If you're like most women, you're totally smitten with chocolate. People have been obsessing over this comfort food for thousands of years (the Mayans considered cocao a cure-all and the Aztecs used it as money). And all that obsessing has yielded some pretty surprising studies--and findings. Here, five things you need to know about your favorite indulgence.
1. It Can Boost Your Workout
Skip the expensive sports drinks and protein shakes. Research shows chocolate milk is just as effective a recovery aid.
A study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism compared the effects of a recovery drink and chocolate milk on endurance athletes' ability to recover after a series of bike sprints followed by an endurance ride the next day. They found that chocolate milk was just as effective at relieving muscle soreness after the sprints, and preparing the athletes to perform in the endurance test the next day. Better yet, everyone preferred the taste of chocolate milk.
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2. Your Period Doesn't Make You Crave It
Half of American women experience chocolate cravings. Of those of who do, about half crave it right around "that" time of the month.
And while it's nice to have your menstrual cycle to blame when you find yourself noshing on half a package of chocolate chip cookies, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that menstrual hormones aren't the culprit. They compared the cravings of pre- and post-menopausal women and didn't find any change. They did, however, find a higher prevalence of cravings among women who suffer from PMS.
Why? Annmarie Kostyk, a chocolate expert who studied at the Professional School of Chocolate Arts, Ecole Chocolat, in Canada, says this has a lot to do with the psychology behind comfort foods. "Chocolate is sociologically considered a comfort food, and people crave comfort foods when they feel terrible," she says.
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3. It Won't Wake You Up
It's a common misconception that chocolate is packed with caffeine, says Kostyk. In reality, the amount of caffeine in chocolate is miniscule compared to what's in your other daily pick-me-ups.
An ounce of dark chocolate contains about 20 milligrams of caffeine, while an ounce of milk chocolate contains about 5 milligrams--the same as an 8-ounce cup of decaf coffee. In comparison, a cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams and a cup of tea contains about 50 milligrams of caffeine.
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4. It Contains Flavonoids
Flavowhats? Flavonoids are a type of phytochemical, or plant chemical, that are found naturally in chocolate. Due to their unique chemical structures, flavonoids can exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cell-protective effects, says Giana Angelo, Ph.D., a research associate who specializes in micronutrient research at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Consuming foods rich in flavonoids has also been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
To reap the benefits, stick to dark chocolate. The average commercial dark chocolate contains about 60 percent cocao and has been found to contain 536 milligrams of flavonoids per 1.4-ounce serving. Research has shown that as few as 80 milligrams of flavonoids a day can lower blood pressure.
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5. It's Not All Bad for Your Teeth
How could a food that's long been touted as a cavity-causer actually have teeth-protecting properties? It turns out that theobromine, an organic molecule that occurs naturally in cocoa, can help strengthen tooth enamel, according to research from Tulane University.
In fact, it takes 142 times less cocao extract to have about twice the protective benefits of fluoride, according to the American Dental Association. Unfortunately, theobromine isn't too beneficial in chocolate bars, where the sugar and milk counteract the dental benefits. Enter Theodent, a fluoride-free mint toothpaste that packs a punch of theobromine ($10, theodent.com).
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TELL US: What's your favorite way to enjoy chocolate?
--By Kristen Domonell, Women's Health
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