There are many superfoods listed – usually between 10 and 20. I have written my blog posts according to my personal favourites. Saving the best for last, here are the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Most people love chocolate – I do! What I found for myself was that eating regular milk chocolate was never satisfying. You could always eat more. It can be very difficult to stop, especially if you don’t have self-discipline. The sugar and less cocoa content is responsible for this. I’m not a fan of white chocolate, so it really isn’t tempting to me. After reading and understanding what is behind dark chocolate, it became my favourite type of chocolate and that is why I chose it as my last superfood.
Did you realise that chocolate is plant-derived, as are the fruits and vegetables recommended to be heart healthy?
While a little dark chocolate is good, a lot is not better. Chocolate is still loaded with calories/kilojoules. If you’re going to eat more chocolate, you’ll have to cut back somewhere else. With Easter here, so much emphasis seems to be around marketing chocolate eggs, bunnies, etc. Overindulgence is not recommended! Remember that a balanced diet and regular exercise is still the key to good health and wellness.
If you enjoy strong dark chocolate, you get more of the good stuff — cocoa. This in turn has less of the sugar, and your chocolate craving should be satisfied with lesser amounts. If you substitute plain dark chocolate for junk food, you will come out ahead health-wise. On the other hand, there are plenty of other, perhaps healthier ways to boost your flavonoid intake: fruits and vegetables give you the added benefits of fibre, vitamins and minerals, while straight black or green tea give you an antioxidant boost.
Dark chocolate does contain a bit of protein and various minerals including iron, copper, magnesium and zinc. However its main saving grace is that it contains high levels of flavonoids — chemicals that help protect plants from disease and insects. Gram for gram, cocoa contains higher levels of flavonoids than other renowned sources such as red wine, tea, apples and berries!
Studies have shown the benefits of both cocoa and high-cocoa chocolate have shown that it not only tastes good and stimulates endorphins, the feeling of pleasure but it also:
• Improves blood vessel health which in turn can help to lower blood pressure.
• Contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant.
• Can help to lower cholesterol.
• Can improve insulin resistance and sensitivity.
• Helps to reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. However, people with normal blood pressure don’t appear to be affected.
• Reduces inflammation and plaque build-up in blood vessels, which can lead to atherosclerosis.
• Decreases blood platelet activity. Chocolate has been found to have the same anti-platelet effects as aspirin.
Dark chocolate also improves cholesterol profile by increasing HDL (good cholesterol) levels and lowering LDLs (bad cholesterol).
Here is some more good news — Even though it contains high levels of saturated fat, some of the fats in chocolate do not impact your cholesterol. The fats in chocolate are 1/3 oleic acid, 1/3 stearic acid and 1/3 palmitic acid:
• Oleic Acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil.
• Stearic Acid is a saturated fat but one which research is shows has a neutral effect on cholesterol.
• Palmitic Acid is also a saturated fat, one which raises cholesterol and heart disease risk.
That means only 1/3 of the fat in dark chocolate is bad for you.
• The stearic acid is converted to oleic acid which doesn’t raise cholesterol. Combined with the oleic acids already present in the chocolate, these appear to counteract the negative effects of the other saturated fat, palmitic acid, making it at least blood cholesterol neutral and perhaps even lowering it.
Does it have to be dark? The answer is yes. Dark chocolate for most is an acquired taste. It has been suggested that the milk proteins inhibit the absorption of cocoa flavonoids, so even if you eat more milk chocolate to compensate for the lack of cocoa, or eat milk chocolate with higher cocoa content, you still won’t get the same benefit as eating pure dark chocolate.
It has also been suggested that eating or drinking dairy products such as milk just before or after dark chocolate reduces its effects.
It can be healthy, but…
To add to the confusion, not all chocolate is created equal — levels of flavonoids may depend not only on the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, but also the growing conditions, initial handling of the cocoa beans and the manufacturing process. What you buy might not be in the same league as what was proven beneficial in tests.
This makes it hard to pin down how much of which chocolate you need for health benefits. And the amount of chocolate consumed in some of these studies is enormous. The 100 grams of chocolate in some studies would account for more than one-quarter of the average person’s daily kilojoule requirements — with little other nutritional benefit. The dark chocolate that I recommend is the Lindt 70% or 85% varieties.
Like fine wine, appreciating fine chocolate is a “fun way to live longer” and a fantabulous way to receive some health benefits along the way!