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     Volume 4 Issue 62 | September 9, 2005 |

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Chocolate Surprise


Health Benefits of Chocolate
Mmm...chocolate. The product of the cacao tree has been winning fans since Aztec leader Montezuma introduced the beverage (chocolate candy as we know it didn't appear until the 1800's) to the Spanish conqueror Cortez, who subsequently took it home to Spain. (While the original drink was rather bitter, the Spanish made a few creative innovations -- using sugar instead of chillies, and adding cinnamon and vanilla).

What is it that makes chocolate so irresistible? A large part of chocolate's allure, of course, lies in the taste -- a deliciously rich concoction that satisfies the most intense craving. But several chemical reactions are also at work. For one thing, chocolate stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasurable sensation similar to the "runner's high" a jogger feels after running several miles.

Phytochemicals called flavonoids that are found in cocoa have two positive effects. One, the antioxidants block arterial damage caused by free radicals. These unstable molecules (free radicals) may damage the arterial walls by blocking the artery wall lining. The second indicates 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.

Chocolate also contains a neurotransmitter, serotonin that acts as an anti-depressant. Other substances, such as theobromine and phenylethylamine, have a stimulating effect. However, the truth is that scientists are still not positive how the over 300 chemicals contained in chocolate make us feel so good.

Harmful Effects?
With so much going for it, it's unfortunate that chocolate has developed a bad reputation on the health front. Confirmed chocoholics often worry that indulging their craving will lead to everything from rotting teeth to acne, not to mention the need to lose a few pounds.

Fortunately, scientists are beginning to disprove some common myths about the dangers of eating too much chocolate. For example, it is not true that eating chocolate can cause acne or make it worse. Nor is chocolate the threat to healthy teeth that it was once thought to be. While both cocoa and chocolate contain sugar, they also have properties that work against sugar's tendency to produce the oral bacteria that eventually leads to dental decay. In fact, researchers at the Eastman Dental Centre in Rochester, New York, have concluded that milk chocolate is one of the snack foods that is least likely to contribute to tooth decay, since it contains phosphate and other minerals.

Furthermore, while chocolate may not be the most healthy snack around, it does contain a number of nutrients. High in potassium and magnesium, chocolate also provides us with several vitamins -- including B1, B2, D, and E. As for calories, no one is going to claim chocolate is the quintessential diet food. Still, the average chocolate bar contains approximately 250 calories -- low enough for a dieter to enjoy one as an occasional treat. Besides, indulging your chocolate craving from time to time can help prevent the bingeing that is a dieter's worst enemy.

Is Chocolate Healthier than Green Tea?
"Chocolate contains up to four times the anti-oxidants found in tea." Sound too good to be true? In fact, that was the conclusion of a recent study by Holland's National Institute of Public Health and Environment. Researchers found that chocolate -- specifically dark chocolate -- contains 53.5 mg of catechins per 100 grams. (Catechins are the powerful anti-oxidants that help prevent against cancer and heart disease). By contrast, 100 ml of black tea contains a mere 13.9 mg of catechins.

Eating chocolate to stay healthy? Well, why not? Scientists have established that there are important health benefits to be gained from drinking red wine, so why not chocolate as well? But I wouldn't trade my morning cup of tea for a box of truffles just yet. For one thing, as Karen Allen points out in a report for the BBC the amount of cocoa powder in chocolates may be quite small. Chocolates often contain other ingredients, such as saturated fats, that more than outweigh the health benefits to be gained from cocoa's cancer-fighting chemicals.

More importantly, the Dutch researchers were not comparing chocolate to green tea, which is rich in catechins. Furthermore, evidence is mounting that scientists have only begun to discover the numerous health benefits associated with drinking green tea. Still, a cup of green tea with a chocolate biscuit or a piece of dark chocolate sounds like a great way to begin the day!

Source: The Internet

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