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Health by Chocolate

How enjoying a little chocolate might actually help your health.

The Possible Health Benefits of Chocolate continued...

"The flavanols in cocoa beans have a biochemical effect of reducing platelet clumping, similar to but much less than aspirin," Becker says in an email interview.

After reviewing 136 scientific publications on chocolate and its components and heart disease, researchers from Harvard University School of Public Health concluded that short-term studies suggest cocoa and chocolate may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Decreasing LDL oxidation
  • Anti-inflammation action
2. They May Decrease Blood Pressure and Increase Insulin Sensitivity

Researchers in Italy recently fed 15 healthy people either 3 ounces of dark chocolate or the same amount of white chocolate -- which contains no flavanol phytochemicals -- for 15 days. They found that insulin resistance (a risk factor for diabetes) was significantly lowered in those who ate the dark chocolate. Systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading), measured daily, was also lower in the group eating dark chocolate.

3. They May Improve Arterial Blood Flow

Healthy men who consume flavanol-rich cocoa may see improvements in the flow of blood through their arteries, according to recent research. The researchers found that when healthy men consumed the flavanol-rich cocoa, the ability of their blood vessels to relax improved significantly. And arterial blood flow is important for cardiovascular health.

4. They May Help People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

In a small study in England, 1 1/2 ounces of 85% cocoa dark chocolate was given to a group of adults with chronic fatigue syndrome every day for eight weeks. In the study, which has been submitted for publication, the participants reported feeling less fatigued after eating the chocolate. Surprisingly, no weight gain was reported in the chocolate-eating group, according to researcher Steve Atkin, PhD.

How might it work? The researchers believe that chocolate enhances the action of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which help regulate mood and sleep. More research needs to be done to confirm a benefit in this area.

Not All Chocolate Is Created Equal

While the amount of the healthy antioxidant flavonoids varies from one type of chocolate to another, there's one guideline you can take to the bank: The more nonfat cocoa solids in a chocolate product, the more antioxidants it likely contains.

So which type of chocolate has the most flavonoids? The highest levels are in natural cocoa powder (not Dutch cocoa, though, because it is alkalized cocoa). The type second highest in flavonoids is unsweetened baking chocolate. Dark chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips rank third, with milk chocolate and chocolate syrup at the bottom of the list.

Keep in mind, though, that flavanol levels in types of chocolate can vary based on:

  • The cocoa beans selected.
  • The processing of the beans and chocolate.
  • Storage and handling conditions.

Perhaps in the near future, labels on chocolate products will list amounts of flavanols.

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