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The ‘Choco’ Challenge

Something that always gets a lot of play in the national media is when something perceived to be bad for you turns out to be good. No better example of this is chocolate. And in a country where billions of dollars is spent on billions of pounds of chocolate – Americans consumed 3 billions pounds of chocolate in 2001, amounting to $13.1 billion in sales – you can bet Americans will take notice of chocolate’s health properties.

If chocolate were eaten for its health properties alone – and in the amount recommended by health professionals – the amount of chocolate eaten on an annual basis in this country would be far less than what it is (believe it or not, the United States ranks 11th in the world in pounds of chocolate eaten annually among countries). Researchers have discovered exactly how much chocolate should be eaten daily to get the maximum benefit from the polyphenols and antioxidants it contains.

The polyphenols and antioxidants found in foods like chocolate have been linked to positive cardiovascular health benefits by, among other things, reducing inflammation, a well-known precursor to cardiovascular disease. With this in mind, researchers from the Catholic University in Campobasso, Italy, along with researchers from the University of Milan, predicted that the participants in their study would have a decreased amount of inflammation in their bodies if they supplemented their diets with moderate amounts of dark chocolate. Operating from this assumption and using some participants of a wider study that focused on what biomarkers in the blood prompted the body’s inflammatory responses, the researchers identified approximately 4,000 participants free of disease and other health issues. They then queried these participants regarding their chocolate consumption and came away with about 800 people who consumed dark chocolate regularly (only dark chocolate) and 1300 people that didn’t eat chocolate at all. They used these participants in their study.

By the study’s conclusion, their hypothesis proved accurate – those that ate dark chocolate on a regular basis were at a decreased risk for inflammation because their blood contained lesser amounts of a biomarker called C-reactive protein. People that contain high amounts of this protein are more likely to have greater inflammatory responses; they discovered this in their larger study.

While the researchers controlled for possible contributing factors, they nonetheless leave the possibility open that dark chocolate eaters simply lead healthier lives. Whether that’s the case or not, they maintain that the health benefits of chocolate are real.

So, how much chocolate is the ideal amount? The researchers say no more than 6.7 ounces per day, which amounts to a square of chocolate every other day or about half a candy bar per week (the average candy bar is 100 grams).

Lastly, bear in mind that the health benefits of chocolate does not apply to ALL varieties of chocolate – only dark chocolate. As the researchers say, the milk in milk chocolate interferes with the body’s absorption of polyphenols, rendering its health properties utterly meaningless (as it is, dark chocolate contains higher amounts of polyphenols than milk chocolate).

This is great news for chocolate lovers – even the 71 percent that prefer milk chocolate to dark (better some than none at all, right?). However, in a country where the favorite flavor is chocolate, it will likely prove difficult for people to keep their consumption of chocolate to 6.7 ounces a day – any more and the health effects disappear.

But, if one can accomplish just such a challenge – The ‘Choco’ Challenge, let’s call it – they’ll be reducing their risk of heart disease by one-third

 

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