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.
The History of the Cacao Bean
Chocolate is made from cacao beans and has been around for a long time. The history of the cacao 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.
Let’s learn more about this wonderful treat.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is produced from cocoa beans that grow on trees! Some of the health benefits of chocolate are that it improves blood flow, protects skin from the damaging effects of the sun, and could improve brain function. Some of the ingredients in dark chocolate which are considered health benefits are listed in the following slides.
Flavonoids and Antioxidants
There are two ingredients in chocolate that provide great health benefits. They are flavanols (a sub-group of flavonoids) 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.
Flavanols and Polyphenols
Flavanols, a sub-group of flavonoids, 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, and disease and probably help to prevent cancer. The good news for chocolate lovers is that chocolate is high in these healthy, naturally occurring substances.
Polyphenols are also known to have a heart-healthy effect. Brian Buijsse at the German Institute 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. Polyphenols are also known to prevent clogging of the arteries and therefore improve heart health.
Tannins for Teeth
Chocolate is also beneficial to dental health. 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. This just keeps getting better and better.
High in Minerals Such as Magnesium
Magnesium is an important mineral that is often overlooked. It helps with keeping blood sugar and blood pressure at normal levels as well as supports muscle and nerve functions. Low magnesium can lead to many health issues down the line. Dark chocolate is also high in iron, zinc, copper, and phosphorous, all vital minerals our bodies require for optimal health.
Contains Powerful Antioxidants
Protects you against aging and many diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants protect your cells from free radicals, which are molecules your body produces when it breaks down food, or you’re exposed to pollution.
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 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.
Choose Your Chocolate Wisely
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 flavanols, you may be making a good healthy snack choice. It is important to note that some chocolate manufacturers remove flavanols from their chocolate. Researching good chocolate choices is important.
Chocolate containing 70% or more cocoa is recommended. This is the chocolate that is highest in flavonoids. 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.
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