Eat chocolate don’t worry

Eat chocolate don’t worry – polyphenols and antioxidants in milk chocolate have health benefits

Debra M. Gorham

The luscious milk chocolate fondants at a summer wedding…Creamy Godiva truffles in your Christmas stocking…A giant Hershey’s[R] kiss for Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate has been a part of holidays since it was introduced over a century ago by the enterprising Milton Hershey. Its rich taste has no equal. From hot cocoa in the winter to s’mores in the summer, it’s an intrinsic part of our culture, a craving that for many is as strong as love or success.

Loaded with sugar and butter, chocolate is unhealthy, fattening, sinful…or so we thought. New research released at a recent chocolate symposium reveals that chocolate may have some health properties to rival green tea and beta-carotene. In short, chocolate could well be good for you!

A chemistry lesson

To understand the benefits of chocolate, we first need to get to the basics. With chocolate, the best of the bunch comes not from good genes but great beans. The pods from the cacao tree are the root of the chocolate flavor. Each pod contains hundreds of small white seeds that, when fermented, produce a strong, pungent flavor we know as bitter chocolate. The fermenting is done on the ground or in boxes in the tropical regions where the cacao tree grows. The success or failure of a crop of beans depends on the quality of fermentation.

Chocolate producers take these fermented beans back to their plants and proceed with the rest of the process: drying, roasting and pressing. At the end of the process, a chocolate “liquor” is produced, which consists of 50 percent cocoa particles and 50 percent cocoa butter.

The primary nutrients in cocoa, and cocoa butter include various carbohydrates, such as cellulose, and protein. There are also various mineral salts, theobromine, phenylethylalamine, caffeine, polyphenols and water.

Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Scranton, presented some astonishing findings during the symposium on the high levels of antioxidants in chocolate. According to his recently published research, the concentration of polyphenols in milk chocolate is higher than in red wines and black or green teas, and 20 times higher than in tomatoes! Chocolate contains a high quality as well as high quantity of antioxidants. These readings were found to be highest in cocoa, the pressed powder that contains much of the cocoa butter.

A recent epidemiology study found that male Harvard graduates who ate a moderate amount of chocolate and other candy had a 36 percent lower risk of death compared with non-candy eaters. What are you waiting for?

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