Health Benefits of Chocolate

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It seems a bit counter-intuitive to think that there are real benefits of chocolate consumption on one’s health, since common wisdom accepts that eating a few candy bars for lunch is a pretty unhealthy lifestyle choice. But cacao products, along with red wine and certain dark vegetables, contains high levels of anti-oxidants in the form of flavonoids that help the body’s cells resist damage. However, the apparent benefits of chocolate on health are no excuse to pig out on Rocky Road or plow through a Whitman’s Sampler on a daily basis, but they do allow a certain guilt-free level of moderate indulgence from time to time.

Dark Chocolate

Forget the overly-processed milk chocolate, and give a dodge to the nougat, caramel, and buttercream confectionery’s candies, for real health benefits a high-quality dark chocolate is best. Milk chocolate has had too many of the often bitter flavonoids refined out of it, and the other candies are such a fattening mix of sugar and fat that eating them in large amounts is bound to pack on some fat cells. Dark chocolate, however, in moderation, can deliver a fantastic antioxidant benefit that helps with regulating blood pressure and preventing heart disease and stroke, increasing alertness, and possibly even help prevent certain cancers. Just remember, the darker the type, the better for your health.

Heart Healthy Chocolate

The numerous benefits of antioxidants like flavonoids on heart health are fairly well documented and the subject of a great deal of research in recent years. The antioxidants in chocolate have been likened to the effect of a low dose asprin on the cardiovascular system, in that they help to regulate blood pressure and lower LDL, or bad, cholesterol. Flavonol-rich foods create a ‘blood-thinning’ effect by impeding the clotting of blood platelets -- which helps lower blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The flavonoids found in dark chocolate also help the body utilize Nitric Oxide and help prevent the oxidation of fat in the blood. Like red wine and other flavonol-rich foods, moderate consumption of these flavinol-rich foods has real benefits on one’s health -- and since chocolate has been shown to have a higher concentration of flavonoids than most other foods (even refined milk chocolate has about as much as a glass of red wine), it makes it a smart choice for anyone looking to increase their antioxidant intake.

But Isn’t Chocolate High in Fat?

Chocolate is a food high in fat and this, coupled with its generally high sugar content, made it a no-brainer for the ‘unhealthy indulgences’ list for decades. But it turns out that most of the fats contained within are of the positive or neutral kind, and may actually be good for you. The same monounsaturated fat found in olive oil that has long been linked with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease is also contained in many cacao-derived foods.

Other Effects of Chocolate

While there is conflicting or incomplete data on many of the other so-called benefits of dark chocolate on health, it is undeniably a high-energy food and a useful midday pick me up. This effect is not only tied to the sugar and caffeine it contains, but to other chemicals such as anandamine and serotonin. Increased alertness, hormonal balance, appetite regulation, muscle recovery, anti-depression, and pain relief are just a few of the areas chocolate is said to benefit.

While all this is good news for chocolate-lovers, remember it isn’t a license to overindulge -- the destructive effects of obesity on the body more than outweigh anything antioxidants can do for you. But the benefits of chocolate on health are real -- and a great excuse to keep dark chocolate in one’s diet on a regular basis, perhaps paired with a nice glass of red wine....

Proof that what’s good for you doesn’t always have to taste bad!