johnson_healthy_aging.jpg
johnson_healthy_aging.jpg

A bite of chocolate, anyone?

I’m starting with the basic premise that chocolate is “food of the gods” and then moving to any science that will assist me in justifying the statement.

You may already understand this intuitively, but I feel the need to reinforce your fact base. Research suggests that chocolate has incredible health benefits. Did you know chocolate could be a cure for heartaches?

Chocolate contains polyphenols, chemical compounds known for their heart-helping qualities. In a presentation at a meeting of the American Chemical Society a few years ago, research was offered by one of the members (probably a closet chocoholic) indicating “chocolate has been shown to raise good cholesterol by 10 percent and lower the risk of heart complications by 20 percent.” An Italian study showed that cocoa reduces blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity. Experts everywhere seem to suggest chocolate can be associated with the decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and overall better health. I’ve only just begun to write about this topic, and I already want to run out to a nearby Harry & David for a box of chocolate mints.

But wait, there’s more. Chocolate is a cancer fighter. Here’s where the antioxidants come in. Virtually all health experts agree you can cut your health risks by eating antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables. It’s generally felt that antioxidants do four things. They detoxify cholesterol, fight inflammation (a newly recognized villain in clogged arteries), improve overall vascular function and discourage blood clots (suppress platelet stickiness).

On some lists, chocolate’s antioxidant capacity tops that of long-trusted sources such as broccoli and garlic. The darker the chocolate and the more cacao content, the greater the health benefit, of course. Remember, dark chocolate also has less fat and sugar. So, when you indulge, you might choose to go dark. Take it one delicious bite at a time. Some researchers have found “the antioxidants in dark chocolate are higher in quality than the antioxidants in vitamins C and E.”

There is a website entirely devoted to chocolate (www.chocolate.org) that once pictured a seductive-looking woman identified as “a rampant chocoholic.” Information below the picture suggested that chocolate confers “wisdom and vitality,” among other things. That same website today contains statements like: “Buy chocolate. Eat chocolate. Be Happy.”

There’s reportedly a Harvard study, which I was unable to substantiate, which says chocoholics live longer than abstainers. It also suggests 50 percent of women prefer chocolate to sex. Not sure if that can be substantiated either, but I do know that women have been found to have a heightened desire for chocolate around the time of their menstrual cycles. There’s some thought that it satisfies a deficiency in magnesium. It’s interesting to note that kidney beans and lentils are high in magnesium too, but I’ve never seen research on cravings for those two foods.

I’m not sure where science starts and stops on this subject. I’m not sure I care. In the coming weeks, maybe even this week, I will definitely indulge. And if someone looks at me with a raised eyebrow, I won’t even bother referencing antioxidants; I will probably just sigh pleasurably.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.

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