It’s been widely publicized that dark chocolate may have the health benefit of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and inflammation. With so many chocolate lovers out there, this was some great news. Justifying eating this wonderful treat because it’s actually healthy for you!
But, are there buts to it like anything else? Thus, deflating you yet again and steering you away from something delicious? Maybe, maybe not.
What’s Behind the Chocolate Hype
Chocolate is derived from the cocoa bean, which is rich in antioxidant flavonoids. Foods with antioxidant properties are wonderful to hear about. Talk about guilt free foods!
Antioxidant is a very broad term that refers to hundreds of substances. The ones of most notoriety are Vitamins A, C, and E, beta-carotene, selenium, lutein, lycopene and polyphenols. These are found in familiar foods such as berries, nuts, and beans. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are both a natural byproduct of normal processes in our body’s cells, and from those environmental toxins we come into contact with such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet rays. Our body’s cells naturally produce strong antioxidants, while the foods we eat supply others, such as those mentioned above.
Back to the Cocoa Bean
Remember, the cocoa bean was rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids are a wonder of nature in that they are found only in plants, and help protect plants from those environmental toxins, fungi and microbes. They also help the plant repair damage.
Flavonoids have hit notoriety because of their possible medicinal use in fighting against certain types of cancers, atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the artery walls), and high cholesterol. The main type of flavonoid in the cocoa bean are flavonols. These flavonols contain antioxidant properties that may serve a role to improve blood flow and lower bad cholesterol (LDL).
Why Dark Chocolate over Milk Chocolate
Not all chocolate is created equally. Cocoa is very pungent and bitter. So, in order to make it taste good, most of the chocolates available on the U.S. grocery shelves are heavily processed. The more heavily processed, the more flavonols are lost, and so it becomes just another unhealthy food to eat.
The silver lining is in the dark chocolate, and the darker the better. It’s believed that more of the flavonols are retained during processing of dark chocolate than say, milk chocolate. However, it all comes down to the manufacturing process, which we aren’t always privy to. However, for now, dark chocolate appears to be the better health conscious choice.
So, when you feel you just have to treat yourself, a moderate amount of dark chocolate (one ounce) a few times a week may be a good choice. This, along with those other flavonoid rich foods, such as berries, citrus fruits, and legumes, can round out your diet without the guilt.