Chocolate - A Healthy Snack?
10 Interesting Facts about Chocolate You Need to Know for Your Health
Chocolate has been given a bad reputation, as it is often labeled as a “guilty pleasure” or “forbidden food.” However, in all fairness, chocolate is a high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar food. Despite these concerns, consuming chocolate in moderation can provide a myriad of health benefits. Such benefits include preventing cavities, lowering blood pressure, increasing insulin sensitivity, decreasing bad cholesterol, enhancing mood, preventing cancer, providing magnesium, increasing memory and extending life. Don’t feel guilty about eating a Hershey’s kiss, a dark chocolate bar or a Reese’s cup. Indulge in your guilty pleasure every day, and you will reap many health benefits.
Here is a list of 10 interesting facts about chocolate:
1. I have heard several times throughout my life that chocolate causes cavities. But, does chocolate really cause cavities and tooth decay? According to “The Exploratorium,” chocolate does not cause cavities and may even prevent cavities. Chocolate contains cocoa butter, which coats the teeth and may assist in preventing plaque formation and cavities. Additionally, chocolate contains theobromine, an agent that kills the bacteria causing oral cavities. However, the sugar content in some chocolate may contribute to cavities and tooth decay, just as any other food with high-sugar content. Dark chocolate usually contains less sugar than milk chocolate. Choose dark chocolate if preventing cavities is your goal.
2. Chocolate derives from the seeds of the tropical cacao plant. These seeds contain high levels of flavanols, a type of antioxidant offering protective and immune-boosting properties. Antioxidants scavenge the body and neutralize free radicals that contribute to disease, illness and wrinkles. Eat this healthy snack with red wine, and you will be doubling your antioxidant consumption. Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of cocoa and antioxidants than milk chocolate. Anyone having red wine and dark chocolate this evening for dessert?
3. Chocolate may help lower your blood pressure. According to Penn State University, chocolate decreases the stickiness of your platelets, slowing down the time it takes for your blood to clot. Furthermore, antioxidants dilate your blood vessels. Free-flowing blood coupled with relaxed and expanded blood vessels decreases your blood pressure. In a study observing eating behaviors of the Panamanian Kuna Indians, an inverse correlation was observed between chocolate consumption and blood pressure, incidence of stroke and heart disease. Large quantities of cocoa consumption among the Kuna Indians were negatively associated with blood pressure, incidence of strokes and heart disease. Thus, chocolate consumption may act as a protective factor against age-related hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure.
4. Dark chocolate is linked to diabetes prevention. Consumption of low-sugar dark chocolate assists in decreasing your blood sugar levels. Additionally, this guilty pleasure increases your body’s insulin sensitivity. The primary function of insulin is to regulate or decrease blood glucose levels. An individual with good insulin sensitivity does not need as much glucose; however, an individual that is resistant to insulin requires higher levels of glucose to function. Resistance of insulin is the characteristic sign of type 2 diabetes. Thus, consuming low-sugar dark chocolate may aid in reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
5. Chocolate can help lower your “bad” cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol. Consuming a serving of this healthy snack every day can lower your bad cholesterol up to 10 percent. When platelets do not stick together and adhere to the walls of your arteries, this will improve your cholesterol levels. Chocolate decreases the adhesiveness of platelets and thins your blood, acting like a natural aspirin.
6. Chocolate increases serotonin levels in your body, which enhances mood and reduces anxiety. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with clinical depression. Thus,this healthy snack acts a natural antidepressant. Placing chocolate in your mouth can release endorphins and feelings of euphoria. Thus, chocolate gives a whole new meaning to the words “comfort food.”
7. What do chocolate, blueberries, garlic and tea have in common? Chocolate is one the best cancer-fighting foods you can consume. The antioxidants in this pleasure food assists in preventing cell division among mutated cells, also known as the primary cause of cancer. Additionally, chocolate reduces inflammation, which can retard the growth of cancer cells.
8. Dark chocolate protects your brain health. According to Johns Hopkins University, chocolate consumption after a stroke guards your brain against further deterioration, especially among the nerve cells. Additionally, chocolate may enhance your memory. Chocolate contains epicatechin, a chemical found to improve memory in rodents.
9. The tropical cacao plant contains higher amounts of magnesium than any other plant. Since chocolate is derived from this plant, it contains significant quantities of this mineral. Magnesium functions to assist in calcium absorption and over 300 enzymatic processes in your body. Without magnesium, your body could not carry out normal organ functioning. So next time you want to grab a chocolate bar, just remember your consuming an important mineral.
10. Chocolate can extend your life! Well, not exactly, but chocolate consumption is positively correlated with less disease and longer lifespan. A Dutch experimental research study examined 200 male participants. The men consuming more chocolate of any kind (dark chocolate or milk chocolate) had less prevalence of disease and a longer life expectancy. While this association cannot be directly attributed directly to this pleasure food, it does make one wonder about the connection. Additionally, Jeanne Calment, the world record holder for the person living the longest (dying at 122 years), does attribute her longevity to her ritualistic habit of consuming 2.5 pounds of dark chocolate per week and drinking a lot of port wine. This equates to consuming approximately 28 Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bars in a week!
Next time when others are munching on candy corns, candy straws, jolly ranchers or liquorice, grab a dark chocolate bar and indulge in your guilty pleasure without feeling any guilt. Chocolate offers plenty of health benefits to make you feel good about consuming this pleasure food - despite the bad reputation of this infamous forbidden food. Eat up and enjoy!