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Anxious? Stressed? Science Says Eat Some Chocolate and Chill Out!

Most of us do not need a whole lot of motivation or prodding to eat chocolate, whether it comes in the milk or dark variety. And now new research is giving you even one more reason to give in to your favorite chocolate temptation! A recent study indicates that the very make-up of chocolate may be able to reduce your stress levels. Now what’s not de-stressing about that? Let’s take a look at this decadent discovery . . .

Chocolate is, of course, loved (if not utterly adored) by people all over the world, and has been for the past couple of hundred years, since the cocoa bean was first discovered and distilled into a cup of hot chocolate. Since then, chocolate has captured our hearts, taking innumerable shapes, sizes, and applications, but rarely failing to please. Today, in fact, you’d be hard pressed to not find chocolate of some kind in most any food or beverage store. Some have claimed that many of us are addicted to the substance and that the amount of chocolate that American’s consume poses a considerable health risk.

But a slew of recent medical research studies beg to differ. They suggest that not only is chocolate much beloved in this country and around the world, it offers some significant health benefits. It has been cited as having positive effects on heart function, for example, the irony of which is not lost on those who have long identified St. Valentine’s Day as the day when everyone gets chocolate! These findings have largely pointed to the antioxidants in chocolate as being responsible for producing the positive health effects.

That said, recently comes a study that has found a new effect of eating dark chocolate. The clinical trials results of the study show that eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate – about one and one half ounces a day for two weeks – reduces the levels of stress hormones found in the body. The study looked at a group of people who self rated their stress levels, and ranked those levels as being consistent with a highly stressed person. People in this study then ate chocolate for two weeks. The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and compared the detailed cocoa antioxidant contents of chocolate that was commercially available.

Chocolate used in the study represent a wide variety of the types available in different parts of the country. The study evaluated the best selling brands (usually three to four brands) of natural cocoa powder, dark chocolate, semi sweet chocolate chips, unsweetened baking chocolate, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup. Each of these three or four best selling brands was then tested to determine the amount of antioxidant activity for each, and the total polyphenols and individual flavanol monomers and oligmers.

This data was then compared to the amount of non fat cocoa solids and total polyphenols in each of the products evaluated, as well as to the percent of cacao that existed in the product.  The study showed that the products with the highest level of favanol antioxidants were cocoa powder. Cocoa powder was followed by unsweetened baking chocolate, dark chocolate and semi sweet chips. Milk chocolate and chocolate syrup were at the bottom of the list of ingredients tested.

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