Aida Nassar
3 Min Read

CAIRO: The rich, smooth taste that melts in your mouth and the feeling of euphoria that comes after a couple of bites. This makes chocolate an indulgence that many enjoy and crave time and again. The guilt however, will usually set in.

Now there’s good news for chocoholics.

There have been reports that chocolate may have health benefits. Before you go racing to a tray of them though, there are a couple of catches.

Not all chocolate is created equal. A body of dependable data has emerged revealing the positive effect of dark, but not milk, chocolate on health.

Recent research has shown that a moderate amount of dark chocolate can even be good for the heart. High concentrations of cocoa found in dark chocolate, at least 70 percent, have been shown to help improve vascular function by relaxing blood vessels. It keeps cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels and reduces the risk of blood clots.

A recent study in the Journal of American Science shows positive vascular effects from the consumption of chocolate. Also, a team of researchers, led by nutrition professor Jeffery Blumberg, at Boston’s Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition published a study last year in the Journal of Hypertension that found that eating a dark chocolate candy bar once a day for 15 days significantly lowered the blood pressure of 20 people suffering from hypertension.

These cardiovascular benefits may be a result of the antioxidants, called flavonoids, found in the cocoa bean. Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods (such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, onions, tea and red wine), which are recognized as having “antioxidant power. Antioxidants are believed to help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals, which – if left unchecked – can lead to increases in LDL-cholesterol oxidation and plaque formation on arterial walls.

Flavonoids can do much more: They are thought to aide the reduction of platelet activation, and may even affect the relaxation of blood vessels.

The other catch, of course, is the small matter of calories.

Chocolate is high in calories. Yes, even if you opt for rich, dark chocolate with 80 percent cocoa content, it’s still considered a high-calorie, high-fat food. Those who participated in the Tufts study had to lower their intake of other foods to compensate for the some 500 claries they consumed every day by eating the chocolate.

While we wait for experts to determine what can be considered a “healthy serving size that will reap the hearty benefits of chocolate, we can occasionally indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate. And instead of the usual aftermath of guilt, we can feel virtuous that we’re promoting healthier eating habits.

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