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Confessions of a Chocoholic

Here are my secrets for enjoying chocolate in moderation.

A Double Whammy

Think chocolate tastes good? Well, according to some researchers at Yale University, it smells good too. They found that sniffing chocolate activated different regions in the brain than tasting it did. You know what that tells me? That doing both at the same time must be mind-blowing!

Next time you enjoy a bite or two of chocolate, try letting your nose really appreciate it, too, and see if this enhances the experience.

You can also try the opposite -- tasting chocolate while pinching your nose (this will block the air flow between the olfactory system and the mouth) to see if there is a decrease in taste.

Health Benefits Abound (but Then, I'm Biased)

I love it when a new study comes out noting health benefit from eating chocolate because it affirms my deep respect for the cacao bean. See, I told you chocolate was good for you -- it even comes from a bean!

I'd better warn you, though, that the health benefits tend to involve dark chocolate and cocoa powder rather than the more popular milk chocolate. Many of the health benefits seem to stem from the antioxidant flavanols, which are also found in other plant foods such as tea, grapes, grapefruit, and wine. The cocoa bean happens to be extraordinarily rich in them.

The flavanol content of chocolate depends on the flavanol content of the cacao plant used, and the way the cocoa was turned into chocolate. But generally, cocoa powder and baking chocolate contain more flavonoids than dark chocolate, dark chocolate has more than milk chocolate, and white chocolate has none.

Here are two possible health benefits from dark chocolate or cocoa (but keep in mind that in most cases, more research needs to done):

Dark chocolate and cocoa may help:

  • Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. This is due to the high levels of the saturated fatty acid called stearic acid (which has been shown to have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol) and flavonoids found in chocolate. After a research review of 136 scientific publications, the researchers concluded that studies suggest cocoa and chocolate may reduce heart disease risks by raising HDL "good" cholesterol; lowering blood pressure; prevent the oxidation of LDL "bad" cholesterol that leads to formation of plaque in artery walls; and by its anti-inflammation and anticlotting actions. Different types of studies on flavonoids suggest they likely help to protect against death from heart disease.
  • Decrease blood pressure. Results from a small Italian study suggest that a hefty daily serving of dark chocolate (480 calories worth) may decrease blood pressure and improve sensitivity to insulin (the hormone that allows your body to use glucose for fuel). Studies done with other flavanol-containing foods such as tea and wine, have shown similar favorable effects on blood pressure.

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