It’s been lovingly called the sixth food group. Someone even gushed that chocolate is nature's way of making up for Mondays. In fact, food researchers widely report chocolate is the single most craved food. Many of us couldn’t agree more. According to the World Atlas of Chocolate, North Americans are so crazy for the confection that we consume on average 21 pounds per person per year and a whopping 66 percent of it between meals.
While chocolate has been found to trigger parts of the brain that are associated with drug addiction, the chocolate craving phenomena is still poorly understood. Researchers aren’t sure if chocolate addiction is a sensory or a pharmacological effect or if it’s all the sugar and fat that’s actually producing our craving. But cheer up chocoholics, the news isn’t all bad. Chocolate, especially the dark variety, eaten in moderation can actually be good for you.
Live Longer: Harvard School of Public Health researchers studied 7841 men with an average age of 65 years and found that those who ate chocolate one to three times a month live almost a year longer than those who abstained, even after accounting for confounding factors. Researchers say the presence of antioxidant phenols in chocolate could be helping to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. They also speculate that cacao, from which chocolate is made, lowers LDL (the bad kind) cholesterol as well as enhancing the immune function that leads to decreased risks of heart disease and cancer.
A Healthy Heart: German researchers followed nearly 20,000 people for 10 years. They found people whose ages were 35 to 65 and who ate an average of 7.5 grams of dark chocolate per day had lower blood pressure and a 39 percent lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate 1.7 grams per day. Dr. Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition and lead researcher said a small amount of chocolate appeared to have a profound effect on blood pressure. In 2008, an Italian study found similar results.