Chocolate has long been recognized as a feel-good food. It tastes great and has enough serotonin and caffeine to perk you up a bit. But is it good for you?
It is if it’s made up mostly of cacao solids. Dark chocolate, the kind made up of 60% to 70% cocoa is rich in flavonoids. They are plant pigments that act as antioxidants, protecting your body from the kind of cell damage and inflammation that can lead to heart disease and cancer.
According to researchers, 6.7 grams of dark chocolate per day — a bit less than half a bar a week — represents the ideal amount for a protective effect against inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
Yes to dark chocolate,
No to white chocolate and milk chocolate
We learned that dark chocolate, which is lower in calories and higher in flavonoid content than milk or white chocolate, contains eight times the antioxidants found in strawberries.
Unfortunately, the “Death by Chocolate” dessert that’s found in many restaurants is made up of the wrong kind of chocolate. It’s the kind of chocolate that’s bad for us, with added milk, fat, and sugar that goes into all chocolate desserts. The same is true of virtually all chocolate candy.
The findings apply to dark chocolate only. Milk chocolate does not have the same effect, since milk interferes with the absorption of polyphenols
What is chocolate?
Chocolate is made up of a number of raw and processed foods that use the seed of the tropical cacao tree, which is native to South and Central America where the weather is warm all year.
Cacao seeds have a bitter taste. But after being fermented, roasted, and ground they develop a sweet flavor. The resulting product is known as cocoa. Much of the chocolate consumed today is made with cacao solids, fats like cocoa butter, and sugar. The latter add to the sweetness and make regular chocolate (that we love so much) unhealthy.
Cacao boosts heart health
Who would have thought it? While nobody’s recommending that you replace your daily fruits and vegetables with cacao (which is the foundation for chocolate) scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health found it has the potential to boost heart health. For example, hypertensive men who ate a small amount of dark chocolate each day for two weeks experienced an impressive drop in blood pressure.
How it works is that dark chocolate boosts the ability of arteries to dilate and let more blood flow. That’s what helps your blood pressure to come down.
Also, a Mayo Clinic study showed that flavonoids helped cut back on “bad” cholesterol while raising the levels of the “good” kind.
Here’s one for the women. In one study, women who drank a half-cup of flavonoid–enriched cocoa every day had smoother skin after three months.
So, go ahead, indulge a little. Just make sure your chocolate is dark, and keep your daily dose small. You don’t need a lot to reap the benefits. A recent study shows that just 30 calories’ worth of dark chocolate a day will do the trick.
You can buy raw cacao
Yes, raw cacao beans do taste bitter, but they are what provide the flavonoids that are so healthy for us. If you want to go natural, and go fresh and raw, then do an online search for “cacao nibs.”
Nibs are peeled raw cacao pieces that are partially fermented. They are also unroasted and unsweetened, so they don’t taste as good as cocoa. But they have all the nutritional power and they are easy to use. Just pop some in your mouth.
Food for thought
Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just on of the pieces.
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