[By Felicity Chua]
For most of us, eating chocolate is a guilty pleasure… but what if you found out it could actually be really good for you!
More and more research is showing that eating chocolate is more beneficial than we ever imagined. Not all chocolate is created equal however, and certain forms of chocolate are better for your health than others. Ultimately it comes down to one key component of the rich snack: Flavonoids.
Raw chocolate is the most potent antioxidant food
Flavanoids, which are found in the cacao beans (pronounced ka-cow, from which all chocolate is made), are extremely powerful antioxidants. Perhaps the most well-known quality of cacao these days is that it contains more flavanoids than red wine, green tea, or blueberries. This is what gives chocolate especially raw cacao and dark chocolate its high “ORAC score”.
ORAC is an abbreviation for “Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity” – which is a measure of the amount of free radicals that can be neutralized by a certain mass of a food substance (usually cited as “per gram” or “per 100 grams” of the food substance). Free radicals are the cause of most degenerative diseases, premature aging, and the creation of cancer cells. Thus the more antioxidant molecules we have in our body, the more free radicals are neutralized, and the less damage is done to our cells. By preventing the damage to our DNA and mitochondria, antioxidants can stop and even reverse the aging process, and help prevent all kinds of degenerative diseases and cancers.
In fact, raw cacao 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. But for milk chocolate the ORAC score is much lower at 6,740.
Other Healthy Nutrients found in raw cacao and dark chocolate
Raw cacao is comprised of over 300 compounds including:
- Magnesium: important for the heart, muscles and nerves, the immune system, the bones and much more. It also helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure.
- Sulphur: Also known as the “beauty mineral, Sulfur promotes beautiful skin, helps build strong hair and nails, helps detoxify the liver, and supports healthy functioning of the pancreas.
- Theobromine in chocolate prevents tooth decay by eliminating streptococcus mutans, a bacteria found in the oral cavity that contributes to tooth decay. Also gives chocolate its stimulant quality
- Calcium, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, manganese and some of the B vitamins
Health benefits of Chocolate
1. Good for the Heart
Recent research studies have shown a link between cacao and heart health, with reduced risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.
The heart-healthy flavanoids in cacao, especially the Epicatechins, prevent fatty substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and then clogging the arteries.
Flavanoids also 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.
Research published in 2006 in the Archive of Internal Medicine found that men who consumed high amounts of cocoa products (2.3 grams or more per day) had a 50 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease, compared with men with the lowest consumption.
2. Lowers blood Pressure and cholesterol
Swedish researchers randomly assigned 20 subjects with high blood pressure to receive either 100 grams a day of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate or 90 grams per day of flavonoid-free white chocolate. The group receiving dark chocolate experienced a drop in blood pressure. Researchers also found that levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol dropped by 10 per cent in the dark chocolate group.
3. Psychological well being
Heart health isn’t the only thing with a link to chocolate. Chocolate is a potent source of serotonin and dopamine a natural anti-depressant, as well as monoamine oxidase which helps improve our mood by allowing serotonin and dopamine to remain in the bloodstream longer without being broken down.
Chocolate also stimulates endorphin production, which creates feelings of happiness and pleasure. Interestingly, one study found that melting chocolate in the mouth produced feelings of pleasure longer than passionate kissing. This may explain why many people naturally reach for chocolate when they’re depressed.
4. Brain Health
Cocoa contains the neurotransmitter phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA helps promote mental alertness and the ability to concentrate. The PEA in healthy chocolate can be of help to students taking tests, and to senior citizens who want to retain the mental capacity of a younger person and postpone the onset of dementia.
How should we eat it
Cacao refers to the beans still in the raw state, uncooked and unprocessed. Cacao can be found as cacao beans with or without the skin and cacao nibs.
Cocoa is what the beans are called once they have been cleaned, roasted and processed and includes
cocoa butter, powder or paste. Unfortunately once cooked and processed cocoa loses some of its nutritional goodness which are destroyed by the heat.
A great idea would be to buy raw cacao products and include them in your usual drinks such as tea or coffee or even coconut water. You can also use cacao nibs in desserts but ideally if you love dark chocolate, you should be able to adjust to the bitter taste of raw cacao which can do so many wonders for your body.
Alternatively, go with natural, unsweetened cocoa powder… you can have mounds of this because it is low in calories and still packed of flavanoids
Runners-up for health benefits are bittersweet and semisweet dark chocolate with a high cocoa percentage (greater than 70% at least). Scientists from the Italian Catholic University in Campobasso have established that just under 7 grams of chocolate per day (corresponding to a small square of chocolate twice or three times a week) represents the ideal amount for a protective effect against inflammation and cardiovascular disease.