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The Wellness Column By Anchan Vegetarian

Chocolate can be good for you

Chocolate has been used as a drink for nearly all of its history. The earliest record of using chocolate dates back roughly 3500 years. The residues found and the kind of vessel they were found in indicate the initial use of cacao was not simply as a beverage, but the white pulp around the cacao beans was likely used as a source of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink.
The Maya civilization grew cacao trees in their backyards and used the cacao seeds it produced to make a frothy, bitter drink used for ceremonial purposes. The Maya are generally given credit for creating the first modern chocolate beverage over 2,000 years ago.
By the 15th century, the Aztecs gained control and adopted cacao into their culture. They associated chocolate with the goddess of fertility. The Aztec adaptation of the drink was a bitter, frothy, spicy drink called xocolatl, made much the same way as the Mayan chocolate drinks. It was often seasoned with vanilla and chili pepper and was believed to fight fatigue, which is probably attributable to the theobromine content, a mood enhancer. South American and European cultures have used cocoa to treat diarrhea for hundreds of years.
Many previous studies have linked eating chocolate with health benefits.
A 2008 study found that people who ate a small amount of dark chocolate a day (about 6.7 grams) had lower levels of a protein that is associated with inflammation in their blood.
Other recent studies have found that blood platelets clump together more slowly in chocolate eaters. Clumping platelets can lead to the formation of blood clots, which in turn can cause a heart attack. Chocolate consumption may lower blood pressure, help prevent formation of artery plaques and improve blood flow, according to other research.
Eating chocolate may even help the brain function. The compounds in chocolate, called flavonoids, may increase blood flow to the brain. Chocolate may also have anti-cancer benefits because flavonoids help reduce the cell damage that can spur tumor growth.
Yet another health benefit has been linked to eating chocolate: It may decrease your risk of stroke, a new study suggests. One study with more than 44,000 participants found that those who ate a weekly serving of chocolate were 22 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who ate no chocolate.
“More and more research is showing that eating chocolate is really more beneficial than we ever imagined,” according to a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
However the advantages you get appear to be quite small, not anything major, but it’s still an advantage, and even slight advantages can make a difference for some people.
But beware, as not all chocolate is created equal. The underlying health benefits don’t give you an excuse to eat chocolate by the pound, especially not the commercially processed variety as it contains high amounts of sugar and fat. Furthermore, we tend to overindulge, treat it is a candy rather than a health giving food.
Certain forms of chocolate are better for your health than others, and it comes down to one key component of the rich snack that we mentioned previously, namely flavonoids.
These compounds, which are found in the seeds of cacao plants (from which chocolate is made), are antioxidants that are thought to help protect cells against damage that might come from environmental toxins, or simply byproducts of vital processes in the body.
Consuming flavonoids has been linked to heart benefits. But since flavonoids are bitter, most commercial chocolate goes through processing steps that remove these compounds. Less processed, or darker chocolates, will tend to have higher levels of flavonoids. Your best choice in terms of healthiness is to go with natural, unsweetened cocoa powder or raw chocolate, a rather new and unusual way of consuming chocolate.
Raw chocolate is truly bursting with antioxidants, even more than fruit, vegetables, tea or wine, increasing the above mentioned health benefits, without the addition of sugars and fats. To reap the health benefits, you have to choose the right chocolate: chocolate that is pure, 100% organically grown, and minimally processed. It also supplies micronutrients, such as potassium, zinc, magnesium and iron.

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Chocolate can be good for you