Cravings

The many ways food fills our lives.

Eat Chocolate!

An ounce a day really could keep the doctor away.

 

All chocolate contains antioxidants, which are those tiny but important substances in food that protect body cells from damage that leads to disease. The antioxidants in chocolate are said to prevent the type of cell damage that can result in cancerous tumor growth. New research indicates that chocolate helps lower blood pressure and keeps blood flowing properly, thereby fighting heart disease. And then there are the age-old psychological benefits. Chocoholics don’t need any scientific studies to convince them of the mind- and mood-altering effects of their chosen drug.

Dark chocolate gets the most press because it has a higher percentage of these antioxidants without nearly as much of the sugar and fat used to make milk chocolate. These antioxidants are found naturally in the cacao bean that provides the cocoa powder used to make chocolate. So a dark chocolate bar that is composed of 65% or 75% cacao is richer in antioxidants than one that contains only 55%.

But don’t get too excited. Like red wine or any other indulgence, chocolate stops being healthful if you consume too much of it. The recommended amount is about 7 ounces a week, or an ounce a day.  Beyond that, you’re just adding unnecessary additional calories to your diet.

Years ago, a chocolate diet book landed on my desk and at first skeptical glance, I thought, “well, here’s a gimmick that will sell.”  I can’t remember the exact name of the book, or the M.D. who wrote it (it didn’t sell well, after all), but I do remember that once I got past the cover—which I believe showed a woman’s waist belted with a tape measure, and a chocolate bar tucked into the tape measure—I found what actually looked like a solid weight control program.

The doctor’s plan was simple: Eat the usual calorie-controlled three square meals a day but, about 20 minutes before each meal, you were to eat a small piece of chocolate. This served two purposes: you got your chocolate fix several times a day and, by eating dessert before each meal, rather than after, you helped curb your appetite so that you would be more satisfied eating these calorie-controlled meals throughout the day. (If anyone is familiar with this book, please post the author’s name so I can give credit where credit is due.)

There you have it. A dark chocolate square or kiss before each meal might help you lose weight and could add years to your life. So if you’ve been self-medicating or “sneaking” small bits of chocolate into your diet, you can bring it out in the open. You’ve probably been on the right track all along.

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Susan McQuillan is a dietitian in New York City, where she works as a nutrition consultant and writer.

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