For the Love of Chocolate

chocolate may be more beneficial than you think

Healthy Gifts

For the Love of Chocolate

A sweet and healthy gift for your Valentine

-Donna Soo, MS, CNC,

valentine's dayDo you love your partner and want to give him a healthful, yet tasty treat on Valentine’s Day? Try chocolate!

The health benefits of chocolate have been known for 2,000 years. Chocolate was so important in the Mayan and Aztec cultures, that it was even used as a form of currency. In fact, the translation of the cocoa tree Theobroma cacao translates to ‘the food of the gods.’

We hear about the health benefits of chocolate in the media quite often lately because chocolate contains a significant proportion of flavanols, the same antioxidants component found in red grapes and tea. Antioxidants are molecules that reduce damage from oxidative stress. We need oxygen to live, but it is actually a highly reactive and damaging element. Antioxidants reduce the damaging potential from oxidative stress, known as free radicals. Free radicals are the reason for aging and cellular damage.

Chocolate contributes to cardiovascular health by reducing lipid oxidation. Oxidized lipoproteins are the main cause of atherosclerosis. The flavanols in chocolate have also been shown to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow. Several studies have proven that the flavanols in chocolate reduce platelet clumping, further reducing the risk for heart disease. This reduced platelet ‘stickiness’ is similar to the effect of aspirin. Chocolate has also been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 10 percent.

Other medicinal benefits of chocolate include increased insulin sensitivity, regulated immune response and potential anti-cancer effects. Chocolate has also been shown to reduce persistent coughing as much as over-the-counter medications, to reduce fatigue and to enhance mood.

So, you may ask, is milk chocolate as healthful as dark chocolate? The answer is no. The greater the cocoa content, the higher the flavanol concentration. Milk chocolate is a watered- down version of the original product and does not have the same healthful effect. Chocolate with 65 percent cocoa or greater is recommended. Also, the more the cocoa is processed, the more flavanol content is destroyed, so the chocolate bars containing high sugar and fat content not only lose the antioxidant protection, but the unhealthy components negate the healthful ones.

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