The Benefits of Dark Chocolate

25 Jun

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like chocolate in some form or other.  And I am sure by now many of you have heard of the many benefits there are to DARK chocolate.  Well, my guest writer, Jenni Upton, has written an article for you to read so that you can learn more about the wonderful benefits of dark chocolate…

The Real Reason Behind the Powerful Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Studies are consistently revealing the link between what we eat and our state of health, yet often, there is a kind of mystery surrounding the precise mechanics that link certain foods to everything from cardiovascular to bone health. One of the best loved foods on our list is surely chocolate – deep, dark and nutritious, it has been found to aid the body in a host of important functions, including lowering blood1 pressure and fighting inflammation. A recent study solves the mystery of chocolate and tells us exactly how the ‘food of the Gods’ weaves its inimitable magic.

The Transformational Power of Chocolate

Researchers presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, held recently at the Dallas Convention Centre. Researchers found2 that within the gut, both beneficial and harmful bacteria thrive.’ Good bacteria’ include lactic acid bacteria and Bifidobacterium, while ‘bad bacteria’ are those which cause a number of painful and/or uncomfortable conditions, including flatulence, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Beneficial bacteria feed on chocolate, growing and fermenting to produce compounds which combat inflammation (this is a highly significant finding, since less inflammation of cardiovascular tissue results in a lower rate of strokes3). The study is particularly groundbreaking because it is the first to reveal the effects of dark chocolate on different classes of bacteria located within the stomach.

The Powerful Compounds in Chocolate

Beneficial bacteria thrive on particular polyphenols (antioxidant compounds) in chocolate, which include catechin and epicatechin. Interestingly, these components are not well digested or absorbed, but when they arrive to their destination in the colon, ‘good bacteria’ begin to feed on them. Another beneficial ingredient in chocolate is its dietary fiber, which fermented and transformed into smaller molecules, which the body finds easier to absorb and which have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Antioxidant Combinations

The leader of the study, Dr. John Finley, Ph.D., recommended consuming chocolate alongside prebiotics, since this blend increases the number of beneficial microbes in the gut. Dr. Finlay also recommended combining dark chocolate alongside powerful antioxidant foods like acai and pomegranates. Acai berries, whose flavor is similar to a blend of chocolate and wine, contains a high amount of anthocyanins4,which have been found to eliminate dangerous toxins5 from the body, stave off atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and reduce blood sugar and total cholesterol levels.

Chocolate: Make Your Choices Healthy

It is important to note that the plethora of health benefits associated with chocolate are linked to dark (not milk, white, or high-sugar chocolate varieties). Try consuming a couple of spoonfuls of raw chocolate powder, mixed with nut milk, or sprinkle it over your cereal and sweeten if necessary with a healthy, natural sweetener like stevia6. The Internet contains a myriad of fantastic recipes using raw chocolate – everything from chocolate and cottage cheese chia puddings to homemade raw chocolate granola bars, brownies and truffles – who said healthy had to be boring? Consuming raw chocolate in powdered form will also enable you to steer clear of the sometimes high fat content in commercially accessed chocolate. Finally, consider consuming raw chocolate instead of cooked and highly processed vareities7; the journal, Circulation notes8, “during the conventional manufacturing process from fresh cocoa seeds to the final product, the concentration of flavanols (antioxidants) markedly decreases. In particular, processing methods such as fermentation and roasting have a detrimental impact on the final flavanol content of foods.” The authors go on to note that milk chocolate has a much lower flavanol content that cocoa powder and dark chocolate.

Go for Quality: When shopping for raw chocolate powder or products, be selective in order to obtain the maximum benefits. Go for certified, fair trade, organic chocolate, and make sure they have been sweetened with stevia or Agave rather than sugar. If you have just 30 minutes on your hand, try making your own raw chocolate. Doing so will not only ensure the quality of what you and your family are consuming; it will also allow you the luxury of adding the ingredients you wish – everything from Omega-3-rich walnuts9 to uplifting edible essential oils (peppermint, bergamot, lavender and mandarin are just a few popular choices), powerful acai berries and the most imaginative fruit and nut combinations you can dream up!

 contributed by site reader Jenni Upton

Sources

1 D Grassi, et.al., Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005, 81: 611-614.

The precise reason for the health benefits of dark chocolate: mystery solved, American Chemical Society, Accessed May, 2014.

3 SO Keli SO, et.alDietary flavonoids, antioxidant vitamins, and incidence of stroke: the Zutphen study, Arch Intern Med, 1996, 156: 637–642.

4 Jay K Udani, et.al., Effects of Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry preparation on metabolic parameters in a healthy overweight population: A pilot study, Nutritional Journal 2011, 10:45.

5 Private Drug Detox and Withdrawal Programs, Rehabs.com accessed May, 2014.

6 Uncover the Secrets of Stevia, Whole Foods Market, accessed May, 2014.

7 Health Benefits of Raw Organic Chocolate, Solay Wellness, accessed May, 2014.

8 Roberto Corti, et.al., Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine: Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health, Circulation, 2009, 119: 1433-1441.

Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Harvard School of Public Health, accessed May, 2014.

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