Chocolate – Even though Valentines Day is over, its never too late

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Often anti-aging research is furthered by finding a group of natives somewhere in the world that are having unexpected good health, which is how it was discovered that chocolate lowers blood pressure. The Kuna people of Panama had unusually good blood pressure that did not seem to increase with aging. Because they lost this health benefit upon leaving Panama, it was concluded that the source of their good blood pressure is chocolate. They drink up to five cups of unsweetened hot cocoa per day.

I love my chocolate and was ecstatic to find that finally something that tastes good can officially be considered healthy.

Much research has been done in the last few years looking at a type of antioxidant called flavonoids. These are components of many foods that give them their color. Each food color is a different type of flavonoid. The flavonoids seem to cause a boost in nitric oxide in blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure. Nitric oxide is very important to healthy blood vessel walls and high levels of it in the blood prevent high blood pressure.

Free oxygen molecules in the tissues – called free radicals – cause many of the effects of aging. Antioxidants are substances that block the damaging effects of free radicals. This is important to many biological reactions. The flavonoids in chocolate prevent blood clots, help slow the rate of oxidation of cholesterol, lower inflammation in the immune system, and lower blood pressure. Other studies are showing that flavonoids may have anticancer activity.

The best health effects of chocolate are gained with the highest cocoa solids. How many flavonoids are in different chocolates depends on the heat of processing, amount of real cocoa, and which fat is used – you are better off with real cocoa butter than with additives. The dark Dove bar is one of the highest in chocolate flavonoids due to how it is processed. If the first ingredient on a chocolate bar is listed as sugar, your odds of getting a healthy bar are low. Aim for a bar that has 70 percent cocoa solids. Some brands include Scharffenberger, Dolfin, Lindt, Valrhona, and Dove. Dark chocolate has on average twice as much antioxidant as milk chocolate, and the cocoa butter is more often removed and replaced with other fats.

One thing to remember about using chocolate as your source of antioxidant is that it is often very high in calories. It might be better to just use a little chocolate daily and more of other antioxidants such as green or black tea, red wine, blueberries or raspberries, to mention only a few.

There is now a long-term study of the health effects of one ounce of chocolate a day. Perhaps they need volunteers?

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