Examining the health benefits of dark chocolate - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Examining the health benefits of dark chocolate

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Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 8:49 am | Updated: 12:53 pm, Fri Sep 6, 2013.

From the moment chocolate was discovered it was considered a valuable, divine and decadent treat. The first chocolate candies were invented in the 1860s by Cadbury, who was also the first to market them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day that same decade.

Dark chocolate contains healthy monounsaturated fats, saturated fats (stearic acid and palmitic acid), and flavanols, which are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and dark chocolate.

Flavonoids act as antioxidants, which help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals, and have also been shown to have anti-cancer properties

Consuming as little as a small square of dark chocolate per day provides numerous health benefits. There are antioxidants and minerals in raw cocoa, but what most people eat is chocolate loaded with milk products, sugar, chemicals and heavy metals.

Dark chocolate is lower in sugar and has a higher percentage of cocoa, which is beneficial for improving blood flow, reducing inflammation, and optimizing longevity.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition concluded that flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption has a positive influence on cholesterol, blood pressure, brain health, and insulin resistance.

Lower LDL cholesterol dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70 percent reduces oxidative stress, and improves vascular and platelet function. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a report that polyphenols appear to elevate HDL cholesterol and decrease levels of LDL cholesterol in the liver and intestine, thereby helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Decreased risk of hypertension

According to a study in the European Heart Journal, dark chocolate consumption lowers the risk of hypertension, strokes and heart disease.

Research published in the journal Hypertension showed that those who consumed moderate to high levels of cocoa flavonols (via hot cocoa) for two months improved their cognitive performance.

The improvement was significant enough for researchers to conclude that making cocoa flavonols a regular part of your diet could help maintain and improve brain health.

In this study, moderate consumption was 520 mg per day, and high consumption was 990 mg per day.

Stress reduction

Dark chocolate may actually reduce your stress levels. According to a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research, eating half an ounce of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones, cortisol and catecholamines, in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed and partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances.

Additionally, dark chocolate has caffeine that can provide a burst of energy and a mood boost in times of stress.

Dark chocolate is high in magnesium, the “anti-stress” mineral. Over time, stress depletes two very important minerals from our bodies, zinc and magnesium. Many chocolate addicts crave chocolate simply because they’re deficient in magnesium.

Increased endorphins, balanced brain chemistry

Eating dark chocolate can stimulate the production of endorphins (the “feel-good” hormones) and the release of serotonin (a natural anti-depressant), which have both been linked with reducing stress levels and elevating mood.

Because dark chocolate increases serotonin levels in the brain, it may also increase serotonin production in the gut, thereby boosting your immune system.

Aphrodisiac Cacao is extremely rich in magnesium, phosphorous, antioxidants, arginine and libido-boosting methylxanthines, making it an impressive superfood. Cacao also contains phenylethylamine, the “love chemical” that causes dopamine to be released from your brain’s pleasure center during sex.

British scientists observed couples while they ate squares of dark chocolate and while they kissed passionately. Women’s heart rates rose 20 percent more and their bodies released four times the endorphins when they ate dark chocolate.

Before you rush to add chocolate to your diet, make sure it’s organic. Many brands of chocolate are high in lead.

Also, although dark chocolate has numerous health benefits, it doesn’t mean you should eat a pound of chocolate a day.

Chocolate is still a high calorie food. Be aware that 100 grams of dark chocolate contains roughly 500 calories. Be aware that if you overeat chocolate you may experience migraines, kidney stones, weight gain, digestive problems (such as diarrhea), and heartburn.

The health benefits of chocolate apply to cocoa powder or dark chocolate with a content of at least 70 percent cocoa. The higher the cocoa content, the healthier it is, and because it contains a higher cocoa content, you’ll naturally eat less.

Milk chocolate, white chocolate, candy bars and chocolate cake are not included as they do not contain the healthy flavanols.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens, M.S., is the author of two books, “The Power of 4” and “Fat Loss Revolution.” She is a nutritionist and fitness expert with more than 25 years of experience, and creator of “21 Days to a Leaner, Healthier You,” an online exercise and fat-loss program. Visit Paula at www.PaulaOwens.com.

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