Chocolate Is Actually Good For You

The simple pleasure of eating chocolate several times a month can make you healthier and live longer. According to a Harvard alumni study, chocolate stimulates the production of serotonin, which in turn sets the stage for a feeling of well-being. The British Medical Journal study noticed the same thing in a longevity study of men - those who ate just a few pieces of chocolate a month lived significantly longer. Hum.

Chocolate was first recorded as a 'thing of pleasure' in 600 B.C., and according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, chocolate is jammed with more antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables by a factor of two.

Antioxidants, mainly polyphenols, are quickly absorbed into the blood where they have a positive effect on cholesterol levels, help in preventing cancer and heart disease, and participate in slowing down the aging process. But antioxidants have a different form in chocolate than in green tea or red wine, for example. They appear in larger more complex molecules not usually found in other foods, part of the reason they are so effective as antioxidants.

The antioxidants in chocolate act against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (the bad guy) and increase HDL (the good cholesterol). Chocolate's catechins are important antioxidants, which are also found in green tea, but are four times more potent in chocolate than in tea. And that's just in the chocolate - the solids from the cocoa bean are the strongest. Cocoa beans are actually a fruit.

The effects are the same in men as for women, and they're the highest when the antioxidants are from cocoa powder. The most effective chocolate is dark chocolate rich in oleic acid, the good fat found in olive and coconut oil. Next is milk chocolate, still much higher in antioxidants than many foods tested to date. White chocolate has none of the benefits of the darker chocolates. Low-quality chocolates usually have cottonseed or soy oil added to them.

Chocolate contains magnesium, which some researchers think explains the reason people crave chocolate. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a stimulant released in the brain when people fall in love, stimulating the 'feel-good' brain chemicals serotonin and endorphins.

Pure dark chocolate eaten once a week, especially those made from cocoa powder, is all you need to reap its health benefits. If you are a smoker or in oxidative stress, chocolate enjoyed more often might benefit your health.

The negatives? More isn't better, so don't take advantage of a good thing and overdo eating chocolate just because dark chocolate is healthy for you.

Other negatives about chocolate focus on the mass-produced, adulterated chocolate candies. Not only do they contain excess sugar, food chemicals, and rancid oils, but also as a result of processing practices, mass-produced chocolates contain excessive amounts of metals such as lead and cadmium.

So steer clear of the cheaper chocolates and choose organic or high-quality chocolates instead. European chocolates are great products. Select a high-quality dark or semi-sweet chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids, and avoid white chocolate and carob.

And who said life isn't full of little pleasures?

Posted February 2004 | Permanent Link

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