Those who receive chocolates on Valentine's Day should fall in love with the news that chocolate contains flavonoids and other compounds that have proven health benefits.
Flavonoids are naturally occurring compounds in plant-based foods that serve as antioxidants in the human body. Antioxidants protect bodies from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are formed in simple body processes and can increase with environmental contaminants.
For example, every cell in the human body needs oxygen to work. When the body cells burn oxygen, there is a by-product (a free radical) produced. A free radical is an unstable molecule with a missing electron. It tries to ‘steal’ an electron from other body cells so it can become stable. This process of stealing from other body cells can lead to cell instability and can contribute to health problems such as cancer and heart disease.
The role of the antioxidant is that it provides the electron to the free radical so that it can be eliminated without causing damage.
A study conducted at the University of California found that persons who consumed 1.6 oz (about a regular sized candy bar) of flavonoid-rich chocolate every day for two weeks showed an expansion of the arteries and an increased blood flow of 10 percent.
Participants who consumed flavonoid-poor chocolate experienced a slight decrease. Increased blood flow means reduced cardiovascular risk.
Source: Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
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