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  • Aliza Beer

The Bittersweet Truth About Chocolate

Chocolate lovers rejoice! Studies show that dark chocolate may have many positive health benefits. In contrast with milk chocolate, which is loaded with unhealthy sugar, dark chocolate is filled with nutrients that can positively affect your health. Dark chocolate is made from seeds of cocoa trees and is one of the richest sources of antioxidants and minerals. It also contains a significant amount of fiber, which expands in the stomach and helps you feel full quicker. Here are some of the benefits that chocolate eaters obtain from consuming dark chocolate:

Dark Chocolate acts as a potent source of antioxidants. There is a standard called ORAC, which stands for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, measuring the antioxidant activity of foods. Cocoa beans are among the highest scoring foods on this index. Dark chocolate contains many key antioxidants, including polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others. These antioxidants help fight harmful free radicals in the body that try to cause damage. Some studies even suggest that dark chocolate may have the same if not more antioxidants than acai berries and blueberries.

Dark Chocolate may improve your cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure and helping with blood flow. The flavanols in dark chocolate stimulate the lining of your arteries, to produce a specific type of gas called Nitric Oxide to send signals to the arteries to relax, lowering resistance to blood flow and reducing blood pressure. Many studies show that chocolate can mildly improve blood flow, and may even help lower blood pressure. A famous Swiss study, in addition to a German one, both showed a link between dark chocolate consumption and lowered blood pressure combined with a reduced risk of heart attack. Additionally, an interesting Australian study showed that chocolate helped ease the increase in blood-pressure that overweight people usually experience from working out. Researchers have credited the flavanols in cocoa for causing an increase in the flexibility of veins and arteries, allowing the chocolate eater to obtain these positive health benefits.

Also, certain compounds in dark chocolate cause less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries and lower the risk of heart disease over the long term. Oxidized LDL is LDL, which is a form of cholesterol, that has reacted with free radicals. This Oxidized LDL may damage other tissues such as the lining in the arteries of the heart. However, cocoa contains powerful antioxidants that protect you against this type of damage. In one particular study observing 470 elderly men, cocoa was deemed to lessen the risk of cardiovascular death by 50% over a 15 year period. Studies indicate that people who regularly consume chocolate obtain a host of benefits for their hearts, including lower blood pressure, lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, and a lower risk of heart disease.

Flavonols in the chocolate also protect you from sun-induced damage, improving blood flow to your skin and increasing skin hydration and density. The minimum amount of harmful UVB rays required to damage the skin increases, and can even double, after consuming dark chocolate high in flavanols regularly. Thus, your skin may take twice as long to develop redness and burning.

Dark chocolate may also improve brain function, and has also been shown to improve cognitive function in elderly people suffering from mental impairment. It also improves verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease. The reason is that cocoa contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which are stimulants that help with brain function. One important study linked cocoa consumption with an increase in blood flow to the brain, thereby improving brain function. The University of Nottingham found that cocoa, due to its flavanols, increases blood flow to important parts of the brain for two to three hours and may help with improving mental performance and alertness.

Many studies show numerous benefits that dark chocolate contains, based on its plethora of nutrients, antioxidants, and other substances. However, chocolate still may have many calories, and a lack of moderation will cause some weight gain. Interestingly enough, some research shows that dark chocolate is much more filling than other types of chocolate. When choosing a chocolate, make sure to buy dark chocolate, especially one that has a high cocoa content such as one that has at least 70% cocoa, because many of the health benefits are found in the nutrients that cocoa contains. By eating a moderate portion size of a healthy dark chocolate snack, such as one or two squares, you can consume the cocoa “superfood” that is loaded with incredible benefits for your health. As long as you make sure to not over-indulge, you can gain all the benefits without making your health bittersweet.

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