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Master Gardener: The medical benefits of chocolate - Fremont News Messenger

Susan La Fountaine  |  Columnist

Research has identified many benefits with ingesting cacao. In the past few decades cacao has proven to stimulate the nervous system, modulate inflation, and aid in the protection of brain and heart health.

It contains a small amount of caffeine and the bitter alkaloid theobromine. They are stimulating compounds that increase heart rate and dilate blood vessels. This is beneficial but some people may experience side effects like nausea, sweating, trembling, and digestive issues.

The regular use of cacao has found evidence in clinical studies that provides excellent support for cardiovascular health, including stroke and heart disease prevention, blood pressure modulation, and improved circulation.

CACAO COMMERCE: Master Gardener: The cultivation and commerce of making chocolate

Chocolate offers energy boost

There is a noticeable energy boost when eating chocolate; clinical research supports this effect. Brain activity and moods can be attributed to the energy boosts cacao gives. It is also noted that regular dosages of cacao will decrease anxiety.

It is suggested that simply drinking a cup of 100% cocoa every night may actually help with stress-related insomnia by lowering one’s blood pressure. It has also been found to benefit cognitive function with alertness and memory.

In two recent studies cacao revealed preventing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  The antioxidants and inflammation-modulating abilities help to increase insulin sensitivity. Chocolate also is linked to the production of serotonin, which produces a feeling of happiness.

It also helps to relax the muscles in your digestive tract.  And, sorry to say, because chocolate is high in sugar and saturated fat, consuming too much will result in excess weight.

The romance behind chocolate

You are probably wondering if chocolate is an aphrodisiac? Many years ago the Aztecs were convinced it was. There is no scientific proof of this, however the medical benefits of nervous system stimulation, reduced anxiety, mood elevation, and energy boosts could contribute.

The pure pleasure of tasting chocolate and the cultural tradition of giving chocolate to your beloved are just more fuel for the passion fire. It is important to understand how chocolate is made and which types offer the most health benefits before you dash out to your favorite sweet shop or look online to order a case or two of your favorite chocolate. 

Chocolate companies have varying levels of cacao, sugar and dried dairy products. For optimal benefits, ingesting 100% cacao with no additives is the best choice. You must learn to drink pure cocoa with just a little or no sweetener or eat chocolate bars that contain 85% or more cacao, these are the healthiest ways to enjoy cacao.

Chocolate is available in liquid, solid or paste on its own or as a flavoring agent in other foods. The biggest chocolate bar weighted 12,770 pounds. Just by accident, the famous chocolate chip was invented in the 1930’s by Ruth Wakefied, owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, when she added a broken chocolate bar to her cookie batter thinking it would melt.

Where would we be without a chocolate chip cookie to dip in our hot cocoa? It is determined that chocolate is a fruit — so don’t forget to eat your fruits and vegetables.

“All you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” quote by Charles Schultz.

“Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get,” – Forrest Gump

“Like love, chocolate is always a delight to receive or to give,” – Mary Jane Finsand

Susan La Fountaine is a Master Gardener with the Ohio State University Extension Offices in Sandusky and Ottawa counties.