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Good News for Chocoholics

In a perfect world, we’d all be healthy, happy and chocolate would be good for us. Well, guess what? At least one of those things is a reality right now! For many years chocolate has been chastised as bad for us, being blamed for causing such maladies as cavities, acne, headaches and high cholesterol. But research conducted all over the world has revealed that chocolate actually contains elements which provide several health benefits. Yes, I said benefits.

How is Chocolate Good for You?
Chocolate contains naturally occurring compounds called flavonoids, which are also found in cranberries, apples, onions, tea and red wine. Your body is perpetually exposed to free radicals like cigarette smoke, pollution and stress, and these foods contain antioxidants to help repair and resist the oxidative damage caused by those free radicals. And, since oxidative damage over time can lead to conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration, doctors and nutritionists recommend a diet that includes antioxidant-rich foods.

That’s where chocolate steps in – and steps in big. The cocoa bean in its raw form contains the highest level of antioxidants of any food. Research indicates that processed dark chocolate contains 53.5 milligrams of catechin antioxidants, which is nearly four times the amount contained in black tea.

Unfortunately the benefits don’t necessarily extend to other types of chocolate, such as milk chocolate and white chocolate. During processing, milk and sugar are added to milk chocolate and dilutes the final product, causing it to contain fewer flavonoids. Other research has shown that milk seems to actually interfere with the body’s ability to absorb chocolate’s antioxidants. White chocolate contains no flavonoids, and in turn, no health benefits. Dark chocolate seems to be the real winner as it retains the highest level of flavonoids, even after processing.

Chocolate’s Many Benefits
In addition to its antioxidant power, chocolate has other benefits as well.

•    Chocolate naturally contains the same minerals you would find in a daily multi-vitamin: calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, zinc and copper.

•    It’s good for your heart! The flavonoids in chocolate help to increase blood flow, decrease blood clotting and improve bad cholesterol – all helping to better your heart health. In one study, researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany found that dark chocolate lowered blood pressure an average of 2-5 points.

•    Dark chocolate contains a high level of chromium, which helps control blood sugar.

•    Chocolate puts you in a better mood. Eating chocolate triggers endorphins that make the body less sensitive to pain, resulting in a “warm fuzzy” feeling.

•    Chocolate may aid in digestion. Researchers recently discovered that cocoa stimulates lactase enzyme activity and that adding cocoa to milk may block cramping, bloating and other signs of lactose intolerance.

•    It’s good for your teeth! Really? Contrary to popular belief, tests have shown that chocolate contains antibacterial compounds that may discourage tooth decay and gum disease. These compounds actually coat your teeth to protect them from sugar. But don’t get carried away. Too much chocolate will result in the sugar overwhelming these bacterial compounds.

Chocolate’s Bad Side
Before you get too excited, remember these benefits come in consuming chocolate in moderation. There are negative effects of consuming too much chocolate.

•    Cocoa butter contains saturated fat, and too much saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease.

•    Chocolate is not only high in antioxidants (good), it is also high in calories (bad), which can lead to weight gain and ultimately increase your risk of heart disease and obesity.

So, while you can’t enjoy a breakfast, lunch and dinner chocolate diet (which would be a really perfect world), you can enjoy the good stuff from time to time. Here are a few last tips to get the most out of your chocolate habit:

•    It’s best to balance your consumption of chocolate with other nutritionally sound foods, like fruits and vegetables (especially those high in antioxidants). 

•    Try to choose dark chocolate whenever possible, as it contains the most health benefits. You can even make your own “healthy hot chocolate” by using unsweetened cocoa, sweetener and milk.

•    Substitute chocolate for less nutritious treats, such as ice cream or other sugary candy. Never substitute chocolate for fruits or vegetables.

Live on, chocolate-lovers!

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