Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Health Care and Chocolate

Chocolate. Just the mere sound of the word makes your tastes buds start salivating for the rich, creamy texture of this often misunderstood, sometimes decadent, but always tasty treat. This food has been used for centuries by lovers to woo the opposite sex, to promote all types of sensual delights, and to boost the energy of anyone who wants to indulge. It comes in liquid and solid form and can be found worldwide not only in supermarkets and convenience stores, but also in high end boutiques and specialty shops. It can be ordered in bulk or in quantities as small as a mini candy drop. You can eat it or drink it, and at the same time inhale the scent of chocolate as you partake in its delight.

Chocolate is made from plants, which means it contains many of the health benefits of dark vegetables, according to About.com. These benefits are from flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from aging caused by free radicals, which can cause damage that leads to heart disease. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants (nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries). Flavonoids also help relax blood pressure through the production of nitric oxide, and balance certain hormones in the body.

According to MomScape.com, chocolate is one of the most popular sweet-tasting treats in the world and has been for centuries. Part of the myth surrounding chocolate is that if it tastes so good, it must be bad for your health. But the surprising news from the scientific community is that this reputedly decadent treat actually has some health benefits, especially if you choose your chocolate wisely. Chocolate contains more than 300 chemicals, and has been the subject of a number of studies by universities and other scientific organizations. Here's a quick rundown of the results, which should serve only to stimulate more research:
--Cacao, the source of chocolate, contains antibacterial agents that fight tooth decay. Of course, this is counteracted by the high sugar content of milk chocolate.
--The smell of chocolate may increase theta brain waves, resulting in relaxation.
--Chocolate contains phenyl ethylamine, a mild mood elevator.
--The cocoa butter in chocolate contains oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fat which may raise good cholesterol.
--Drinking a cup of hot chocolate before meals may actually diminish appetite.
--Men who eat chocolate live a year longer than those who don't.
--The flavanoids in chocolate may help keep blood vessels elastic.
--Chocolate increases antioxidant levels in the blood.
--Mexican healers use chocolate to treat bronchitis and insect bites.
--The carbohydrates in chocolate raise serotonin levels in the brain, resulting in a sense of well-being.

According to WebMD, here is some more good news -- some of the fats in chocolate do not impact your cholesterol. 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.
--Stearic Acid is a saturated fat but one which research is shows has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
--Palmitic Acid is also a saturated fat, one which raises cholesterol and heart disease risk.
That means only 1/3 of the fat in dark chocolate is bad for you.

WebMD offers healthy tips to consider when you decide to indulge in your dark fantasy:
--Chocolate Tip 1 - Balance the Calories:
This information doesn't mean that you should eat a pound of chocolate a day. Chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-fat food. Most of the studies done used no more than 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces, of dark chocolate a day to get the benefits. One bar of dark chocolate has around 400 calories. If you eat half a bar of chocolate a day, you must balance those 200 calories by eating less of something else. Cut out other sweets or snacks and replace them with chocolate to keep your total calories the same.
--Chocolate Tip 2 - Taste the Chocolate:
Chocolate is a complex food with over 300 compounds and chemicals in each bite. To really enjoy and appreciate chocolate, take the time to taste it. Professional chocolate tasters have developed a system for tasting chocolate that include assessing the appearance, smell, feel and taste of each piece.
--Chocolate Tip 3 - Go for Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate has far more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. These other two chocolates cannot make any health claims. Dark chocolate has 65 percent or higher cocoa content.
--Chocolate Tip 4 - Skip the Nougat:
You should look for pure dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nuts, orange peel or other flavorings. Avoid anything with caramel, nougat or other fillings. These fillings are just adding sugar and fat which erase many of the benefits you get from eating the chocolate.
--Chocolate Tip 5 - Avoid Milk:
It may taste good but some research shows that washing your chocolate down with a glass of milk could prevent the antioxidants being absorbed or used by your body.

According to MomScape.com, there are many myths and half-truths about the effects of chocolate on the human body. Here are the latest findings on several of them:
--Studies show that chocolate is not a causative factor in acne.
--Cacao contains the stimulants caffeine and bromine, but in such small quantities that they don't cause nervous excitability.
--Chocolate is not addictive.
--Chocolate contains stearic acid, a neutral fat which doesn't raise bad cholesterol.
--Chocolate doesn't make you 'high'. You'd need to eat a huge quantity (about 25 pounds at one sitting) to feel any noticeable effect.
But on the negative side, chocolate may trigger headaches in migraine sufferers. Milk chocolate is high in calories, saturated fat and sugar.

Also, keep chocolate away from pets. Chocolate is considered dangerous to animals because it contains a stimulant called theobromine, which they can't digest. Dark chocolate and baking chocolate are even more dangerous because they contain higher concentrations of the substance. This applies whether chocolate is in candy bar form, or an ingredient in cake, cookies, puddings or ice cream, according to MomScape.com. If a pet becomes ill after eating chocolate, take it to the vet immediately.

Let's put chocolate's "benefits" into perspective. First, you can get similar antioxidants from almost any other plant-based foods, according to MedicationSense.com. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are much better sources of antioxidants, and also contain many other healthful nutrients. And unlike chocolate, they won't increase your waistline with extra calories from sugar and fat. Unfortunately for chocolate lovers, chocolate's high content of stearic acid puts it in the same category of risk of coronary disease as meat and butter. Stearic acid also appears to reduce the protective HDL and may increase tendencies toward fibrin and plaque deposition in the development of atherosclerosis. Chocolate also has saturated fat, which is directly linked to elevated LDL cholesterol levels and to increased risks of coronary artery disease and coronary death. In fact, you can indulge yourself a lot more by using products and recipes that combine cocoa with healthier fats and sweeteners rather than manufactured chocolates. Food industry-funded studies notwithstanding, the bottom line on chocolate is this: Chocolate is a terrific food, but it isn't a health food. Use chocolate -- dark chocolate, not milk chocolate -- in moderation.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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