Science News

Why Chocolate Is Good For You

Sun, 22nd Jan 2006

Part of the show Geology of Natural Disasters, Volcanoes and Earthquakes

Good news for all chocoholics out there - scientists have found yet more evidence that that our favourite foodstuff is a healthy one too. Chemicals called flavanols are found in foods like red wine, tea and chocolate, and have previously been linked to a healthy heart, and the chief culprit in chocolate is a molecule called epicatechin. Researchers from California studied a tribe called the Kuna Indians who live on the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama. The island-dwelling indians drink about three or four cups of hot chocolate every day, and hardly ever have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems. They also have high levels of a molecule called nitric oxide, which acts to relax the blood vessels and keep everything flowing smoothly. But when the indians move to Panama City, they drink only four cups of cocoa per week. The scientists found that the city types had higher blood pressure, and weren't so healthy. They also make less nitric oxide. Now, this may sound like it's the stressful effect of the city rather than the chocolate. But the team tried just giving pure epicatechin (the chocolate chemical) to human volunteers, and found that it had the same beneficial effects. Bet it didn't taste as good though! It should be pointed out that chocolate bars also pack a hefty dose of fat and sugar, and eating a high-fat diet and being overweight are major contributors to heart disease. To get the most cocoa (the bit that contains the good chemicals), go for a good quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa - and eat it in moderation!

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