If you think chocolate is heavenly, you're not alone. Chocolate literally is
the "food of the gods" -- that's what its botanical name, Theobroma
cacao, means. But you needn't be divine to indulge. Mere mortals adore
chocolate in all its forms, from the humble chocolate chip cookie to gourmet
goodies, wintry hot chocolate, and decadent desserts. And to make chocolate
even more drool-worthy, researchers are discovering this ancient treat may have
some modern health benefits.
By Ty Wenger
Fifteen years ago, I found myself in a romantic pickle: Cheryl, a woman I
had been dating for about three months, was nearing her 25th birthday. The
birthday gift in any three-month-old relationship is a dicey one, and I
deliberated over it for weeks. Too big too soon and it could look like I was
trying too hard. Too little and I might appear indifferent. Too romantic and
I'd run the risk of setting the bar too high.
And so it was with great enthusiasm that I finally unveiled...
A: Chocolate dates back centuries. The Mayans traded valuable cacao beans,
from which chocolate is made, as a commodity. In 1519, the Aztecs discovered
that they could make a delicious drink by adding water and sweeteners to
roasted, ground-up cacao beans. The chocolate bar came along later in the 18th
century, by mixing chocolate with milk.
Q: Are all chocolates good for you?
A: Chocolate lovers, rejoice -- but be savvy about chocolate's health perks.
Chocolate really can be good for you, but not all chocolate is created
equally. If you're after health benefits, forget the chewy, caramel,
marshmallow or cream-covered chocolates and look for solid dark chocolate.
Q: Why is dark chocolate a better choice than white or milk
A: The health benefits of chocolate come from flavonoids, a type of
phytochemical found in the cacao bean. Dark chocolate contains a higher
percentage of cocoa than white or milk chocolate. And the more cocoa a
chocolate product contains, the richer its health-promoting content.
Q: What are the health benefits of dark chocolate?
A: Research has shown that when dark chocolate is part of a healthy
lifestyle, it can improve heart
pressure, reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol, and increase blood flow to the brain. It may
also improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, reducing diabetes risk.
Q: How much chocolate should I eat to get the health benefits?
A: Limit the portion size because even though dark chocolate contains
good-for-you flavonoids, it also has not-so-good-for-you fat, sugar, and
calories. Overindulging in chocolate can undo any health benefits and lead to
gain and related health problems.
A small portion of about an ounce should satisfy your taste buds --
especially if you eat it slowly -- and provide chocolate's health benefits
without widening your waistline.
Here's an example. A standard-sized bar of Hershey's Dark Chocolate has 531
calories, compared with 150 calories from an ounce of dark chocolate or about
six Hershey's Kisses.
Q: Why do some chocolates tout the percent of cocoa on the label?
A: The greater the percentage of cocoa, the higher the concentration of
flavonoids. Most milk chocolate contains up to 50% cocoa, while some
inexpensive chocolates contain as little as 7% cocoa. Look for dark chocolate
with at least 70% cocoa for the finest dark chocolate rich in healthy