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Chocoholic cheer

(article, Ashley Brodie)

Ah, chocolate. Delicious, yes. And lately, even healthy — a fact not lost on the food industry, which has quickly rolled out such marketing gambits as the CocoaVia "heart-healthy" chocolate bar and Quaker Oats' Chocolate Oat Crunch cereal.

Despite the marketing boondoggle, chocolate does contain high levels of flavonoids and polyphenols, two chemical substances normally found in plant compounds. These substances, more commonly referred to as phenols, are part of a large family of antioxidants. 

[%image chocolate float=right caption="Dark chocolate is good for you." credit="Photo: iStockphoto/ekspansio"]  

According to Miles Hassell, the medical director of the Providence Integrative Medicine Program in Portland, Oregon, these compounds reduce the oxidation of LDL (the bad cholesterol), thinning the blood and therefore making a person less susceptible to blood-clot formations. 

Carl Keen, a professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, agrees that chocolate can potentially provide many health benefits. In a   study led by Keen, researchers mixed cocoa powder with water and sugar and had human volunteers drink the concoction. Because chocolate contains natural caffeine, water with caffeine was also used on the volunteers as a control, and in order to ensure that caffeine was not affecting the blood. 

Two hours after the subjects drank the cocoa water, the levels of phenols in their bloodstreams heightened, demonstrating the possibility of chocolate’s do-gooder effects. 

Keen observed that chocolate seemed to improve blood and platelet function, two key factors that contribute to overall cardiovascular health. He concluded that the phenols from the cocoa produced blood thinning and clotting prevention, much like the effects of aspirin. 

“People should not throw away their bottle of aspirin,” Keen says, “but perhaps one should view chocolate as part of a healthy diet.”
 
Keen’s study showed that while cocoa peaked phenol levels in the bloodstream, the effect faded after a mere six hours. So you’d have to consume chocolate all day long to achieve a lasting effect. 

Hassell, however, says that as long as you eat a healthy diet and limit yourself to one to three ounces of chocolate (with a cacao content of 70 percent or higher) per day, chocolate just might be heart-healthy. 

And if that isn’t sweet news, I don’t know what is.


chocolate, l