Pluses, minuses come wrapped in chocolate
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Q. I've heard that chocolate is good for you. My children are always getting bags of chocolate this time of year. Is it OK for them to eat all that chocolate?
A. You have probably heard about one of the many studies that have come out promoting certain substances found in chocolate. Just recently, there was a somewhat light-hearted article in the New England Journal of Medicine noting that countries with the highest consumption of chocolate also have the largest number of Nobel Prize winners, concluding that perhaps the road to national genius is paved with chocolate.
There is scientific evidence documenting the benefits of some ingredients in chocolate. Chocolate is rich in flavonals, which are a kind of flavonoids. Dietary flavonoids have been shown to improve cognitive function and are widely present in cocoa, as well as in green tea, red wine, fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, berries, red beans and red onions.
In addition to improving thinking, dietary flavonoids have been shown to lower blood pressure by increasing the size of blood vessels, also known as vasodilation. A beneficial side effect is improving the blood supply to the brain. Flavonoids also seem to help people with cognitive problems that occur with aging. A large study in Italy suggests that flavonoids play a role in preventing cancer. While such studies are promising, we really do not know how flavonoids produce these benefits or if there might be something else present that is really helping.
The most benefits from chocolate come from dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 percent or greater. Most chocolate distributed during trick-or-treat is milk chocolate, which in the United States needs to contain only 10 percent of cocoa. There is certainly no doubt that the chocolate candies taste wonderful, and it is easy to indulge. However, such candy is not a sweet ticket to improved health. The large amount of sugar, fat and calories in these treats far offset any benefits from their flavonoids. So my advice is moderation. Enjoy the occasional treat but do not overindulge.
First Published December 3, 2012 12:00 am