by Cheryl Alker
Approximately 88 percent of us will have made a New Year’s Resolution and like millions of other Americans the chances are that one of them was to lose weight. So how is it going? Hopefully you have already lost the Holiday Bloat, your clothes are feeling a little looser, and you are starting to feel the health benefits of a reduced calorie diet. Things are going well but then, BANG! Here comes Valentine’s Day! So how do you keep to your diet and not look terribly ungrateful when your beloved hands you a beautifully wrapped box of chocolates to celebrate the day of love?
Keep reading……… that cute little bear hugging a red box full of the enemy may not be as harmful as you first thought!
High in Antioxidants
Chocolate is made from plants, which means it contains many of the health benefits of dark vegetables. Cocoa contains flavanols, a type of flavonoid that is only found in cocoa and chocolate. Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds that act as antioxidants and help counteract free radicals in the body. In fact dark chocolate contains nearly 8 times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries.
Blood Pressure Benefits
Dark chocolate has been shown in studies to lower blood pressure in people with elevated blood pressure.
Lower LDL Cholesterol
Eating dark chocolate on a regular basis has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 10 percent.
Chocolate contains serotonin, a natural anti-depressant. Chocolate also stimulates endorphin production, which creates feelings of happiness and pleasure. This may explain why many people naturally reach for chocolate when they are depressed.
Several studies have found chocolate to be one of the best cancer-fighting foods along with foods like red wine, blueberries, garlic and tea.
Prevents Tooth Decay
Research has found that the theobromine in chocolate prevents tooth decay by eliminating streptococcus mutans, a bacterial found in the oral cavity that contributes to tooth decay.
Longer Life and Less Disease
One Dutch study followed 200 men over 20 years and found that those who consumed large amounts of chocolate, both milk chocolate and dark, lived longer and had lower overall disease rates than men who ate little or no chocolate.
A Harvard study on the Kuna tribe of Panama resulted in similar findings. The Kuna consumed large amounts of raw cacao every day the study found them to have lower overall disease rates and longer life expectancy than neighboring tribes who did not consume as much raw cacao.
High in Magnesium
Cacao is higher in magnesium than any other plant. Magnesium is an important mineral that helps in the regulation of the digestive, neurological and cardiovascular systems. Since many people are magnesium deficient, adding magnesium-rich dark chocolate to the diet can improve overall health.
Studies have shown that the antioxidants in cacao work like brooms in sweeping plaque out of the arteries.
Many studies have shown that dark chocolate is good for the brain. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that it can protect the brain after a stroke by shielding the nerve cells from further damage. Dark chocolate has also been found to improve memory. Researchers at California’s Salk Institute found that a chemical in chocolate called epicatechin improved the memory of mice.
All sounds promising doesn’t it, but doesn’t chocolate have a lot of fat?
Here is some more good news; some of the fats in chocolate do not impact your cholesterol. The fats in chocolate are 1/3 oleic acid, 1/3 stearic acid and 1/3 palmitic acid.
- Oleic Acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil.
- Stearic Acid is a saturated fat but one which research shows has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
- Palmitic Acid is also a saturated fat, one which raises cholesterol and heart disease risk.
This means that only 1/3 of the fat in dark chocolate is bad for you.
O.K. so before you devour as much dark chocolate that your sweetheart can buy you, beware, chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-fat food. Most studies done used no more than 100 grams or about 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day to get the health benefits but there is not enough sufficient research to define how much is enough and how much is too much.
One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories. If you eat half a bar of chocolate a day, you must balance those 200 calories by eating less of something else. Try cutting out other sweets or snacks and replace them with chocolate to keep your total calories the same.
Enjoy and Happy Valentine’s Day!