Health Benefits And History Of Chocolate

Recent research has discovered health-related reasons for consumers to eat chocolate on a regular basis. Why not have some today?

Chocolate has been a popular food item in the Western diet for centuries. European explorers discovered its value in their journeys to Mexico, Central America, and South America. They learned that the "cacao" plant was used to distill a flavoring that became the favorite of Aztec rulers, some of who drank numerous cups of the delightful beverage each day--without sugar, no less!

Since then, Europeans and North Americans continue to experiment with cocoa or chocolate as an ingredient that, coupled with sweetening of one kind or another, produces thousands of delectable desserts. Today, in the 21st century, there are chocolate festivals and events of all kind celebrating this wonderful plant. Distantly related to the drug cocaine and often prepared in liqueur form, chocolate seems every bit as habit-forming as its obscure cousins.

Produced in Africa as well as the southern half of the American hemisphere, chocolate is a premium global crop, with consumers buying chocolate each year in the billions of dollars as snacks, desserts, and beverages. Last year the media reported a possible shortage of the crop, meaning that prices could go up in the next year or two. This might be a good time to stock up! Chocolate keeps well in the freezer, though it will turn grayish in color over time.

Perhaps the best bit of news to chocoholics is the recent news reported by medical researchers that eating chocolate in moderation is actually healthy for most of us. Here's why:

1. Enjoying a chocolate break in the course of a stressful day can bring immediate pleasure to the consumer. Stress levels may diminish and blood pressure often decreases when we do something pleasurable to reduce anxiety. Take your blood pressure (privately, of course) before and after eating a chocolate candy bar, chocolate pudding cup, or even chocolate-flavored coffee. You may be pleased and surprised to find that chocolate can relax your body.

2. Have a chocolate treat to enhance your immune system function. Doing something nice for yourself, especially when associated with a mental or physical break from stress or exertion, can help to limit the production of stress hormones.

3. Dark chocolate has been shown to reduce blood platelet clotting. This means that under certain conditions, eating dark chocolate may help to thin the blood a little bit. Milk chocolate does not seem to have the same effect. Check with your doctor for more information.

4. The latest news is perhaps the best. A research study claims that dark chocolate has some antioxidant properties that seem to be as effective those found in as red wine or a fruit or vegetable. So if you're out of apples and carrots, reach for the dark chocolate.

It's important to eat chocolate candy in moderation, since ingredients usually include a significant percentage of fat and sugar; calories add up quickly. While we can't be sure how much is the right amount to eat at this point, a general recommendation might be to have a regular-size dark chocolate candy bar once a week. Enjoy!

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