The Melt in Your Mouth Mystery
Research is being done on chocolate's mood-altering effects.
Melting in the mouth with sweetness, seductively fragrant, smooth and
luscious on the tongue, chocolate is, for many, the quintessential romantic
And while the reasons for this ancient confection's allure are the subject
of many a scientific debate, one solid fact is emerging: Chocolate could be
good for the heart in ways other than just by improving romance.
New and yet-to-be-published studies are showing that antioxidants in
chocolate -- dark chocolate and cocoa powder -- may increase "good"
(HDL) cholesterol levels by as much as 10%, says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D.,
R.D., a professor at Pennsylvania State University.
In the studies, subjects ate 22 grams of cocoa powder and 16 grams of dark
chocolate every day (one Hershey bar contains 45 grams of cocoa powder). The
result: Their "bad" (LDL) cholesterol was less susceptible to
oxidation, a process that normally leads to artery-clogging plaques. While many
people take vitamins and other antioxidants to help prevent plaque development,
the study shows that cocoa could do the trick.
Chocolate may be endowed with more than just antioxidants. Previous research
by Kris-Etherton published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
in 1997 showed that one of the fats in chocolate, called stearic acid, can
boost HDL levels. Also, when people ate milk chocolate regularly, their levels
of LDL didn't increase as might have been expected from fat consumption.
"The message here is that chocolate's not bad, and it may have some
beneficial effects," says Kris-Etherton, who will present her latest
research at a San Diego, CA, conference of experimental biologists in April.
"People should not feel guilty about eating it."
To a certain extent, that is. Moderation is key, she points out: "You
have to incorporate it into a balanced and healthy diet."
Women's Craving: Cultural or Chemical?
That advice may be hard for women to heed -- especially when premenstrual
craving surfaces once a month. Women's bodies scream for chocolate.
But the health-conscious side shifts to high alert, warning of all the fat
-- heart-healthy or not -- and sugar.
So what's a woman to do? It may depend on why she has the craving -- whether
she'd be answering to the body's physiological or psychological call for
By studying women in Spain and in the United States, Debra Zellner, Ph.D., a
psychologist and professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania,
concluded that women in the U.S. have the craving because they've turned
chocolate into a nutritional taboo -- delicious, but loaded with calories and
fat. Convinced it's a wicked indulgence, she theorizes, these women tell
themselves they shouldn't have it, then wind up falling off the wagon,
particularly before they menstruate, when they might be feeling a little
"You feel better because you've just treated yourself to something, but
there's no physiological reason," says Zellner, who found that Spanish
women simply didn't crave chocolate as much as women in the United States.