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The benefits of dark chocolate

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2999 words Published: 16th May 2017

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The early 15th century saw the creation of something divine, something heavenly and something delicious; Chocolate. Though the cocoa beans from which chocolate is prepared were discovered around 2000 years ago, the manufacturing of dark chocolate began in the 15th century by the Mayan tribes. According to the article, “Chocolate-a health food?”(2008) there was a popular belief among these tribes that “there was a God simply because there was chocolate” (n.a, 2008). The tree that yields the cocoa bean, an important ingredient in the manufacturing of dark chocolate was called “Theobroma” (n.a, 2008) which means ‘Food for Gods’. Fielmuseum.org (2007) says that chocolate was more than just delicious food to the Mayan tribes; it was a devout and societal way of life. Nowadays many people associate dark chocolate with having adverse affects on one. However, contrary to popular belief, intake of dark chocolate (at least 65 percent cocoa) may actually have some benefits to one’s mind and body.

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Chocolate, especially dark chocolate has been found to help reduce risk of heart diseases. The article “Chocolate-a health food” (2008) published in “Optimum Wellness”, a journal states the results of a study that was published in the 2005 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study concluded that dark chocolate does indeed decrease blood pressure (n.a, 2008, p.32). On chocolate-for-health.com, Dean Ornish, who is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California states a study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003. He says that Researchers at the University of Cologne studied the effects of dark chocolate on men and women recently diagnosed with mild high blood pressure. Half of the patients were given 100 grams each of dark chocolate and the other half were given 100 grams of white chocolate. At the end of the experiment, those who consumed dark chocolate saw an average of five point decrease in their systolic and a two point decrease in their diastolic blood pressure. The decrease in blood pressure was explained to be due to the increase in the production of nitric oxide by intake of dark chocolate. Due to the nitric dioxide produced, the blood vessels dilated and increased blood flow thus causing a decrease in blood pressure (Ornish, n.d.). Another article, “Chocolate’s Health Benefits-Trick or Treat?” (2007) published in the “Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter” quotes another study published in the 2007 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association. The lead author of this study, Dr. Dirk Taubert says that they conducted research at the University Hospital of Cologne in Germany on 24 hypertensive women and 20 hypertensive men, their age ranging from 56 to 73. They were each given 30 calories of dark or white chocolate for eighteen weeks and at the end they concluded that the ones who consumed dark chocolate had at least a two to three point decrease in their blood pressures. Taubert and his colleagues concluded that “ on a population basis, it has been estimated that a 3-mm HG reduction in systolic BP would reduce the relative risk of stroke mortality by 8%, of coronary artery disease mortality by 5%, and of all-cause mortality by 4%” (n.a., 2007, p.5). Dr. Taubert also states that the most fascinating discovery was that “simple commercial dark chocolate was as effective at lowering blood pressure as much more comprehensive dietary modifications”(n.a.,2007.p.5). The article states that the results from this study were the same as those from the “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet plan” (n.a, 2007, p.5). Moreover, the article “Chocolate as Medicine?”(Dermody, 2008, p.65) that appeared in The Reader’s Digest stated a similar study conducted also at the University of Hospital, Cologne, Germany, 44 people with borderline or mild hypertension were given 30 calories a day of dark or white chocolate. After their regular health checkups and four months of consuming dark or white chocolate every day, the patients who consumed dark chocolate had their hypertension levels reduced from eighty six percent to sixty eight percent. It is common knowledge that hypertension causes an increase in blood pressure hence increasing the risk of heart diseases. Therefore it can be concluded that a little indulgence for pleasure may not harm one but actually benefit one’s body.

Dark chocolate is also known to benefit the body by increasing glucose tolerance level. This means that consuming dark chocolate will increase insulin sensitivity and thus reduce risk of diabetes. There are two types of diabetes, type 1 being the one where the body is unable to make insulin and type 2 being the body’s incapability to deal with sugar. Though hard to believe, as chocolate is mixed with sugar and therefore is a sweet food, it is in fact true that dark chocolate can help you reduce the risk of diabetes, especially if it is hereditary. The article “Nutrition and Disease: Blood Pressure Is Reduced and Insulin Sensitivity Increased in Glucose-Intolerant, Hypertensive Subjects after 15 Days of Consuming High-Polyphenol Dark Chocolate” (2008) was published in the Journal of Nutrition. The authors of this article, Davide Grassi, Giovambattista Desideri, Stefano Necozione, Cristina Lippi, Raffaele Casale, Giuliana Properzi, Jeffrey B. Blumberg and Claudio Ferri are all researchers at theDepartment of Internal Medicine and Public Health, University of L’Aquila, Italy except Jeffrey B. Blumberg who is a researcher at the Antioxidants Research Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston. The main idea for their research was to see how flavanol rich dark chocolate (FRDC) affected insulin sensitivity. Flavanol is considered to be an antioxidant and have anti-inflammatory properties (Lotito, 2002). The researchers conducted a study on 19 hypertensive patients, 11 males and 8 females. They gave 100 grams of flavanol free white chocolate at first to these 19 patients and then switched them to the other treatment, that is flavanol rich dark chocolate. The blood pressure and glucose tolerance level was checked at various times, before and after the intake of either type of chocolate. At the end of this test they concluded that “FRDC ameliorated insulin sensitivity” (Grassi et al., 2008). This study proves that dark chocolate does indeed have a positive effect on one’s body. Furthermore a study from the 2005 issue of Journal of Medical Association states in the article “Chocolate-A Health Food?” (2008) that “researchers studied the effects of chocolate in healthy people and concluded that Dark…chocolate helps decrease blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity in healthy persons”(n.a. 2008, p.32). According to the studies above, dark chocolate, especially flavanol rich dark chocolate does increase glucose tolerance levels which help reduce the risk of diabetes.

Another point why chocolate is beneficial to one is that it has a very high number of antioxidant properties than many other food substances. Anti oxidants protect one’s body from oxidative stress i.e. slows down the oxidation process which is harmful to one’s body as it reacts with cholesterol causing health related problems (Gorman, 2006). According to allchocolate.com, a serving of dark chocolate contains more antioxidants than a serving of blueberries or cranberries (n.a, n.d). Jeffrey B. Blumberg is the director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Tufts Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and according to the article “Chocolate’s health benefits-trick or treat” (2007) Blumberg’s main area of research concerning chocolate is antioxidants. Blumberg suggests that “dark chocolate is rich in pro-antho cyanides, that are potent anti-oxidants” (2007, p.4). In addition to pro-antho cyanides, chocolate has many more chemicals that act as antioxidants. Flavonoids, for instance are natural anti-oxidants and cocoa beans and dark chocolate are rich in flavonoid (Raloff, 2000, p.188).  Chris Zdeb, writing in the National Post, says in his article “Chocoholics, Rejoice!” (2007), that there have been many studies that have found that chocolates contain a very high amount of flavanol. These are compounds that “reduce the stickiness of the platelets, cells that play an important role in blood clotting” (Zdeb, 2007). Zdeb also states that chocolate contains Polyphenol, another type of antioxidants. These antioxidants are much similar to those found in fruits such as blueberries, vegetables such as spinach and other food substances such as green tea etc. but chocolate has a much higher amount of these antioxidants in it. Zdeb suggests that Polyphenol help eliminate the free radicals in the body that cause cardiovascular diseases, cancer and “premature aging” (Zdeb, 2007). Moreover, Blumberg states that “in one Italian study… [they] saw a significant decline in (‘bad’) cholesterol”(as cited in “Chocolate’s health benefits-trick or treat” , 2007, p.4) after intake of dark chocolate. This shows that dark chocolate does indeed help the body by its high antioxidant properties.  In another Spanish study, Blumberg observed that cocoa, the main ingredient for the production of chocolate was found to increase antioxidant levels in one’s body (n.a, 2007, p.4). All in all, dark chocolate’s antioxidant properties are very beneficial to one’s body and chocolate is abundant in them.

It has also been found that dark chocolate helps ease pain and relive stress. David Derbyshire writes in his article “How a Chunk of Chocolate Can Melt Away Your Pain” (2009) that studies have shown that chocolate acts as a natural painkiller, as according to researchers, anything done or eaten for pleasure acts as a natural painkiller. Derbyshire states a study done on rats by Dr Peggy Mason, of Chicago University. She found that the experimental rats were not that bothered by pain when eating a chocolate chip. She says that “’It’s a strong, strong effect, but it’s not about hunger or appetite” (as cited in Derbyshire, 2009). She explained that when you have food in front of you, you will never stop eating and according to past studies conducted, eating eases pain. In the experiment, the rats were given chocolate, sugar water, or plain water and a light bulb was placed beneath their cages. The rats’ way of reacting to the heat was lifting their paw of the floor. The researchers saw that the rats eating chocolate or drinking plain water were much slower in lifting their paws. This shows that when eating or drinking, people are more relaxed and sugar has nothing to do with it. The rats were then given a bitter drink, “quinine” that is quite distasteful. The result was that the rats “reacted to the heat as quickly as when they are not eating” (Derbyshire, 2009). This concludes that only while you are eating or drinking something you find pleasurable will it act as a natural painkiller and there is nothing more pleasurable than chocolate, or so many people think.  Though the experiment was done on animal, the researchers believe the effect is the same in humans.             

Furthermore, Derbyshire provides another study that explains how chocolate helps relieve stress. Scientists at the University of Cincinnati in USA conducted an experiment in 2005. They found that sugary foods “cut the level of the potentially harmful hormone glucocorticoid” (Derbyshire, 2009). This is a hormone that is produced by the brain when under pressure. Their research on rats showed that when they had sugary food, their brains produced lower levels of glucocorticoid when they were put under stressful situations. This is a perfect example of how chocolate can help relieve stress. People will only feel stress free when relaxed and chocolate gives one that effect. This is quite true as there are several bioactive compounds in chocolate that increase vigilance, a sense of well being and make one less sensitive to pain.  For example chocolate is rich in carbohydrates which increases the rate at which Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, enters the brain. Tryptophan lessens anxiety by producing the neurotransmitter serotonin (Carter, 2008). This brings us to the conclusion that dark chocolate indeed has the properties to ease physical as well as emotional pain.

Another reason why chocolate is so good for one is that it not only relaxes people, it also helps elevates their mood and also acts as an anti-depressant. Dana Small is a cognitive neuroscientist. In the article “No more…please! Popular Science” (2002) Gunja Sinha gives the details of a small experiment Small carried out on nine chocolate lovers. She connected these volunteers to MRI machines and gave them chocolate while she measured their blood flow to the brain. She saw that the area of the “brain associated with mood was active” (Sinha, 2009, p42) while they ate and enjoyed their chocolates. This increase in blood flow to a certain region related to mood shows how chocolate can affect one’s mood. Chris Zdeb states in his article “Chocoholics, Rejoice!” (2007) that chocolate does indeed have chemicals that elevate one’s mood. The chemicals “phenethylamine and anandamide [found in chocolate]… activate receptors in the brain that cause feelings of excitement and well-being” (Zdeb, 2007). Dark chocolate is the best way to lift one’s spirits and mood.  It is also much more delicious than any anti-depressant pills. “Chocolate a personality thing” (Morton, 2008) reports the findings from “Black Dog institute”. One of the institutes Professors, Professor Gordon Parker suggests that”Chocolate may settle emotional dysregulation in those who are personality prone to…depressive reactions”’. (as cited in Morton, 2008). He also proposes that chocolate appears to have a calming effect on emotional reactions. Fifteen percent of the population had emotional problems and “chocolate appeared to have a calming effect” (Morton, 2008) on them, says Professor Parker. This proves that dark chocolate not only acts as an antidepressant, it also enhances our psychological well being.

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On the other hand there are a lot of common misconceptions associated with chocolate. One being that one of the main reasons for acne is chocolate. However, that is not true as acne is not caused by chocolate or any other food substance for that matter. Acne is the result of the buildup of dead skin cells within the pore according to the Acne Resource center online (n.d.). Our skins produce a type of oil called sebum and it is this oil that together with the bacteria cause acne. The resource center states that none of these factors are triggered by anything we eat. Chocolate is wrongly blamed.

Another common belief among the world is that chocolate causes tooth decay. Parents tend to keep their children away from chocolate solely for this reason without realizing what they are depriving their children of. Lack of proper care of one’s teeth is what causes tooth decay. Even if one eats vegetables and don’t take care of his/her teeth, it will cause cavities. In fact chocolate is much better for teeth than fluoride, the chemical commonly found in toothpastes. Chocolate contains a chemical called Tannins. These are a type of flavanol and according to Chris Zdeb’s article “Chocoholics, Rejoice!” (2007) these chemicals help prevent cavities. The article “Chocolate’s Health Benefits-Trick or Treat?” (2007) provides information about a study done by Dr. Arman Sadeghpour who is a researcher at the Tulane University. He did the study with researchers from the University of New Orleans and Louisiana University’s School of Dentistry. They compared the cocoa extract from chocolate to fluoride and concluded that dark chocolate is much better for the teeth as it contains a chemical theobromine. It is “water-soluble, crystalline bitter powder… [and] an alkaloid of the cacao plant”(n.a, 2007, p.4). This team of researchers found that this chemical is much effective in hardening the tooth enamel than fluoride. At the end of this research Dr. Sadeghpour concluded that any food substance containing theobromine is good for dental health. One might think that dark chocolate contains sugar, which outweighs the beneficial properties of chocolate by far. However, by dark chocolate it is meant that it contains at least sixty five percent of cocoa which has most of the properties that help prevent cavities. Sixty five percent outweighs the sugar amount by a lot and if proper care is taken of one’s teeth, one does not have anything to worry about. Dark chocolate might not be the cause of cavities or tooth decay but in fact might be much beneficial to one’s teeth.                           

Dark chocolate, as all other food substances does have some flaws but the positive effects outweigh them by far. Dark chocolate can help one reduce and prevent cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and can also protect one’s body from oxidative stress and even relieve one from mental stress. It uplifts one’s spirits and also eases physical pain. However, one has to remember that too much of a good thing can be bad so one should never over indulge. On the other hand even a small bite of dark chocolate regularly might do wonders for one.



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