Could “chocoholism” be good for you?
You might be shocked to learn that chocolate has more health-promoting plant flavonoids than broccoli or Brussels sprouts.

In fact, in a recent study, dark chocolate also beat green tea, red wine and blueberries in antioxidant levels.

Chocolate, after all, comes from a plant, the cacao plant, so it’s not surprising that it’s full of flavonoids, chemicals found in fruits and veggies that have positive effects on everything from blood vessels, heart and brain to exercise – endurance and longevity.

Plant flavonoids also help keep arteries cholesterol-free and reduce inflammation.

Researchers have recruited many lucky people in the past decade for their chocolate studies. Volunteers get to eat an ounce or more of dark chocolate each day. In one two-week study, scientists found that flavonoid-rich dark chocolate improved the ability of blood vessels to expand (dilate) in response to a greater flow of blood. The more easily vessels dilate, the better blood flows to heart, brain and other organs.

And two studies of young and elderly women found that chocolate did indeed increase blood flow to the brain, even in older women with high cholesterol.

In another study involving male smokers, researchers found that eating 2 ounces of dark chocolate not only improved blood flow for eight hours, but also reduced the activity of platelets, which cause blood to clot.

Likewise, in a recent Dutch study that followed nearly 500 men over age 65 for 15 years, chocolate emerged as a possible heart protector.

Chocolate-lovers had lower blood pressure, and men who consumed the least cocoa were twice as likely to die from a heart attack as men eating the most. The cocoa connection held true, even when scientists accounted for risk factors like smoking, obesity and lack of exercise.

Finally, a Harvard study of more than 7,800 male grads found that candy-eating men lived, on average, a year longer than candy avoiders. The healthy effect, researchers think, may have been due to chocolate.

In addition to protecting our arteries, chocolate simply makes us feel good. It contains a number of chemicals thought to raise mood, and even inhaling the smell of chocolate seems to reduce theta-wave activity in the brain, inducing a sense of relaxation.

Why is dark (rather than milk) chocolate, such a star? Dark chocolate is simply more chocolatey. With up to 50 percent more cocoa than milk chocolate, its flavonoid content is naturally higher.

So chocolate is the good part of candy. But “In case of emergency, administer chocolate” is still wishful thinking. Sadly, candy’s still candy, often loaded with not-so-good sugar and saturated fat. And eating too much calorie-dense candy will, of course, pack on unhealthy pounds.

However, chocolate enjoyed in moderation – especially dark chocolate – may be the dessert equivalent of an extra serving of veggies.

For more on chocolate, visit www.calacade my.org/naturalhistory/chocolate.cfm.

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