Nutrition

The Bright Side Of Dark Chocolate

One thing that makes the world go round for many is one of life’s simplest foods: chocolate! It’s known to be associated with romance, love, relaxation, satisfaction, comfort, and unfortunately weight gain. But what people don’t realize is that it’s also very beneficial to  health! That’s right, chocolate is something you should include regularly in your diet! It almost sounds crazy, but years of research, including the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have indicated in more ways than one how your health can significantly improve with this natural source of nutrition. Of course, just like any other choice of food, you must consume it in proper portions in order to really reap the greatness of chocolate.

What is Chocolate?

So what is chocolate exactly? Chocolate comes from a fruit tree known as a cacao tree which grows pods, native to the Americas and may have originated in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon basin of South America where it can still be found wild today. These pods have a rough, leathery rind about an inch thick and are filled with a sweet pulp called ‘baba de cacao’ with about 30-50 large seeds inside that are fairly soft and white-to-pale lavender in color. Chocolate varies from unprocessed at 100% pure and dark, then slowly declining in quality with lower percentage and purity. This is because it is processed with more additives to make a more favored choice known as milk chocolate, usually as low as 33% and now even produced into the opposite which is white chocolate.

 

 

It should be burned into our brains that our body requires around 30% of our daily nutrition to come from fat for proper bodily growth and function. These “healthy” fats can come from a number of sources, dark chocolate definitely being one of them. The problem with the diminishing nutrition of chocolate typically less than 60% is where many individuals experience the weight gain, especially if not eating sparing amounts. However, it is not just white or milk chocolates that can do damage, dark chocolate can also be a culprit to the weight gain crime. This is because regardless of the higher nutrition value, people still do not factor in the large percentage of fat and calories, which is why portion control, not just with chocolate, should be exercised regularly.

 

Well now we know where chocolate comes from, the variations of it, and how it can be a negative factor if not eaten with caution. Let’s now look at the bright side of dark chocolate and get a better understanding of how this plays a positive role in our daily diets. The higher the percentage, the more potent and even bitter it can be and you may need to build a tolerance level. With that increase, naturally comes a decrease in desire of consumption due to the excellent release of endorphins that practically zap away that urge for more as well as help eliminate stress. But it’s not just the endorphins that take the trophy, it’s also power-packed with anti-oxidants, even more than a serving of blueberries, green tea, or red wine! While the list goes on and gets better, here is a re-cap and 5 additional yummy health benefits that will make you say “yes, please!” when offered some dark chocolate:

5 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

1- Vital minerals: Copper; Magnesium; Potassium; Calcium; Iron. These are essential for your health and especially for your heart. Copper is critical as it aids in the absorption of iron and is a key component of enzymes that form skin-strengthening collagen. Magnesium may help reduce the risk of several chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Potassium is a key factor in helping to prevent high blood pressure and stroke, regulates heartbeat, and protects circulation and blood vessels. Research done at Harvard Medical School concluded that dark chocolate consumption is inversely correlated to prevalent coronary heart disease[1]. Calcium of course is the champion compound for great bones and teeth, but also aides in weight maintenance. Iron is required to help carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and other organs – a gym-lovers mineral!

 

 

2- Natural “high”: Dark chocolate naturally contains caffeine, about 27mg / 1.5oz bar compared to about 200mg in a single 8oz cup of coffee which unfortunately multiplies up to 3 cups for coffee drinkers. Dark chocolate is also known for phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you are falling in love. It rapidly releases endorphins, making you feel happy as it relaxes your mind.

 

 

3- Glycemic Index (GI) friendly on the scale: The more intense the chocolate, the less carbs and sugar. This means it won’t cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels and can reduce insulin resistance by helping the cells to function normally and regain the body’s use of insulin efficiently.[2]

 

 

4- “Beauty” of Anti-Oxidants: These are best known for a strong immune system, helping rid your body of free radicals which cause oxidative damage to cells and protect you from many types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, gallstones, arthritis, even slow the signs of aging to maintain natural beauty and healthy skin. Did you know that chocolate contains 4 times the amount of antioxidants as green tea[3]?  This is partly due to the catechin content of chocolate. Catechins are an antioxidant usually found in tea leaves which have been found to be 100 times more potent than vitamin c[4].

5- Excellent source of energy: 1/3 Monounsaturated fat is to thank in this case for it is a heart-healthy fat and is key to lower LDL cholesterols and raise HDL cholesterols. This was recently published by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts[5]. Another 1/3 is a saturated fat known as Stearic Acid but according to research has a neutral affect on cholesterol levels. The last 1/3 of fat is also saturated and is called Palmitic Acid but it can undo all the benefits of HDL cholesterols which is also a big reminder why chocolate should not be consumed excessively.

Conclusion

Eating chocolate shouldn’t be restricted to holiday treats and cheat-days just because of the high calorie and fat content. It should have a small daily limit of about 1/2oz, but that little bit can stretch your health, taste, and satisfaction a long ways. There are tons of healthy foods out there and we are blessed that such a “loving” compound of nutrition such as chocolate is a recommended source! Making the switch from milk to dark chocolate, preferably 72% and above, is a slow process but a guarantee that an improvement in your health is to follow. So go ahead! Smear a little peanut butter on a square, topped with a piece of banana, toss some raisins, almonds, and chocolate chunks together in a zip lock for a to-go snack, or even just give to someone with an appreciation note. Maintaining a great workout regimen will definitely reflect your change in choice as well as making more consistent, relaxing, happy thoughts!

Selected References

1. R.Ellison et al. (2011).Chocolate consumption is inversely associated with prevalent coronary heart disease: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study. Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

2. Livestrong.com. (2011). Glycemic Index of Dark Chocolate

3. M.Simadibrata (2003). Anti-free Radical Effects of Dark Chocolate in Radical Damage and Constipation

4. C.Y. Lee et al.(2003).Cocoa has more phenolic phytochemicals and a higher antioxidant capacity than teas and red wine. Journal of Agricultural and food chemistry.

5. L.Djousse et al.(2011).Effects of cocoa products/dark chocolate on serum lipids: a meta-analysis. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

 

Author: Heather Prescott

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