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Sometimes dreams really do come true — chocolate may be good for us. Unfortunately, when it comes to health, not all chocolate is created equally. In fact, it is not really the chocolate that has heath benefits for humans, but the cocoa from which chocolate is made. Pure cocoa, the raw product derived from processing the cocoa bean, is made into chocolate by combining it with varying combinations of cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, sugar, milk products, vanilla, and often, an emulsifier such as soy lecithin. The finished product, though it tastes far better than the bitter cocoa bean, has lost many of its healthful properties on its journey to becoming the sweet creamy treat we love.
A number of studies have been conducted in hopes of unlocking the health benefits of chocolate. Studies have shown that, like the fruits and vegetables we consume, the cocoa plant contains phytochemicals. Cocoa has a particularly high concentration of these compounds, specifically known as flavanoids. The presence of flavanoids indicates that the cocoa plant is packed with antioxidants, known to fight cancer-causing free radicals and heart disease. Medical and scientific experts have found other power foods, such as green tea and red wine, to have high concentrations of these disease-fighting compounds. Research has shown that the amount of antioxidants in cocoa is significantly greater than that of green tea or red wine.
Other research has shown that eating chocolate may have pharmacological effects on humans. Cocoa may stimulate the release of serotonin in the human brain, and even have similar mood-altering effects to passionate kissing, and opiate drugs. Compounds in cocoa thought to have an effect on the human brain include theobromine, tryptophan, anandamide, phenethyamine, and caffeine. Studies on the pharmacological effects of cocoa are promising but inconclusive.
Cocoa has been used as a traditional method of healing since the early 1500’s in Europe, but it was originally used by the traditional people of the new world — the Maya, Aztec, and Olmec. Traditionally, the most widespread medicinal use of cocoa was as a treatment for underweight people, a stimulant for the nervous system or exhaustion, and as a treatment for poor digestion. The cocoa plant has also been known to treat hair loss, cough, water retention, rheumatism, dry lips, and has been used as an antiseptic for burns and wounds.
It seems that cocoa is a super-plant, but what about chocolate? Unfortunately, the common preparation of chocolate is high in fat, sugar, and calories. The amount of cocoa, and therefore chocolate, that one would need to ingest in order to take advantage of any health benefits would be far outweighed by the risk of ingesting extra fat, sugar, and calories. Some research even shows that milk and milk products, which are a part of most chocolate products, may interfere with the healthy effects of cocoa. As a rule, experts suggest dark chocolate and cocoa powder over milk chocolate, white chocolate, and hot cocoa mixes. An equivalent amount of calories should be eliminated elsewhere in the diet when incorporating chocolate, as obesity is a threat to heart health.
@Vincenzo -- I doubt that an all chocolate diet (or even one with a lot of chocolate in it) would be considered a good idea by anyone who knows about nutrition. Still, all that stuff you have heard about dark chocolate is true -- it is better for you than milk chocolate.
That doesn't mean it is healthy, but it is not as bad for you. The difference is that dark chocolate tends to be less processed than milk chocolate (or, at least that is the way it was explained to me). Because it is not as processed, the stuff that makes raw cocoa beans healthy remains in dark chocolate in greater concentrations.
Oh, and there is typically less sugar in dark chocolate than you will find in milk chocolate. That helps, too.
I have heard some people say that chocolate is good for you but they always seem to reference dark chocolate. Milk chocolate, they say, is still bad for us.
Here is what I don't understand. What is the difference? Is dark chocolate good for us and, if so, why is that? It all just sounds like a bunch of wishful thinking to me.
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