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Is chocolate good for your heart? Finally the FDA has an answer – kind of

There’s plenty of mystique tied to chocolate. Over the centuries, cocoa has been touted as an aphrodisiac and a health elixir. The Mayans even used cocoa as a form of cash and buried their aristocrats with it. It appears they believed that «it helped people get into the afterlife and survive in the afterlife,» says Nat Bletter, an ethnobotanist and chocolate-maker.

As myths have evolved over cocoa’s several thousand year history as a food, so too has the scientific pursuit to understand how it may influence our health. Cocoa contains lots of bioactive compounds called flavanols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In recent years, studies have shown the flavanols in cocoa can help improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.

Back in 2018, a company that manufactures chocolate and cocoa products, Barry Callebaut AG Switzerland, petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow the use of a health claim on labels, pointing to the link between the consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Now, after an exhaustive review of studies, the FDA has responded.

In early February, the agency gave a green light to use certain, limited health claims on products made with high-flavanol cocoa powder. But, the agency says there’s not enough evidence to support claims on regular chocolate, the kind most of us consume. Perhaps that’s because some of the more convincing research comes from studies of cocoa flavanol supplements, not candy.

Take, for instance, the Cosmos trial, which included more than 20,000 men and women, aged 60 and older. Participants in the study agreed to consume 500 milligrams of cocoa flavanols, in the form of capsules, each day for several years to test whether it may help reduce the risk of heart disease. It was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, so participants didn’t know if they were being given cocoa flavanols or a placebo.

«We did see promising signals for prevention of cardiovascular disease events,» explains Dr. JoAnn Manson of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and one of the authors of the study. Overall, there was not a statistically significant decrease in heart attacks or strokes among participants taking the cocoa supplements, but fewer of them died from heart disease. «We actually saw a 27% reduction in cardiovascular disease deaths,» says Manson. The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last summer, and researchers hope to replicate the findings with continued research.

Scientists have honed in on a particular mechanism that helps explain how chocolate can influence our cardiovascular systems. The bio-active flavanols in cocoa can prompt the production of more nitric oxide, a gas which causes our blood vessels to open up — or dilate. «Vasodilation seems to be the mechanism for lowering of blood pressure and what appears to be signals for reduction in cardiovascular events,» Manson says.

But – bad news for chocoholics – she says these findings should not be interpreted as an invitation to eat more chocolate given candy bars contain sugar, fat and calories. «We found in the Women’s Health Initiative that eating chocolate several times a week, just regular chocolate candy, did lead to weight gain,» Manson says. And excess weight is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, where does that leave us, the chocolate-loving public?

Despite dozens of published studies evaluating the links between chocolate and health, the FDA’s assessment is that, as of now, the science is still inconclusive. It’s pretty clear that the compounds in cocoa are good for us, but we may not get enough of them when we consume highly-processed, sweetened chocolate candy bars.

Perhaps this is why the newly approved health claims are limited and confusing. Here’s one example: «Cocoa flavanols in high flavanol cocoa powder may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, although the FDA has concluded that there is very limited scientific evidence for this claim.»

«How is a consumer going to interpret that?» asks nutrition scientist Christopher Gardner, a professor at Stanford University. He says a health claim like this is unlikely to be helpful.

One of the challenges, he says, is that it’s nearly impossible to do the kind of study that could prove whether a given amount of chocolate reduces heart disease. For starters, scientists would need to recruit thousands of people, half of whom would have to agree to eat chocolate every day for many years. The other half would need to agree to never eat chocolate. «Who would sign up for that?» Gardner asks.

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FAA investigating contact between 2 United airplanes on Boston Logan tarmac

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating a Monday incident between two United Airlines flights at Boston Logan International Airport, the agency said in a statement to CNN.

“As a tow tug was pushing it back from the gate at Boston Logan International Airport, the right wing of United Airlines Flight 515 struck the tail of United Airlines Flight 267 around 8:30 a.m. local time this morning,” the FAA statement said.

“Both aircraft were Boeing 737s that were scheduled for departure,” the statement added.

has reached out to United Airlines and Massport for more information about the incident.

A sudden jolt’
Passenger Nicholas Leone took a photo after the incident and described to CNN what happened.

“I felt a sudden jolt and look to my right to see that the plane had crashed into the still plane, ” he said. “After seeing the fire trucks and police cars, people were a little rattled. Thankfully everyone was able to offboard quickly.”

Passengers said the incident was a little jarring, according to CNN affiliate WHDH in Boston.

“It was just a pretty big shake,” said passenger Martin Neusch. “While we were on the plane, it just clipped the wings, so the two wings clipped each other on the plane.”

The station said passengers on both planes were rebooked on other flights set for Monday afternoon.

The contact between two aircraft on Monday morning follows a string of five close-call incidents earlier this year, including one at Boston Logan last week.

Air traffic controllers stopped a departing private jet from running into a JetBlue flight as it was coming in to land at Logan last Monday night, according to the FAA.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating that incident.

The two planes involved came within 565 feet (172 meters) of colliding, according to Flightradar24’s preliminary review of its data.

What’s the safest seat on a plane?. Travel asked an aviation expert
The NTSB is also investigating four other runway incursions involving commercial airliners at major US airports this year.

It’s investigating a possible “runway incursion” in Burbank, California, involving Mesa and SkyWest regional airliners.

Three other incidents have occurred at Honolulu, Austin and New York’s JFK airport this year.

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Flambéed pizza thought to have sparked deadly Madrid restaurant fire

A fire believed to have been started by a flambéed pizza has killed two people and injured 12 others at a restaurant in the Spanish capital Madrid, city officials said Saturday.

“It appears the fire started when a flambéed pizza was being served, which set fire to the decorations in the restaurant,” Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez Almeida told Spain’s state television TVE at the scene on Saturday, hours after the late Friday night blaze.

Spanish media reported that a specialty of the restaurant was a pizza in the flambé style – a cooking procedure where spirits are poured on the food and briefly set alight.

“Firefighters told me it was a ferocious fire in the way it started and the smoke it generated, and if the fire station wasn’t just 100 meters (around 330 feet) away, the number of fatalities could have been higher,” said Almeida, speaking to TVE.

Carlos Marin, a Madrid fire department night supervisor, said the restaurant “had just one exit, and since the fire was very close to the door, people went back to the rear of the restaurant, and they were completely trapped,” in videos tweeted by Madrid city emergency services.

The fire was quickly extinguished. Firefighters pulled 12 injured people from the restaurant, and six were taken to a hospital. That was in addition to the two fatalities, said Montse Marcos, a supervisor with the Madrid city ambulance services.

The fire was in the Plaza de Manuel Becerra, on the edge of the Spanish capital’s upscale Salamanca neighborhood.

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As Ukraine prepares counteroffensive, Russia appears in disarray

Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive appears imminent – and the way each side is preparing speaks volumes about their readiness.

Kyiv’s front lines are abuzz with vehicle movement and artillery strikes, with regular explosions hitting vital Russian targets in occupied areas.

Its defense minister has said preparations are “coming to an end” and President Volodymyr Zelensky has assured a counteroffensive “will happen,” while demurring on any exact start date.

It may have already started; it may be weeks away. We don’t know – and that fact is a strong measure of Ukraine’s success as this begins.

Moscow, on the other hand, is in the closing-time bar brawl stage of their war. After losing Kharkiv and Kherson, they have had at least seven months to ready the next likely target of Ukrainian attack: Zaporizhzhia.

That has happened, with vast trench defense networks that can be seen from space. That recognition of their enormity is not necessarily a compliment in 2023. They are big, yes, but they are also something anyone can peruse on Google. That’s not great in an era of precise rockets and speedy armored advances.

But it’s the last 72 hours that have perhaps most betrayed Russia’s lacking readiness.

First, the apparent firing of the deputy defense minister in charge of logistics, Mikhail Mizintsev. The Russian Ministry of Defense has not spelled out his dismissal, merely issuing a decree that Aleksey Kuzmenkov now has his job.

(A caveat: Prigozhin is not the most trustworthy source, and provides little evidence for what he says. But this sort of public spat isn’t something Moscow would encourage at this sensitive moment).

Russia’s eroding ammunition supplies were long known, but to suggest imminent failure just ahead of the counteroffensive smacks of a major bid to shift blame.

The bottom line is, the hours before Ukraine moves are shrinking. The amount we know about their emotional state, or target, is almost zero. And the extent of Moscow’s internal indecision, rivalries and disunity only grows.

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