wind,” Chen-Charpentier explained “What we needed to do was create a model for cacao growers so they could know how far away they could safely plant vaccinated trees from unvaccinated trees in order to prevent the spread of the virus while keeping costs manageable for these small farmers.”

By experimenting with mathematical patterning techniques, the team created two different types of models that allow farmers to create a protective layer of vaccinated cacao trees around unvaccinated trees.

“While still experimental, these models are exciting because they would help farmers protect their crops while helping them achieve a better harvest,” Chen-Charpentier said. “This is good for the farmers’ bottom.”


CHocolate & Body Fat

The Higher The Consumption of Chocolate, The Lower The Level of Body Fat

Yes ladies, it’s time to crack open the bubbly and toast the University of Granada researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences. They have scientifically disproven the outdated belief that eating chocolate is fattening. If you don’t enjoy exercising, you may also appreciate that the research was independent of diet and physical activity.

Virtually everyone likes chocolate, and no other food resembles chocolate in flavour, aroma and texture. Chocolate is also highest on the list of foods subject to cravings which leads to guilt when we consume an excess.

In an article published this week in the journal Nutrition, the authors have shown that higher consumption of chocolate is associated with lower levels of total fat (fat deposited all over the body) and central fat (abdominal), independently of whether or not the individual participates in regular physical activity and of diet, among other factors.

The researchers determined whether greater chocolate consumption associated with higher body mass index and other indicators of total and central body fat in adolescents participating in the HELENA (Healthy Lifestyle in Europe by Nutrition in Adolescence) study. This project, financed by the European Union, studies eating habits and lifestyle in young people in 9 European countries, including Spain.

The pleasurable experience of eating chocolate can alter mood by directly producing a feeling of well-being and by distracting us from feelings such as anxiety and depression. In turn, relief from distressing mood states could reinforce liking for chocolate. These changes in mood could be related to any of the previous theories.

In a recent study by Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton of Pennsylvania State University, subjects who followed a diet rich in cocoa butter saw no rise in their blood cholesterol levels.

Independent of diet and physical activity

The study involved 1458 adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years and results showed that a higher level of chocolate consumption associated with lower levels of total and central fat when these were estimated through body mass index, body fat percentage–measured by both skinfolds and bioelectrical impedance analysis–and waist circumference. These results were independent of the participant’s sex, age, sexual maturation, total energy intake, intake of saturated fats, fruit and vegetables, consumption of tea and coffee, and physical activity.

As the principle author Magdalena Cuenca-Garcia explains, although chocolate is considered a high energy content food–it is rich in sugars and saturated fats–“recent studies in adults suggest chocolate consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders”.

In fact, chocolate is rich in flavonoids–especially catechins–which have many healthy properties: “they have important antioxidant, antithrombotic, anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects and can help prevent ischemic heart disease”.

Recently, another cross-sectional study in adults conducted by University of California researchers found that more frequent chocolate consumption also associated with a lower body mass index. What’s more, these results were confirmed in a longitudinal study in women who followed a catechin-rich diet.

The effect could be partly due to the influence of catechins on cortisol production and on insulin sensitivity, both of which are related with overweight and obesity.

Calorie impact is not the only thing that matters

The University of Granada researchers have sought to go further and analyse the effect of chocolate consumption at a critical age like adolescence by also controlling other factors that could influence the accumulation of fat. The research, which is both novel and, perhaps, the largest and best-controlled study to date, is the first to focus on the adolescent population. It includes a large number of body measures, objective measurement of physical activity, detailed dietary recall with 2 non-consecutive 24-hour registers using image-based software, and controls for the possible effect of a group of key variables.

In Nutrition, the authors stress that the biological impact of foods should not be evaluated solely in terms of calories. “The most recent epidemiologic research focuses on studying the relation between specific foods–both for their calorie content and for their components–and the risk factors for developing chronic illnesses, including overweight and obesity”.

Despite their results, the authors insist that chocolate consumption should always be moderate. “In moderate quantities, chocolate can be good for you, as our study has shown. But, undoubtedly, excessive consumption is prejudicial. As they say: you can have too much of a good thing”.

The University of Granada researchers stress that their findings “are also important from a clinical perspective since they contribute to our understanding of the factors underlying the control and maintenance of optimal weight”.

Some things to keep in mind when selecting a chocolate bar:
1) The darker the better
2) stay away from chocolate with soy, soy lecithin, palm oil, natural flavor, whey, yeast, polyglycerols and other nasty chemicals that don’t belong in the ingredient list
3) No refined sugar is necessary to make a great tasting chocolate bar 4) Cacao should be preferably stone ground and preferably organic (if it’s not raw the lower the antioxidant value)
5) cacao beans should NOT be gas dried (know your source).


Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.


Brush Your Teeth with Chocolate???

Chocolate Toothpaste Better than Fluoride, Researcher Says

For a healthy smile brush between meals, floss regularly and eat plenty of chocolate? According to Tulane University doctoral candidate Arman Sadeghpour an extract of cocoa powder that occurs naturally in chocolates, teas, and other products might be an effective natural alternative to fluoride in toothpaste. In fact, his research revealed that the cocoa extract was even more effective than fluoride in fighting cavities.

The extract, a white crystalline powder whose chemical makeup is similar to caffeine, helps harden teeth enamel, making users less susceptible to tooth decay. The cocoa extract could offer the first major innovation to commercial toothpaste since manufacturers began adding fluoride to toothpaste in 1914.

The extract has been proven effective in the animal model, but it will probably be another two to four years before the product is approved for human use and available for sale, Sadeghpour says. But he has already created a prototype of peppermint flavored toothpaste with the cavity-fighting cocoa extract added, and his doctoral thesis research compared the extract side by side to fluoride on the enamel surface of human teeth.


Sadeghpour’s research group included scientists from Tulane, the University of New Orleans, and Louisiana State University’s School of Dentistry. Sadeghpour will earn his PhD from Tulane University on May 19.