Health and fitness: Is chocolate really a healthy snack?

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By Kim Lazarus

There has been a lot of publicity in recent months suggesting chocolate may have health benefits.

Chocolate has been linked to cholesterol reduction and antioxidant benefits.

Dark chocolate contains approximately eight times more antioxidants than that found in strawberries. Antioxidants counteract the effects of free radicals in the body.

Free radicals in our bodies may arise during metabolic functions but also can be a reaction to the body's immune systems cells trying to neutralize viruses and bacteria. Environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides are also contributors in free radical formation.

Free radicals are molecules that have been split leaving an odd unpaired electron. Free radicals are unstable but looking to become stable by capturing electrons. When this occurs another free radical forms and a chain reaction takes place that can cause disruption that can affect living cells.

Antioxidants like vitamins C and E are considered substances to protect the body from the process of cellular destruction. When free radicals are present in the body, there exists the opportunity for the formation of cancer and heart disease to occur.

Chocolate is a plant that contains flavanoids that act as an antioxidant. Flavanoids can assist in the reduction of blood pressure by producing nitric oxide and can also be a hormone balancer.

Studies have show that consuming a small dark chocolate bar a day can reduce blood pressure. The bad cholesterol (LDL) can also be lowered by up to 10 percent.

Along with good taste, benefits include an increase in levels of endorphins and seratonin, which act as anti-depressants. Chocolate also contains theobromine, caffeine and other stimulating substances.

There is a misconception about chocolate containing too many of the bad fats. Chocolate actually contains one-third oleic acid, one-third stearic acid and one-third palmitic acid. Only the third from the palmitic acid contributes to raising cholesterol and can pose as a heart disease risk.

If you are considering indulging in the chocolate bar a day, however, it is necessary to balance the rest of your diet accordingly. One bar of dark chocolate has about 400 calories. If one were to eat half a bar daily then 200 calories would need to be reduced somewhere else in the diet.

If you are going to indulge in eating this chocolate, then take time to eat this complex food that contains over 300 compounds and chemicals in every bite, slowly.

Eat the dark chocolate because it contains more antioxidants than milk chocolate or white chocolate. Eliminate the nougat part and caramel parts, and any other added sugar ingredients.

When eating chocolate avoid milk consumption for it may prevent the antioxidants from being absorbed into the body.

So maybe you dont need to feel guilty for eating that chocolate after all.