Thursday, May 04, 2006

God's Latest Prank: Healthy Chocolate

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate… how could something that so many people love be good for them? Some scientists say (dark) chocolate can improve cardiovascular health, and a growing stack of research backs them up. Most recently it’s a Dutch study that shows men who consume cocoa have lower blood pressure and are less likely to die from heart disease.

But God has a sense of humor. Chocolate is still high in fat and calories, so if you eat too much, you still gain weight and probably negate any of cocoa's health benefits. So, if you take this research, er, to heart, and approach chocolate as a health food, beware that self-control is imperative.

And that got me to thinking. With all these amazing findings where bad foods end up being good foods -- chocolate, wine, etc -- the people that get the health benefits are the ones consuming just one or two servings. That's pretty hard for most folks. How many people do you know that can stop at one third of a chocolate bar? Well, maybe that's the key. People with a physiology or psychology that can actually stop at one or two servings of decadent foods are simply more likely to live longer.

Then again, these studies wouldn't be on the evening news if there wasn't a better, more precise explanation. For chocolate, it’s the presence of flavanols and antioxidants.

According to the BBC,
which reported on the Dutch study, flavan-3-oils "have been linked to lower blood pressure and improved function of the cells lining the blood vessels." The story also explains that cocoa is packed with antioxidants that "limit the tissue damage caused by highly reactive chemicals called free radicals, which are released by the body's energy-producing processes."

So, have your chocolate, but please, don't overdo it. How much is the right amount? The Dutch study wasn't clear on that. However,
a 1998 study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that three servings per month is the sweet spot. In the study, "people who eat chocolate and sweets up to three times a month live almost a year longer than those who eat too much or those who steer clear of the substance altogether."

Three servings per month? Good luck. The average American
eats about a pound of chocolate per month (11.5 per year). That means that, to get the health benefits of chocolate you need to A) switch to bitter, dark chocolate and, B) cut back by about .75 pounds. I can hear God laughing now.


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Pound360 Archive

About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.