Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.See all posts »
More Good News About Chocolate's Many Health Benefits
There seems to be no shortage of good news about the health benefits of chocolate.
The latest comes from a new study that suggests that eating chocolate may help reduce your risk of stroke. This large study out of Sweden involved men, but the scientists also reviewed five other studies, and found a similar association between chocolate and lower stroke risk among women.
In a separate evaluation of 20 different research trials that explored the effect of cocoa on blood pressure, another team of researchers concluded that consuming dark chocolate or cocoa powder every day reduced blood pressure slightly. It wasn’t a huge difference, but the researchers explained in a statement that “the small reduction we saw over the short term might complement other treatment options and might contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.” You can see the abstract of the study here.
What is it about chocolate that makes it a healthful indulgence?
Both teams of researchers point to the Flavonols that are found in cocoa, the low-fat component of chocolate. Flavanols are phytochemicals that can boost the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which in turn dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, possibly offering protection against cardiovascular disease. Flavanols are also found in cranberries, tea and red wine.
Other medical and nutrition experts have been singing chocolate’s praises too, for a lot of different reasons.
Dr. Laurie Steelsmith, a naturopathic doctor, writes in her latest book, “Great Sex Naturally,” that chocolate is “chock full of love-conducive pro-pleasure ingredients, like PEA, L-Arginine and the compound theobromine, which some say has aphrodisiac potential and stimulates the central nervous system.”
Theobromine also affects brain function in a positive way by increasing our alertness, concentration and cognitive functioning, writes Debra Waterhouse, a registered dietitian, in her book,“Why Women Need Chocolate.” She also explains that chocolate contains magnesium, a mineral involved in manufacturing serotonin and stabilizing mood.
Dr. John LaPuma, a cardiologist and chef who also hosts Chef MD on Lifetime TV, often “prescribes” chocolate for his patients as a way to maintain a healthy cholesterol level. (See his “six steps to chocolate bliss” on his blog.)
So, if chocolate is so good for you, is more better?
Consider that the chocolate we eat derives half of its calories from sugar, and the other half from fat. If you’re fighting menopausal weight gain, or you’re glucose intolerant, you certainly don’t want to add chocolate to your diet.
Also, the protective effects have only been shown for dark chocolate containing at least 60 to 70 percent cocoa - not for milk or white chocolate.
But chocolate does seem to be a delightful treat that we don’t have to feel guilty about as long as we don’t over do it. Try limiting yourself to just a small piece of organic, dark chocolate -- because it’s so good for you.
Wendy Hoffman writes about women’s health at Menopause The Blog.