Harvard Men's Health Watch

Chocolate and your health: Guilty pleasure or terrific treat?

It's an old story, very old, in fact. Forbidden fruits taste the best. The apple in Eden may have started it all, but there are many modern equivalents, ranging from juicy burgers and crispy fries to salty snacks and fine cigars. But science and experience can also move things from column A to column B. Far from being a guilty pleasure, alcohol, for example, can actually promote health if the dose is right (low) and the drinker is responsible. The same is true for nuts. On the other side of the coin, many people who think of exercise as a painful duty actually can come to experience it as pleasurable.

What about chocolate? Does it deserve its bad rap, or is it the latest thing in health foods? As for many complex questions, the answer is both, since the consequences of eating chocolate depend largely on the type of chocolate and the amount you consume.

A taste of history

It all begins with the cacao tree, which originated in Central America more than 4,000 years ago and has been cultivated by humans for more than 1,000 years. The Aztecs and the Mayans were fond of the tree, believing that the seeds were a divine gift from paradise. Both groups used the cacao in religion and commerce; as currency, 100 beans had the value of one slave.

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