Dark chocolate has an abundance of benefits that we rarely consider. The real deal is, we have yet to recover from the holiday candy frenzy throughout the entire year! It begins with Halloween, goes straight through Christmas, and already, we’re inundated with even more candy with Valentine’s Day and Easter! Whoa! And it’s not easy for any of us! It’s all too easy to be tempted by media and their bionic ways of enticement. But amongst this barrage of refined sugar, there are treats that can satisfy a sweet tooth without the metabolic consequences!
Dark Chocolate! Need I Say More 🙂
Consider the dark side… Of chocolate that is! 😀 It’s not exactly a superfood, but it does have a few things going for it. After all, it’s not called “Theobroma cacao” – “Food of the Gods,” for nothing! 😀
Cocoa contains polyphenols that may be beneficial for cardiovascular health. What’s more, cocoa also has been found to modulate inflammation. Catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanidins make up approximately 37%, 4% and 58% of cocoa bean polyphenols. The content of polyphenols in chocolate depends on how much of the non-fat cocoa solids are in them.
The highest phenolic content is found in:
- cocoa powder (72%-87%),
- baking chocolate (45%-49%),
- dark chocolate (20%-30%),
- semi-sweet (15%-19%),
- and milk chocolate (5%-7%)
Darker chocolates not only have higher amounts of beneficial polyphenols, but it also has less sugar.
It Does a Body Good!
Regular consumption of natural cocoa has been linked to reduced blood pressure and an overall improvement in cardiovascular health. Cocoa polyphenols may help inhibit oxidation of LDL particles. Not only that, they also inhibit activity of lipoxygenase, and down regulate production of inflammatory cytokines. It may even act as a natural ACE inhibitor.
A Good Fat Source?
Aside from the phenolic component, cocoa is also a source of fat. However, the predominant fatty acid in cocoa butter—saturated stearic acid—has a neutral effect on blood lipids. And the second most predominant fatty acid in cocoa butter is monounsaturated oleic acid. This is the same fatty acid celebrated as being responsible for olive oil’s heart-healthy status! So, compared to inexpensive chocolates loaded with partially-hydrogenated soy and cottonseed oils, good, quality, dark chocolate contains fats that may actually be good for us. 😀
When it comes to cocoa powder, recipes may specify “natural” or “Dutched” cocoa. Dutching involves combining the cocoa with an alkali, in order to neutralize the acidity and harsh flavors. (Natural cocoa has a pH of about 5-6, while dutched cocoa is closer to a neutral 7.) The success of the recipe depends on the type of cocoa used, but it’s important to note that the polyphenol content of cocoa is reduced by the Dutching process.
Using it in the Kitchen
For a luscious cold weather treat, consider a mug of homemade hot cocoa. Made with natural, unsweetened cocoa powder, whole milk, and stevia, this is a warm treat sure to beat the winter blues. And without spiking blood sugar! (Those who are dairy intolerant can use a nut or coconut milk. Opt for full-fat coconut milk, rather than “lite,” since the beneficial portion of coconut (aside from its high fiber content) is found in the fat. Coconut contains antimicrobial lauric and capric acids, plus other medium-chain triglycerides, which are beneficial for memory, cognitive function and neurological health.
For a spicy Mexican-style cocoa, add a pinch of cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Cinnamon may be beneficial for moderating blood glucose and metabolic markers for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, while cayenne pepper is a natural pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and may help support weight loss and weight management.
From a nutritional standpoint, dark chocolate may not be equivalent to a grass-fed steak and a pile of steamed broccoli, but one of the country’s leading medical centers agrees: it beats the pants off marshmallows and candy hearts!
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