• Chocolate: Food of the Gods

    IMAGE Chocolate. The mere mention of it makes mouths water. Whether in a heart-shaped box, a rich three-layer cake, a warm, just-out-of-the-oven cookie, or a gooey candy bar, chocolate is the food Americans crave most often. Fortunately, chocolate can be beneficial. It helps the heart and makes you feel good, so grab your favorite version and learn about the good, bad, and ugly of eating chocolate.

    Magic Beans

    Suitors and sweet-lovers alike have the humble cocoa tree to thank for chocolate. The botanical name of this tree, theobroma, is Greek for "food of the Gods." The pods of the tree hold the cocoa bean which was first roasted and enjoyed in Mayan and Aztec civilizations as a spicy drink . Eventually, the beans made it to Spain, where the cocoa bean was morphed into a whole assortment of treats.
    Chocolate started out as a bitter tasting beverage and over the centuries evolved into the sweet treat we love. Now chocolate is solid, liquid, sweet, gooey, and sometimes bitter. No matter how you like it, small portions can actually be good for you. Keep in mind the darker the chocolate, the better the effects but even milk and white chocolate have some benefit.

    The Power of Chocolate

    Antioxidants

    Evidence shows that chocolate may not be as sinful as traditionally believed. Take antioxidants, for example. Dark chocolate contains relatively high levels of antioxidant flavanols and proanthocyanidins.
    These elements prevent cellular damage in the body. They fight dangerous free radicals, although unfortunately this has not always translated into better health. However, other research has shown promising benefits of chocolate for specific health conditions.
    Evidence shows that chocolate may not be as sinful as traditionally believed. Take antioxidants, for example. Dark chocolate contains relatively high levels of antioxidant flavanols and proanthocyanidins.
    These elements prevent cellular damage in the body. They fight dangerous free radicals, although unfortunately this has not always translated into better health. However, other research has shown promising benefits of chocolate for specific health conditions.

    Cardiovascular Benefits

    Some studies have found that chocolate may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems like heart attack and stroke. It may be the chocolates' flavanols that provide this benefit. Here are some other affects of chocolate may have on your heart and blood vessel health:
    • Reduced blood pressure
    • Lowers risk for heart failure
    • Improved blood flow
    • Increased HDL (good) cholesterol

    Brain Benefits

    Chocolate may also help your mental state.
    Eating chocolate is often associated with pleasure and enjoyment. Chocolate contains certain chemicals which can improve moods and feelings. Using a brain imaging technique known as positron emission tomography (PET) scan, scientists found that chocolate affects the same part of the brain as heroin or morphine. Chocolate has phenylethylamine, which act like amphetamines which are known to affect mood.
    The antioxidants in cocoa powder have also been associated with decreased risk of dementia.
    Chocolate may also help your mental state.
    Eating chocolate is often associated with pleasure and enjoyment. Chocolate contains certain chemicals which can improve moods and feelings. Using a brain imaging technique known as positron emission tomography (PET) scan, scientists found that chocolate affects the same part of the brain as heroin or morphine. Chocolate has phenylethylamine, which act like amphetamines which are known to affect mood.
    The antioxidants in cocoa powder have also been associated with decreased risk of dementia.
    Chocolate land sounds like a good place to be, but you can have too much of a good thing.

    The Dark Side of Chocolate

    Nutrition Pitfalls

    Chocolate is by no means as healthy as fruits or vegetables. Chocolate's antioxidants are delivered in a high-calorie, high-fat, fiber-free package. Here are some of the dangers that lurk when eating too much of a good thing:
    Chocolate is by no means as healthy as fruits or vegetables. Chocolate's antioxidants are delivered in a high-calorie, high-fat, fiber-free package. Here are some of the dangers that lurk when eating too much of a good thing:

    Bone Loss

    Chocolate is an important source of oxalate. Oxalate is a dietary element which inhibits calcium absorption from the gut and increases the elimination of calcium through urination. This decreases the body's ability to maintain bones, it may have more of an impact on older adults that have lower bone density. In fact, research has shown that in women aged 70 to 85 years, daily chocolate consumption was associated with lower bone density and strength compared to women who did not have daily chocolate.

    Moderation

    When it comes to eating and drinking, moderation is the key. Whether you do it for your heart or to improve your mood, a little chocolate goes a long way. Here are some smart ideas on how to get some chocolate in your diet:
    • Minimize—Often a small taste is all you need. Skip the two-pound bars and buy minibars (half-ounce or less) of chocolate. A half-ounce of milk chocolate, about the size of three Hershey Kisses, contains less than 80 calories and five grams of fat. In addition, choose good quality dark chocolate over other types; dark chocolate contains higher amounts of healthy antioxidants, like those found in red wine and green tea.
    • Try cocoa—Cocoa powder has most of the cocoa butter (the fatty part) removed. A tablespoon of cocoa can have as little as 20 calories and 0.5 grams of fat. Use cocoa instead of milk chocolate or baking chocolate in your cooking to give a chocolate flavor with less fat. Or, fix a warm mug of hot cocoa to soothe a craving.
    • Squirt some syrup—Top low-fat frozen yogurt or ice cream with chocolate-flavored syrup (made with cocoa). A tablespoon adds lots of flavor and as little as 50 calories and no fat.
    • Explore your options—Check the supermarket for chocolate-flavored products, including nonfat and low-fat chocolate pudding, chocolate-flavored rice cakes, frozen yogurt, and hot cocoa
    Chocolate comes in many forms, so play around or stick with your favorite. Remember, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you.

    RESOURCES

    American Heart Association http://www.eatright.org/

    International Food Information Council FoundationFood Insight http://www.foodinsight.org/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Dietitians of Canada http://www.dietitians.ca/

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/

    References

    Chocolate. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at http://www.ebscohost.com/healthlibrary/ . Updated July 25, 2012. Accessed November 14, 2012.

    Chocolate Anyone? Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/Media/Blog.aspx?id=4294970979&blogid=269&terms=chocolate+anyone. Updated February 16, 2012. Accessed November 14, 2012.

    Dietary recommendations for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated November 14, 2012. Accessed November 14 ,2012.

    History of Chocolate. Field Museum website. Available at: http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/chocolate/history.html. Accessed November 14, 2012.

    Hodgson JM, Devine A, Burke V, et al. Chocolate consumption and bone density in older women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87:175-180.

    Ingredient in chocolate may help you think more clearly. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/News/Global/SimpleScience/Ingredient-in-chocolate-may-help-you-think-more-clearly%5FUCM%5F443534%5FArticle.jsp. Accessed November 14, 2012.

    Moderate chocolate consumption linked to lower risks of heart failure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://newsroom.heart.org/pr/aha/1091.aspx. Accessed November 14, 2012.

    Parker G, Parker I, et al., Mood State Effects of Chocolate. Journal of Affective Disorders.2006;92(2-3):149-59.

    Vlachopoulos C, Alexopoulos N, Stefanadis C. Effect of dark chocolate on arterial function in healthy individuals: cocoa instead of ambrosia? Curr Hypertens Rep. 2006;8(3):205-211.

    12/17/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Lewis JR, Prince RL, Zhu K, Devine A, Thompson PL, Hodgson JM. Habitual chocolate intake and vascular disease: a prospective study of clinical outcomes in older women. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(20):1857-1858.

    10/14/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Buitrago-Lopez A, Sanderson J, Johnson L, et al. Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2011 Aug 26;343:d4488.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.


  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.