Chocolate: Who Knew it Could be so Healthy
Chocolate contains a lot more than just antioxidants wrapped in a bundle of deliciousness.
Research suggests that the high flavonoid content in certain types of chocolate may also lead to a 1.6 point drop in blood pressure. That’s significant enough to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. It also contains caffeine, and other compounds that keep your heart pumping and boost your metabolism.
The Aztecs knew it gave their warriors strength, and it was used as medicinal elixir to ease all sorts of ailments. Chocolate nourishes the mind and body, stimulating the release of neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for pleasure sensations. For centuries it has been consumed as a drink, and today chocolate lovers might be unaware of the impressive value of chocolate. It’s a mild stimulant that makes you feel awake, and strong. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.” As we added milk and sugar to chocolate, its medicinal value was lost, and its taste moved it out of the “health food” category and into “indulgences.”
Chocolate itself isn’t bad for you, but some of the additives can be. It’s primarily dark chocolate that contributes to a good mood and cardiovascular health. Dark chocolate is packed with naturally occurring antioxidants, and is in the same family of antioxidants as green tea and blueberries, but even more potent. One serving of dark chocolate has a higher ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or a measure of antioxidant strength) as a serving of blueberries and this is why a gift of chocolate is more than just delicious, it’s a gift of love from you to your body. The polyphenol antioxidants found in chocolate are just one aspect of its healthy benefits, it also contains “good fats” that are heart-protective. About 36% of the fat in the cocoa beans is either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat, which includes oleic acid (the same fatty acid in olive oil). This fatty acid can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and has been shown to even reduce cholesterol.
A recent study at the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition showed that resveratrol, the same compound found in red wine associated with its heart-healthy benefits is also found in cocoa. In the study, top selling retail products from the following categories were tested for the level of resveratrol: cocoa powder, baking chocolate, dark chocolate, semi-sweet baking chips, milk chocolate and chocolate syrup. Results showed cocoa powder to have the highest average amount of resveratrol gram for gram. In the products studied, the sister compound of resveratrol (piceid) that was found 3-6 times the level of resveratrol. That means that the heart healthy benefits credited to red wine can also be gained with the sweet, creamy goodness of chocolate.
The World Health Organization has predicted that by the year 2030, nearly 23.6 million people will die from heart disease. However, lifestyle and diet are key to the prevention of heart disease. A number of recent studies have shown that chocolate has a positive influence on health due to the antioxidant content and its anti-inflammatory properties. Eating chocolate may help reduce blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity. Five different studies reported a link between higher levels of chocolate consumption and the risk of cardiovascular events with a whopping 37% reduction of cardiovascular disease associated with the highest levels of chocolate consumption and a 29% reduction in stroke, when compared with the lowest levels. Although the benefits of chocolate go much more beyond the realm of the heart . . .
As if that wasn’t enough reason to give the one you love a box of chocolates, maybe this will do the trick. Another recent study revealed that women who eat chocolate regularly have a better sex life than those who don’t. Researchers at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan say this is because women who eat chocolate have the highest levels of desire, arousal and satisfaction from sex. The author of the study questioned 153 women about their consumption of chocolate and their sexual fulfillment and found that overall sexual function and sexual desire were greater among woman who ate chocolate than those didn’t. So, this holiday season, treat your heart, brain and sex life to a decadent dessert, cheers to chocolate!
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