Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Chocolates may replace dogs as "man's best friend!"

Photo by Christopher Lee for Martine's Chocolates.

It won’t lick your nose or keep your feet warm on a cold winter night, and you probably won’t get your exercise by taking it for "walkies," but chocolate therapy may be just as beneficial for the reduction of your stress as a canine companion.

A study of older men done over ten years in The Netherlands resulted in findings of lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of death for those who consumed one-third of a chocolate bar every day. The reason, researchers believe, is because cocoa beans contain flavanols, which allow vascular tissue to relax hence allowing blood to flow more freely, and which also are thought to increase nitric oxide in the blood. The study followed the eating habits of 470 healthy men who were not taking medications to reduce blood pressure. Of course, other factors may have contributed to their good health, but "[the] men who ate the most products made from cocoa beans — including cocoa drinks, chocolate bars and chocolate pudding — had lower blood pressure and a 50 percent lower risk of death." It was noted that the men eating the most cocoa products were not heavier or bigger eaters than the men who ate less cocoa.

Another study completed with volunteers from the Kuna Tribe of the San Blas Islands near Panama, a people among whom high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases are rare, showed twice the level of urinary nitric oxide and elevated levels of epicatechin (one of a group of chemicals known as flavanols) in people who drank three to four cups of cocoa daily. Interestingly, "Kuna [people] who migrated to the suburbs of Panama City on the mainland drink only about four cups of cocoa per week and do not enjoy the same level of cardiovascular health."

A cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter's night makes you feel warm and cozy, and it may improve your immune system therefore aiding in preventing ailments like colds and flu. Chocolate is high in antioxidants and helps to counteract the damage done to bodily tissues. By capturing the "free radicals" left behind, chocolate’s antioxidants may help prevent stroke, heart disease, and cancer. Chang Yong Lee, a researcher at Cornell University, "found that hot cocoa, on a per-serving basis, has four to five times more antioxidants than black tea, two to three times more than green tea, and almost two times more than red wine."

Chocolate has also been found to contain phenolics, the same chemical found in red wine that helps lower the risk of heart disease. It reduces the oxidation of LDL, low-density-lipoprotein ("bad") cholesterol, preventing it from creating plaque in the arteries.

Speaking of cholesterol, a chocolate bar is very low in cholesterol. A 1.65 oz. bar contains only 12 milligrams! A one-ounce piece of cheddar cheese contains 30 milligrams of cholesterol - more than double the amount found in a chocolate bar.

One component of chocolate is phenylethylamine (or PEA). This has an antidepressant effect, and it has been suggested by some researchers that a PEA deficiency may be the cause of common bouts of depression. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that in the past, people ate more chocolate in the winter than in the summer. It seems they knew chocolate was the answer to the depression felt by those who might experience SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Chocolate also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relievers.

Many people think that drinking a cup of cocoa before bed, or even eating a piece of chocolate late in the day, will keep them awake due to the caffeine content of chocolate. This is unlikely since one "cup [of] cocoa contains only 0-25 mg of caffeine, while the same amount of coffee contains 50-175mg of caffeine." Martine and I both agree that, in our experience, a cup of hot chocolate before bed leads to a better, more relaxing, more satisfying sleep.

Another common myth is that chocolate causes acne. "Experiments conducted at the University of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Naval Academy found that consumption of chocolate -- even frequent daily dietary intake -- had no effect on the incidence of acne. Professional dermatologists today do not link acne with diet."

One plain milk-chocolate candy bar contains more protein than a banana.

Ten percent of U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of iron is found in one ounce of baking chocolate or cocoa. Chocolate also contains Vitamins A1, B1, B2, C, D and E as well as calcium, potassium, sodium and iron.

Of course, just like everything else in life, too much of a good thing isn't good for you. However, there is ample research showing that a little chocolate every day is no cause for guilty feelings; you are doing yourself a very healthy favor by indulging in a delicious chocolate creation every day and a cup of hot cocoa before bed.

Thank you to Martine at Martine’s Chocolates for permission to post the photo of the chocolate St. Bernard. From the website: "Martine's Chocolates are upscale confections handmade fresh daily, right in front of the customers, by Martine's own chefs chocolatiers, at Martine's Chocolates shops in Manhattan: at Bloomingdale's (6th floor, Main Course) and at Martine's Chocolates too, recently opened (400 East 82nd Street., right off First Avenue)." The store features many breeds of chocolate dogs as well as other delightful and delicious chocolate creations. Martine’s will gladly fill your domestic and international orders. Please pay a visit online to Martine's Chocolates.


Geraldine said...

Wow, my kind of therapy! Chocolate does seem to have a physical effect, much more than just tasting good.

The Mitz says, Chocolate CAT next time plllllllllleeeaaase!!!!!


Amit said...

I knew there was a good reason that I made the switch from coffee to hot chocolate recently! :D

I used to be a proper choccie-holic a couple of years ago, but I'm so glad that I cut down on the amount I ate, Although I did find that drinking hot chocolate was a good way to reduce my cravings!

I wonder if that was the reason why I was addicted in the first place...as well as being a comfort food, maybe the stress relieving effects were also a part of it.