MAD DOG: Better Living Through Chocoloate

It's unsettling to discover that something as delightfully sinful as chocolate may actually 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 makes us feel so good -- but once again They told us something which 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 it 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 richer. Chocolate, you see, may actually be a health food.

No lesser source than The Journal of Nutrition (motto: "You are what we say you should eat") recently published a series of studies showing that chocolate contains flavonoids. Not to pull a Stephen Hawking on you, but flavonoids are those little teeny tiny chemical thingies that live in red wine, green tea, and certain fruits and vegetables which makes them expensive. Not only that, they help decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. So it's good that they're in chocolate.

But wait, there's more! A couple of years ago researchers at the University of California at Davis -- undoubtedly while on a snack break -- discovered chemicals in chocolate called phenols which 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 help plaque form on your teeth, at the same time it will help keep your aorta as clear as a storm drain in the Sahara. Since dark chocolate has more of these phenols than light chocolate, it's only a matter of time before aging Baby Boomers start sidling up to the bar and ordering a Cabernet with a Tobler Dark twist. Hold the almonds.

Medical researchers aren't the only ones getting their inspiration from snack machines. The 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 looking into making shock absorbers out of chocolate. And you thought chocolate's most important use was as an I.V. drip during PMS.

It started a couple of years ago when a graduate student at Michigan State University and his trusty professor discovered that when they jolted melted Hershey bars with a moderately high-voltage electric shock, the creamy, smooth, I-wish-I-had-some-right-now-mmmmmm-wouldn't-that-taste-good liquid chocolate instantly turned into a stiff gel. And reverted back into a liquid as soon as the power was turned off. I'm not sure what ever made them think this was something grown adults should be doing, but I wish I'd been around when they worked their way through the kitchen cabinets, shocking Twinkies, Jell-o, and Tuna Helper before they got around to the Snickers bars.

So how do we get from giving electroshock therapy to a Nestlé's Crunch bar to cruising down the highway on fudge-filled shock absorbers? Easy. Electrified chocolate is the latest discovery in the field of electrorheology, or the science of using government grant money to buy candy bars. Actually, scientists are looking into using these "smart fluids" in automatic transmissions and hydraulic valves. The Monroe Auto Equipment Co. has already used a "smart fluid" in experimental shock absorbers for a Ford Thunderbird. The car not only raced around the track in record time -- proving that chocolate not only causes hyperactivity in humans but also automobiles -- but it turned out to be 100 percent acne-free. Of course it was a new car so it had quite a ways to go before reaching puberty.

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 temperatures. This is where chocolate has a marked advantage over the other "smart fluids" -- 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 (motto: "The most quoted periodical no one ever reads") 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's nothing you haven't done before.

Thus, chocolate turns out to be nothing less than a miracle: It's good for you, it can make your car ride smoother, and you can get a good high without having to inhale. Stock up now before it becomes prescription only.

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