"The Healthy Geezer" answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.
Question: I eat a little chocolate every day. How bad is that for me?
Answer: You didn't say how much. If you eat a chocolate bunny a day, there is an obvious risk of becoming obese. However, a little chocolate has health benefits.
A recent Harvard study suggested that a bit of high-quality dark chocolate one to three times a month may protect women from heart failure.
The authors studied the chocolate-eating habits of 31,823 Swedish women, ages 48 to 83. Women who ate about an ounce a month reduced their risk of heart failure by 32 percent. Eating more than an ounce eliminated the benefit. The risk increased with added chocolate.
Other studies have found that moderate amounts of chocolate seem to lower blood pressure. The pressure reduction was considered one cause of the reduced heart-failure risk. The heart benefit of dark chocolate also could be caused by flavonoids, or antioxidants, that can smooth heart function. You can also get flavonoids from citrus fruits, onions, green tea and red wine.
Eating chocolate may decrease your risk of stroke. One study with more than 44,000 participants found that those who ate a weekly serving of chocolate were 22 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who ate no chocolate.
Here are more health benefits discovered by recent research into chocolate:
- A 2008 study found that people who ate a quarter of an ounce of dark chocolate a day had lower levels of a protein that is associated with inflammation in their blood.
- Other studies have found that blood platelets clump together more slowly in chocolate eaters. Clumping platelets can lead to the formation of blood clots, which can cause a heart attack.
- Chocolate consumption may help prevent formation of artery plaques and improve blood flow.
- Chocolate may also have anti-cancer benefits because the flavonoids in chocolate may help reduce cell damage that can spur tumor growth.
These beneficial flavonoids are bitter, so they are removed from most commercial chocolate. Darker chocolates tend to have higher levels of flavonoids. Milk chocolate has lower levels of flavonoids. White chocolate does not provide flavonoid-related benefits.
By definition, white chocolate is not chocolate. White chocolate contains cacao butter, a product of the cacao bean that produces chocolate. The butter is blended with milk, sugar and often other flavoring ingredients such as vanilla.
A bit of chocolate history:
Many modern historians estimate that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years. For most of that time, chocolate was a beverage.
Etymologists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word "xocoatl," which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, “Theobroma cacao,” means "food of the gods."
Sweetened chocolate didn't appear until Europeans discovered the Americas. Chocolate didn't suit the foreigners' taste buds, but once it was mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular. By the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe.
In 1847, the chocolate bar was invented by Joseph Fry. By 1868, the Cadbury company was marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England. Nestle introduced milk chocolate a few years later.
If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at http://www.healthygeezer.com.
All rights reserved © 2012 by Fred Cicetti