Dark chocolate has health benefits

Carolina Mendez packaging chocolate covered pretzels at the David Bradley Chocolatiers Factory in West Windsor, less than three miles from Mercer's campus.
Carolina Mendez packaging chocolate covered pretzels at the David Bradley Chocolatiers Factory in West Windsor, less than three miles from Mercer’s campus.

Chocolate has long been synonymous with sin and decadence, but could nibbling last week’s box of Valentine’s leftovers actually provide health benefits? That depends, in part, on what you think counts as a benefit.

According to an article published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, chocolate has been seen throughout history to stimulate sexual desire and increase sexual pleasure.

In their study of chocolate and women’s sexual health, done by the Urology Department at University Vita-Salute San Raffaelle in Italy, their first conclusions were that the women who reported consuming chocolate had higher Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) scores, indicating that those women did have a higher sexual drive than those who did not consume chocolate.

Unfortunately, when adjusted for age, all the women’s FSFI scores were similar regardless of chocolate consumption. But even though there is no proof that sexual happiness comes in a heart-shaped box, chocolate does have a variety of other health benefits.

When a moderate amount of chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, is consumed, it is enough to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by one-third in women and one-fourth in men, according to an Italian study done by Dr. Romina di Giuseppe of Catholic University in Italy.

More good news: turns out chocolate contains polyphenols that have antioxidant properties, and these polyphenols are similar to those in wine and reduce the blood’s ability to clot, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

A few things to note: DARK chocolate holds the most health benefits, not milk. The more cocoa the better. The best dark chocolate to eat contains 65 percent or more cocoa. The more processed the chocolate, the less cocoa it contains. White chocolate is the most processed and contains 0 percent cocoa.

The fact that chocolate is fattening is not up for debate. Cocoa beans contain approximately 50 percent fat by weight and between 13 percent and 65 percent sugar by weight, depending on the type of chocolate consumed, according to CacaoWeb.com.

In the Italian study, researchers had determined that the beneficial qualities in chocolate seemed to disappear in those who ingested more than a small square of chocolate two to three times a week. The findings of di Giuseppe’s study prove that moderation is key.

If long term health is your goal, chocolate –the darkest and smallest bites– is a good addition to your diet.

If, on the other hand, you are less practical, The VOICE’s unscientific straw poll suggests eating your way to the bottom of a box of chocolates offers a significant chance of temporarily increasing your happiness.