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Is Chocolate Good for You?

CBN.com - Don’t avoid this sweet treat in the name of better health this Valentine’s Day. According to one experienced primary-care physician, chocolate may have some wellness benefits.

Chocolate as a cancer preventative: Good news: One ounce of chocolate is rich in the same plant antioxidants (polyphenols) that are in half a cup of brewed black tea— which some researchers say may help prevent heart disease and cancer (13). Bad news: However, there is not yet evidence that these antioxidants prevent cancer. The experts note that we have hundreds of studies that link fruits and vegetables to a lower cancer risk, but we don’t have any such studies that directly link chocolate with a lower cancer risk in people (14).

Chocolate and heart disease: Good news: Chocolate may decrease the effectiveness of platelets, therefore reducing clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes (15). A recent well-done randomized study found cocoa may decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, which also can decrease heart disease (16). Bad news: There is only preliminary evidence that having the antioxidants in the bloodstream for the short time after eating chocolate will truly decrease heart disease. It is promising news, but we need more studies (17).

What about the fat in chocolate? Good news: The saturated fat in chocolate is mostly stearic acid—which does not raise blood cholesterol as other saturated fats do; chocolate is a plant product, so it is cholesterol free. Bad news: Yes, chocolate has stearic acid, but it still has other saturated fats that do raise cholesterol (like palmitic acid and cocoa butter), and it has a high number of calories packed in a little package (one ounce has 140–150 calories and nine to ten grams of fat) (18).

Chocolate as a mood enhancer: Good news: Chocolate raises the level of the brain chemical serotonin, which elevates one’s mood. Good and bad news: Chocolate has tiny amounts of caffeine, which can stimulate the brain (19).

Chocolate and migraine headaches: Good news: Contrary to previous beliefs by doctors and patients alike, chocolate has been cleared from its label as a food that triggers migraine headaches. A well-done, controlled study found that chocolate did not appear to trigger migraine or other tension-related headaches (20).

Other chocolate facts: Good news: Chocolate is not a big contributor to tooth decay; cocoa contains substances that may inhibit the growth of the bacteria that lead to plaque and cavity formation; plus, chocolate clears out of the mouth quickly. More good news: Recent studies have shown that eating chocolate is not a direct cause of acne or blemishes (21).

ENDNOTES

13. “Semi-Sweet  Views for Your Valentine,” UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, February 2001, 8.

14. Liebman, “The Chocolate Myth Factory,” Nutrition Action, 7.

15. D. Rein et al., “Cocoa and Wine Polyphenols Modulate Platelet Activation and Function,” Journal of Nutrition 130 (8S suppl) (2000): 2120S-6S.

16. Y. Wan et al., “Effects of Cocoa Powder and Dark Chocolate on LDL Oxidative Susceptibility and Prostaglandin Concentrations in Humans,” American Journal of Nutrition 72 (5) (2001):596-602.

17. Liebman, “The Chocolate Myth Factory,” Nutrition Action, 7.

18. “Semi-Sweet Views for Your Valentine,” UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, 8.

19. I. Dallard, et al., “Is Cocoa a Psychotropic Drug? Psychopathological Study of a Population of Subjects Self-Identified as Chocolate Addicts,” Encephale 27 (2) (2001): 181-86.

20. D. A. Marcus, et al., “A Double-Blind Provocative Study of Chocolate as a Trigger of Headache,” Cephalgia 17 (8) (1997): 855-62, discussion 800.

21. “Semi-Sweet Views for Your Valentine,” UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, 8.

 

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