A heart-shaped box of chocolate has often been used traditionally to show affection or even as a peace offering. Although it was formerly viewed as a guilty indulgence, extensive scientific studies have demonstrated that one of the many ways to incorporate more antioxidants into a healthy diet is through the inclusion of raw, dark, or lightly-processed chocolate.
Chocolate as a Health Food
The body is continually processing everything it ingests, from food to oxygen, and this creates byproducts; healthy and unhealthy. Free radicals are formed in the body by the simple act of breathing. There are (albeit few) positive effects caused by free radicals, such as the elimination of certain forms of bacteria. However, the problem with free radicals is that they create a chemical reaction, and once it starts it has a cascading effect on a cellular level that, if unchecked, can lead to cell damage or serious disease.
The valuable benefit to be found in chocolate is its ability to reduce blood pressure and improve the health of the arteries. Chocolate contains antioxidants that not only assist in stabilizing the effects of free radicals but also work with oxidants to help maintain balance.
In order to gain the positive advantages of chocolate, it is important that the chocolate be as dark as possible. This means that raw or lightly processed dark chocolate be chosen. Cocoa contains a natural substance called flavonoids which help protect the plant from harmful toxins. When chocolate is processed flavonoids are lost, thus diminishing the chocolate’s antioxidant properties.
Another facet to the correlation between processing chocolate and its antioxidant properties can be found in its taste. Raw, natural, dark chocolate is very bitter. This bitterness comes from the other natural chemicals found in the cocoa plant (polyphenol, procyanidin, and reservatrol) and these chemicals are potent antioxidants. Trying to remove the bitter taste of chocolate by adding sugars, flavorings, or additives such as trans fats, stabilizers, hydrogenated oils or preservatives not only strip chocolate of its color, but also its effectiveness. If sweetened, only natural sweeteners should be used.
Natural is Best
Interestingly, the addition of simple ingredients such as milk produces a counterproductive effect upon chocolate’s antioxidant value. Mauro Serafini, PhD conducted a study for the National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, Italy. His study showed that drinking milk after eating dark chocolate directly interferes with the body’s absorption of antioxidants. Even drinking milk after eating dark chocolate negatively affects its antioxidant abilities. Milk chocolate or white chocolate quite simply do not produce the same results as dark chocolate, and should be avoided,
It requires a surprisingly small amount to gain the benefit of dark or lightly-processed chocolate. Serafini’s study is based upon 100-gram servings consumed on a daily basis, roughly equivalent to eating a small bar of dark chocolate every day.
Thus, the next time a heart-shaped box of chocolates arrives, ensure that it is dark chocolate and as plain and as unprocessed as possible. The gift will be more than a symbolic gesture of peace and affection; it will be a gift to the heart as well.
Dark chocolate has been determined to be a powerful antioxidant, with benefits ranging from mood enhancement, strengthening of the immune system, reducing risks of stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure, and perhaps extension of life span in the near future. But can we really call either a nutritional supplement?
We can now. If it’s IsaDelight™
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