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Sweet Surprise for Healthy Hearts

Dr. Silva discusses the recent findings that dark chocolate is actually a contributor to a healthy heart. Research findings add dark chocolate to green tea and red wine in substances rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Wondering what to give those special, health-conscious gal pals for special events this coming year? I have the perfect gift suggestion --- chocolate! I don't mean just any chocolate . . . but specifically dark chocolate. Now it's no secret that most women are openly passionate about chocolate, but are you surprised that I would suggest chocolate for your "health-conscious" friends? Let me reassure you . . . recent research reports that dark chocolate contributes to heart health and is rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Does this sound like just a chocolate lover's dream to you? Let me assure you that in separate and varied research projects, researchers across the world are coming up with surprising results: chocolate . . . dark chocolate . . . (specifically cocoa or dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 60% or more) is consistently proving to be a factor in lowering risk of heart disease.

Dr. David L. Katz, of Yale University School of Medicine reports, "Cocoa is the most concentrated source of bioflavonoid antioxidants readily available in our diets." He adds that these benefits come only from bittersweet dark chocolate and concentrated cocoa beverages. The key here is the effective combination of cocoa's antioxidants and its magnesium, arginine, and fiber. Katz also warns that milk chocolate contains "potentially harmful saturated fats," that the cocoa in some candy bars is "diluted by many other ingredients," and that "cocoa comes in foods that tend to be energy-dense, and the harm of excess calories could readily offset the benefit of antioxidants."

Are you wondering how dark chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease? Well, a research project conducted by Johns Hopkins University reveals that chocolate affects the platelets involved in clotting the blood, an action that is similar to, but not nearly equal to, taking one baby aspirin a day. This study revealed that chocolate eaters' blood clotted more slowly than the blood of participants who had eaten no chocolate. Urine tests of both groups showed a lower level of thromboxane, a platelet waste product, in chocolate eaters.

What ingenious doctor at John Hopkins University thought of testing for the health benefits of chocolate? Actually, the University was testing the effects of aspirin on blood platelets. As part of the research, volunteers were to exercise, to stop smoking, and to avoid caffeinated drinks, wine, grapefruit juice and chocolate. However, some chocolate lovers admitted that they had not been successful at staying away from their chocolate. Although this negated their use in the aspirin study, researchers looked at their blood anyway. This is when they discovered that the chocolate eaters' blood clotted more slowly than the blood of those who resisted successfully.

However, this was not the first time doctors suspected cocoa of contributing to healthy hearts; researchers have considered cocoa in this light since the 1700's. Believe it or not, the idea for researching chocolate as a health benefit didn't come from the a chocoholic research doctor or even from the clamorings of millions of chocolate loving women, but from the Kuna Indians who live off the coast of Panama. The Kuna, whose traditional diet is rich in cocoa beverages, experience an extremely low level in cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. However, when the Kuna reduce their intake of cocoa, the numbers of incidents of these diseases rises significantly. Thanks to this information, researchers undertook projects to determine how dark chocolate can lower heart disease and related diseases.

By the way, remember all those reports you've heard concerning the antioxidants in green tea and red wine? Cornell University reports on their latest research in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry their surprising results showing that cocoa has almost twice the amount of antioxidants that red wine contains and up to three times the amount that green tea contains. Lead Cornell researcher, Chang Lee, recommends combining all three drinks, "Personally, I would drink hot cocoa in the morning, green tea in the afternoon, and a glass of red wine in the evening." Cornell researchers also advocate drinking cocoa instead of eating chocolate bars because one cup of cocoa has only about 1/3 gram of fat, while a standard 40-gram bar has 8 grams of fat.

Imagine! One of woman's oldest and dearest friends --- the chocolate bar --- turns out to be a contributor to good heart health. Even better, it's the more expensive dark chocolates (who doesn't love really good chocolate) that have even higher levels of flavanoids. In the light of this research, go ahead --- bless the chocolate lovers in your life with gifts of chocolate this year; in fact, why not indulge yourself as well? Happy MunchingArticle Submission, and Happy New Year!

Article Tags: Healthy Hearts, Dark Chocolate, Heart Disease, Chocolate Eaters

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Eileen Silva, Ph.D., N.D. is a metabolic health balancing expert, talk show guest, and lecturer. Dr. Silva is also an individual, group, and corporate weight management consultant. Contact Dr. Silva at

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