Chocolate is a velvety treat that is often served at parties and dessert tables during the holiday season. Boxes of chocolate are exchanged as tokens of affection and esteem especially during the Christmas holidays and on Valentines Day. While some people avoid chocolate for health reasons, recent research shows that small portions of the sweet treat may have some health benefits.
Chocolate Historically a Royal Treat
Chocolate has been considered a treat for special occasions since ancient times. Mayan Indians in Central America used the fruit of the cacoa bean as a stimulant and aphrodisiac. They drank cocoa as a bitter beverage, without sugar. Spanish explorers discovered South America and the Mayan love of cocoa and took the cocoa back to Spain with them. Word spread and the bitter cocoa became wildly popular in the royal courts of Europe.
Chocolate itself, which is derived from the cocoa bean, is a plant product that may have some health benefits. When the cocoa is mixed with fat and sugar to form a piece of candy, or candy bar, it becomes less healthful. The sugar, fat and calories counteract the health benefits of the chocolate itself. Chocolate that we eat today bears little resemblance to chocolate served in the royal courts of Europe.
Read more about the history of chocolate: Royal History of Chocolate and The Romance of Chocolate
Make it Dark Chocolate
If you are choosing chocolate as a gift for someone you care about, choose dark chocolate. 70% Dark chocolate is recommended by heath experts, including the experts on the websites for Mayo Clinic and Real Age, for people who eat chocolate.
Healthy elements in chocolate are due to the flavonoids that are in the cocoa bean. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that are also found in red wine, tea and some fruits and vegetables.
Dark chocolate contains more flavonoids than milk chocolate. According to information on the Mayo Clinic website, a bar of dark chocolate contains an average of 53.5 mg of flavonoids. A bar of milk chocolate contains less than 14 milligrams. White chocolate does not have any flavonoids.
Potential Health Benefits of Chocolate
Real Age cites the conclusions of multiple studies on their website. The studies found potential benefits to eating small amounts of dark chocolate may protect cardiovascular health by keeping arteries elastic, reducing blood pressure and improving cholesterol profile.
While the advice on Real Age allows for the inclusion of a small portion of chocolate several times of week, it stops short of advising people to start eating chocolate for potential health benefits. Instead they recommend fruits and vegetables as sources of flavonoids.
The best recommendation is to eat a balanced, healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. A good diet coupled with frequent exercise nourishes the body, increases circulation and keeps stress levels under control. An occasional piece of chocolate can be included in the diet without guilty feelings.
Chocolate a Guilt Free Treat
So if there is a chocolate lover on your gift list, go ahead and buy them a box of dark chocolates as a present. Chocolate lovers can now enjoy the pleasures of this silky treat without guilt, as long as they do not overdo it. A newsletter on the Mayo Clinic website suggests a square a day of dark chocolate, which has about 30 calories. Most dark chocolate on the market has 60% to 80$ cocoa content, so any brand of dark chocolate offers some heart healthy benefits.
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