Is Dark Chocolate Good For You?
Benefits of chocolate: dark, milk, or white?
Dark chocolate is healthy?! Is this an oxymoron sentence? My eyes lit up, mouth starts to water, and heart pounds quickly. How can chocolate, my guilty indulgence, be considered healthy? Yet there are a huge number of scientific articles that supports the claim that chocolate can contribute to health. It's true- dark chocolate has more health benefits than light (milk or white) chocolate.
It may be strange that some of my most vivid memories from college involve skipping classes and eating a ton of chocolate bars. It wasn't that I didn't like college; I did. But those late night study sessions lured me into thinking that snacking on a bag of Reese’s peanut butter chocolate pieces will help keep me awake.
Looking back, I gave partial blame to the inevitable “Freshman 15” weight gain for my love of chocolate, especially the ones that came from the shiny commercial wrappers. We’ve all been guilty of using chocolate as a quick fix to satisfy our sweet tooth, or choice of snack for those late study sessions.
Cheers to a healthy, chocolaty drink!
Now that my palate has become more “sophisticated” and having an increased awareness in healthy eating, I learned through extensive research that there are health benefits to dark chocolate.
CHOCOLATE COMES FROM A PLANT!
Chocolate is extracted from the cacao plant, Theobroma cacao, which bears pods containing cocoa beans. The beans are broken into nibs, crushed, fermented, dried, roasted, and then ground to produce cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. Cocoa liquor can yield cocoa butter and cocoa cake (which is then ground up into cocoa powder). Cocoa liquor can also be combined with cocoa butter, milk, sugar, vanilla to make milk chocolate.
The almond-shaped seeds in a cocoa bean are actual nutritional powerhouses! The benefits of cocoa in chocolate is also due to the amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, including:
I don't even consider white chocolate a real friend.
Raw chocolate powder: the ultimate superfood (100% cacao)
Quick terminology review from Wikipedia:
Chocolate liquor- the ground or melted state of the nib of the cacao bean
Cocoa butter- the fat component
Cocoa powder- the nonfat part of the cacao bean, which is ground into a powder
"Dark chocolate"- fat+sugar+cocoa =MOST HEALTH BENEFITS
- Semisweet chocolate- a dark chocolate with half as much as cocoa
- Bittersweet chocolate - chocolate liquor + sugar+ cocoa butter+ vanilla (and sometimes lecithin)
“Milk chocolate” – solid chocolate with milk or condensed milk added = SOME HEALTH BENEFITS
“White chocolate” – sugar+milk+cocoa butter without the cocoa solids = NO HEALTH BENEFITS
“Cacao Powder” “Cocoa powder”
- Natural cocoa – low-fat component of chocolate.
- Dutch-processed cocoa – most of flavonoids are destroyed during process = NO HEALTH BENEFITS**Note this is most commonly seen in commercial brand candy and hot chocolate drinks.
WHY IS DARK CHOCOLATE A BETTER CHOICE?
Not all chocolate are created equal. Although both dark chocolate and milk chocolate are made from cocoa solids or cocoa liquor, there are some key differences.
- The most beneficial substance in chocolate is POLYPHENOLS, a group of antioxidants found in the cacao beans. You may have heard of this familiar term in the favorite glass of red wine and green tea. The amount of polyphenols also depends on how they are processed.
- Whenever you hear about the health benefits of chocolate, they're referring to COCOA percentage. Cacao is the combination of cocoa powder and cocoa butter from the cocoa bean. Together they account for the total cacao percentage on the label of chocolate bar. Therefore, the higher the content of cocoa, the more benefits it adds to your health.
- A high quality dark chocolate usually contains more than 70%. The percentage of the cacao on the label also corresponds with a more intense chocolate flavor.
- The most common method used by industrial chocolate makers is called the Dutch process, which reduces the amount of polyphenol content by 60-90% through alkalization! Dark chocolates, use non-alkalized cocoa, which is the reason for its health benefits.
- Because the act of processing in milk chocolate results in the loss of certain vitamins and minerals, it is better to eat dark chocolate or raw chocolate (raw cacao). Raw cacao powder is always dark and has a minimum of 75% cacao.
- Dark chocolate also contains fat, which is called cocoa butter. This type of fat is mostly saturated fat, making it very resistant to oxidation.
So, remember: The difference is that dark chocolate has its fat from cocoa liquor and contains more cocoa than other forms of chocolate, including milk chocolate and white chocolate.
DARK CHOCOLATE HEALTH BENEFITS
- Dark chocolate can help you lower blood pressure and increases blood flow in arteries and the heart.
- Cocoa may decrease cholesterol level. Cocoa contains stearic acid, a saturated fat and oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat.
- Antioxidants destroy free radicals, which are destructive molecules that can cause cancer, cardiovascular disease and other sicknesses.
- The phenols in chocolate helps boost the immune system.
- Improve mood and pleasure by increasing the chemical levels of serotonin and endorphin in brain. No wonder people consider chocolate to be an aphrodisiac!
- Contains minerals including calcium, potassium, and magnesium, choromium (known to regulate blood sugar)
- Contains theobromine, which stimulates the central nervous system.
- Contains the essential amino acid, Tryptophan, which calms you down.
CHOCOLATE AND MILK DON'T REALLY MIX!
- Milk chocolate has more fat and sugar. Milk chocolate may taste sweeter and creamier, but also contains milk powder or condense milk.
- Some studies say that when milk interacts with antioxidants, it prevents it from being absorbed; making it unavailable. So in order to reap the benefits of antioxidants, don’t eat dark chocolate with a glass of milk. Instead, pair it with almond milk.
Comparing antioxidants to other foods...
The ORAC values (Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity) is a unit of measurement for antioxidants developed by the National Institute on Aging in the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Notice how high dark chocolate is compared to other foods!
- Blueberries have an ORAC value of 4,669
- Cocoa, dry powder 55,653
- Chocolate, ditched powder 40,200
- Red wine 2,670
- Apples, with skin 4,275
- Baking chocolate, unsweetened 49,944
WHY ORGANIC DARK CHOCOLATE?
An organic chocolate bar may contain as much antioxidants as a glass of red wine because organic chocolate is grown free of pesticides.
You can support fair trade practices in the forests of South American countries where cacao beans are grown. A major reason to buy organic chocolate is to avoid pesticides and toxic chemicals. Why not have one more reason to feel good when you bite into that chocolate bar?
For more information on dark chocolate made from organic cocoa beans click on www.transfairusa.org.
The darker it is, the more phytochemicals (like flavonoids) the better!
DARK CHOCOLATE FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Dark chocolate contains significantly less carbohydrates than light chocolate. The darker it is, the less carbohydrates. A high carbohydrate load from consuming milk chocolate will increase insulin secretion, which sends a signal to the body to store fat.
When eaten sensibly, dark chocolate can be a useful weight loss tool. Sweet cravings are inevitable no matter how good you are with your diet plan and healthy eating lifestyle. Occasionally when you have a craving after your workout, eat some pieces of organic dark chocolate. Another good treat to indulge in is to eat some raw chocolate truffles or drink dark chocolate with almond milk.
Just because dark chocolate is healthy, it doesn't mean you should overeat! It still has fat and sugar, which equals added calories! EAT IN MODERATION.
Where to buy organic dark chocolate
HOW TO EAT DARK CHOCOLATE TO GET THE MOST BENEFITS
1. Eat organic, dark chocolate, which contains the most flavonoids.
2. Consume dark chocolate in moderation.
3. Eat it slowly! Let the piece of chocolate melt in your mouth and allow it to do the “happy dance” on your tongue. Enjoy every drop and pay attention to the texture, taste, and richness of it. Don’t be tempted to just devour it. You must treat it like a bottle of fine wine, and appreciate its delicacy.
4. Eat it alone. When you eat chocolate by yourself, give it the full undivided attention that it deserves. Fully concentrate on the process of eating and enjoying the flavor.
5. Choose a dark chocolate bar with nuts, raisins, or berries for a double whammy of health punch!
6. Turtlewoman's simple HEALTHY CHOCOLATE MILK:
- Add 1-2 teaspoon of organic cacao powder (raw chocolate powder) to a cup of almond milk. SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE. Enjoy! Breathe...your body will thank you for it.
In conclusion, chocolate can be a health benefit. That is, as long as you buy the dark kind. Just remember the darker it is, the healthier it is. The closer you get to its truest form, the more antioxidants there are in the chocolate.
CLINICAL STUDIES OF DARK CHOCOLATE BENEFITS
- The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 g of dark chocolate during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of free living and healthy human subjects, as per variation of both host and gut microbial metabolism.
- The study proved that eating dark chocolate can significantly reduce blood pressure for people with high BP, not normal BP.
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