Health & Wellness

Five Surprising Health Benefits of Chocolate

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“Folks who eat chocolate regularly are thinner than non-chocolate eaters!” Newspapers, magazines and bloggers have been quick to share the results of a recent study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study, conducted in San Diego, showed exactly that: of the women surveyed, those who ate the most chocolate had the lowest BMI. And this is just the latest in a long line of claims about the health benefits of chocolate.

Is chocolate really just what the doctor ordered? To find out, we went to Dr. Howard Weintraub, clinical director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Can chocolate help you lose weight?

“At the risk of sounding like a killjoy,” says Dr. Weintraub, “The researchers were careful to point out that their study didn’t prove that eating chocolate caused weight loss. I think the research is promising, but it wouldn’t be right for me to tell my patients to start eating chocolate as a weight loss aid.”

So what can chocolate do for you?

It Can Boost Your Immune System

Like many other plant based foods, cacao (the source of chocolate) is full of antioxidants, which play a key role in supporting a healthy immune system. The rule of thumb with antioxidants is that the deeper the color, the more antioxidants. Dark chocolate is the way to go here; milk chocolate doesn’t have nearly as many benefits. In fact, some sources suggest that adding milk negates chocolate’s healthful benefits.

As is true of most foods, the less processing, the better. Raw chocolate bars and truffles, which taste delicious, are now available online and in many health-food stores.

Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure

According to research, the flavonoids in dark chocolate can lower blood pressure, and they appear to improve LDL cholesterol levels, too. However, cautions Dr. Weintraub, “Red wine has flavonoids, too, but this doesn’t give us carte blanche to drink all the wine or eat all the chocolate we want. As a culture, we tend to think if a little is good, a lot must be better and with something as calorically dense as chocolate that could do more harm than good,” he says.

It Helps Prevent Tooth Decay

Chocolate contains a compound called theobromide. In clinical studies, theobromide has proved effective at eliminating the cavity causing bacteria, streptococcus mutans, which, of course, means fewer cavities. But before you throw away the toothpaste, remember that chocolate usually contains sugar, a notorious bad guy in the world of oral hygiene. If you want to keep your pearly whites in top form, your best bet is to brush and floss regularly no matter how much chocolate you eat.

Chocolate Boosts Your Mood

Yes, it tastes good, and things that taste good are pleasurable. For that reason alone, it may be worthwhile to let a square melt in your mouth from time to time. But that melting chocolate may also have a chemical effect on your brain because chocolate contains serotonin, also known as nature’s antidepressant. The endorphins stimulated by pleasure and enhanced by the serotonin can make you feel more relaxed and happy.

It Provides You With Magnesium

Like green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate is high in magnesium. According to the National Institute of Health, magnesium plays a role in more than 300 chemical reactions in your body. It helps to regulate the digestive, neurological and cardiovascular systems, and is part of the metabolic process that converts food to energy. Your muscles and nerves need magnesium to function properly, and it also helps to regulate your heartbeat. One hundred grams of chocolate (about 3.5 ounces) will provide 176 mg of magnesium, more than half the daily recommendation for a woman over the age of 31.

Enjoy It In Moderation

“Food fads march in and out of our lives,” says Dr. Weintraub. “Chocolate is the latest media darling. The truth is it’s a good food with lots to recommend it, not the least of which is that it tastes good. If you’re someone who can enjoy a small square of it as a daily treat, that’s great. But you can’t eat chocolate instead of lean protein and fresh fruits and vegetables. And regardless of what you’re eating, you need to exercise regularly – ideally, for an hour a day, five days a week.”

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