Americans seem more prone to guilt than other cultures. Especially when it comes to what we eat. Why is it that people in France and Italy get to eat rich, delicious foods, don't obsess, and are healthier and thinner than most Americans? (And please, don't tell me it's solely because Europeans walk more than Americans, because, while it is true, Americans work out obsessively - Europeans not so much.)
I think the key might be eating more foods we love. And it's not just me: studies show that people who consume dark chocolate, wine (red AND white), tea, and coffee tend to be healthier than those who abstain. Not to mention that coffee consumption has been shown to ward off depression in several studies.
Harvard researchers recently published an article in which they reviewed no less than 24 previous studies investigating the relationship between dark chocolate (or cocoa) and "cardioprotective" effects. Studies showed cocoa, often known as cocao, consumption significantly improves blood pressure, insulin resistance, lipid profiles, and flow-mediated vascular dilation (FMD). Specifically, people who consumed more dark, cocao-containing chocolate had lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, higher HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as better blood circulation, significantly reducing risk of heart attack and stroke. (Read the Journal of Nutrition study abstract here.)
While flow-mediated vascular dilation sounds unfamiliar, it is a way to describe blood flow and circulation throughout the body. Better circulation means more oxygen and nutrient flow to the brain, making us more alert and more likely to have a better memory over the long run. It also means more oxygen to the joint tissues, and thus less likelihood of joint pain. And of course, we can't disregard the importance of blood flow to the reproductive organs, meaning a significantly reduced risk of impotence. Finally, better blood flow to the parts of the body that produce white blood cells result in a stronger immunity to disease, such as cancer.
Flavonoids, the same compounds found in dark chocolate, coffee, tea, and wine, are also found at high levels in berries and grapes.