Health Benefits of Chocolate?

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Published in Dec 2005; Updated in Dec 2006

health benefits of chocolate antioxidantsBenefits of Chocolate?

Quite a few studies have found that chocolate contains flavonoids, a type of polyphenol antioxidant. Research conducted at the University of Scranton has demonstrated that the quality and quantity of antioxidants in chocolate is relatively high when compared to other high-antioxidant foods. Cocoa powder ranks the highest of the chocolate products, followed by dark chocolate and milk chocolate. According to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, dark chocolate contains about eight times the polyphenol antioxidants found in strawberries.

In November 2001, researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that people with a diet high in flavonoid-rich cocoa powder and dark chocolate have slightly higher concentrations of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) when compared with the control group. This study, however, only investigated the health effects of cocoa in 23 people.

In a more recent study published in Hypertension journal in August 2005, researchers from Italy found that dark chocolate may lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. The research also found that levels of LDL cholesterol in these individuals dropped by 10 percent. It is important to note that this study also used a very small test group with only 20 subjects.

The Bottom Line

It is good to know that chocolate contains ingredients beneficial to health. However, it does not necessarily mean you should eat more chocolate products. Chocolate bars and candies are often high in fat, sugar and calories. Moderation is always the key - having a decadent piece of chocolate once in a while is not going to harm your health, either. If you have a choice, choose dark chocolate for its higher flavonoid content!

If you would like to include more foods with high levels of antioxidants, fruits & vegetables as well as whole grains would be a better bet as they are low in calories and high in vitamins and fiber. For a sensible heart smart diet, emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish and choose skinless lean meats.

Chocolate Recipe Substitution: When a recipe calls for chocolate, use dark chocolate (usually less sugar) or even better cocoa powder. To substitute 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate, use 3 Tbsp of dry cocoa + 2 Tbsp of sugar + 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil.

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