Chocolate, a delicious treat made of fermented cacao seed, originated in the Americas nearly 4,000 years ago. Chocolate was such a prized commodity that Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. Chocolate remains extremely popular. The average American consumes over 11 pounds of chocolate each year. But how does this Valentine’s Day favorite impact your health?
Numerous studies have demonstrated a link between chocolate consumption and a variety of health benefits. But there are also some downsides to this treat. Here’s a look at both sides of chocolate.
Potential health benefits of chocolate
- Lower blood pressure
- Control cholesterol
- Decreased risk of irregular heartbeat
- Reduce risk of blood clots
- Improve mental functioning
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Improve mood
Disadvantages of chocolate
- High in calories
- May lead to weight gain
- Often high in fats and carbs
- No known “right” dose
Nutrients in chocolate
Compounds called flavonoids are largely responsible for chocolate’s health benefits. Other good sources of flavonoids include blueberries, black tea, parsley, and citrus fruits. Chocolate also contains significant amounts of essential minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. Finally, chocolate contains another class of active constituents called alkaloids, which include theobromine, phenethylamine, and caffeine.
Dark chocolate most beneficial
Remember that dark chocolate, which contains 70 percent or more cacao, has higher amounts of potentially beneficial constituents. For this reason, research into chocolate’s health benefits has focused almost exclusively on dark chocolate. Milk chocolate and white chocolate, which contain more milk and sugar, tend not to have clinically significant amounts of these compounds, and so aren’t as beneficial.
Enjoying chocolate in moderation
It’s okay to incorporate a little chocolate into your diet but don’t go overboard. Think of chocolate as an occasional treat—not an essential part of your daily diet.
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