Feb 082012

Dark chocolateChocolate to the Rescue!

It’s about time—deep, dark chocolate is the new nutritious and guilt-free super food!  Scientific evidence is stacking up linking daily consumption of dark chocolate to having some very credible health benefits; and just in time for Valentines Day.  I think this is just about the best nutrition news to come along in decades.


Pull over food police, while we take a look at the health and nutrition benefits of one of the world’s most beloved foods.  Chocolate’s health benefits aren’t limited to the health of the body—it has long been recognized for its remarkable effect on human mood.  So is it safe to safe that chocolate is a mind/body food?


Why is Dark Chocolate healthy?

You may have heard of a type of antioxidants called polyphenols or flavonoids. These are the same protective chemicals that are found in red wine and green tea.  Dark chocolate, it turns out, has comparable quantities of these plant based chemicals.

These same polyphenols inhibit oxidation of LDL, (bad), cholesterol.  When this waxy substance oxidizes, it tends to sick to artery walls, increasing the risk of coronary disease, heart attack or stroke.

Studies have shown that consuming a small bar of a dark chocolate treat daily reduces inflammation and promotes more relaxed and dilated blood vessels, especially if you’re diabetic.  Research performed at the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, found that chocolate thins the blood and performs the same anti-clotting activity as aspirin.

Chocolate and the Mind?

You bet—if the health benefits aren’t enough, chocolate also contains substances with mood elevating effects that can boost seratonin, and trigger the release of pleasurable endorphins associated with sexual arousal and pleasure.  The chemicals are  released in the brain when people become infatuated or fall in love.  There you have it–the scientific explanation of the aphrodisiac effect!

Another substance found in chocolate is anandamide (from the Sanskrit word “ananda,” which means peaceful bliss).  It binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as cannabinoids — the psychoactive constituents in marijuana — and produces feelings of elation and exhilaration. I sure hope this doesn’t mean  they’ll make chocolate illegal.


Why Dark Chocolate?

Nearly all the calories in milk chocolate come from the ingredients we add to it, typically butterfat and sugar.

Dark chocolate contains less sugar, and the cacao beans are processed differently to preserve the antioxidants.

The fats in dark chocolate are mostly oleic acid, (the healthy fat found in olive oil), and stearic acid, a saturated fat, but one which research shows has a neutral effect on cholesterol.

How much to eat?

We can’t ignore the fact that chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-fat food. However, most of the studies done use no more than 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces, of dark chocolate a day to determine the benefits.

According to one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding only half an ounce of dark chocolate to an average American diet is enough to increase total antioxidant capacity 4 percent, and lessen oxidation of LDL cholesterol.

So while this isn’t a pass to go searching for the best Death by Chocolate, or Better than Sex chocolate cake; it is good news.  Besides, I may be able to help you out with that search.  Nothing wrong with indulging once in awhile.

How to choose the best chocolate?

The health benefits of dark chocolate come from the cocoa present in it, so that generally means that the higher the percentage of cocoa, the “healthier” it is for you.

Most of your typical dark chocolates come in around 50-55% cocoa, but if you look hard you can find many varieties with percentages at 80% and above! The higher amount you get, the less sweet (more bitter) it’ll taste; but if you work your way up slowly, you might not notice a big difference.

double dark chocolate cookiesI know you will want to try this week’s recipe for Double Dark Chocolate Cookies.

May your life be full of healthy pleasures.

Happy Valentines Day

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