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Chocolate - The Gift that Keeps on Giving

02. December 2011

'Tis the season for over-indulgence! The holidays are here and that means eating, drinking and feeling bad about it later! 

Well, here’s some news that may put the cheer back into your holidays. Some of those decadent desserts you’d die for may actually be good for your health! Just make sure you go for the chocolate! Chocolate cake. Chocolate frosting. Chocolate chips. It’s ok! According to the latest medical research, your affinity for chocolate may just save your life!    

The health benefits of chocolate - especially dark chocolate - have been touted for years through many small-scale studies. But now, it’s hard to deny the cold, hard, scientific fact that chocolate - consumed in moderation - can be a healthy addition to your diet.  

Hundreds of studies have now been compiled and the science shows dark chocolate (that luscious, melt-in-your-mouth Dove Bar) is actually packed with antioxidants that promote heart health and may even prevent many cardiovascular-related conditions.  

But there’s more! Health experts have found five more surprising health benefits in that box of See’s chocolates.  Take a look. Call it an early holiday gift - from Yours, Truly! 

1. Chocolate May Help You With Math: Flavonols, compounds in chocolate with antioxidant-like properties, are thought to improve circulation including blood flow to the brain. A recent study asked participants to count backward in groups of three from 999. After drinking hot cocoa, the participants were able to do calculations more quickly and accurately and were less likely to feel tired or mentally drained. 

2. Chocolate Fills You Up: Moms have forever warned of spoiling dinner by eating a treat beforehand. Turns out, they were right.  Danish researchers gave 16 participants 100 grams of either dark or milk chocolate and two hours later offered them pizza. Those who consumed the dark chocolate ate 15 percent fewer calories than those who ate milk chocolate, and they were less interested in fatty, salty and sugary foods. 

3. Chocolate Makes You Feel Better: (Who needs a studyto know that?!) Chocolate contains phenethylamine, which triggers the release of endorphins. This reaction is similar to that experienced when we fall in love. Seriously!  Doctors at the Mind Lab in England asked six couples to let squares of dark chocolate melt in their mouths and then kiss…all while hooked up to brain and heart monitors.  Both tasks made their hearts pound and brains buzz - but chocolate doubled excitation rates in the brains’ pleasure center, especially in women. Researchers said cocoa’s blend of sugar and caffeine produces a longer-lasting high than a good smooch! 

4. Chocolate Helps You Relax:  Reach for a Hershey bar when you’re stressed?   There’s a biological reason for that. Studies show chocolate contains the compound anandamide that activates the same brain receptors as marijuana.  No wonder a bite brings on bliss! 

5. Chocolate May Help You Live Longer:  According to the British Medical journal…almost a year longer! Participants who ate candy one to three times a month (that’s it??!) had the lowest mortality rates of the group…probably due to the antioxidant in chocolate. A recent study also found that heart attack survivors who ate chocolate were less likely to die than those who went without. 

So, go ahead…bring on that bag of dark chocolate M&M’s! Just make sure you stick to a one-ounce serving to get your fix without wrecking your waistline. 

Oh, and don’t thank me.  Just make sure I find a dark chocolate Santa in my Christmas stocking!

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.