Health Benefits of Chocolate

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Did you know that October 28th is National Chocolate Day?  Between that day and Halloween, we’re all likely to be tempted to have a few extra treats this month.  Must we feel guilty?  Perhaps not, if we choose our sweets selectively and consider that there are several known health benefits of chocolate.

Cocoa beans, which are used to make chocolate, contain high quantities of a type of plant nutrients called flavenoids.  These nutrients protect plants from disease and are also involved in various cellular processes for the plant’s metabolism, some of which can repair damage to the plant.  It has been found that when animals or humans eat plants that are rich in flavonoids, they can benefit from some of the same nutrient properties.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, plant nutrients provide “anti-oxidant” properties – meaning that the nutrients can help human bodies resist damage to body cells by molecules called free radicals.  These molecules become present in the body for a variety of reasons, some of which involve the normal process of breathing and food digestion.  Free radicals are also produced by the body breaking down certain types of medications, and result from being exposed to environmental toxins, such as smoke.

Increasing the human body’s level of anti-oxidants by eating foods rich in flavonoids may have positive effects on a variety of health issues caused by free radical damage.  Flavenoids may assist the body in lowering blood pressure, minimizing the effects of heart disease, lowering the risk for some cancers.  They are also potentially helpful in prevention and/or management of some types of arthritis.

Before deciding that it’s OK to eat holiday candy, however, realize that in order to benefit from the healthy aspects of chocolate, it is important to choose the right kind of treat.  Flavenoids, with all of their anti-oxidant properties, are found in unprocessed cocoa beans.  The more that these beans are processed, the fewer benefits there are from eating them.   A good rule of thumb is to choose dark chocolates, which have been refined less than milk chocolate.    It is also best to choose dark chocolate that does not have lots of extra ingredients added, like caramel or nuts or nougat.  These additional ingredients add calories and fats that may not be needed or wanted in your daily diet.

The Cleveland Clinic reports that there is not currently a recommended serving size to optimize the health benefits of eating chocolate.  Their recommendation is for about 1 ounce of this type of sweet treat several times per week.

So feel free to indulge yourself a bit in celebration of National Chocolate Day. But please do so wisely!

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