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Good News for Chocoholics

It’s almost Easter and many children and adults alike are looking forward to a great excuse to indulge.  Chocolate is usually thought of as a tempting but very unhealthy treat, but is it really as bad as all that?
Chocolate is made from the beans of the cocoa plant (Theobroma cacao).  These contain a group of compounds called flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, helping to prevent cell damage, and thus providing a degree of protection against cardiovascular disease. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that consuming chocolate lowered blood pressure and helped to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Chocolate is also very rich in magnesium.  This important mineral increases energy levels, helps to prevent heart irregularities and muscle cramps, assists in calcium absorption, and is essential for healthy nervous system functioning.  People who experience chocolate cravings often find that these can be reduced by eating other magnesium-rich foods (such as whole grains, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables) or by taking a magnesium supplement.

Cocoa beans contain a fat known as cocoa butter.  This can be used as a soothing skin moisturizer, which is effective in preventing wrinkles and stretch marks.  It melts just below body temperature and is therefore easily absorbed and can also be used as a base for herbal suppositories and pessaries.

On the down side, chocolate contains large quantities of oxalic acid, which can exacerbate joint problems such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout.  The acidic effect in the body is also detrimental to other inflammatory conditions such as acne and psoriasis.  A more alkaline alternative is carob, a chocolate substitute that is widely available from health food stores.

The uplifting effect of chocolate is partly due to the sugar content and partly due to a caffeine-like substance called theobromine, which has a stimulant effect.  However this initial boost is quickly followed by a sharp dip in blood sugar levels.  The inevitable consequence is a craving for more chocolate, for another hit.  Anyone who has attempted (successfully or otherwise) to give up chocolate for Lent will testify to its addictive quality!  Over time, excessive chocolate intake can lead to excessive weight gain and depleted energy stores, and in young children it may be partly responsible for the increasing occurrence of hyperactivity.

Unfortunately most of the chocolate that is readily available in the shops contains higher amounts of sugar and milk than of cocoa.  These contribute to conditions involving excessive mucus production such as sinusitis and asthma.  Excessive sugar consumption also increases the risk of diabetes and other health problems.

In order to benefit from the more positive attributes of chocolate and to minimise the detrimental effects, choose a good quality dark chocolate which contains at least 70% cocoa, such as O’Conaill, Green & Blacks or Lindt and remember: all things in moderation!