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Chocolate- the Newest Health Food?

There are now even more reasons for chocolate lovers to rejoice! As more incredible research news comes in about chocolate, the substance is moving from a terrible-for-you candy to an vital health food. Those of us who had always continued to indulge in occasional chocolate treats can stop feeling guilty and now easily justify our cravings.

You may have already heard that chocolate contains beneficial flavonoids and antioxidents. Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant foods that are full of recognized health benefits. There are more than 4,000 flavonoid compounds, which are a subgroup of a large class called polyphenols. Phenols are believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease by helping prevent atherosclerosis. The flavanols in chocolate appear to help the body use nitric oxide, which is crucial for healthy blood flow and blood pressure, which means that chocolate might help reduce hypertension as well.

Red wine is know for its high phenol content, but an average bar of dark chocolate contains more phenols than 8 ounces of red wine. Scientists at Cornell University and Seoul National University examined the cancer-fighting antioxidant content of hot cocoa, red wine, and tea, and found that cocoa had nearly double the antioxidants of red wine and four to five times more than tea.

Holland’s National Institute of Public Health and Environment found that dark chocolate contains 53.5 mg of catechins per 100 grams. (Catechins are the powerful antioxidants that fight against cancer and help prevent heart disease). By contrast, a cup of black tea contains only about 14 mg of catechins and green tea has about 30 mg of catechins.

A study at University of California Davis found that participants who ate chocolate showed a reduction in platelet activity. This means that chocolate has an anti-clotting, blood-thinning effect that can be compared to aspirin.

A Harvard University study of 8,000, with an average age of 65, revealed that those who consumed chocolate lived nearly a year longer than those who did not. Those who ate one to three candy bars per month had a 36 percent lower risk of death (compared to the people who ate no candy), while those who ate three or more candy bars per week had a 16 percent lower risk.

A study of older men in The Netherlands, known for its chocolate, showed that those who ate the most chocolate, an equivalent of one-third of a chocolate bar every day, had lower blood pressure and a 50 percent lower risk of death. The researchers also noted the men eating the most cocoa products were not heavier or larger eaters than the men who ate less cocoa.

And it’s not just dark chocolate that is the only healthy type of chocolate. Most studies talk about the benefits of dark chocolate, but some of the most recent news about chocolate includes excellent news for milk chocolate lovers, who have been left out in the past.

The Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia did a study that shows that milk chocolate seems to boost brainpower. The groups in the test consumed, on different occasions, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, carob and nothing. Then they were tested for cognitive performance including memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem solving.

According to Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, “Composite scores for verbal and visual memory were significantly higher for milk chocolate than the other conditions.” The study also found that consumption of milk and dark chocolate was associated with improved impulse control and reaction time. It seems that by consuming chocolate you get stimulating effects from substances found in chocolate, such as theobromine and phenylethylamine, which then lead to increased mental performance.

Chocolate really does make you feel excellent, too. It is known to stimulate the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasurable sensation similar to the “runner’s high” a jogger feels after running several miles. Chocolate also contains a neurotransmitter, serotonin that acts as an anti-depressant. Studies in England show that even the aroma of chocolate gives a bout of euphoria and will help lift the spirits.

And now people are looking at chocolate for skin care. According to Marlies Spinale, director of Tru Spa, “Like many other antioxidants, cocoa polyphenols are thought to offer the skin protection from free-radical hurt caused by sun, pollution, stress, alcohol consumption and other factors. I believe that we will hear more about the benefits of chocolate in skin care.”

Some people have been avoiding chocolate because one of the main ingredients of chocolate is cocoa butter. It was thought that it was an unhealthy stout, but really cocoa butter is not unhealthy. It is made up of the beneficial fatty acids– oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated stout also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are healthy forms of saturated stout. Plus chocolate contains vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E, as well as potassium, sodium, and iron.

So go ahead and indulge in a small chocolate, in moderation of course. I would recommend that you try to find organic chocolate, and stick with darker chocolate because it has more chocolate flavonoids and less sugar. (Sugar weakens the immune system; so don’t consume sugar if you are ill.) And a small bit of milk chocolate is alright when you need an occasional milk chocolate brainpower boost, such as before a test. All you students take note!

Chocolate as a health food– can life get any better?

By Dianne Ronnow, 2006 Mohave Publishing.

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