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Who doesn't love chocolate? Sadly, binging on huge amounts of Dairy Milk won't improve your health, but there are some benefits if you can control the habit. In the US it's estimated that $13 billion is spent annually on chocolate, so how is it helping the buyers?
Sugar and fat are not the only ingredients in chocolate. Cacao (cocoa) seeds are in there too and they're bona-fide super-foods. They contain flavonols and antioxidants in droves, which combat free radicals and immunity-damaging molecules. They've actually got more flavonols than some fruit juices.
Cocoa seeds are used to make cocoa powder and dark chocolate - so of course dark chocolate is the best choice for health benefits. Milk chocolate has smaller amounts of the cocoa bean with plenty of cream and sugar added - not so good.So let's take a look at the health benefits.
A compound called pentamer found in cocoa may stop cancer cells spreading. Research carried out by the University of Georgetown found pentamer deactivated proteins that push cancer cells to spread. The research was carried out on breast cancer cells but the researchers believe it'll work on other cancers too.
Mental agility in the elderly can be improved by two cups of hot chocolate a day according to a study in 'Neurology'.
60 participants with an average age of 73 drank two cups of hot chocolate every day for the duration of a month. Researchers found those with impaired blood flow experienced an improvement of 8%, but those who had no problems did not receive a benefit.
Another study in the aptly named 'Appetite' journal found that eating chocolate led to improved brain activity. In this study, participants were quizzed about their eating habits including water, coffee and fruit intake as well as chocolate consumption. After a number of tests they found that chocolate eaters were associated with a 'positive cognitive performance.'
An Italian study found that participants who ate dark chocolate bars had an accelerated blood sugar metabolism as opposed to the participants who ate white chocolate - which has no flavanoids. Researchers believe this may protect people against diabetes.
Eat chocolate to prevent diabetes? Sounds odd, but science is science.
A study in Harvard Health Publications identified that dark chocolate reduces platelet activation. The blood platelets of chocolate eaters clump together more slowly, which may prevent blood clots forming.
Well, a cough anyway. A new study indicates that the theobromine found in cocoa blocks sensory nerves when suffering from a cold. This can prevent the cough reflex and was found to be even more powerful than codeine in chronic cough cases.
So there you have five excuses to eat some chocolate, as if you needed one.
To gain the health benefits choose dark chocolate as this contains the most cocoa and therefore the most flavonoids and antioxidants. Experts say your chocolate should be at least 65% cocoa. That's manageable - and certainly more enjoyable than the kale and onion smoothie you've just made with your Christmas nutri-bullet.