Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hmmm... Chocolate!

Food of the Gods

Hmmm. Truffles or chips, mousse or bars. No matter how you like it, there is nothing else like chocolate. But that delicious slice of cocoa-laced cake is often served with a helping of guilt. Maybe you shouldn’t feel so bad after all—it turns out chocolate has a good side.


We all know it can soothe the soul, but did you know chocolate can also lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease and blood clots, according to a study published by the American Heart Association. Flavonoid compounds in dark chocolate are also the same healthful antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, tea, and red wine. Chocolate even appears to reduce bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein) while increasing good HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

Chocolate also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that increases levels of serotonin, a natural antidepressant and stress reducer. And eating chocolate increases the body’s endorphin levels, thereby elevating mood and reducing pain. Dark chocolate also seems to improve the body’s use of insulin and glucose sensitivity, and it is rich in potassium and magnesium, and contains vitamins A, B1, B2, D, and E.

The Downside

Of course some of the benefits of eating chocolate are offset by its high fat, sugar, and calorie content. For example, a cup of broccoli and a cup of sliced apples have 20 and 57 calories respectively, while a cup of chocolate has 1,000 calories or more.

Not All Chocolate is Equal

The amount of beneficial flavonoids in chocolate depends on the type of cocoa bean and the methods used in processing. For instance, Dutch process” greatly reduces flavonoid content. White chocolate has no flavonoids since it has no “cocoa mass” and is not technically chocolate at all.

Dark chocolate, on the other hand, has fewer calories and two to four times the amount of flavonoids found in milk chocolate. Milk binds to the beneficial antioxidants, making them unavailable. To get the full benefits of antioxidants, you should avoid drinking milk with your dark chocolate. The ideal dark chocolate will have a “cocoa mass” content of at least 70%.  With chocolate—the darker, the better.

Thank the Mayans

2,000 years ago the Mayans of Mexico and Central America began cultivating the pods of the cocoa tree that grew wild in the jungle. When mixed with water, chili peppers, and cornmeal, the ground cocoa beans made a spicy, frothy drink. Later the Aztecs adopted the bitter cocoa drink, usually enjoyed only by royalty and the privileged class. Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa beans to Europe in the 1500s where experiments with adding sugar to the new product flourished. The rest is history.


So next time you want to indulge your sweet tooth with the silky, smooth, velvety texture of your favorite chocolate, enjoy it without guilt—you could be lowering your blood pressure!

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