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5 Reasons to Eat Chocolate

I got this article from a newsletter I subscribe to from Dr. Whitaker at his Whitaker Wellness Institute. Enjoy.

When it comes to sweets, there’s only one that qualifies as healthy: dark chocolate. Here are five good reasons you should incorporate modest amounts of dark chocolate into your diet.

1. Lowers Blood Pressure
One of cocoa’s most abundant polyphenols is flavanol, which stimulates the production of nitric oxide (NO).  NO is a very important signaling molecule. When it is produced in the arteries, it acts as a vasodilator, relaxing the arteries and causing them to open up, thus bringing down blood pressure.
German researchers divided older people with mild hypertension into two groups and gave them 100 g dark chocolate or 90 g white chocolate every day for two weeks. (White chocolate contains no cocoa.) They had a one-week “washout” period in which they ate no chocolate, followed by another two weeks of eating the other chocolate. Blood pressure fell in those eating dark chocolate an average of 5.1/1.8 (systolic/diastolic) and did not change in those eating white chocolate.
2. Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Italian researchers published results of a study with a similar design involving 15 healthy men and women. Glucose tolerance tests were done at the end of each period, and blood pressure was taken daily. As in the German study, dark chocolate lowered blood pressure—and it also significantly improved markers of insulin sensitivity, decreasing fasting insulin and glucose levels, as well as insulin and glucose responses to glucose tolerance testing.
Now, I know many of you are thinking that sugary chocolate is the last thing people with diabetes need to be eating. Yet this study suggests that dark chocolate actually ameliorates blood sugar control.
3. Mediates Inflammation
Inflammation plays a role in diverse conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and autoimmune disorders. In fact, all major chronic diseases are associated with inflammation.
Cocoa flavanols have been shown to lower inflammation. They do this by reducing blood concentrations of 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO), a key enzyme in the synthesis of leukotrienes. Leukotrienes are fatty molecules involved in inflammation in tissues throughout the body, including pain and allergic reactions. Dampening the flames of inflammation is crucial for disease treatment and prevention, and dark chocolate is another tool for doing just that.
4. Protects Against Heart Disease
As you know, elevations in blood pressure, insulin resistance, and inflammation all increase risk of cardiovascular disease. But chocolate’s protective effects go beyond these three mechanisms.  In addition to lowering blood pressure, nitric oxide also helps prevent arterial spasms, which temporarily decrease blood flow, and platelet aggregation, the clumping together of blood cells that reduces blood fluidity and impairs circulation. And chocolate’s potent antioxidants shield the endothelial cells lining the arteries as well as LDL cholesterol against free radical damage.
Dark chocolate also has positive effects on cholesterol levels. Although its hefty saturated fat content may give one pause, most of that fat is stearic acid, which, unlike other saturated fats, has no adverse effects on cholesterol levels. In fact, dark chocolate actually appears to raise protective HDL cholesterol, while having no effect on LDL. The cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate are so potent that it was named one of the seven heart-healthiest foods, along with wine, fish, fruits, vegetables, garlic, and almonds. In an article published in the British Medical Journal, researchers theorized that including these foods in your diet would reduce cardiovascular events by an astounding 76 percent and increase life expectancy in men and women by 6.6 and 4.8 years, respectively.
5. Makes You Feel Good
There’s something about chocolate that goes beyond satisfying your sweet tooth or hunger pangs. Maybe it’s the smooth, creamy “mouth-feel” we find so comforting. It might be an emotional connection to all those chocolate hearts and special treats from our childhood. Or it could be chocolate’s tryptophan and phenylethylamine, which increase levels of neurotransmitters associated with sensations of pleasure. There is even research to suggest that compounds in chocolate stimulate the same “feel-good” receptors as falling in love. (No wonder chocolate and Valentine’s Day are inseparable.)
High-quality dark chocolate is sold in health food, specialty, and grocery stores.  Look for bars that contain 70 percent cocoa or more. Don’t be put off by the fat content, and expect it to have some sugar. Unsweetened dark chocolate is extremely bitter, and even sweetened, it is for some an acquired taste, so shop around for a brand you like. Limit your intake to no more than 25-50 g, or one quarter-half of a large bar, daily. To keep caloric intake steady, eat in place of, rather than in addition to, other foods or snacks.
Here’s to your health,
Julian Whitaker, MD

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