New Research Shows That Chocolate May Be Good For You.
Nutritionists used to think that the health benefits of chocolate had more to do with remembering Valentine’s Day than with preventing heart disease. With lots of fat and even more calories, chocolate had no healthful qualities whatsoever. Scientists today, however, are subjecting brave volunteers to clinical trials of chocolate. Their goal: to find compounds in chocolate that fight heart disease, boost the immune system, and even make people live longer. The current interest in chocolate follows the discovery that red wine appears to prevent heart disease.
In the ensuing feeding frenzy, researchers have announced that chocolate contains more antioxidants than your favorite green and orange vegetables. This past February, a university group sponsored by Mars reported that, like aspirin, chocolate thins the blood, which helps prevent heart attacks.. Scientists debate whether the chemicals in chocolate have a positive effect. But if the candy companies have their way, your doctor might someday prescribe chocolate for your health. Finding virtues in vice the chemicals responsible for the buzz about chocolate and red wine are plant compounds like polyphenols, flavonoid, and cyanidins. Researchers have shown that phenols seem to make a heart healthy, but the results don’t prove that only phenols that fight heart disease.The phenols work their magic by preventing a chemical reaction called oxidation turns cholesterol into plaque on artery walls—hence the name antioxidants. This buildup is the most common cause of heart disease, and the French have been unwittingly protecting themselves by drinking red wine. Chocolate contains the same phenols as red wine
The Olmec and other Mexican cultures used chocolate as a stimulant as far back as three thousand years ago, taken as a drink made from pulverized cocoa beans
Despite its stimulants, ancient and modern doctors prescribed chocolate as a tranquilizer.
In 1996, researchers from the University of California at San Diego reported the presence of another chocolate chemical that turns on a particularly interesting part of the brain—the same one activated by marijuana.Evidence for the length of humanity’s devotion to chocolate comes from a small village in central Honduras. Chocolate is the reason why people have continuously occupied the village for more than three thousand years, says archaeologist John Henderson of Cornell University. The markings on the bowls indicate they held a drink for the elite of the Olmec society - the only people permitted to drink chocolate, says Joyce.
Chocolate not only hinders plaque buildup - new results show there is another line of attack. The phenols in chocolate actually thin your blood, thus inhibiting blood clot formation
About two hours after the subjects drank the cocoa mixture, the levels of phenols peaked in their bloodstream, fading away after a total of six hours. Many doctors prescribe aspirin to patients suffering from heart disease, since blood clots are the major cause of heart attacks. "People should not throw away their bottle of aspirin, but perhaps one should view chocolate as part of a healthy diet." In a related study, UC Davis heart specialist Tissa Kappagoda found that chocolate makes blood vessel tissue relax.
Doctors now recommend a daily glass or two of red wine to their patients, but maybe they should be prescribing a little chocolate as well. It turns out that an average bar of dark chocolate contains more phenols than a cup of red wine, even more than a serving of beets, spinach and citrus.
Chocolate is one of them," says phenol expert Joe Vinson, a chemist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. Vinson studies the phenol content of food."Chocolate just stands out, it’s much higher than anything else," he says. Late last year, Vinson made headlines when he published the results of his work on chocolate. He found that a 1.5 ounce serving of dark chocolate has about 1/5 teaspoon of phenols.
In terms of phenol content, dark chocolate offers four times more phenols than a beet and ten times as much as an orange. Milk chocolate has a little less than red wine. The best way to get chocolate phenols is through unsweetened baking cocoa. The cocoa has almost twice the amount of dark chocolate, with no added fat or sweeteners. Despite all the remarkable things chocolate may do for the heart, scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how phenols interfere with diseases.
"It could be other things in the chocolate," such as the high concentrations of copper and magnesium. Another drawback for those who want to use chocolate as a health supplement is the fact that phenols don’t stay in the bloodstream for long. Researchers at the Netherlands National Institute of Public Health showed that the concentration of the phenol epicatechin peaks in the bloodstream about two to three hours after eating chocolate. Phenols totally disappear after about six hours, a result supported by Keen’s study. You’d have to eat chocolate morning, noon and night to get a lasting effect, an option only for extreme chocoholics. Phenols also tend to bind to a protein, which means that eating milk chocolate or hot chocolate made with milk could prevent the absorption of phenols into the bloodstream.
The future of chocolate may lie in enhancing its antioxidant properties until they outweigh the fat and calories. Someday, you may be able to accept that Valentine’s gift with a pure heart, kept clean by chocolate.