The 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.
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.
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, Mayo Clinic and Mars Incorporated
(makers of Snickers and M&M's) 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.
- High in antioxidants
- Helps preserve cognitive function
- May prevent heart disease, stroke
- Raises serotonin levels
- Releases endorphins
- High in magnesium
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.
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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Photo credit: "Cocoa beans" by Mikkel Houmøller