Why Chocolate Is Good for You

This antioxidant-rich powerhouse helps reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure
An excerpt from “The Best Life Diet Cookbook”

Isn’t it great when you discover that foods you love are actually good for you? If chocolate happens to be one of your favorite treats, then you’re in luck! Chocolate lovers (I include myself in this group) have reason to celebrate, mainly because chocolate just happens to be the third highest source of antioxidants for Americans (behind coffee and tea), according to a study from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. These disease-fighting antioxidants (flavonols) keep your arteries healthy by offering a one-two punch that:

Reduces cholesterol. In a Finnish study, healthy people who ate 2.6 ounces of dark chocolate daily for three weeks had less damage to LDL, or bad cholesterol, than those who ate white chocolate. This is important because damaged cholesterol settles in your arteries, setting you up for a heart attack and stroke. Dark-chocolate eaters also had higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol), which transports cholesterol out of the body. (Although chocolate is high in saturated fat, which usually spikes your cholesterol and contributes to clogged arteries, most of it is stearic acid, the one type of saturated fat that does not raise cholesterol.)

Lowers blood pressure. Chocolate’s polyphenols also relax and open up the arteries, which keeps blood flowing and reduces blood pressure. This also means a decreased risk for heart disease and stroke. A recent review of chocolate research in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that in most studies, consuming a chocolate-rich diet for just two weeks helped reduce blood pressure by 4 to 5 systolic points (top number) and 2 to 3 diastolic points (bottom number). This might seem modest, but the authors of the study note that it’s enough to cut the stroke risk in the general population by 20 percent, heart disease risk by 10 percent, and death from all causes by 8 percent!

But before you hit the vending machine, you should know that these benefits aren’t associated with all forms of chocolate. It has to be antioxidant-rich, and that usually means dark chocolate. While there’s no definition for “dark,” any bar that contains 50 percent cocoa, cacao, or cocoa solids (check the label) most likely has a decent amount of antioxidants, says Joe Vinson, PhD, professor of chemistry at Scranton University. Cocoa mixes, chocolate milk mixes, and syrups aren’t all that antioxidant-rich, but pure cocoa powder that has not been “Dutch processed” or alkalized (which removes antioxidants) are good sources.

Although participants in some studies ate up to 500 calories per day of the sweet stuff, other research suggests that a lot less may be beneficial. For instance, a German study of people with mildly high blood pressure found that just 30 calories—about 1⁄4 ounce—a day of dark chocolate helped reduce blood pressure, says Vinson.

Find more healthy cooking tips with Bob Greene’s The Best Life Diet Cookbook.

About the Author

Bob Greene, bestselling author of The Best Life Diet Cookbook, is an exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer specializing in fitness, metabolism, and weight loss. He holds a master's degree from the University of Arizona and is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Council on Exercise. For the past seventeen years he has worked with clients and consulted on the design and management of fitness, spa, and sports medicine programs. Bob has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He is also a contributing writer and editor for O the Oprah magazine, and writes articles on health and fitness for Oprah.com.

Related Links from Simon & Schuster:

Read the introduction from the book The Best Life Diet Cookbook.

Find out more about the author, Bob Greene.

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