15.6.09

Dark Chocolate__Lowers blood pressure and has other health benefits

Chocolate is one of our biggest food cravings. We give chocolate to our loved ones as gifts and many of us enjoy milk chocolate, white chocolate, dark chocolate, okay let me stop because I'm making myself hungry. Unfortunately, chocolate has not exactly gained a reputation as a health food.

Chocolate is relatively high in calories due to its high fat content. This has helped make chocolate one of our sweetest forbidden pleasures. Well, cheer up because fortunately new research into the possible health benefits of chocolate and in particular dark chocolate give us reason to look at chocolate in a new light.

According to researchers in Germany, dark chocolate may be able to lower high blood pressure. This is definitely great news for all dark chocolate lovers (especially ones suffering from high blood pressure). Despite the good news, this doesn't mean that it is okay to start binging on dark chocolate. Chocolate, along with coffee and tea, contains caffeine and caffeine consumption should be minimized.

While the health benefits of dark chocolate are encouraging, milk chocolate and white chocolate do not have the same health benefits as dark chocolate. A major reason for this is the fact that dark chocolate (defined as having a cocoa content of 65% or higher) is higher in beneficial compounds called flavonoids. Researchers believe that flavonoids may be an important factor in giving dark chocolate its positive effect on blood pressure.

Flavonoids are beneficial compounds that exist naturally in many plants. Flavonoids are a component of foods such as legumes (ex., beans), fruit, chocolate, tea (all varieties), honey, and red wine. The high flavonoid content in dark chocolate can help protect your skin from sun damage that results from exposure to UV radiation.

Dark chocolate has been shown to have a positive effect on LDL cholesterol (this is the cholesterol that is commonly referred to as bad cholesterol). This effect was verified by a Penn State led study which focused on LDL cholesterol’s vulnerability to oxidation.

An additional benefit of dark chocolate is its low glycemic index score. The glycemic index measures a carbohydrate's ability to raise insulin levels after it is consumed. A low score means a minimal effect on raising insulin levels. This could be of benefit to people with type 2 diabetes and others who need to monitor their blood sugar levels.

When eaten in small amounts (don't forget about the high fat content), dark chocolate can be of potential benefit to your cardiovascular system and heart. So if eaten occasionally in small portion sizes, dark chocolate might not be so bad. How sweet is that?

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