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Health Benefits of Chocolate

Sep 1, 2008
Although healers in ancient Latin American societies used chocolate extensively in medicinal practice, modern societies took a dim view of chocolate as having benefits. Chocolate has been reputed to cause acne, cavities, and a host of other health problems. Recent scientific evidence however, has been debunking what they call "chocolate myths." And, to the chocoholics delight, concluding that not only is chocolate not detrimental to your health, it can actually be beneficial.

Let us look at the acne myth. There have been two scientific studies devoted to this subject, one at the University of Pennsylvania and one at the US Naval Academy. Both studies concluded that ingesting chocolate had no effect on acne. There have also been other studies which have found that there is no relationship between diet and acne.

Studies have also been done on the effect of chocolate on tooth decay. While chocolate does contain sugar, the Eastman Dental Center found that chocolate contains certain phosphates and other minerals which minimize the effect of the sugar. Therefore chocolate is one of the least likely desserts to cause cavities. Another study at Osaka University in Japan stated that there are antibacterial agents in cacoa that actually counteract tooth decay.

Then what are the health benefits that can be derived from chocolate? Chocolate contains flavonoids, powerful antioxidants, stearic acid, phenylethylamine, theobromine plus many essential minerals such as magnesium and iron.

Flavanoids or phenolic phytochemicals are compounds present in plant foods which have been recognized as having health benefits. In humans they have been found to fight against cancer and heart disease. They exist in a wide variety of foods and beverages such as apples, peanuts, onions, cranberries, red wine, and tea. Two important

In a study conducted at Cornell University, Dr. Chang Y Lee, team leader, compared the presence of the phenolic compound gallic acid and the flavonoid epicatechine in chocolate with red wine and green tea. Chocalate had 611 mg of gallic acid (GAE) as compared to 340 in red wine and 165 in green tea. Chocolate contained 564 mg of epicatechin (ECE) whereas red wine had 163 and green tea only 47.

Antioxidants are important for their ability to destroy free radicals. The effectiveness of antioxidants is measured in ORAC units. Dark chocolate contains over 13000 ORAC units. If the body does not have sufficient levels of antioxidants damages takes place which leads to an increase in plaque formation on arterial walls and an increase in LDL choresterol.

Another nutrient which is the subject of many myths is fat. Nutritionists continually recommend avoiding saturated fats and opting for monosaturated fats as saturated fats raise cholesterol levels.

The fat content of chocolate is one-third oleic acid, one-third stearic acid and one-third palmitic acid. Oleic acid is a mono-saturated fat like olive oil. According to research studies, stearic acid has not effect on cholesterol. Palmitic acid is a saturated fat and does affect cholesterol levels. However, according to Dr. Phillip Drew Minton who has written a book about the health benefits of chocolate, some saturated fat is necessary in diet as saturated fats provide protection against skin cancer and unsaturated fats do not do this.

So, although one can eat chocolate now without guilt, you must eat it properly to derive the maximum health benefits. Dark chocolate is more beneficial than milk chocolate. The chocolate should be high quality to have a high cacao content. It should also be pure chocolate not combined with marshmallow, caramel, nougat and other unhealthy substances. And like all foods, moderation is the key. Don't gorge the entire box but restrict yourself to no more than 3.5 ounces per day. (610 words)
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