Chocolate: A Health Food?

Ah, chocolate. Everyone's favorite food. That one thing everyone dies for and craves for. The dark, aromatic treat that emanates passion, romance, and happiness. But what made it so appealing and well-loved by everyone?2,600 years ago the Mayans from Mexico had already been drinking chocolate. Cacao beans, for them, were the ultimate status symbol. In 1500s, the Aztecs adopted the

Mayans' love for chocolate and associated it with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. A drink, called chocolatl, which was made of chocolate mixed with some spices and herbs, was a popular drink back then. Under the Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican era, chocolate was a luxury item among the European nobles. The well-known traveller

Christopher Columbus introduced cacao beans to Ferdinand and Isabel of Spain. Later, Hernando Cortes brought more of these to Europe and the rest is history.

There have been lots of debates about chocolate being a health food. So far, there are studies that show promising results. Here are only a few of them.

Chocolate was found to be a rich source of 400 compounds, ranging fromn vitamins to minerals like Potassium, Magnesium, Copper, Calcium and Iron. It has polyphenols, phytochemicals that help increase the body's natural defenses against certain illnesses.

Of all types of chocolates, dark chocolate seems to be the most promising when it comes to health, and a subject of some scientific studies.

Due to its high percentage of cocoa, dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanoids.

Flavanoids are also found in red wine, green tea and apples, but dark chocolate has more antioxidants per gram than all of these. Flavanoids are antioxidants that can prevent heart attack, stroke, dementia and hypertension.

Recently, a Swiss study suggested that eating dark chocolate each day may slow the hardening of arteries in smokers. A team led by Dr. Roberto Corti from the

University Hospital of Zurich assigned 20 male smokers not to eat any flavanoid-rich food for a full day before the study. Then they were made to eat either 1.50 oz of white or dark chocolate.

In a report published in the January issue of Heart, the ultrasound scans showed improved smoothness of the blood flow through the arteries, lasting for 8 hours.

The blood tests showed that the blood platelet activity was cut in half, decreasing the risk for blood clots. Antioxidant levels in the blood rose in those who ate dark chocolate.

A study published in 2004 suggested that at least 1.6 ox of dark chocolate each day for 2 weeks could cause a 10% increase in arterial blood flow.

Dark chocolate is found to lower blood pressure by an average of 10%, while improving the body's sensitivity to insulin. This is according to Jeffrey B.

Blumberg and his team from Tufts University. In their study, 10 mean and 10 women ate 3.5 oz of dark chocolate each day for 15 days. The subjects were suffering from high blood pressure but were not on medications. The results showed a dramatic drop in their blood pressure from eating dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate has stearic acid, the type that doesn't raise cholestrol nor harm the blood vessels. It may slow the oxidation of LDL or bad cholesterol.

But milk chocolate seems to have some good properties, too. A study hints that milk chocolate may boost brain function. In a research conducted by a team led by Dr. Bryan Raudenbush from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, a group of volunteers were made to eat on 4 separate occassions 85 grams of milk chocolate, 85 grams of dark chocolate, 85 grams of carob or nothing. After a 15 minute digestion, they were then made to complete come computer0based neuropsychological tasks.

The results revealed that the group scored the highest for milk chocolate than on all other conditions. Chocolate has theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine - substances that act as stimulants, which then increase alertness and attention.

But despite the good news about chocolate, caution is advised to people against eating it for health reasons. For one thing, consumers have no way of determining if a chocolate is falavanoid-rich or not. Most chocolates available are not rich in flavanoids, according to health experts. And we all know that chocolates are rich in fat and sugar, leading one to gain weight.

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About The Author, D. Azogue