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Stay Dark, Stay Bitter—and Stay Healthy

February 8, 2015

 

Hershey, Pennsylvania may be proud of their namesake, but they have nothing on the ancient Aztecs.

 

It’s speculated that chocolate, derived from the cacao bean (pronounced “ca-COW”) had its coming out party some 3100 years ago as an Aztec religious tradition. What you may not know is that some believe the drinking chocolate of the Aztecs began as a beer recipe gone horribly wrong.

 

It seems the Aztecs liked their beer, and enjoyed dabbling in home brewing. One can only imagine their surprise, taking that first sip of what they thought would be a rich dark stout, only to discover they’d concocted something closer to an unsweetened hot cocoa.

 

Intentional or not, a cavalcade of recent medical evidence suggests the Aztecs were onto something. Dark chocolate, defined as 70% or higher in cacao, has some remarkable benefits.

 

Milk chocolate, as in the standard Hershey bar, has much more sugar and much less cacao. But its less sweet counterpart boasts high levels of both flavonoids and antioxidants, which help maintain health at a cellular level by fighting off free radicals, which have been linked to heart disease and cancer. In addition, cocoa butter is a heart healthy fat with a positive impact on your cholesterol.

 

Maybe it’s no wonder, then, that British researchers have found that people who eat dark chocolate on a weekly basis have a 37% lower risk for all manner of heart diseases.

 

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, a Swedish study showed that women who consumed a higher amount of chocolate appeared to reduce their risk of stroke by 20%. Meanwhile, studies in Britain have suggested the number might be as high as 30%.

 

Michael Roizen, M.D., says that thanks to compounds called polyphenols, this delectable treat can also lower your risk for diabetes by 29% and “chocolate’s natural ingredients also discourage blood clots, ease blood pressure, and even help your body absorb blood sugar more easily.”

 

And a recent Nature World News article reports that, in studies conducted at the University of Nottingham, it looks like eating chocolate could “help to sharpen the mind” and even provide a short-term boost to cognitive skills.

 

Chocolate has become a mainstay in our diet. This is never more true as Valentine’s Day looms over next weekend, when those of us with significant others will rush to grab up those last-minute heart-shaped candy boxes, and the singles among us will self-medicate with their own personal pints of Rocky Road. But in a holiday all about celebrating—or more accurately, commercializing—sweetness, remember: if you want to do your mind and body a favor, it might be time to reach for something a little more bitter.

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