All chocolate is made from the cocoa or cacao bean, both of which come from the same fruiting tree, also known as Theobroma Cacao.
Once harvested and processed, they are used to either make dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate.
The latter of which however is not considered by many to be a true chocolate, on the grounds that only the cocoa fat is used rather than the most nutritious part, the bean.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Not all chocolate is made equal!
It is evident that not all chocolate is made equal.
The higher the cocoa or cacao content in chocolate the darker it is and the more epicatechins it contains, a type of flavanol or antioxidant that has been associated with so many health benefits.
This is because milk proteins in paler chocolate tends to interfere with the absorption of these antioxidants, therefore dark chocolate is by far nutritionally superior to milk chocolate.
The crème de la crème of dark chocolates is made from cacao
It comes from the cacao bean, it is raw and less refined than cocoa, and therefore nutritionally the supreme choice of chocolates.
Cocoa on the other hand is also nutritious, but perhaps not as nutrient dense as it actually comes from the leftover hull of the cacao bean, tends to be more refined, ground up and commonly sold as cocoa powder.
Chocolate that is at least 70% dark is not only nutritionally higher than milk chocolate, but also contains more fibre, vitamins and minerals such as Magnesium, Zinc and Selenium – the latter of which is an antioxidant in its own right.
Is there such a thing as healthy chocolate?
The answer is Yes! And here’s why.
1. Heart and cardio friendly
Not only is dark chocolate good for the heart, but it can also help to lower blood pressure, raise the protective cholesterol HDL, whilst preventing the more harmful cholesterol LDL from oxidising and causing damage to the arteries that supply blood to the heart, brain and body.
These benefits not only lower the risk factor of coronary heart disease but cardiovascular disease as well.
2. Turns up brain power
Dark chocolate improves blood flow and circulation to the brain, promotes overall brain function, concentration and energy.
There is also the added effect from the small traces of caffeine and a compound called theobromine found in cocoa, that can provide a temporary boost to brain function.
What’s more, the antioxidant capacity prevents mental decline, keeping us younger and sharper!
Chocolate can reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and stimulate endorphins which are nature’s own morphine to promote feelings of pleasure, an effect that is normally achieved through exercising.
Furthermore, dark chocolate also increases serotonin, also known as the happy hormone.
In fact, one study found that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) sufferers who consumed 45g of dark chocolate daily over the course of 8 weeks, felt less anxious, depressed and physically more active. This was attributed in part to the anti-inflammatory effects from the polyphenols of dark chocolate, and the mood elevating effects of serotonin.
4. Healthy weight and BMI
People who eat dark chocolate are more likely to have a healthier weight, lower BMI and Body Fat Index than those who don’t, despite the extra calories consumed.
It can also help to lower cravings for unhealthy food, and has a higher ‘fullness factor’ rating according to nutritional indexes, than milk chocolate.
Some interesting studies even suggest that higher chocolate consumption can actually lead to reduced fat around the middle!
5. Healthy skin
Dark chocolate is also a natural sunscreen. The high level of polyphenols or antioxidants it contains can help to protect against UV sun damage. And, as sun damaged skin contributes to the ageing effect, dark chocolate seems to be an anti-ageing agent.
The beautiful conclusion
Small amounts of dark chocolate eaten regularly and as part of an overall mind-body approach to health can be extremely beneficial. But attitude counts! As binging is just as potentially harmful as being obsessively healthy.
But it’s hard to ignore the health benefits of consuming chocolate, after all, it dates back some 3000 years and was considered a food of the Gods, used for its broad therapeutic benefits on health and enjoyed by the Aztecs. Lets keep the tradition going.
To request the scientific studies referred to in this article, connect with Expert Shevonne Norman