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Chocolate – The good and the bad

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One minute you’re hearing chocolate’s good for you, the next, it’s the demon food that will cause you to gain weight and break out in spots. So what’s true?

Many of us love to indulge in the glory that is chocolate, but there are so many different opinions on whether it’s good or bad, it’s difficult to know what to believe any more. With all those rumours floating around and the popularity of the sweet treat, naturally there’s been a huge amount of research into the effects of chocolate from all over the world. But what should you believe?

MYTH: Chocolate causes acne
FACT: There’s no firm evidence on this one, but research has shown milk has links to acne. So if you’ve been having problems with zits and you’re a chocoholic, ease up on the milk/white chocolates (which contain more milk) and opt for the dark versions instead.

MYTH: Chocolate makes you gain weight
FACT: Depending on the type of chocolate, store-bought bars usually contain a mix of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla (plus additional bits and bobs to help preserve it, make it shiny etc). Between a third and half of that seemingly-harmless milk chocolate bar will usually be fat, with half of that being saturated. Having said that, studies have found chocolate’s not a prime cause of obesity. Chocolate is very high in energy, so just make sure you limit yourself to the correct serving size, eat it in moderation with a balanced diet and regular exercise, and you should be fine.

MYTH: Chocolate improves circulation and is full of antioxidants
FACT: That bar of choccie does contain flavanoids – chemicals that have been shown to have antioxidant effects, reduce blood pressure and improve the flow of blood. Flavanoids are also found in apples, green tea and wine, among other plant-based products (including cocoa). There’s also been research that suggests chocolate can raise levels of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol without having any impact on the artery-clogging LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. However, don’t go scoffing that huge bar of chocolate just yet! Some scientists say the health benefits aren’t that great when you take the large amount of saturated fat into consideration as well.

MYTH: Chocolate makes you happy
FACT: Chocolate does have a rather lovely effect on the brain/nervous system that can trigger certain emotions, such as pleasure. It contains substances such as Phenylethylamine and Seratonin which can can make you feel less stressed, somewhat euphoric and possibly even more alert.

Remember – there is caffeine in chocolate (a mere 10-30mg in comparison with 100mg in a coffee drink), so if you’ve been overindulging on coffee and cola drinks, chocolate probably won’t help if you’re having trouble getting to sleep at night. Oh, and the whole chocolate being an aphrodisiac thing? Eating it may induce similar reactions to being in love (faster pulse, happiness etc), but research hasn’t exactly proven it to get you in the mood. Still, a box of choccies from your loved one won’t hurt!

MYTH: Chocolate makes a great pet treat
FACT: DON’T feed it to your pets! Okay, so this may be nothing to do with chocolate rumours that will affect you, but we thought this was a pretty important one as not many people know it and the health of your animal friends is also important. Chocolate can be toxic to dogs, parrots and cats, and can result in seizures, heart attacks or internal bleeding. So even though they may look at you imploringly for a bite of your treat, keep it away from them.

THE VERDICT:
Moderation is the key! If you’re a chocoholic, try not to go overboard. Opt for small portions of dark chocolate as you’ll get the benefits of cocoa with less saturated fat, and remember that two small squares is usually a serving size. Want the chocolate taste but not keen on the calories? Try chocolate dairyfood or a hot chocolate drink with trim milk instead.

Photo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net – Tina Phillips

Article brought to you by NZ Real Health

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