More Good News for Chocolate Lovers

Why do I crave chocolate when I'm on my period
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

Research has found more dark chocolate benefits, helping make this sweet treat quite a health food.

Cocoa is the real force behind dark chocolate’s SuperFood status. Cocoa is rich in powerful polyphenols, a class of phytonutrients or plant nutrients, that have been shown to lower bad cholesterol (LDL), raise good cholesterol (HDL), enhance circulation in small blood vessels, improve skin appearance, and slow the progression of atherosclerosis that leads to heart disease and stroke. If that wasn’t enough, the polyphenols in cocoa also show benefit to people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is an extremely debilitating medical condition that causes severe fatigue, low energy, and weakness. Individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome have a reduced quality of life and often miss work and family activities due to intense exhaustion. An abstract presented at the 2006 annual meeting of the Society for Endocrinology studied the effect of cocoa on patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. The research, performed at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom, observed a significant improvement in the symptoms and general functioning of individuals with this condition after eating 15 grams of a high cocoa, polyphenol-rich, dark chocolate three times a day for eight weeks when compared with individuals who ate a low polyphenol chocolate. This much chocolate is equivalent to dividing one serving of most high-cocoa, dark chocolates into three pieces that can be enjoyed over the course of a day.

Choosing your chocolate is important. Choose dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, at least 72%. White chocolate, which has no cocoa, and milk chocolate, which has a low cocoa content, do not show the same benefits as dark chocolate. Furthermore, choose a dark chocolate that is made with natural, non-alkalinized cocoa. When cocoa is alkalinized (a process called Dutching) the cocoa loses some of its polyphenol power. Read the ingredient list and make sure that the cocoa has not been treated with alkali or alkalinized. Basically, the more non-alkalinized cocoa the chocolate has the more polyphenols it will have, which means more SuperNutrients.

For best results, split up one serving of dark chocolate into two or three between-meal snacks to get the benefit of cocoa polyphenols throughout your day. Be careful to watch serving size for chocolate–if you aren’t careful the calories can really add up fast by eating too much. One serving usually contains about 150 to 250 calories. By dividing up a single serving and eating a little throughout the day, you’ll get an all-day benefit without consuming too many calories. Furthermore, be sure to eat the other phytonutrient- and polyphenol-packed SuperFoods at meal time and keep up an exercise routine. You can’t live on chocolate alone.

If you think you have chronic fatigue syndrome, you should see your doctor, because intense tiredness can be a sign of other medical conditions that may warrant further testing or treatment.

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