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Chocolate Health Benefits
By Dan Lukaczer, ND
Q I keep hearing chocolate is good for you. I want to believe this, but is it true?
A My answer is an unequivocal yes and no. The cocoa found in chocolate has numerous health benefits (the darker the chocolate, the better). But be warned—it’s only the cocoa, not all the sugar and fat that comes packaged with it, that has health advantages.
Cocoa comes from the cocoa bean, grown on the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao). The beans have a variety of active phytochemicals that demonstrate healthy effects. Some of the more important are polyphenols, compounds best known for their antioxidant properties. In the most recent study I’ve seen published, a small group of healthy volunteers who ate 100 g of dark chocolate, containing approximately 500 mg polyphenols, were compared to those who ate 100 g of white chocolate, which contains no polyphenols. (White chocolate is really not “chocolate” at all. It is simply the fat—cocoa butter—from cocoa beans mixed with milk and other ingredients.) The researchers found that the dark, but not the white, chocolate decreased blood pressure and improved insulin sensitivity (poor insulin sensitivity has been linked to diabetes and heart disease).
You’ve also probably heard people say that chocolate makes them feel better. There may be something to that as well. Cocoa also contains other compounds called methylxanthines that seem to improve moods. Another study showed that subjects eating dark or milk chocolate versus those eating white chocolate (which contains no methylxanthines) showed a positive mood-altering effect. These phytochemicals may even go through breast milk. Mothers who reported eating chocolate daily rated the temperament of their 6-month-old infants more positively in terms of crying and fussing. The bottom line is that your chocolate indulgence does come with some health benefits. However, because chocolate also comes with lots of fat and sugar, you should limit intake.
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