Chocolate: a good-for-you food?White Day ― a superb marketing creation from Japan ― is in Korea a day for romance, when men are supposed to give presents to their girlfriends. It falls next Tuesday and like Valentine’s Day, one of the most popular gift choices is chocolate.
Chocolate, sometimes called “The Elixir of Love,” is sweet, and as such is not always a welcome gift to women who are cautious about gaining weight. The simple sugars in chocolate can contribute to weight gain and are also a factor in tooth decay. In addition there is the common but groundless saying that the “elixir” causes outbreaks of pimples ― not something most women would welcome.
But in industrialized nations, a number of research papers are reporting that chocolate in fact could be a health food if eaten regularly, though in smaller portions to keep the pounds off. The studies note, however, that it is the type of chocolate eaten that is important, specifically, dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate, also called “sweet chocolate,” belies its name in that it is not really that sweet. Its taste is rather bitter, as it is made up of 30 to 50 percent cocoa and up to 3 percent milk, or none at all. Most milk chocolate on the market is 7 to 17 percent cocoa, while the main ingredient, milk, amounts to 15 to 25 percent. In white chocolate, there is no cocoa.
So, why is dark chocolate, with its high amount of cocoa, healthy?
Cocoa, from the cacao bean, has abundant flavonoids, which are antioxidants. The research papers say that the ingredient gets rid of oxygen free radicals; a major cause of aging, cancer and geriatric illness.
According to Kim Se-hong, a family doctor at Kangnam St. Mary’s Hospital, cocoa has a lot more flavonoids compared to green tea, red wine, brocolli and onions.
The fact that cocoa is good for protecting the cardiovascular system can be found from studies of Panama’s Kuna Indians. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science’s January edition, the Kuna drink three to four cups of hot chocolate a day using home-made cocoa. This habit has contributed to lower incidences of high blood pressure and heart attacks. The systolic pressure of Kuna men aged 60 or above is 110 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) on average and their diastolic pressure is 70 mmHg, which is normal for a young healthy adult. But in male Kuna who have moved to cities and don’t drink as much cocoa as they used to, cardiovascular problems are more common.
Another research report in the March 2005 edition of the American Society for Clinical Nutrition showed that dark chocolate lowered the blood pressure of 15 healthy Italians. After eating 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of dark chocolate a day for 15 days, their average systolic pressure dropped to 108 mmHg from 114. A week later, after their pressure had returned to 114 torrs, they ate 90 grams of white chocolate for 15 days. That time, there was no change in their blood pressure.
Another report in the journal indicated that eating small amounts of dark chocolate regularly slows down aging and prevents constipation, tooth decay and diarrhea.
But dark chocolate is not necessarily good for everyone ― the less the better for obese persons or diabetics. The calorific value of dark chocolate is 551 kilocalories per 100 grams, not much difference from that of milk chocolate at 563 per 100 grams ― so weightwatchers beware.
Jo Mi-ran, a researcher at the Medical Nutrition Center at Kyung Hee University, says that people who are obese or suffer from irritable colon syndrome, migraines, anxiety disorders or reflux esophagitis should also refrain from eating chocolate.
by Park Tae-kyun
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