Monday, September 21, 2009

Life is Like a Box of Chocolate

If there's one food that I can say I truly love other than peanut butter, it's got to be chocolate. The combination of my two favorite foods isn't bad either. Lucky for me, recent studies have shown that chocolate may actually be healthy, as long as it's eaten in small amounts. However, this still proves to be a contentious issue among health experts. Many defy claims about the health benefits of chocolate, and say that even if true, chocolate's unhealthy properties outweigh any positive benefits. I did some research to find out the real deal about chocolate: Healthy or not?

-Chocolate-eaters have increased survival rate after heart-attacks: A study done in Sweden followed 1,619 first-time heart attack patients for 8 years succeeding their first heart attack. Scientists tracked the patients' chocolate consumption and concluded that those who ate more chocolate were more likely to survive. However, while the study did account for such factors as age, obesity, sex, physical activity, and education, it didn't account for factors such as mental health.
*Chocolate contains flavanols, antioxidants of which are supposed to have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. The flavanoids are supposed to help increase the elasticity of blood vessels as well as help prevent blood clots. This information helps to prove the study may have some actual signifigance.
*Similarly, other studies have shown that chocolate decreases blood pressure.

-You gotta go dark- While chocolate does contain heart-healthy antioxidants, similar to those in various fruits and vegetables, tea, and red wine, not all chocolate is created equally. According to the Mayo Clinic, the darker the chocolate, the more substantial the amounts of flavanoids. While those sweet milk and white chocolates may seem good to your taste buds, they're pretty much worthless in terms of boosting chocolate's healthy reputation. Fortunately, I prefer dark chocolate over other varieties anyways. If you're not a fan of dark chocolate though, I at one time could relate. At first, I only really liked milk chocolate. However, my entire family preferred dark chocolate, so that would essentially be the only treat lying around our house. After continuously sampling the dark, it eventually grew on me to the point that I don't even really like the taste of milk chocolate that much anymore (that is, unless it's paired with my fav. PB, such as in Reese' If you like dark chocolate in the least bit, making the switch won't be that difficult.

-Beware, even dark has its problems: While dark chocolate does have a significantly higher amount of flavanoids, you still can't just choose any dark chocolate. Processing methods can often notably decrease the flavanoid content in chocolate bars. To ensure that you are actually reaping the health benefits of eating dark chocolate, choose bars that have few added ingredients and limit damaging processing procedures. Try CocoaVia products, which use a method of processing that helps to limit the damaging of flavanoids. Also, choose bars that contain at least 70% cocoa. I especially enjoy Lindt chocolate, which offers a wide variety of dark options. Scharffen Berger chocolate is also a tasty option.

-Skip the milk- While you may absolutely have to have that glass of milk when munching on cookies, skip it when it comes to eating chocolate. A protein in milk binds to the flavanoids in chocolate, making them less easily absorbable. Having a dark chocolate cookie (although this may not apply anyways because of the processing, but just in case)? Pour yourself a nice glass of soy milk, and feel free to go for the dunk.

-Don't forget to limit yourself!- While all these tips and potential health benefits do sound absolutely wonderful to any chocoholic, chocolate should still be eaten in moderation. Although dark chocolate contains the same antioxidants as various fruits and vegetables, it is significantly higher in fat and calories! You're common sense and conscious should tell you that a chocolate bar a day will not keep the doctor away. The typical chocolate bar is almost 50% fat, with a signficant amount of it being saturated. You only need a small amount of dark chocolate to benefit. Instead of gourging yourself on a daily basis, save it for special occasions, or use it to replace other artificial/processed/unhealthy sweets.

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