Ask the Doctor: Milk vs. Dark Chocolate; Ankle Fusion; Strengthening the Immune System

Q: What is the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate, and why is dark chocolate considered healthier?

A: The main difference between the two chocolate varieties is in their ingredients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that milk chocolate be made of at least 12 percent milk solids and 10 percent chocolate liquor (that doesn’t refer to an alcoholic beverage, but instead to the form of cocoa beans that have been dried, roasted, and fermented). Semi-sweet chocolate, the FDA says, must include at least 35 percent chocolate liquor and less than 12 percent milk solids. (The FDA doesn’t have a specific definition for dark or bittersweet chocolate, only milk, semi-sweet, and white.) Basically, the darker the chocolate, the higher its cocoa content.

Dark chocolate is considered healthier because it contains more cocoa that is rich in phytonutrients—plant compounds that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic effects associated with numerous health benefits. Also, milk chocolate tends to have more added sugar than dark chocolate.

If your goal is to consume more beneficial nutrients, dark chocolate is the way to go. Try varieties with different cocoa contents to see what suits your taste buds. Some nutrition experts advise choosing chocolate with a minimum of 70 percent cocoa.

Q: I’ve had arthritis in my ankles for many years, and recently, the pain has gotten so bad that I’m often unable to walk. My doctor recently mentioned ankle fusion as a possible solution. What’s involved in this procedure?

A: Ankle fusion is the standard surgical procedure for advanced stages of ankle arthritis when less invasive treatment methods, such as orthotics (shoe inserts), physical therapy, and medications, do not relieve the pain. During the procedure, the surgeon removes the cartilage between the tibia (shinbone) and talus (one of the ankle bones) and then fuses the bones together using metal rods, screws, or plates. This stops the bones from grinding against each other.

You’ll need to wear a splint or cast and use crutches for several weeks after the surgery. During your recovery period, you’ll have physical therapy to help you maintain the strength in your foot and leg.

Most people who undergo ankle fusion experience some loss of motion in the ankle afterward, but most patients report that the relief from their arthritis pain far outweighs the reduced mobility in their ankle.

Q: I’ve heard that the immune system weakens with age, and I’m concerned about being more vulnerable to infections. Is there anything I can do to boost my immune system?

A:  Unfortunately, there’s no quick, easy way to boost your immune system. The best way to protect yourself from infections is to follow a healthy lifestyle.

Choose a dietary pattern that is composed primarily of whole and minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins. Limit red meat, avoid processed meats, and minimize your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts, and highly processed foods.

Exercising regularly can help reduce the systemic inflammation that underlies many chronic diseases. Physical activity also can help alleviate stress, which has been shown to affect the body’s ability to protect itself from disease. Avoid smoking, get adequate sleep, and speak with your doctor about any screening tests or vaccinations that are recommended for older adults. And, don’t forget the simplest method of all for preventing illness—wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, using soap and hot water.

—Editor-in-Chief Orli R. Etingin, MD

The post Ask the Doctor: Milk vs. Dark Chocolate; Ankle Fusion; Strengthening the Immune System appeared first on University Health News.

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