Chocolate: Guilty Pleasure or Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

The Health Benefits of Chocolate

TRY to imagine a world without chocolate. No more hot chocolate, hot fudge, or red velvet. Almost every type of sweet food can incorporate chocolate. The local grocery stores are filled with chocolate cakes, chocolate cookies, chocolate ice cream, and much more. On Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and even Easter, chocolate reigns as the top choice for sweets to be distributed. It is no argument that the world loves chocolate. The argument rises when it comes to whether or not that love is beneficial to our health. For many people, chocolate can be a “guilty pleasure” or something they eat on the cheat days of their diets. This is because it is mainly seen and appreciated for its sugary contents. When chocolate is seen in a healthy light, it is always dark chocolate that gets the shine. Milk chocolate is always left behind in the shadows and deemed as the “unhealthy” chocolate. However, recent studies suggest that maybe milk chocolate isn’t as unhealthy as previously assumed and can maybe even hold a candle to dark chocolate when it comes to health benefits. Although milk chocolate shouldn’t become your new go-to healthy snack, hopefully, you won’t feel so guilty and like you’re doing your body injustice when you splurge and eat that chocolate bar.

It should be noted that chocolate, in general, is relatively unhealthy compared to foods such as various vegetables and fruits. However, the studies of milk chocolate (as well as the studies on dark chocolate) are only showing that there are health benefits that the general public does not associate with chocolate. In other words, they show that chocolate is not as “bad” for you as many think.

Dark chocolate is widely known as the “healthy” chocolate. According to the Cleveland Wellness Clinic, one bar of dark chocolate has around 11 grams of fiber, 69 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron, 89 percent of the RDA for copper, as well as many minerals. Dark chocolate is also filled with various antioxidants. A specific type of antioxidant that is famous in dark chocolate is flavanol. Antioxidants occur naturally in many plant-based foods. Antioxidants help prevent and stop cell damage done by oxidants. The body uses oxidants to help fight off viruses and microbes. However, if the body has too many oxidants, it can cause severe damage and even contribute to heart disease and certain cancers. You are also exposed to oxidants from air pollution, cigarette smoke, alcohol, and just the environment in general. This is why antioxidants can be significantly beneficial.

Recently, studies have shown that milk chocolate also has significant health benefits. A study looked at the health data of around 21,000 women and men for around twelve years. Out of the participants in the study, around 14 percent of them had become ill with either stroke or heart disease over the course of the twelve years. The researchers discovered that people who ate up to 3.5 ounces of chocolate a day had better chances against heart disease and stroke. Three and a half ounces of chocolate is around the amount of chocolate in two bags of M&Ms or two Hershey’s Bars. The results showed that the people that had consumed the most chocolate had around an 11 percent lower risk for coronary heart disease. In addition, they also had a 23 percent reduced risk for stroke.

After this study, the researchers combined this data with around nine other studies that measured the correlation between chocolate consumption and heart disease. The combined sample involved around 158,000 people. The results from this larger pool provided even stronger evidence because it showed that people who ate the most chocolate had a 29 percent reduced risk of heart disease and a 21 percent reduced risk of stroke when compared to the others that didn’t eat as much chocolate. The biggest finding was that these same people are 45 percent less likely to die from stroke, heart disease, or heart attack.

Researchers still do not have an answer to what exactly is creating these heart benefits. They can only see the significant correlational trend. However, it should be noted that milk chocolate also has other ingredients that are beneficial to the health such as milk and certain fatty acids that might help the heart. In fact, the researchers said that there is no evidence that leads them to think that milk chocolate should be avoided by anyone concerned about cardiovascular risk. Many of the researchers also believe that the reduced heart disease risk is most likely due to the antioxidants (mainly flavanol) in milk chocolate. Although it was previously known that all chocolate has some antioxidants, it was dark chocolate that was mainly known for them. However, it appears as though milk chocolate can be a worthy competitor for being a healthy chocolate too, despite having fewer antioxidants. Some researchers believe that the calcium and fatty acids help with the observed effect of reduced heart disease risk. Dr. Phyo Myint, senior author of the study, warns people to try not to consume more than three and a half grams of milk chocolate a day in order for the “unhealthy” parts of milk chocolate to make more of an impact than the healthy benefits.

Currently, dark chocolate is still probably the healthiest of the chocolates. However, with these new findings from milk chocolate, this could easily be just the beginning of discovering other health benefits milk chocolate has to offer. For example, there was another study that showed that drinking hot chocolate twice a day appeared to boost blood flow to the brain by about 8.3 percent. This improves brain function as well as memory. Milk chocolate has made its way into the world’s heart, and it looks like it could actually be a good thing for it, as long as it’s eaten in moderation. With Halloween right around the corner, take pleasure in knowing that with each day you enjoy your chocolatey spoils, you’re lowering your risk of heart diseases. In addition, when you’re cold and turning to hot chocolate for help, you might find out that you’re not just warming up your body, but also your brain and memory skills.

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