By: CLIFFORD M. SONNIE,M.D., M.P.H.
With the holidays upon us, we all are having a hard time eating right. Well, maybe I wouldn’t call it a hard time because it tastes so darn good. Anyway, I’ve had many people come up to me and say that they’ve read that wine is good for you for example. Well, part of it is, but not the alcohol. Likewise, many people have asked if chocolate is good for you. Well, the sugar content in chocolate is too……whoa wait a minute. What’s this?
There has been a medical study in Europe going on for several years studying inflammation. Ok sit back for a bit of science. Inflammation, in many opinions, is the source of all disease. Too much will cause any part of your body to work poorly and at times, fail. What causes inflammation? Oxidants, better known as free radicals. Antioxidants take care of free radicals. In fact, the body needs to make free radicals. For example, that’s how the immune system kills invaders to our body. Remember there is a balance in the body. A Yin Yang if you will. But when the body makes too many free radicals, the antioxidants sometimes can’t keep up (topic for another article).
Now back to those people in Europe. They are looking for things to control out of control inflammation and guess what they found? Chocolate. More specifically the cocoa. They found that eating either of these will reduce something called a C-reactive protein. This is what is used to measure the amount of inflammation in the body. Anyway, they reduced the C-reactive protein 17%. That’s a lot. How does this happen? Well, dark chocolate and cocoa contain something called flavanols which are very effect antioxidants. In fact, another compound in unrefined cocoa powder called epicatechin is also an excellent antioxidant. Harvard has even studied a group of people in Panama who consume upwards of 40 cups of unrefined cocoa a week and found that their risk of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes is only 10%. Now this looks interesting. I might have to actually finish this article.
Now don’t go out and buy stock in Nestles. The only chocolates that this applies to are natural cocoa powder and dark chocolate, in that order. Also, you should eat only about 6.7 grams (a medium square) of dark chocolate at the most every other day. Remember, it still contains sugar. Well, there goes that idea out the window.
You’ll notice too that white chocolate and milk chocolate don’t make the list. That is because the milk in milk chocolate blocks the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants and white chocolate is nothing more that white table sugar and milk. It doesn’t even contain cocoa. Ok, I’m going to stop reading now. What do I do with that left-over chocolate Easter bunny?
So, what do I have to buy? You look for organic un-processed or the most minimally processed dark chocolate, like baker’s chocolate, and eat 1 small square of it every other day. The small amount of sugar in it is minimal. Or, raw cocoa powder is even better but it has a bitter taste and it contains no sugar. You can drink it as hot cocoa, just add some stevia to it and don’t make it with milk. Commercial cocoa will process out that epicatechin which causes the bitter taste. Likewise, processing will add all kinds of things like sugars to make it taste better and last centuries on the shelf. Great it tastes better and is not good for me. Welcome to life.
As a side note, I saw an article that stated dark chocolate also relieves stress, depression and anxiety. Problem is you have to eat about an ounce and a half every day for 2 to 4 weeks. Hey, this looks promising. Oh shoot, wait a minute. Now, I am less depressed but the sugar has messed with my blood sugar, my immune system isn’t working right and I’ve gained weight. Darn it, now I’m depressed again. Enuf said?
As always check with your personal MD or DO before you go on a chocolate search. And as you can see, everything should be taken in moderation. Especially this. Eat too much of even dark chocolate and all the benefits are lost. Remember, the smart health care consumer is informed and aware.
Clifford Sonnie, M.D. is the medical director of the Balance of Life Clinic.