ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA--The list of sin-free foods keeps growing. First red wine, then coffee and tea were pronounced potentially beneficial in moderation. Now, studies presented here yesterday at the American Chemical Society meeting in Anaheim, California, suggest that another guilty pleasure--chocolate--has its salubrious side.
The idea that chocolate may have some health benefits makes sense, says Joe Vinson, a chemist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. That's because it comes from plants, which are prolific producers of polyphenols, antioxidant compounds believed to mop up so-called free radicals, very reactive molecules that can damage DNA. But what is a bit of a shock, says Vinson, is that chocolate is chock-full of such compounds. He found that a single candy bar's worth of milk chocolate--40 grams--harbors more than 300 milligrams of polyphenols, equivalent to a day's worth of fruits and vegetables. If that bar is dark chocolate, it holds 2 days' worth.
Chemist Harold Schmitz of the M&M Mars candy company took the work a step further, showing that a family of flavonoids, a subclass of chocolate polyphenols, helped neutralize low density lipoprotein or "bad cholesterol" in the test tube.
So should chocoholics stop worrying and indulge? Well, no, says Vinson, as chocolate is still "high in saturated fats and calories." But "a little chocolate may even be good for you."