Pass up the berries and green tea and pass out the chocolate! The same element that gives tea and berries their health benefits is in certain types of chocolate. The trick is knowing which kind. According to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), eating a small portion (6.3 grams, 30 calories) of highest quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or more) each day can lower your blood pressure without adding pounds. Further, scientists reported preliminary evidence recently that cocoa and other chocolates may keep your blood flowing and your heart healthy. Chocolate, to a lesser extent, also contains the alkaloid theobromine, which was put to use around the turn of the century for edema (water retention) and degenerative angina.
The Aztecs called chocolate the “food of the Gods” once they discovered how to extract chocolate from the bean of the cacao tree. Two of the world’s oldest living women were chocoholics. Jeanne Calment of France consumed two pounds of chocolate a week until her doctor ordered her off sweets when she was 119. Sarah Knauss of the U.S. loved nibbling on Turtles until she passed away at the ripe old age of 122. 1 Even our brain appreciates the experience of eating fine quality chocolate by releasing a neurotransmitter called serotonin, important in the modulation of anger, aggression, body temperature, mood, sleep, appetite and metabolism. Hence the saying, “Just hand over the chocolate and no one gets hurt.”
The health benefits of eating chocolate have not been studied intensely. However, studies that have been conducted report apparent health benefits related to daily consumption of the right type and amount of chocolate.
The latest research correlates eating flavonoid-rich foods with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Chocolate is a flavonoid-rich food. Of all the chocolates, dark chocolate has the highest flavonoid content. However, flavonoid content is directly related to the amount of processing the chocolate has been exposed to. All other types of chocolate have up to four times less flavonoids and white chocolate has none at all.
WHAT ARE FLAVONOIDS?
Flavonoids, also referred to as bioflavonoids, are polyphenol (a group of chemical substances found in plants) antioxidants (a molecule capable of slowing or preventing oxidation of other molecules) found naturally in plants. More simply put, flavonoids are plant nutrients. When we eat fruits and vegetables, we consume these plant nutrients that, in turn, benefit our bodies as well. Widely disbursed throughout the plant, the majority of flavonoids are usually found just under the skin. This is why it is beneficial to consume the skin, as well as the rest of the fruit. Just be sure to wash the fruit as thoroughly as possible before eating.
BENEFITS FROM EATING CHOCOLATE
Your Circulatory System
Cocoa’s significant antioxidant action protects again LDL oxidation (remember, LDL is the “lousy” cholesterol). There have been studies that show an actual reduction in blood pressure after eating dark chocolate on a daily basis. A portion of the fat in chocolate is in the form of stearic acid (a saturated fatty acid), which does not raise levels of LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. Some minor studies found that eating large amounts of dark chocolate and cocoa may actually even lower LDL levels.
Chocolate and Cancer
Evidence from laboratory studies suggests that cocoa flavonoids may possess anticarcinogenic mechanisms, but more research is needed to prove this idea.
Researchers from the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University have shown how an ingredient found in chocolate seems to exert its anti-cancer properties – findings that might be used one day to design novel cancer treatments. The study, published in the April issue of the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, explains how pentameric procyanidin (pentamer), a natural compound found in cocoa, deactivates a number of proteins that likely work in concert to push a cancer cell to continually divide.2
Other research indicates that chocolate may be effective at preventing persistent coughing. The ingredient theobromine was found to be almost one third more effective than codeine, the leading cough medicine. The chocolate also appears to soothe and moisten the throat. Researchers theorized that theobromine worked by acting on the vagus nerve, which is responsible for coughing. The study results were published in the online Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal on Nov. 17, 2004.
Take Chocolate With You On Your Next Exotic Vacation
Research shows that flavonoids can inhibit the development of diarrhea. This seems to suggest that chocolate could have antidiarrhoeal effects.
A new study conducted by researchers at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland is the first to discover that a chemical in cocoa beans can limit the development of fluids that cause diarrhea. Cocoa beans contain a large amount of chemicals called flavonoids. Scientists believe that these flavonoids can be used to create natural supplements to ease diarrhea symptoms. Dark chocolate contains high concentrations of cocoa and may offer mild relief.
The study, published in the October issue of The Journal of Nutrition, found that cocoa flavonoids can bind to and inhibit a protein in the intestines called CFTR, which regulates fluid secretion in the small intestines. The research was done in collaboration with scientists at Heinrich Heine University in Germany. “Our study presents the first evidence that fluid loss by the intestine can be prevented by cocoa flavonoids,” said Horst Fischer, Ph.D., Associate Scientist, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute and co-author of the study. “Ultimately, this discovery could lead to the development of natural treatments that are inexpensive, easy to access and are unlikely to have side effects.” 3
Good News For Teens
For a long time, acne was blamed on eating junk foods. We now know that many things can contribute to acne, including overactive oil glands, heredity, dead skin cells that lodge in skin pores, and hormonal changes. A hormone called androgen is at its highest production during the teenage years, which stimulates sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum.
A Natural Mood-Enhancer
Chocolate contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid and precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. In the central nervous system, serotonin plays an important role in the modulation of anger, aggression, body temperature, mood, sleep, appetite and metabolism. Chocolate also contains small amounts of caffeine and theobromine, both of which are stimulants.
Nuts and Raisins In Chocolate
If you don’t like you chocolate plain, you’re in for even more benefits from this sweet treat. Nuts, such as almonds, contain calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and are low in saturated fats. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids; an essential fatty acid that your body does not produce on its own. Walnuts also contain tryptophan and manganese. Raisins are high in energy, low in fat and are an antioxidant-rich fruit (high in phenols).
Research into the benefits of chocolate is ongoing. The bottom line is you can enjoy chocolate without guilt if you stick to two simple rules; try and consume only the best quality dark chocolate and keep your consumption to a minimum if you want to avoid weight gain. The best mantra to employ here is, “everything in moderation.”
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
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replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
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1. “Love That Chocolate – Antioxidants in Cocoa Good For You”, Mia Stainsby, Vancouver Sun, February 14, 2007.
2. Researchers Find That Chocolate Compound Stops Cancer Cell Cycle in Lab Experiments – Georgetown University Medical Center, 18-Apr-2005
3. Children’s Hospital & Research Center at Oakland, September 29, 2005-Oakland, CA