Health & Wellness

Sweet Benefits of Chocolate

10.15.10 Chocolate

Chocolate is the international darling of the candy world.  Its guilty lure dates as far back as the 1500s when the cocoa bean was used as currency, for religious rituals, and for medical purposes. Historians indicate that the cacao tree had its origins in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and South America.  These rich, dark, flavorful cacao beans are really seeds from the fruit pods of the cacao tree and were found too delectable to be confined to religion and medicine alone. So chocolate made its way to Europe where an Englishman (Joseph Fry) birthed the world’s first solid chocolate, a practical paradise for chocolate lovers.

Contemporary research continues to uncover new and interesting finds regarding this sweet temptation.  Did you know that the cacao bean is a rich source of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and copper?  It also contains B-vitamins, vitamins C and E, and carries a potent antioxidant capacity. The antioxidants most present in cacao beans are flavanols which are also found in specific plant-based foods such as: apples, berries and nuts.  Flavanols are also found in red wine.  The combined nutritive value of cacao beans is suggestive of specific health benefits, and for this reason chocolate has captivated the interest of confectionary lovers everywhere.

Chocolate Spoon

When ranked against other antioxidant rich plant foods, cacao beans have ten times more antioxidant power and contemporary researchers suggest the following health benefits of chocolate:

The antioxidant action of flavonols present in cacao beans may fight against free radicals (harmful molecules associated with forming cancer cells).

May lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

May raise good cholesterol (HDL).

May decrease blood pressure in people with high BP

May help maintain healthy blood sugar levels

Natural cacao is not alkalized.  So, when you’re selecting chocolate, look for the non-alkalized or lightly alkalized cocoas more commonly termed ‘dutched’ chocolate. Remember richer flavonol levels are found in dark chocolate (43 percent) compared to milk chocolate (30 percent).  The processing that alkalized cocoa undergoes reduces its beneficial effect. One rule of thumb is to choose dark chocolate that is at least 40 percent cacao bean. The next time you indulge in the international darling of confectionaries, remember to choose the rich dark (dutched) variety, and also remember that its delicious goodness is loaded with calories approximately 135 to 150 calories per ounce. So enjoy but in moderation.

Written by: Beverly J.D.Hernandez, R.D., PhD and Barbara J. Lathem, R.D., L.D/ Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, Ga.

Cotton Candy Magazine®