Dr. Helmut Sies Archives - NFCR

Dr. Helmut Sies

Decadent, Delicious, Disease-Preventing Dark Chocolate

Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to celebrate your love with a food many love – chocolate. After all, chocolate tops most people’s favorite foods list, and it turns out there are some good health reasons in addition to the good taste reasons.  Chocolate – especially dark chocolate – is good for you.

Research shows that chocolate can reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, improve memory and may even reduce the risk of cancer.[i] And, contrary to popular belief, research shows chocolate doesn’t ruin your complexion.

In the post below, don’t miss a unique chocolate truffle recipe!

dark chocolate barNot All Chocolates are Created Equal

While all chocolates contain antioxidants called flavonoids, dark chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, provide more health benefits than milk chocolate or white chocolate.
The stronger and darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids it contains and the more health benefits it provides.

For maximum health benefits when buying chocolate, look for:

  • Dark chocolate blocks with at least 70% cocoa solids.
  • Raw cacao or cocoa powder.
    One gram of cocoa contains over 30 mg of flavanols, whereas one gram of dark chocolate contains approximately 12.5 mg.To learn more about cocoa, read our blog post Cancer-Fighting Cocoa.
  • Cacao nibs, which are crushed, raw cacao beans. You can use these in place of chocolate chips in items like cookies, trail mixes or smoothies.

Cocoa & Skin Cancer Research

Helmut Sies, M.D., a biochemist at Heinrich-Heine-Universitat in Dusseldorf, Germany, is a leading cancer prevention expert and received funding from NFCR for his nutrition-focused cancer research. Dr. Sies’ key research breakthrough on micronutrients involves his discovery that lycopene – a carotenoid and antioxidant found in tomatoes – can help curb the initiation of cancer. His research has also shown that flavonoids (found in cocoa products) can prevent skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. High flavanol cocoa – which has similar amounts of flavanols as 100gm dark chocolate – improves skin health and hydration and may reduce risk of UV-induced skin damage.

Let’s be clear: This research doesn’t mean you should start rubbing cocoa products on your skin – but it does mean there could be skin-cancer fighting properties in some sweets!

Real Food Chocolate Truffles

The Chocolate Truffles recipe below provides a healthy twist on a classic Valentine’s Day favorite. They’re easy to make and your sweetheart will LOVE them!
Adapted from Diana Keuilian

chocolate balls

  • 2 cups pecans, toasted
  • 1 cup dates, pitted and soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey, melted
  • Melted dark chocolate
  • Unsweetened, shredded coconut flakes
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Minced dark chocolate pieces


  1. Place the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring often, until golden. Set aside to cool.
  2. Place the dates in a small bowl with hot water and cover for 10 minutes. Discard the soaking water and place the dates and cooled pecans in the food processor, along with the cocoa powder, sea salt and honey. Pulse until coarse and crumbly.
  3. Cover a tray that fits in your freezer with parchment paper. Form the dough into 30 balls and roll in the toppings of your choice.
  4. Place the truffles on the prepared pan and freeze for 15 minutes.
  5. Enjoy!

Fun Chocolate Facts

*Eating just ONE chocolate chip gives the average adult the needed energy to walk 150 feet.
*A dark chocolate bar has approximately 10-15g of sugar. A glass of orange juice has about 22g of sugar.
*Chocolate is harmful to dogs and can cause seizures and even death.
*Chocolate syrup was used to depict blood in the iconic shower scene of Hitchcock’s film “Psycho.”


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8 Proactive Cancer-Preventing Pointers

Over 14 million people worldwide were diagnosed with cancer this past year, according to the World Health Organization. And the numbers are expected to increase by 70% over the next 20 years. [1] With cancer continuing to affect the lives of so many people, it’s important to understand what steps we can take to prevent or reduce cancer risk.

Quick stats:

  • Research has shown that at least 1/3 of all cancer cases are preventable. [2]
  • Last year, over 1.6 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer – that means more than 500,000 cases could have been avoided. [3]
  • Scientists are actively studying different ways to help prevent cancer, including changes in diet and lifestyle, chemoprevention (medicines that treat precancerous conditions or keep cancer from starting) and much more. Read about related work by NFCR-funded scientists Dr. Helmut Sies and Dr. Michael Sporn.

1. Stop smoking

no more smokingA single cigarette contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, including 70 cancer-causing chemicals. [4]  Research has linked smoking with 14 different types of cancer including lung, colon, pancreatic, liver, esophageal, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, stomach, cervical and rectal caners, as well as acute myeloid leukemia.

Quitting reduces your risk even if you’ve smoked for years. Talk to your doctor about strategies or free support systems that can help you quit. Also, avoid second-hand smoke whenever possible – it can be just as damaging as personally smoking.

2. Maintain a healthy weight

People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of many serious health conditions, including cancers.

To control weight gain, eat more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life can lower your risk of breast, uterine, prostate, lung, colon, kidney, pancreatic, esophageal, gallbladder and thyroid cancers. [5]

 3. Know your family history

family history formApproximately 5 to 10% of all cancers are considered hereditary, which means you may be at greater risk for some cancers if you have a personal or family history of cancer or certain diseases. [6] Genetic counseling and testing may be recommended for people with a strong family history of cancer. Click here for more information on genetic testing.

4. Practice safe sunning

Skin cancer rates are on the rise and sunscreen has been proven to reduce the risk of skin cancer. While people with fair skin may be more likely to develop skin cancer due to sun exposure, people with darker skin tones are at risk as well. Sunscreen protects against sunburn as well as harmful ultraviolet rays that can wreak havoc on your skin on cloudy, overcast or winter days when there is no sunshine. It’s good to use sunscreen every day – even durisafe sunningng the winter months.

Also avoid indoor tanning salons. Research has shown that exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning devices is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Even one indoor tanning session can increase users’ risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67% and basal cell carcinoma by 29%. [7]

 5. Limit your alcohol intake

Although moderate alcohol use has possible health benefits, it’s also not risk-free. Excessive alcohol use can cause liver damage, heart problems and increases your risk of breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx and liver cancers. [8]

To reduce your lifetime risk of cancer: On average, men should not consume more than two drinks per day and women should not consume more than three drinks per week.

 6. Limit red and processed meats

Research shows that people who eat more red meat (beef, pork and lamb) and processed meats (like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and salami) have a higher risk of developing colorectal and prostate cancers. [9] Although there is not scientific consensus, the observed increased risk may be explained by high iron and fat content in red meat and/or the salt and nitrates in processed meat.

Need some red meat alternatives? Try some of our favorite cancer-fighting recipes tonight like Rainbow Salsa (with grilled fish or chicken) and Pumpkin Soup (with a Garlic, Kale and Sesame Topping).

7. Get moving every day

get moving every dayStudies conclusively show that exercise helps relieve stress, weight gain and reduces cancer- related risks. It can even help cancer survivors live longer! So get out there and dance, run, bike or walk. Exercising at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes every day has many benefits.

8. Schedule your screenings

Regular cancer screenings help with early detection and prevention. Screening tests include mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopies for colorectal cancer, pap smears for cervical and uterine cancer, body checks for skin cancer and more. Talk to your doctor to see what screenings are appropriate for you given your family history, age and lifestyle choices. For more information on cancer screenings, please refer to our Cancer Detection Guidelines.

Preventative Cancer Research

The best way to reduce the number of patients dying from cancer is to prevent the disease from developing in the first place. That’s why NFCR-sponsored researchers have been investigating links between nutrition and cancer as well as drug development to prevent cancer for decades. 

dr siesScientist Dr. Helmut Sies¸ whose work was funded by NFCR, discovered the antioxidant lycopene, a micronutrient found in tomatoes and other foods. Lycopene has strong skin cancer prevention effects. Today, his research is focused on selenium, a trace metal found in certain foods that is essential for good health. There is evidence that selenium improves human health and helps prevent cancer – specifically colon cancer – and Dr. Sies has been researching the molecular basis for this.

*Prevention tip: Read how to add selenium to your diet


dr spornDr. Michael Sporn, whose work was supported by NFCR, is known as the “Father of Chemoprevention” because his research led to the development of several synthetic triterpenoid compounds, which are a new class of chemical agents with potent preventative effects against several types of cancer, including breast, lung and pancreatic cancers. For individuals with a family history or are otherwise at high risk of developing these diseases, the promising results of Dr. Sporn’s research offers hope that their chances of developing cancer may be dramatically reduced by the use of chemoprevention.

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