Looking at the fat, sugar and calories
in chocolate, it would seem that the best reason for indulging
is pleasure. Yet the cocoa solids in hot cocoa and hot chocolate
do more than soothe our mind. New research is serving healthy
reasons to bite down on our favorite bar.
A healthy indulgence
Written by: Galina Pembroke
Photo by: www.isifa.com
LOOKING FOR a good reason for a bad habit?
The answer is antioxidants. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate
and cocoa, has plenty. These protect cells by killing free radicals
that would otherwise attack them. This reduces our risk of degenerative
diseases and cancer. There are more than 6,000 types of antioxidants.
The most commonly known are vitamins A, C, and E. Antioxidants
are divided into different groups. Those in chocolate are classified
as flavanols. Studies have shown that people with high blood levels
of flavanols have lower risk of heart disease, lung cancer, prostate
cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes. Yet there are many flavanol-containing
foods that are healthier overall than chocolate. Green tea and
dark skinned fruits and vegetables are the best example. However,
while these are admirable food choice they don't have as many flavanols
as our tasty brown friend. According to a study published in the
December 3, 2003 issue of the Journal of Food and Agricultural
Chemistry, cocoa has more flavanols than black tea, green tea and
red wine. The large amounts of these antioxidants are due to cocoa's
purity. Pure cocoa powder has twice the amount of flavanols as
dark chocolate, and milk chocolate has half the amount of dark
Still, before you stock up on Orion and Nestlé, think snacks and
not stacks. Chocolate does have health benefits but we need to
weigh these in with its detriments. Chocolate bars are high in
sugar, saturated fat and contain oxalic acid. All chocolate, even
high quality bars and those purchased at health food stores contain
these three no-nos. But thankfully all fat is not created equal.
One-third of chocolate's saturated fat content comes from stearic
acid. Stearic acid is beneficial because it converts to heart-healthy
oleic acid. And since it contains no milk, the fat in dark chocolate
contains no cholesterol. What about the oxalic acid? This is only
a problem in theory. Though this acid can deplete us of calcium
and contribute to kidney stones, it only becomes an issue if we
indulge in excess. And while there's no arguing that chocolate
has caffeine, its amount melts in comparison to our favorite dark
brew. Where a cup of coffee averages 100 mg, the typical chocolate
bar has only 10 mg.
If we take chocolate in moderation it won't be a contributor to
any illness. Instead it will provide only benefits. These don't
end with its ability to protect cells. Two studies published in
The Lancet suggest that cocoa flavanols decrease LDL cholesterol.
This is the bad form of cholesterol that can clog arteries.
Eating chocolate may act as a cough suppressant. In 2002, researchers
with the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College
(University of London) artificially provoked a cough in ten healthy
nonsmokers. They discovered that the chocolate chemical theobromine
prevented coughing more effectively than traditional cough medicine.
Enjoying a box of Valentine's chocolates may even help your heart.
Research in the laboratory has shown that a group of cocoa antioxidants
called polyphenols appear to relax the blood vessels, thus allowing
blood to flow more efficiently and reducing the strain on our heart.