Go ahead, eat that chocolate!

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chocolateChocolate may be better for your health than tea because it contains more of a chemical that could prevent cancer and heart disease, researchers have said.

The BBC’s Karen Allen reports: “Having chocolate with a cup of tea does you good.” Her findings follow earlier research revealing that moderate chocolate consumption offers health benefits.

The new research measures the amount of catechins – the chemical thought to be behind the benefits – in different types of chocolate. The substance is also found in tea – leading the researchers to recommend a cup of tea with a chocolate biscuit as one way to help maintain good health.

Chemical diet

The researchers, from Holland’s National Institute of Public Health and Environment, published their findings in The Lancet medical journal.

Dr Ilja Arts and colleagues examined the chemical compounds in a range of foods and discovered that catechins are found in chocolate.

Up until now tea was thought to contain the largest amount but the new research indicates that dark chocolate has four times as many.

Catechins are believed to protect against heart disease and cancer and so eating products that contain them could have health benefits.

In the UK, where more than £3.5bn is spent on chocolate each year – the research is likely to be welcomed by those with a sweet tooth although dentists may be less pleased.

Tea and biscuits

Dark chocolate had 53.5mg of catechins per 100g, milk chocolate contained 15.9mg per 100g, and the black tea infusion contained only 13.9mg per 100ml.

In a later survey, the researchers found that in a sample of 6250 men and women, tea was the most important source of catechins, accounting for 55% of total intake.

Chocolate contributed to 20% of the total intake of catechins

The researchers said: “Drinking a cup of tea and eating a chocolate cookie might be not only enjoyable but healthy as well.”

So go ahead, indulge that sweet tooth and have some chocolate!

Cocoa and its many health benefits
Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that enjoying just two chocolate bars per week can meaningfully reduce your risk of stroke.

Cocoa content varies widely in chocolate bars. Milk chocolate tends to have the lowest cocoa content, often less than 25%. Dark chocolate may contain 50% or more cocoa solids – this is the best chocolate from a health standpoint.

Among the Kuna Indians of Panama, high blood pressure (which afflicts about one in three American adults) is virtually non-existent, even in old-age. They are known to drink cocoa daily, and scientists have recently established that there is more than an anecdotal link between cocoa and heart health. One study found cocoa can be just as effective as aspirin (and without the side effects) in helping to prevent blood clotting.

Cocoa contains chemicals called flavanols that improve blood circulation. Because cocoa also helps improve circulation to the brain, it can reduce the chances of a stroke and may even help prevent memory loss. A higher percentage of cacao (cocoa) means a higher amount of flavanols.

“A component of chocolate has been found to reverse age-related memory loss in healthy adults aged 50-69. The rejuvenating effect can be traced to increased blood flow in a specific region of the brain,” reports The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper (October 27, 2014).

The method used to process the raw cacao bean can affect the amount of flavanols in the end product.

If your chocolate says “processed with alkali” on the nutrition label, then it’s going to have a whole lot less flavanols. Processing with alkali is called “dutching“.

The FDA is not very specific on labeling. The terms “chocolate flavored” or “natural chocolate flavored” must be used on the labeling of any nonstandardized food in which the consumer could “reasonably expect a chocolate ingredient but which contains cocoa as the sole source of chocolate flavoring.”

But it’s not every chocolate bar that’s healthy!!!

On your grocery store’s candy aisle, look for Lindt’s 70%, 85%, and 90% Cacao bars. They also make a 99% cacao (this is hard to find). Check the labels carefully. Check because in the past, the 90% has been processed with alkali, but the 85% was not. Godiva’s 72% is not manufactured with alkali. If you’re in a health food store, there’s always a good range on small batch, Fair Trade options which are high in cacao.

If the taste of high-cocoa chocolate is too bitter for you, try melting down chunks of the chocolate and dipping bananas, apple slices, strawberries, or other fruit in the dark goodness for a more palatable, super-healthy treat.