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Chocolate:  The Love/Hate Relationship

by Philip Skaff
Dietetic Intern on behalf of the Tallahassee Dietetic Association (TDA)

If you’re reading this it must mean that somewhere deep inside, there is a “chocoholic.”  Believe it or not, until a few years ago I hated the taste of chocolate.  However, one day I had the urge to try a piece and from that day on, I was hooked!  I am not sure what happened or why I absolutely love chocolate now, but I can sympathize with all the other “chocoholics” on this earth. 

dark-chocolate 125.gifSo if you do love chocolate as much as I do, this may make you feel even better about your addiction.  I must note that what I am about to tell you is only true for dark chocolate and not for milk chocolate.  Sorry, milk chocolate fans.  Milk has been shown to limit the absorption of antioxidants.  This even holds true if you consume milk with dark chocolate. 

Within the last few years, researchers have determined the amount of antioxidant availability of the cocoa bean to be greater than tea and red wine.  Antioxidants are important because they help in the prevention of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and macular degeneration.  Antioxidants include vitamins A, C, E, sometimes D, and in the case of dark chocolate, phenols and catechins. 

The high presence of phenols in chocolate can help reduce the number of free radicals that occur naturally in the body that are responsible for cell and DNA damage.  Phenols prevent LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein), the bad cholesterol that the doctor’s warn us about, from building up in our veins and arteries.  If enough LDL builds up over time, it can lead to a condition called Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).  But here’s the good news, phenols help to prevent long-term arterial clogging, thus averting heart attacks.  Of course, chocolate is not a cure, though many of us wish it was.  However, a small piece of dark chocolate daily may help reduce the risk of Atherosclerosis.  

{sidebar id=1}If this is not enough to persuade you, chocolate has more to offer.  For years, chocolate has been associated with negative health effects including the cause of cavities and acne.  These allegations for the most part, do not have any supporting data, or they are unjustified altogether.  Researchers now indicate that the cocoa bean may hold antibacterial properties that may even help prevent dental decay by breaking down glucan, a sticky substance created by streptococcus mutans, a common mouth bacteria.  The glucan helps the bacterial anchoring process that eventually leads to plaque production.  Moreover, the cocoa butter used in chocolate leaves a coating on teeth that provides a second buffer against plaque causing bacteria.    

The second accusation against chocolate is that it causes acne.  Again, this accusation is false.  In fact, recent research has shown that whether you do or don’t eat chocolate has no significant effects on the formation of acne in human beings.  

However, as with all good things, too much may be a bad thing.  For example, cocoa butter, our hero that fights against cavities, is also high in saturated fat.  A diet high in saturated fat has been linked to high cholesterol that can contribute to heart disease.  Chocolate is also high in calories and eating too much may result in weight gain–so consume lightly, but choose wisely, a little dark chocolate goes a long way.    

“Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands, and then eat just one of the pieces.”  Judith Viorst

Submitted by Rick Parks, Registered Dietitian/TDA President

Chocolate has antioxidants

Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals and a Higher Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine - J. Agric. Food Chem., 51 (25), 7292 -7295, 2003. 10.1021/jf0344385 S0021-8561(03)04438-8  Web Release Date: October 30, 2003 

Chocolate 'has health benefits'

Dark Chocolate Is Healthy Chocolate

This article originally published on December 9, 2008.

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