Chocolate is finally receiving some of the praise it deserves by folks in the medical and nutritional fields these days. But there’s nothing new about the benefits that chocolate brings to the table..
Chocolate was first used by the Olmecs, an ancient native American people (1500 BC-400 BC).
It was treasured by the Mayans and Aztecs, then by the Spaniards, who added sugar and brought it to Europe in the 1500s. Folks (including doctors) back then used it to treat fatigue, restore normal body weight, calm jangled nerves, and improve digestion. It was also cherished as an especially effective aphrodisiac.
The recent studies on chocolate show that it’s chock full of important nutrients that benefit everything from your heart to your mood. But keep in mind that the research touting all these benefits was on premium dark chocolate, not the highly processed, mass produced, cheap, sugary junk you find in most supermarkets and movie theater concession stands.
A lot of chocolate’s benefits are due to the fact that it contains flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants.
10 health benefits of dark chocolate
So, here are 10 practical reasons to enjoy your chocolate:
#1: High in antioxidants:
Ounce for ounce, it’s one of the richest food sources of these crucial substances. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals-rogue oxygen molecules that promote heart disease and cancer and accelerate aging.
#2: Rich in valuable micronutrients:
Chocolate supplies meaningful amounts of potassium, zinc, magnesium, and iron. Most Americans don’t get enough of these nutrients.
#3: Good for cholesterol:
The fat itself in chocolate is “cholesterol neutral,” meaning that it doesn’t have a negative effect on cholesterol levels. But it has been found to lower bad LDL cholesterol (5-10 percent) while leaving good HDL cholesterol the same.
#4: Lowers blood pressure:
People who ate just over 3 ounces of premium quality dark chocolate each day reduced their blood pressure by as many as 10 points in just two weeks, according to a 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Chocolate helps relax blood vessels so blood can flow through them easier.
#5: Helps prevent clots:
Chocolate makes platelets, important for clot formation, more slippery. This protects the heart by helping prevent artery blockage.
#6: Anti-cancer effect:
The high flavonoid content may have a protective effect against some cancers, based on the more extensive research on flavonoids in tea.
#7: A safe, mild stimulant:
Chocolate actually has relatively little caffeine, but many people notice a quick increase in alertness and improvement in mood that can last hours after eating it.
#8: Calms coughs:
A small study from England showed that chocolate is a highly effective cough suppressant–at least as good as codeine!
#9: Prevents cavities:
Yes, you read it right! High quality dark chocolate can help prevent cavities by fighting common mouth bacteria.
#10: Doesn’t cause acne:
Certainly not in most people. No connection between chocolate and acne has ever been proven.
Does chocolate have a dark side?
As good as it can be for you, too much chocolate could mean you are eating too many calories. A 3.5-ounce bar can tack on 500 or more calories to your daily diet. Of course, that may mean you eat less later in the day, so let’s not be too quick to condemn it. Plus, don’t forget, there’s a big difference between quality calories and junk calories.
Premium dark chocolate actually has little sugar in it, much less than most so-called energy and granola bars, which are mostly expensive junk. Plus, the fat in chocolate slows the sugar’s absorption so it won’t spike your blood sugar.
What about “chocoholics”? Some may be self-medicating for mild depression. But perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing. It’s certainly safer than a lot of prescription antidepressants, and no patient has ever had to be treated for a chocolate overdose.
On the down side, in some sensitive folks chocolate can worsen acid reflux or trigger migraines. If you suffer from either of these problems, you probably already know this.
For most people, we recommend 1 to 2 ounces delicious, high-quality, dark chocolate a few days a week as a healthy treat and pick-me-up. (How’s that for a prescription!)
Combine it with a dollop of natural peanut butter for a smart “peanut butter cup” snack.
You can also make your own cocoa by mixing unsweetened cocoa powder with whole milk. Sweeten to taste with a touch of honey.
Some mass-produced products include chocolate from Ivory Coast plantations, which still rely on child slavery, so we can’t recommend them. But some of ourfavorite brands of chocolate are Del Rey, Dagoba, Scharffen Arter, Rapunzel, Green and Black, and Valrhona. These are either organic or from small plantation sources of known quality.
Chocolate tops the list of antioxidant foods
Chocolate’s health properties are no joke. Check out its ranking on the following list, which shows various foods’ antioxidant activity in oxygen radical absorption capacity units per 100 grams (just over 3 oz).
|Antioxidant Content in Certain Foods|
|Dark chocolate: 13,120|
|Milk chocolate: 6,740|
|Brussels sprouts: 980|
|Alfalfa sprouts: 930|
|Red grapes: 739|
So go ahead and enjoy a couple of ounces of a premium dark chocolate today without an ounce of guilt.
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