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By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD   Date: 2/15/10

My heart sings at the sight of chocolate. Though my gut instinct is to restrict myself to one small treat, I often find myself indulging in one of life’s greatest pleasures: the sweet taste of chocolate. With that in mind, you and I both may be pleased to know that chocolate, famous for its rich taste, sweet flavor, and melt-in-your-mouth texture, may actually be beneficial to your health, in small doses.

Cocoa is a functional food.
Functional Foods may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition, so by eating these foods we are making a conscious decision to better our health. 

Cocoa is an antioxidant.
Just in time for National Heart Health month, it’s good to know that “More Cocoa means Higher Antioxidant Power!” Antioxidants may help to protect your body’s cells against free radicals, which can damage your cells, and may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease and boosting immune function. They are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and, oh yes, cocoa!

Cocoa is naturally rich in flavonoids.
Flavonoids are compounds found naturally in fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, nuts, red wine, and of course cocoa. They carry antioxidant properties which may help reduce the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and other diseases linked to immune function.    
Before you throw caution to the wind here are some things to remember about eating chocolate:

 To reap the benefits of the antioxidants in chocolate you should look for dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa, about 55 percent and above.
 Chocolate still contains fat, which means that it can contain a higher number of calories. If you are watching, or trying to maintain, your weight remember to work a chocolate treat into your overall calorie intake for the day.
 More research is needed to determine how much chocolate we have to consume in order to reap the benefits that chocolate provides. To get the most benefit, consider mixing and matching all of the different foods that contain flavonoids by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.

So, yes, the exciting news is that chocolate may be beneficial to our health! However, rather than a green light to overindulge, this is merely a reminder that even “treats” may offer health benefits.
Do you remember the first time you had a piece of chocolate? Tell me about it.




1 comment(s) so far...

Re: Chocolate: A guilty pleasure or a delightfully functional food?

Hi Elizabeth,

Let me preface this by saying unlike most of the people out there, I have never been a chocolate person. I will always choose the fruity dessert over the chocolate choice. But since early 2011, I have been experiencing a major paradigm shift where chocolate is concerned, healthy chocolate, that is. Chocolate that is cold-processed without the fillers, waxes and other unhealthy additives that preserves its naturally high antioxidant levels.

My Mom had been eating it for about a year and a half and claimed how much better she felt, having many residual health issues from being struck by lightning years earlier. I didn't give her much credibilty and still considered chocolate as candy.

In mid-January I was with her on her company cruise, still a committed skeptic, when I had a major headache that kept me from going to dinner and I stayed iin our cabin. I was brought 3 Power Squares and told to slowly suck on them, one by one. By the time I had finished 2, the pain was markedly reduced and I opted to save the last one for the next morning. My eyes were being opened.

During this cruise I was able to talk to many people who told me their compelling stories of health and wellness since consuming this healthy chocolate. I saw people who had lost a LOT of weight and attributed this to the chocolate. Hmm? Could this really be a whole and healthy food?

I had decided that I wanted to incorporate the healthy chocolate into my family's routine, mainly for my husband, whose body had undergone quite a beating in his early years due to addiction. I didn't expect anything to happen for me as I am pretty healthy.

However, 3 days into eating (and enjoying) this chocolate, I noticed that the constant ache I had been living with in the upper left part of my mouth for 8 months had disappeared. (We had been living without insurance during the year my husband was unemployed so I just endured the pain.)

I am 48 years old and have had some unpleasant changes in my menstrual cycles over the past few years. My husband says it has been at least 3 years during which time I am completely out of commission for the first 2 days of my cycle. He knows to go to the store and bring back extra strength Pamprin (without caffeine) and I know I will take these faithfully every 4 - 6 hours around the clock for those first 2 days, and complete the process with hot water bottles and herbal tea and anything else that might ease the severe pain I experience during that time. I literally do not function for those 2 days.

6 weeks into consuming the chocolate, I had my second cycle and didn't really have any pain. I kept waiting for it to kick in, but it never did. I did not have to take any pain relievers. This has continued for all subsequent cycles, and for me (and my appreciative husband) this is a miracle.

And just a couple of days ago, I woke up with a severe headache and pain all over my body. I think it was due to a combination of an old whiplash injury coupled with a nasty fall while exercising. Brutal! But instead of reaching for the pain meds, I gave myself permission to eat more chocolate, kind of as an experiment to see if it would make a difference. And it did... not instantly, but over the course of about 3 or 4 hours. Later that day, I noticed I felt perfectly fine with no evidence I had woken up in such misery.

This is the story of my first experience with REAL chocolate, healthy chocolate, and it has a very happy ending. I can't ever see not enjoying it daily. If you have any questions about any part of my story, I am absolutely open to talking to you or anyone else. That's how much my mind has changed about chocolate.

Selena Pannell

By Selena Pannell on   Thursday, June 16, 2011

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