Believe it or not, consuming chocolate has numerous health benefits. This is not just wishful thinking, it is fact. However, before running out to buy all those candy bars you’ve been resisting for so long, it’s important to know all the facts because not all chocolates are created equal. Only some chocolate contains the goodness that your body will reap the benefits from.
Where Does Chocolate Come From?
Cacao trees grow in equatorial regions around the globe and are full of natural plant nutrients. This tree produces a fruit about the size of a coconut and inside this fruit is the tree’s seed – the cacao bean. Once gathered, cacao beans are typically fermented for up to a week then thoroughly dried in the sun. They are then packaged and shipped to chocolate makers around the world.
Antioxidants that Pack a Punch
Dark chocolate contains numerous natural antioxidants. Raw, dark chocolate not only tastes rich, it is rich in cell-protecting antioxidants containing eight times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries. Hundreds of studies have shown that antioxidants are essential to protect the body from aging caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are natural compounds found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and especially in the cacao bean.
Polyphenols are a particular type of antioxidant found in dark chocolate, and are also abundant in berries and oranges. Cacao and dark chocolate is also high in a sub-class of compounds known as flavanols. Flavanols are found in red grapes and tea, and is one of the reasons why green tea has incredible health benefits.
Raw Organic Cacao and dark chocolate rank high in goodness because the antioxidants are incredibly concentrated. More than 10% of the weight of a raw cacao bean contains polyphenols. Keep in mind though, that this good news should not be a green light to start binging on dark chocolate.
What About the Fat Content in Chocolate?
Fats found in chocolate are one third oleic acid, one third stearic acid and one third palmitic acid. Oleic acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil and coconut oil. Stearic acid is a saturated fat that has a neutral effect on cholesterol. Palmitic acid is the least healthy of this trio because it is a saturated fat which has been known to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol.
No matter which way you choose to look at it, chocolate is a high calorie food that contains a small amount of “bad” fat. Many studies state that no more than 100 grams of chocolate a day should be consumed and you’ll still get all the health benefits. Don’t get too carried away though because 100 grams of delicious dark chocolate contains about 400 calories.
If you want the full health benefits of chocolate, I recommend eating only organic raw cacao dark chocolate. As delicious as they may be, milk or white chocolate cannot make the health claims that dark chocolate can because anything added into that chocolate is fat, sugar and additional calories.
Heart Benefits of Eating Dark Chocolate
According to a study published on Science Daily, eating 6.7 grams of chocolate per day represents the exemplary amount for a protective effect for cardiovascular health . Flavonoids contained in dark chocolate help to promote normal blood pressure by producing nitric oxide.
There is no shortage of studies that indicate consuming a small bar of organic raw dark chocolate every day can promote normal blood pressure. Also, this mouthwatering treat has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) by as much as 10%. Other than heart benefits, chocolate has been proven to stimulate endorphin production which creates feelings of pleasure.
Eat Your Depression Away
Here is some good news, however. The cacao bean contains many substances that work together to become nature’s anti-depressant. These magical beans contain three neurotransmitters that are associated with providing a person with a positive mental state. These neurotransmitters are: serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine.
The phenylethylamine (PEA) found in cacao beans affects brain chemistry in a unique manner. Stating that you love chocolate may not be too far off because PEA produces a brain chemistry that’s associated with falling in love.
Cacao beans also contain the amino acid tryptophan and monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. MAO inhibitors allow the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine to circulate in the bloodstream longer and it is this effect that may help alleviate depression and promote feelings of wellbeing. Pharmaceuticals have used MAO inhibitors for a long time in their anti-depressant medications. Tryptophan plays a very important role in the production of serotonin within the body.
- Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- Catholic University. Dark Chocolate: half a bar per week may keep heart attack risk at bay. ScienceDaily. 24 Sep. 2008.