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Chocolate - friend or foe? | Feb. 9, 2011

It’s February and Valentine’s Day is almost here – what’s the most popular V-Day gift? Chocolate of course!

Whatever your chocolate indulgence of choice, its health benefits depend upon the type of chocolates you choose – and how many.  Most of us have heard that dark chocolate because of its flavonoids that act like antioxidants are good for us.  Eating dark chocolate in moderation may improve blood vessel function and lower blood pressure, so may decrease risk of heart disease.  Other studies link the flavonoids in chocolate to cancer prevention.  Evidence on this is still limited however.  Chocolate does contain caffeine, but not very much.  A 1-ounce milk chocolate bar or 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk each contain about 5 milligrams of caffeine.  Compare that to an 8 ounce coffee containing about 85-100 milligrams of caffeine.

History of Chocolate

The first European who claimed to “discover” chocolate was Christopher Columbus in 1502 on his last voyage to the Caribbean (now the present-day island of Honduras). He was given a bag of cocoa beans in exchange for trade goods, but failed to grasp the importance of these beans at the time.  Later, the Spanish conquistadors brought the seeds back to Spain where its popularity spread throughout Europe.  Cortez himself is noted for his invention of cocoa, sugar and other spices to create hot chocolate.

Chocolate comes from the cacao (pronounced kuh-KOW) tree.  The pods of this tree contain seeds similar to coffee beans that could be processed into chocolate.  The first people known to have made chocolate were the Mayan and Aztec ancient cultures of Mexico and Central America which actually date back over 3,000 years ago.

Health Benefits

Here are my top three health benefits to indulge in chocolate.

  1. To prevent cell damage – Because dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants it can prevent cell damage.
  2. To reduce the risk of heart attack – Research from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine found that blood platelets clotted slower in people eating a specific amount of dark chocolate daily
  3. To boost mood – Certain chemicals in dark chocolate can possibly improve your mood and ease premenstrual symptoms.  There’s not a lot of evidence based research on this claim, but all the women I know swear by chocolate, so I had to throw this one in.

This Valentine’s Day, pamper your palate with this ancient delicacy.  We should be giving thanks to the Aztecs!  After all, we Americans consume almost half of the world’s annual chocolate products.