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Preventive Maintenance: Hot chocolate: It’s actually good for you!

You've just spent a half hour scraping the ice off your truck mirrors, while completing your pre-trip inspection. The wind has been whistling around your head, and your fingers feel like icicles. Now...

Karen Bowen

Karen Bowen

You’ve just spent a half hour scraping the ice off your truck mirrors, while completing your pre-trip inspection. The wind has been whistling around your head, and your fingers feel like icicles. Now you’ve got a few minutes to kill before you head out.

On these cold winter days, what do you reach for to help you warm up? Coffee? Tea? Green Tea? How about hot chocolate?

I’m not kidding. Hot chocolate is a hot choice for a cold day. Not only will it warm you from the inside out, but it’s also full of ingredients that will help keep you healthy.

Researchers at Harvard University suggest that if you drink or eat chocolate three times a month you will live almost a year longer than those who don’t. (If this turns out to be true, my husband is going to live forever.)

Researchers have also found that hot chocolate has more antioxidants per cup than the same amount of tea and green tea, making it a healthy (and tasty) alternative at your next stop.

These researchers compared the antioxidants in each as they tested these beverages: a cup of hot water containing two tablespoons of pure cocoa powder (about the amount of cocoa in a normal-sized packet of instant hot chocolate); a cup of water with a standard size bag of green tea; and a cup of black tea. (Unfortunately, even though coffee is also high in certain antioxidants, it was not included in this particular study.)

Surprisingly, the researchers found that the antioxidant concentration in cocoa was the highest. It was two to three times stronger than green tea, and four to five times stronger than black tea.

I know what you’re thinking: “Hot chocolate can’t be all that healthy. It’s full of sugar, and high fat milk.” This is true in many cases.

But, there are ways to avoid these drawbacks. If you are buying the little hot chocolate packets that you add to boiling water for when you’re on the road, choose the ones with artificial sweetener.

And, when making them at home, use skim or soy milk instead of regular milk.

The packets that contain powdered milk are also available with low fat milks.

Although you can drink cocoa either hot, or cold, hot chocolate is better for you because it releases more antioxidants than when cold.

You can also find antioxidant-rich cocoa in many other products, like: desserts, sauces, liqueurs and candy bars. But if you’re looking after your health, better to choose the cup of cocoa and not the deserts or candy bars. Hot chocolate is healthier primarily because it has less fat.

Along with the cocoa, a usual 40-gram bar of chocolate contains about eight grams of saturated fat, while an average cup of hot cocoa just has 0.3 grams.

But, it’s not just the antioxidants in chocolate that are good for us. Actually, chocolate contains over 300 chemicals that affect us, and here are some recent discoveries about these chemicals:

* Scientists in Japan have even discovered that the husks of the cocoa bean contain an antibacterial agent that fights tooth plaque. Who knows, we may be using chocolate toothpaste in the future to fight cavities. (Then, we wouldn’t have to fight to get the kids to brush.)

* A Californian scientist suggests that chocolate may be good for your heart since it contains flavinoids (which thin the blood and prevent clotting).

* Chocolate also has a bit of caffeine, acting as a slight stimulant (like coffee).

* What’s more, chocolate contains tryptophan, which our brain uses to make serotonin. High levels of serotonin make us feel happy and even elated. And like other sweet foods, chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, natural body hormones that generate feelings of pleasure and well-being. No wonder chocolate is often considered a ‘comfort food.’

So you see, as well as your physical health, chocolate can affect your mental health. Feeling stressed? Need to relax? Maybe you just need to put your feet up with a cup of hot chocolate or sit down and enjoy a chocolate bar (occasionally).

If you sometimes crave chocolate, your body may be telling you something. Studies have found that many people who occasionally crave chocolate need more iron and/or magnesium. Since chocolate contains both of these nutrients and also tastes so good, it’s no wonder we crave chocolate instead of a multi-vitamin or deep green vegetables.

When you decide to give in to the craving, choose dark chocolate because it has more cocoa than milk chocolate, so it is better for your health. As we all know, a diet rich in antioxidants has been shown to fight cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging. A cup or two of hot chocolate is a delicious way to get more this winter.

Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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