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Health benefits of chocolate

Updated on May 18, 2012

Chocolate is made from Cacao and it contains many valuable nutrients. Therefore, it is not only very delicious, but it also has many health benefits, which are accomplished through these nutrients.

Important Nutrients in Chocolate

There are some interesting chemicals naturally found in chocolate. Xanthine, which is like caffeine, can make a person feel jittery. Theophylline will stimulate the central nervous system and relax the bronchi in the lungs and your blood vessels. Phenylethylamine (PEA) is similar to amphetamine. PEA reproduces the feeling someone has when he or she falls in love. Recent research at the University of California, Davis, has found that chocolate carries high levels of chemicals known as phenolics and flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Epicatechins and catechins are members of flavonoids. Phenyl ethylamine is another important component of chocolate. 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. Steari Acid is a saturated fat but it has a neutral effect on cholesterol. Chocolate contains vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E as well as potassium, sodium, iron, copper, magnesium and fluorine. Dark chocolate also contain more than 3 times the amount of catechins as that found in tea.

Protects against cardiovascular diseases.

Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants, nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries. Flavonoids help lower blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide and balance certain hormones in the body. Flavonoids have also been linked to decreasing blood pressure, improving circulation , lowering death rate from heart disease, improving function of endothelial cells that line the blood vessels, defending against destructive molecules called free radicals, which trigger cancer, heart disease and stroke, improving digestion and stimulating kidneys, helping treat patients with anemia, kidney stones and poor appetite. The research found that epicatechin in chocolate is directly linked to improved circulation and other hallmarks of cardiovascular health. Researchers reported at the 2004 American Society of Hypertension Annual Scientific Meeting in New York, that consuming dark chocolate and cocoa improves the function of blood vessels. In one new study, consumption of cocoa in healthy volunteers, aged 18 to 77, resulted in significantly improved vascular responsiveness. (The measure the researchers used looked at the "stiffness" of blood vessels. In patients whose blood vessels are "stiff," hypertension is common.) The beneficial effect was most pronounced in patients over 50 years of age. In another study, after volunteers ate 100 grams of dark chocolate vascular responsiveness was again significantly improved. Investigators postulate that it is the flavonoids in chocolate that causes vascular improvement.

The effects of flavonoids are accomplished by two mechanisms. The first is that the antioxidants block arterial damage caused by free radicals. The second is that chocolate inhibit platelet aggregation which could cause a heart attack or stroke. There have also been studies indicating that cocoa flavonoids relax the blood vessels which inhibit an enzyme that causes inflammation.

Lowers the blood pressure

Taubert's team signed up six men and seven women aged 55-64. All had just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure on average, systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 153 and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of 84.

Every day for two weeks, they ate a 100-gram candy bar and were asked to balance its 480 calories by not eating other foods similar in nutrients and calories. Half the patients got dark chocolate and half got white chocolate. The dark chocolate eaters had a significant drop in blood pressure, but the white chocolate eaters did not.

In the second study, Serafini's team signed up seven healthy women and five healthy men aged 25-35. On different days they each ate 100 grams of dark chocolate by itself, 100 grams of dark chocolate with a small glass of whole milk, or 200 grams of milk chocolate.

An hour later, those who ate dark chocolate alone had the most total antioxidants in their blood. And they had higher levels of epicatechin. The milk chocolate eaters had the lowest epicatechin levels of all.

In a July, 2005 report in Hypertension, Italian investigators showed that feeding 100 grams of dark chocolate daily to hypertensive patients improved their systolic and diastolic blood pressures - and lowered their LDL cholesterol levels.

Chocolate could also help prevent cancer as well as boost the immune system, according to some recent studies. All the health benefits work together and can lead eventually to longevity because antioxidants in chocolate directly protects body from aging caused by free radicals and indirectly delay aging through improved health of cardiovascular system. Some research evidence indicates that men who eat chocolate live a year longer than those who don't.

In addition, chocolate tastes good, it stimulates endorphin production, which gives a feeling of pleasure. It contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant. It also contains theobromine, caffeine and other substances which are stimulants.

But remember all these benefits have been found with dark chocolate. White and milk chocolates will not display these benefits. Chocolates made in Europe are generally richer in cocoa phenols than those made in the U.S. Therefore, when you eat chocolate for health benefits, take dark chocolate and replace other foods that have similar amount of calories with it.

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