As a health and fitness expert I have always advocated the concept of reward – a little indulgence, a treat for the hard work and discipline that goes with being fit. And it was that motivation that led to my becoming a Dove distributor. Another factor was that there is some really good news about chocolate.
In fact, if you are a chocolate lover like moi, it’s the greatest health news ever! Studies in two leading health and nutrition journals say dark chocolate is good for you.
Antioxidants in Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate — but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk — is a potent antioxidant, reports Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, and colleagues. Their report appears in the Aug. 28 issue of Nature. Antioxidants gobble up free radicals, destructive molecules that are implicated in heart disease and other ailments.
“Our findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate … and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate.”
WebMD: Translation: Say “Dark, please,” when ordering at the chocolate counter. Don’t even think of washing it down with milk. And if health is your excuse for eating chocolate, remember the word “moderation” as you nibble.
A Brief History of Chocolate
The cacao tree, whose pods contain seeds that can be processed into chocolate, was discovered 2,000 years ago in the tropical rainforests of the Americas. The first people known to have consumed cacao were the Classic Period Maya (250-900 A.D.). They mixed ground cacao (cocoa) seeds with seasonings to make a bitter, spicy drink that was believed to be a health elixir.
To the Mayans, cocoa pods symbolized life and fertility. The pod was often represented in religious rituals, including marriage ceremonies, and was referred to as food of the gods. In central Mexico, the Aztecs believed that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cocoa tree, and that it had nourishing, fortifying, and even aphrodisiac qualities.
Europeans got their first taste of chocolate in 1519, when Montezuma offered the spicy drink to Spanish explorer Cortés and his army. The Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa seeds back to Spain, where they introduced new spices and sugar to the liquid concoction. The fad drink spread throughout Europe, where it remained a beverage of the elite for centuries.
“In 1753 Carl von Linneaeus, the Swedish scientist, thought that chocolate was so important that he named the genus and species of the chocolate tree himself. He named this tree Theobroma Cacao, which literally means: cacao, the food of the gods. Just what the indigenous Native Americans called it.” – from Naked Chocolate, David Wolfe
The first machine-made chocolate was produced in Barcelona in 1780, paving the way for the mass production of chocolate. Later, mechanical inventions made it possible to produce smooth, creamy, solid chocolate for eating — not just the liquid for drinking. The first solid chocolate bar was developed by British chocolate maker Fry & Sons in the early 1800s.
Chocolate makes health headlines.
Dark chocolate contains healthful flavonoids similar to those found in tea, red wine, fruits, and vegetables. Studies have shown that small portions of dark chocolate can improve blood vessel flow and may improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity to help reduce the risk of diabetes. But beware, chocolate candy has plenty of saturated fat and sugar, so enjoy small portions of as part of a healthy diet.
An Italian study shows that dark chocolate can significantly reduce the inflammation that leads to cardiovascular disease. The ideal amount is 6.7 grams per day (0.23 ounces). A typical Hershey chocolate bar weighs about 43 grams. That means eating one dark chocolate bar over the course of 6 1/2 days to get 6.7 grams per day.
The study was conducted by Research Laboratories of the Catholic University in Campobasso and the National Cancer Institute of Milan and has been published in the Journal of Nutrition. The data come from an epidemiological study called the Moli-sani Project, which selected men and women at least 35 years old randomly from city hall registries in southern Italy.
A Super Antioxidant FRUIT, Actually
You may be surprised to learn that cocoa is actually a FRUIT – and even more surprised to learn that it is actually one of THE HEALTHIEST fruits on the planet!
Recent research studies have shown a link between cocoa and cardiovascular health, with reduced risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.
Cornell University food scientists discovered that cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidants found in green tea.
In fact, raw cocoa has the highest antioxidant value of all the natural foods in the world. The ORAC score per 100 grams of unprocessed raw cacao is 28,000, compared to 18,500 for Acai Berries, 1,540 for Strawberries, and only 1,260 for raw Spinach. The ORAC score for a typical manufactured Dark Chocolate is an impressive 13,120 – although one unique, organic, and non-roasted brand of Dark Chocolate has a much higher ORAC score. But for Milk Chocolate the ORAC score is much lower at 6,740.
Cocoa also appears to have anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. And cocoa is a good source of the minerals magnesium, sulphur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese; plus some of the B Vitamins.
When heart problems occur, magnesium is the most likely mineral to be missing in the person’s diet.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Catherine Morgan writes at Living with CFS: “Could dark chocolate help relieve some symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome? A new study says it may.”
According to the scientists from Hull York Medical School who carried out the pilot study, it is possible the dark chocolate is boosting levels of serotonin, a brain chemical. They also stressed that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) patients should consume moderate amounts of chocolate.
Recently dark chocolate has also been found to be beneficial in helping lower blood pressure. Of course it’s not recommended as a treatment, and should be used in moderation. I love dark chocolate, so if this turns out to be true, I’ll have no problem munching on a bit of dark chocolate each day.
Cocoa has a high content of the “beauty” mineral, sulfur. Sulfur helps build strong nails and hair, promotes healthy and beautiful skin, helps detoxify the liver, and supports healthy functioning of the pancreas.
Fresh cocoa beans are super-rich in the type of bioflavonoid called flavanols which are strong antioxidants that help maintain healthy blood flow and blood pressure. The heart-healthy flavanols in cocoa, especially the epicatechins, prevent fatty substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and then clogging the arteries.
Flavanols help make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes – without the negative side effects associated with the use of aspirin (ASA) and other pharmaceutical blood-thinners.
If the pharmaceutical industry managed to produce a patented product that offered all the health benefits of cocoa, they would likely proclaim it a “miracle drug”! But since cocoa is widely available, is relatively inexpensive, and does not require you to pay for a doctor’s prescription nor pay fees to a dispensing pharmacy, you are not likely to hear many members of the medical establishment recommending chocolate for its many health benefits.
You may also be surprised to learn that dark chocolate can help you lose weight! Because it has appetite-suppressant properties, cocoa is often added to weight loss products to help control hunger.
The Dark Chocolate Diet?
Okay now, please be reminded (as even I must) the great news about chocolate’s health properties is absolutely no excuse to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure — if you’ve reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure, say the researchers. But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things.
Dark chocolate is healthy, but it is still important to consume in moderation. While the unadulterated fruit is loaded with phytochemicals and nutrients, processed chocolate is not. Many low-quality chocolate brands and milk chocolate products are actually bereft of most of the beneficial flavonoids. Always look for extra dark chocolate and very dark products for health benefits.
While the cocoa bean itself provides a moderately healthy dose of oleic, palmitic, and stearic fatty acids, when combined with milk fat, chocolate can turn from a natural heart-healthy treat to a saturated fat health hazard. The amount of sugar in some chocolate products is also a concern.
The best way to utilize the nutrition, antioxidants, and beneficial properties of this food? Savor a small piece of DARK chocolate once a day, or once every other day.
All things in moderation.