Chocolate has been used for its healing and medicinal properties for thousands of years. More recently, dark chocolate has received a great deal of media attention because of its health benefits. Researchers are finding scientific evidence for dark chocolate’s healing properties.
What is the science behind dark chocolate?
Flavonoids protect plants from environmental toxins and help repair cell damage. Flavonoids, found in a variety of foods such as berries, tea, and red wine, are natural antioxidants. Antioxidants are important for good health because they protect cells from the damaging effects of unstable molecules known as free radicals.
Consuming foods rich in flavonoids yields benefits from the power of these antioxidants. Dark chocolate contains some of the highest concentrations of flavonoids. In addition to having antioxidant qualities, cocoa flavonoids have been shown to help lower blood pressure and LDL blood cholesterol, improve vascular function and cognition, and possibly lower the risk of diabetes and stroke.
An added bonus: chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is the same mood-elevating chemical that your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release feel-good endorphins that can also result in more calm and contentment.
What about milk chocolate and white chocolate?
Not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols. As with berries and leafy greens, the darker the color of the chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains and the better it is for you. In addition, the more the chocolate is processed, the more flavanols are lost. Dark chocolate has the highest amount of cocoa flavanols, milk chocolate has less, and white chocolate has none. For health purposes, your best choice is likely dark chocolate.
How can I gain health benefits from dark chocolate?
Be selective about the dark chocolate you choose. Generally the higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain. Be aware of those extra ingredients that can add fat and calories. As with any sweet treat, moderation is key. While scientists are still determining the optimal amount of chocolate for health benefits, you can probably enjoy a small piece (about one ounce) of dark chocolate guilt-free a few times per week. And don’t forget to consume other flavonoid-rich foods like cranberries, apples, red wine, onions, and tea!
For the best dark chocolate, buy organic or fair-trade chocolate whenever possible, and shop at a local chocolatier like Fazio’s Chocolate who offers a wide assortment of the highest quality dark chocolate.