Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, helps prevent heart disease and cancer, aids in dental health, relaxes smooth muscle and has a calming effect.
There are two kinds of people in the world; those that love chocolate and those that are indifferent to it. For those that classify themselves as being addicted to chocolate or “chocoholics,” eating chocolate often brings about mixed feelings. There is the pleasure of enjoying an absolutely delightful treat and the guilt of consuming a high calorie snack. Research shows that there are many benefits to eating chocolate. The secret to chocolate is the amount and type that you select.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans and has been around for a long time. The history of the cocoa bean has been traced back to the Olmec Civilization from 1500 BCE to 400 BCE. Throughout the years it has been highly praised for its healing properties, used as a currency and considered a drink of the nobility. Most recently it has been promoted as a Super Fruit.
Research has revealed many wonderful health benefits to eating chocolate. While we consume it and delight in its taste, chocolate producers are continually developing better ways to process chocolate in order to retain more of its wonderful properties.
There are two ingredients in chocolate that provide great health benefits. They are flavinols (a sub-group of flavinoids) and tannins. It is its antioxidant properties that have allowed it to achieve the status of a Super Fruit. Chocolate also contains other naturally occurring ingredients that provide health benefits.
Flavinoids and Antioxidants
Flavinoals, a sub-group of flavinoids, are antioxidant polyphenols that naturally occur in plants. More commonly, you may have heard of the antioxidants in foods such as berries, grapes, tomatoes, green tea and red wine. Antioxidants are believed to protect cells from damage, aging, disease and probably help to prevent cancer. The good news for Chocolate Lovers is that chocolate is high in these healthy naturally occurring substances.
As well, phenols are known to have a heart healthy effect. Brian Buijsse at the German Institue for Human Nutrition found that individuals that ate small amounts of chocolate daily significantly lowered their blood pressure and had a lower chance of heart attack and stroke. Phenols are also known to prevent clogging of the arteries and therefore improving heart health.
Chocolate is also beneficial to dental health. According to Lisa Harper, Dental Hygienist and Registered Dietician, the tannins in chocolate stop the action of the bacteria on the teeth. Bacteria are responsible for the sticky plaque that grows on teeth and result in cavities.
Other Natural Ingredients
Chocolate contains tryptophan, an amino acid used by our bodies to produce serotonin. Serotonin helps us to relax and creates a state of euphoria. That theory is that serotonin and endorphin levels are raised allowing us to feel good. It is believed that the natural chemicals have a calming effect on brain function. Recent research shows that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed.
Cocoa also contains theobromine which is a smooth muscle relaxant. It has proven to be beneficial in reducing headaches, suppressing coughs and helpful in the treatment of asthma.
Even though chocolate provides so many health benefits there are some drawbacks. Chocolate has a high fat and sugar content. Some suggest that instead of eating chocolate, a healthy balanced diet that is low in sugar, salt, and fat, and full of fresh fruit and vegetables in the best choice. However, there is no need to go to be that restrictive.
Picking your chocolate carefully will allow you to enjoy the flavor and the health benefits. By enjoying a little healthy dark chocolate that is rich in flavinols you may be making a good healthy snack choice. It is important to note that some chocolate manufacturers remove flavinols from their chocolate. Research good chocolate choices in important.
Chocolate containing 70% or more cocoa is recommended. This is the chocolate that is highest in flavinoids. Dr. Linda Niessen suggests that you only need about 1 and a half ounces of dark chocolate daily to get the protective effects of the antioxidants. So, Chocoholics, go ahead and guiltlessly enjoy your chocolate, a little bit daily, knowing that you are receiving many health benefits.