Chocolate!!! Eat More with Less Guilt?

Although chocolate should be eaten sparingly, the latest research suggests that eating it may have health benefits if eaten in moderation. The research also disputes the thoughts that it is linked to triggering migraines and causing obesity and possibly even acne. There are studies that show there are components in the cocoa beans that are good for us and may aid in the prevention of heart disease, cancer, and some degenerative illnesses. We feel it is worth considering the health benefits of chocolate, as the findings in various studies are very interesting but more evidence is certainly warranted.

Nutrients and Other Active Components

The nutritional content varies according to the recipe. All chocolate, however, generally contains the following:

Protein - Needed for cell maintenance and repair. Fat - Amounts vary but generally contains approximately 30% fat, of which approximately 50% is saturated fat. Vitamin E - Fat-soluble vitamin necessary for cell membranes. Calcium, phosphorus and magnesium - These are minerals essential for strong bones and teeth Calcium, phosphorus and magnesium - These are minerals essential for strong bones and teeth. Iron - Needed to form hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying compound in blood. Caffeine and theobromine - Act as stimulants (nervous system). Copper - Assists in metabolizing iron, the formation of melanin (in the skin and hair), and in the functioning of the central nervous system. Sugars - Amounts vary but usually approximately 50%. Antioxidant phytochemicals (such as flavonoids) - cocoa beans, a main ingredient but more so in the dark variety, contain more than 600 plant chemicals, including antioxidants which is said to help protect against cancer and heart disease.

The Link to Migraines

Migraines are severe, debilitating headaches. These are caused by spasms of the arteries that lead to the brain. The underlying mechanisms remain unclear, but certain foods are commonly cited as triggers. However, for most migraine sufferers, chocolate alone doesn't start the migraine reaction by itself. Numerous studies have found that other factors, such as stress or hormonal imbalance, need to be present also. Fasting and eating other types of foods may also play a role. More research is warranted before chocolate can be completely exonerated, but the evidence to-date seems rather promising for chocolate lovers!

Acne and Pimples

One recent study shows that around 70% of people believe that certain foods can cause or exacerbate acne. While chocolate was named as one of the main culprits, there is no evidence to confirm this, Scientists have not identified ingredients, compounds, or naturally occurring chemicals in it that can either cause acne or make it worse, but some researchers suggest that a high intake of refined carbohydrates (white flour, sugars, etc) combined with a high-glycemic index diet may be linked to acne or pimples.

Obesity

Specific foods do not cause obesity. Overeating in general, along with inactivity, are the two main culprits. If a person regularly eats more food than their body needs, they will store the excess energy as body fat. Chocolate is energy dense, containing high levels of kilojoules for its weight (approximately 2,200 kJ/100 g). Eating energy-dense foods on a regular basis can easily lead to excess weight gain, but it would be incorrect to say that eating chocolate regularly will lead to obesity. A person eating a healthy diet and is physically active can safely eat this food in moderation without the fear of gaining weight. In traditional Mexican cuisine, they use the dark variety in savory white meat and vegetable dishes, so chocolate eaten this way has a lower energy density (which is desirable if you are watching your weight) because it is being diluted by the less energy-dense meats and vegetables.

Diabetes

Studies have shown that small amounts of chocolate can be eaten by people with diabetes without any significant adverse impact on their glucose control.

A Healthier Type of Saturated Fat

Approximately 50% of the energy in chocolate is from fat. Blood cholesterol is usually increased by foods containing saturated fats, but about half of the saturated fat in this food is stearic acid. This type of fat seems to have no effect on blood cholesterol levels at all, which means those who are trying to limit their saturated fat intake because of concerns over high cholesterol can safely eat some occasionally.

Protecting Against Heart Disease and Cancer

Cocoa beans contain a type of antioxidant that may have a role in the prevention of certain diseases. The catechins found in cocoa beans help to protect the body against degenerative diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Catechins can also be found in fruits and vegetables, but the body needs to capture as many different types of catechins as possible, such as those found in tea and chocolate. The antioxidant content of chocolate has been found to be significantly higher than tea. Chocolate, especially the dark variety, is a good source of catechins. Evidence shows that cocoa decreases the tendency for blood clotting and may help prevent the oxidation of blood cholesterol. More evidence is necessary, however, as to how these findings translate to heart health.

Cocoa versus Chocolate

Instead of eating chocolate, try drinking cocoa if you want to increase your antioxidant intake while keeping your fat intake low. Generally, cocoa has a much lower fat content than chocolate.

We would like to stress that this is not a health food! While there may be some healthy things in chocolate, it does have other components that are not good for you when you have too much of them in your diet, like fat and sugar. However, at the same time, the evidence thus far can help take away the guilt of eating it in moderation. You might want to check with your doctor to see what they think before splurging, however!



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