Health Benefits of Chocolate


A chocolate a day keeps the doctor away. Surely such a statement has skeptics furrowing their brows. But what if we put it this way: A flavonoid a day may prevent heart disease. A natural, plant-based substance, flavonoids are found in cocoa and believed to affect nitric oxide activity in the body. In simpler terms, the less cells oxidize, the better for your health. In fact, the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory provides a list of flavonoid-rich foods — including chocolate — because scientific studies support their antioxidant effects, which include inhibiting blood platelets from sticking together, clogging arteries and causing heart attacks.

Full of Flavonol

New studies from the American Heart Association suggest that one kind of flavonoid — flavonol — may decrease your chances of suffering from dementia. Participants who regularly consumed flavonol-rich drinks like hot cocoa, wine and tea boasted higher cognitive scores. More good news for chocoholics comes from a study in the Neurology journal, in which men with higher chocolate consumption displayed lower incidents of stroke.

The Darker the Better

So, does this mean that the next Hershey's bar you eat is going to save your life? Probably not. Keep in mind that the studies undertaken by organizations such as the National Institutes of Health and Mayo Clinic focus on plain dark chocolate. The darker the better. You want chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids in it, as opposed to your average grocery store candy bar whose cocoa content is reduced to an average of 20% due to processing.

Various Nutritional Qualities

Since cocoa was brought from Mexico to Europe by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez in the 1500s, it has played many a role — from aphrodisiac to mood enhancer (it raises serotonin levels and releases endorphins) to curer of PMS. The latter is the result of chocolate being high in magnesium, which helps raise the progesterone levels that drop before a woman has her period. But only recently has it been touted as a prevention for heart disease, with experts around the world jumping on the bandwagon. Norman K. Hollenberg, M.D, Ph.D., from Harvard Medical School studied Panama’s Kuna Indians. Members of this indigenous group drink an average of five cups of cocoa a day and cases of high blood pressure are rare. And according to a study by Holland’s National Institute of Public Health, chocolate contains four times the antioxidant qualities found in tea.

Certainly, this is all food for thought as you sit back with a piece of chocolate and a glass of red wine (also on the USDA flavonoid list). You can start dreaming of the day when your doctor says, "Take two chocolate bars and call me in the morning."

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