The Sweet Truth About Chocolate
A bar of chocolate for your Valentine isn’t
just a sweet treat, it can also be a boon to the body.
The ways in which the compounds in chocolate interact with our
bodies' systems, from the stomach to the heart, have been
an active area of research in recent years. Several studies
have found that in small amounts, dark chocolate in particular
can help prevent the blood from clumping up, keep the heart
healthy and even provide some anti-cancer benefits.
Scientists caution that chocolate is far from being a cure-all,
of course. But what could be better than knowing such an indulgence
might be good for you?
What chocolate is
Chocolate is produced from the seeds of the cacao tree, which
is native to parts of South America. The nibs at the hearts
of the seeds are ground and liquefied into the pure chocolate
form, chocolate liquor. The liquor can be separated into its
two components, cocoa solids (the nonfatty component) and cocoa
butter (the fatty part).
As any chocolate lover knows, chocolate comes in many forms.
The form depends on the relative amounts of cocoa solids and
butter, as well as how much sugar and milk are added:
Unsweetened, or baking chocolate is pure chocolate liquor; dark
chocolate has a little fat and sugar added in; milk chocolate,
as the name suggests, has milk added in on top of the fat and
sugar; white chocolate has only the cocoa butter, and sometimes
not even that, with vegetable oils added instead, in which case
it isn't really chocolate.
The less sugar and milk in the chocolate, the more bitter it
tastes. But with that bitter taste (which varies depending on
what percentage of the chocolate is pure cocoa), comes some
possible health benefits.
The darker, the better
Studies have shown that dark chocolate contains certain antioxidants
called polyphenols that could help fight chronic inflammation
of tissues in the circulatory system, a risk factor for cardiovascular
disease. One study of Italians showed that people who ate a
moderate amount of dark chocolate daily (about 6.7 grams, or
about the same amount of 1.5 Hershey kisses, though these are
milk chocolate) had lower levels of a protein associated with
Other studies have shown that chocolate, like aspirin, makes
blood platelets less likely to clump together into dangerous
blood vessel-blocking clots by reducing their stickiness.
Recent research has also suggested that these same antioxidants
could help reduce the chances of developing cancer because they
combat the cell damage that can lead to tumor growth.
"The great news this Valentine’s Day is that in addition
to being decadent and delicious, moderate amounts of dark chocolate
may play a role in cancer prevention," said Sally Scroggs, M.S.,
R.D., L.D., health education manager at The University of Texas'
Cancer Prevention Center.
Curb your enthusiasm
Dark chocolate is also more filling than milk chocolate, according
to new research by scientists at the University of Copenhagen,
suggesting it could reduce your cravings for other snacks or
sweets. Participants in the study fasted for 12 hours, then
ate either dark or milk chocolate and were then allowed to eat
as much pizza as they wanted.
The dark chocolate eaters ate less pizza.
Of course, that doesn't mean you can eat that whole bar
of chocolate in one go and expect health benefits. Moderation
And moderation can be hard. Some research suggests that certain
people are "programmed" to like chocolate because of particular
bacteria residing in their guts. However, true "chocoholics"
don’t exist, one researcher says.
But if the cravings for chocolate are just too much, research
suggests a brisk walk could curb the desire to eat that whole
heart-shaped box of decadence.