Three Cheers for Chocolate
The Health Benefits of Chocolate
It turns out there's even more to love about one of the most decadent, satisfying foods on the planet. We're talking about chocolate: Heavenly sweet treat, coveted comfort food, and former diet disaster. But now? New studies are proving that chocolate does, in fact, have a place in the health-conscious kitchen.
Research shows that cocoa and dark chocolate with a high cocoa content contain flavonoids, a naturally occurring phytonutrient found in plant foods like cocoa, tea, wine, nuts, and certain fruits and vegetables. The main flavonoids found in cocoa -- flavan-3-ols and procyanidins -- offer a host of cardiovascular benefits, including antioxidant protection and improved blood vessel function. "The flavonoids in chocolate are generally touted for heart health -- they make blood less sticky, keep blood vessels flexible, and there's less plaque formation to prevent heart disease," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
In fact, a 2007 study from the University of Nottingham Medical School in the United Kingdom suggested that this improved blood flow may also benefit the brain in terms of memory and learning ability.
Flavonoids also help prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the blood, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. There is also some evidence that these flavonoids may prevent certain cancers, such as skin cancer. A 2006 study also linked ingestion of flavonoids to increased UV protection, but that doesn't make you invincible. Slathering on the sunscreen and snacking on a mini-Snickers will offer you the best protection.
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