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Posted: August 19, 2008

Chocolate as Health Food? Not Exactly -- but Dark Chocolate May Help

Is it possible that chocolate is health food? Well, not exactly, but eating a small amount of dark chocolate every day offers some health benefits, experts report.

The benefits are thought to come from flavonoids in dark chocolate, according to the August issue of the newsletter Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource. Flavonoids are naturally occurring antioxidants that also are found in teas, red wine and some fruits and vegetables.

The flavonoids in dark chocolate have been associated with a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system. One recent study showed that 6 grams of dark chocolate a day, about one square, lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 2 points each.

Dark chocolate also may lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels by about 5 points. While not a huge affect, it’s sending that “bad” cholesterol in the right direction. Also, flavonoids have a beneficial effect on how the lining of the blood vessels function.

“We think a lot of bad things that happen to the cardiovascular system are because the lining of the vessels cracks and becomes inflamed, setting the stage for plaques to form and rupture,” says Dr. Robert Sheeler, a family physician at Mayo Clinic.

To gain the health benefits, there’s no need to eat a whole chocolate bar – although you may have been hoping so. After all, chocolate still contains calories and fat. Sheeler says just one square a day, about 30 calories worth, will provide the health benefits.

Generally, to gain health benefits, Sheeler recommends chocolate that contains at least 60% cocoa. Milk chocolate typically has 15% to 25% cocoa. Dark chocolate tends to have 50% to more than 80% cocoa. And there’s no need to buy the priciest brands; some high-quality dark chocolate bars are available for $2 to $4 each.

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