Several weeks ago I wrote a piece about the health benefits of sex, so I thought a good follow up to that would be listing the benefits of another player often cast as the bad guy. Chocolate is made from tropical Theobroma cacao tree seeds. Its earliest use dates back to the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica. After the European discovery of the Americas, chocolate became very popular in the wider world, and its demand exploded.
Chocolate receives a lot of bad press because of its high fat and sugar content. Its consumption has been associated with acne, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes. However, according to a review of chocolate’s health effects published in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine, it’s not all bad news. The authors point to the discovery that cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, contains biologically active phenolic compounds. This information has stimulated research into how it might impact aging, and conditions such as oxidative stress, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis.
But not all chocolate is created equal.
There are several types of chocolate. Most people divide chocolate into three categories: white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate. I do not. I love my chocolate like I love my women, dark and a little bitter.
The FDA does not have a standard of identity for dark chocolate, but the general consensus is that dark chocolate typically contains between 70 percent to 99 percent pure cacoa or cocoa solids. Some set the standard for dark chocolate even lower at 60 percent or less. Once harvested, the cacao beans are typically fermented and dried before being sent off to factories for further production. Pure cacao and pure cocoa powder both have antioxidants and health benefits. However, raw cacao powder is different because it does not undergo any heating and therefore has more nutrients and health properties. So, not only does it taste best, it has the highest potency of the most beneficial ingredients. Ha. So there.
Legally, milk chocolate only needs to be at least 10 percent pure chocolate with at least 3.39 percent milk fat and at least 12 percent milk solids. Studies have shown that the proteins in milk might reduce the absorption of the healthy antioxidants from cocoa. What’s the problem with milk? Milk actually appears to bind itself to the flavonoids (a type of nutrient) in chocolate, making them unavailable to our bodies. This is why milk chocolate is not a good antioxidant source. But who wants milk chocolate when dark chocolate exists in the world? Evidently a lot of people. Oh well. If you like milk chocolate, that’s on you. It takes all kinds to make a world.
White chocolate? There IS no “white chocolate”. White chocolate is not really chocolate at all because it doesn’t even have contain any cocoa solids, only cocoa butter. None of the nutrient benefits, none of the dark, bitter, semi-sweet allure of dark, none of the kinda, sorta, allure of milk. If you actively like white chocolate I really don’t understand you and don’t think we can be friends
But I digress.
Chocolate’s antioxidant potential may have a range of health benefits. The higher the cocoa content, as in dark chocolate, the more benefits there are. And it is important to note that the possible health benefits mentioned below came from single studies. More research is needed to confirm that eating chocolate can really improve people’s health. But for now, I’ll take that chance. Some of the (possible) benefits?
One study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, suggests that chocolate consumption might help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, also known as “bad cholesterol.” The authors concluded: “Regular consumption of chocolate bars containing PS (plant sterols) and CF (cocoa flavonoids), as part of a low-fat diet, may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure.”
Scientists at Harvard Medical School have suggested that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day could help keep the brain healthy and reduce memory decline in older people. The researchers found that hot chocolate helped improve blood flow to parts of the brain where it was needed. Also, results of a lab experiment, published in 2014, indicated that a cocoa extract, called lavado, might reduce or prevent damage to nerve pathways found in patients with Alzheimer’s
Research suggests that consuming chocolate could help lower the risk of developing heart disease by 1/3. Based on their observations, the authors concluded that higher levels of chocolate consumption could be linked to a lower risk of cardiometabolic disorders. A further study, published in the journal Heart in 2015, tracked the impact of diet on the long-term health of 25,000 men and women. The findings suggested that eating up to 100 grams (g) of chocolate each day may be linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
Fetal growth and development
Eating 30 grams (about one ounce) of chocolate every day during pregnancy might benefit fetal growth and development, according to a study presented at the 2016 Pregnancy Meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Atlanta, GA.
Findings published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggest that a little dark chocolate might boost oxygen availability during fitness training. Researchers who studied cyclists doing time trials in the United Kingdom found that “After eating dark chocolate, the riders used less oxygen when cycling at a moderate pace and also covered more distance in a two-minute flat-out time trial.”.
So choose your benefit.
You can run faster and jump higher.
And, best of all, it’s CHOCOLATE!
So don’t sit around on your lazy backside. Jump on the chocolate health train.
It’s not just for breakfast anymore.