Healthy Diet
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Chocolate's superfood cred just got a whole lot stronger:

Two new studies reveal chocolate's soothing effect on inflammation and its heart-protective properties.

The benefits of chocolate, say experts, may start in your gut. When you swallow that sweet bite of chocolatey goodness, the good microbes in your stomach essentially feast on the chocolate, letting them grow and ferment which then produces anti-inflammatory compounds. When these antioxidant compounds are absorbed, they were found to calm inflammation throughout the body--especially in cardiovascular tissue, which may reduce the long-term risk of stroke, according to research presented yesterday at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Additionally, chocolate may stop two of the contributing factors that lead to hardening of the arteries. In a study published in The FASEB Journal, men who ate just 70g of dark chocolate a day (that's almost two and a half ounces) observed restored flexibility to their arteries. Researchers also observed the dark chocolate's ability to keep white blood cells from sticking to artery walls.

We talked to Will Clower, neuroscientist, for the scoop on chocolate as a health food, plus how you can incorporate it into your daily life without gaining weight.

Prevention: Can we reap the health benefits with any kind of chocolate?

Clower: Unfortunately, no. Low quality chocolates often replace cocoa butter with hydrogenated oils so they'll last longer on the shelf. Better for their bottom line, but not for yours. And when it comes to milk chocolate versus dark, you have to go dark--research shows us the amount of polyphenols your body absorbs from chocolate is cut in half when it's in the context of milk chocolate.

What are some rules for choosing the best chocolate?

Healthy chocolate is all about cocoa content--that's where all the health benefits and antioxidant compounds come from. The higher the cocoa, the lower the sugar content. If the balance is off, it can stimulate insulin. Past researchers made an arbitrary cutoff at 70%, but the amount of chocolate you can have on a daily basis increases as the cocoa content in your chocolate increases. That being said, aim for 50% or higher. And always buy un-Dutched cocoa powder--the dutching process cuts the healthy compounds by 60 to 90%.

You say chocolate is good for weight management--how can we get in on that?

To stay satisfied between meals, incorporate chocolate as a starter and an ender. About 20 to 30 minutes before you plan to eat, have a bite of chocolate--and by a bite, I mean something as big as the top joint of your thumb. Just let it sit on your tongue. The cocoa butter triggers the hormones in your brain that say "I'm full." Do the same after your meal and you'll curb that sweets craving while regulating your insulin response system, keeping "crashes" from coming on. I also stir some un-Dutched cocoa powder into my coffee every day. Feel free to crumble some on your salad or yogurt--whatever works for your schedule and your life. (Is your snacking getting in the way of your weight loss goals? Here's what not to snack on, and healthier swaps instead.)