Benefits of chocolate

valentineschocolatecocoabeansIt’s Valentine’s Day, indulge a little.

When Richard Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box filled with chocolate candy for Valentine’s Day back in 1861, he had no idea he was packaging a treat that would be proven to have many health benefits 150 years later. Contemporary lovers know a Valentine’s heart filled with dark chocolate is more than just a symbol of a gift of love, but, in moderation, it can be a gift of health.

Modern science has discovered that chocolate – and the darker the better – can diminish the risk of:

*Cardiovascular disease: Numerous studies indicate that chocolate can be a valuable weapon against cardiovascular disease. An eight-year German study of almost 20,000 people found those who ate an average of about two ounces of chocolate each day reduced their risk of both heart attacks and strokes by 39 per cent. A review of seven studies found a 29 per cent reduced risk of stroke in those who ate chocolate more than twice a week, and a Swedish study found that women who ate more than 1.5 ounces of chocolate a week decreased their risk of stroke by 20 percent when compared to women who ate less than a third of an ounce every week. A 10-year Australian study found that women over the age of 70 who ate chocolate at least once a week were 60 per cent less likely to die from heart failure during the study. Compounds in chocolate have been shown to improve circulation and to have blood-thinning properties.

*Dementia: A study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension found that the flavanols found in cocoa give the brain a boost. Elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment who drank a dairy-based cocoa flavanol drink for eight weeks showed a significant improvement in memory. Researchers believe flavanols may work by protecting neurons from injury and improving the interaction of molecular structures involved in memory as well as by increasing blood flow.

*Obesity: Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that people who ate chocolate five times a week had a decrease in body mass index even when they ate more calories than those who didn’t eat chocolate. “The study is provocative and confirms what we have been calling the chocolate/obesity paradox: Despite chocolate’s high caloric load, its regular intake does not result in weight gain,” Dr. Franz Messerli, Director of Hypertension programme at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, told ABC News. “Thus, to put it pointedly, chocolate could be called a lazy man’s exercise,” said Messerli, who was not involved in the study. The researchers believe that antioxidants called catechins improve lean muscle mass and reduce weight.

*Diabetes: An Italian study found that eating chocolate regularly accelerates the body’s ability to metabolize glucose, thus increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing the risk for diabetes. Cocoa powder is rich in flavonoids, say researchers, which help counteract insulin resistance, the condition that prevents your body from using insulin effectively.

*Depression: Chocolate contains phenethylamine, the same chemical your body creates when you fall in love. PEA activates the brain’s pleasure center and triggers the release of “feel good” endorphins. Chocolate also reduces stress due to the compound anadamide which stimulates the same receptors in the brain as marijuana.

*Earlier death: British researchers found that people who eat candy live almost a year longer than those who don’t indulge in the sweet treat. Experts believe the life-lengthening effect is due to the antioxidants in chocolate.

*Coughs: Chocolate contains theobromine, which calms the vagus nerve, the part of the brain that triggers coughs. A British study of 300 patients with a nagging cough found that 60 percent of them got relief when given the amount of theobromine found in two ounces of unsweetened chocolate. An earlier study found that theobromine was more effective at suppressing coughs than codeine. Theobromine also hardens tooth enamel, which lowers your risk of cavities. (†

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