For years, chocolate has been looked upon as a decadent delight, craved for its lusciousness but banished to the "bad for you" food category. To the surprise of many health experts and the delight of chocolate-lovers everywhere, however, research has begun to reveal the health benefits hidden in the cacao beans from which chocolate is made. While these findings don't exactly elevate chocolate to the status of "health food," they do suggest that when it's chosen and enjoyed wisely, chocolate can have a place in a healing diet.
"If it tastes good, it can't be good for you." How many times have you voiced a similar sentiment, shaking your head in exasperation at the injustice? You're not alone: Most people can tick off a list of favorite foods that fall into that category. For many of us, especially women, chocolate tops the list. Of course, that doesn't mean we don't eat chocolate. Indeed, its forbidden status may even add to its appeal. We keep hidden stashes of chocolate and nibble away in guilt or, worse, deny ourselves until desire overwhelms us and we gobble up giant bars of the stuff.
Fortunately, science has begun to chip away at chocolate's unhealthy reputation, exposing substances in cacao that have powerful healing properties. These properties don't negate chocolate's status as a high-calorie food, of course -- especially the varieties most commonly consumed in the United States. And it's unlikely the latest research will prompt nutritionists and doctors to recommend that we add lots of chocolate to our diets.
But the promising evidence of healing potential does suggest chocolate may no longer need to be forbidden fruit. Making room in the diet for limited amounts of cacao-rich chocolate and cocoa may thrill our taste buds, quench our cravings, and play a role in good health.
Many of chocolate's health-promoting properties appear to stem from special compounds, called antioxidants, found in cacao beans. So to explore chocolate's potential healing benefits, it's necessary to first understand how antioxidants function in the body and how they may protect us from disease.
Keep reading to learn about the antioxidants in chocolate.