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Research Offers a
Sweet Surprise:

Chocolate is Good for You

E-Newsletter No. 25

We tend to think of chocolate only in its most recognizable form-as candy. It’s easy to forget that it is made from a fruit that, like most other fruits, is a rich source of beneficial chemicals.

Chocolate and cocoa come from the seeds or beans of the cocoa tree, technically known as Theobroma cacao. The heart of the beans are called nibs, which grow in footlong pods. When cacao beans are processed, the nibs get finely ground into a “chocolate liquor,” which consists of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The butter and the solids are separated and then recombined to form different varieties of chocolate.

Milk chocolate (probably the most popular type) contains sugar, cocoa butter and milk, and there may be more of these three ingredients than chocolate itself. Semi-sweet chocolate, on the other hand, has a higher proportion of chocolate (a minimum 35% chocolate liquor). Chocolate products also contain emulsifiers (stabilizers) and flavorings.

Scientific research on the health effects of chocolate is relatively new. But preliminary results are encouraging to chocoholics.

At UC Davis, researchers recently found that the antioxidants in cocoa produced a positive effect on factors that would normally produce plaque buildup in the arteries and thus increase the risk of coronary artery disease. These positive effects on the blood continued for six hours after eating the chocolate.

At Penn State, another team of scientists showed that subjects who consumed small amounts of cocoa powder and dark chocolate raised their levels of HDL (good cholesterol). High HDL levels are known to be protective against heart disease.

We have also learned that, despite chocolate’s high overall saturated-fat content, chocolate contains fatty acids that do not raise cholesterol levels as animal-based saturated fats tend to do.

The rest of the good news:

bullet.jpg (1516 bytes)  Chocolate does not cause acne. Dermatologists have finally agreed that diet has nothing to do with acne. It is more likely related to hormonal changes.

bullet.jpg (1516 bytes)  Chocolate is not addictive. You may think you can’t live without chocolate, but it is not a physical addiction the way nicotine is.

bullet.jpg (1516 bytes)  Chocolate does not cause tooth decay. Unless you eat chocolate in some very sticky form that stays trapped in your teeth, the cocoa actually seems to inhibit the bacterial growth that promotes plaque formation in the mouth.

bullet.jpg (1516 bytes)  Chocolate does not interfere with calcium absorption. Chocolate does not bind up with the calcium in chocolate milk. In fact, chocolate milk, flavored with low-fat cocoa is a great way for kids to drink milk.

bullet.jpg (1516 bytes)  Carob is not more nutritious than chocolate. Ounce for ounce, it contains the same amount of fat and calories as chocolate.

bullet.jpg (1516 bytes)  Chocolate and sugar do not promote hyperactivity in most children. More likely, it is some special event surrounding the eating of a lot of sugar and/or chocolate that gets children excited.

bullet.jpg (1516 bytes)  So what’s the moral of this sweet story? Eaten in moderation, any food-especially a pleasurable one like chocolate-has a place in a healthy diet.

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