Chocolate: Miracle of the 21st Century

There's something very unsettling about discovering that chocolate may not only be better for you than They always said it was, but may in fact be good for you.It's not just that we're being robbed of one of life's little pleasures -- gorging on something we know is absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt horrible for us yet tastes and makes us feel so good -- but that it's yet another case where They told us something which later turned out to be wrong.When I was growing up They said "the harder I worked the more money I'd make." They said "everything happens for a reason." And They said "it was only a phase." Well They were wrong all the way down the line. Now it turns out they were wrong about chocolate too. After years of being warned not to eat chocolate lest our faces break out in acne, we become hyperactive balls of unbridled energy and our appetites go the way of the dial phone, it turns out the only thing chocolate used to do that it still does is make the Hershey family rich.Now comes the good part: scientists now think eating chocolate may lower your cholesterol. Really. Researchers at the University of California at Davis -- probably while on a snack break -- discovered chemicals in chocolate called phenols that stop the bad fat component of cholesterol ("Bad fat component! Bad fat component!") from oxidizing into plaque, the stuff that clogs your arteries. So while eating M&Ms may still help plaque form on your teeth (please remember to brush after every meal and floss at least once a year), your aorta will be as clear as a storm drain during a three-month drought.These phenols, by the way, are the same cholesterol fighting soldiers researchers discovered in red wine, a substance the French have a particular fondness for. This goes a long way towards explaining their well-earned reputation for good health, low heart disease and incredible rudeness.Since these researchers from U of C claim that darker chocolate is better at cholesterol-fighting than light chocolate, you can expect to see aging boomers sidling up to the bar and ordering a Cabernet with a Tobler Dark twist any day now. And hold the almonds.Not to be outdone, those fine folks in Detroit who brought us the Edsel, windshield wipers on headlights and cars that talk ("Your door is a jar." "No it isn't, it's a door.") are thinking about making shock absorbers out of chocolate. And why not? A graduate student at Michigan State University and his trusty professor recently discovered that when they jolted melted Hershey bars with a moderately high-voltage electric shock, it took only a few thousandths of a second for the creamy, smooth, I-wish-I-had-some-right-now-mmmmmm-wouldn't-that-taste-good liquid chocolate to turn into a stiff gel. And revert back as soon as the power was turned off. Really. Contrary to what you're thinking, this wasn't the same team that put the site on the Internet detailing their experiments in microwaving Twinkies. That was Rice UniversitySo how do we get from giving electroshock therapy to a Nestle's Crunch bar to cruising down the highway on fudge-filled shock absorbers? Easy. Electrified chocolate, it turns out, is the latest discovery in the field of electrorheology, or the science of using government grant money to buy candy bars. Like their cousin chocolate, these so-called "smart fluids" are being investigated for possible use in automatic transmissions and hydraulic valves. Chocolate, on the other hand, may be best suited for use as an I.V. drip during PMS.Not being one to pass up a trend-setting opportunity like this, the Monroe Auto Equipment Co. used a "smart fluid" in some experimental shock absorbers which they installed on a Ford Thunderbird. The car not only raced around the track in record time -- proving that while chocolate may not cause hyperactivity in humans it does in automobiles -- but it was found to be 100% acne free, which isn't saying much since it was a new car and had quite a while to go before it reached adolescence.But there's a fly in the chocolate shock absorber ointment. Like all electrorheologic fluids, chocolate stops doing its electroshock gel thing when it reaches high operating temperatures. Its saving grace is it could come in real handy if you were stranded on a dark, lonely highway and your cholesterol level was shooting up like a rocket -- all you'd have to do is pull off one of your rear shocks and suck the chocolate right out of that baby.Unfortunately none of this may ever come to fruition, because chocolate may soon be illegal. A report in Nature magazine ("The most quoted periodical no one ever reads.") recently disclosed that eating chocolate can make you high. Apparently there are chemicals in chocolate which target the same brain receptors as marijuana. The bad news is you'd have to eat about 25 lbs. of Godivas to get a good buzz. The good news is, that isn't anything you haven't done before.That's why I think chocolate is destined to become the cornerstone of the 21st century: it's good for you, it can make your car run smoother and you can get a good high without having to inhale.Not that's progress.

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