Healthy chocolate may sound contradictory but in fact the health benefits of dark chocolate are very real. Organic chocolate is becoming more popular as people hear more about how it can fit into a healthful lifestyle.
History of Chocolate
The indigenous people of Central America first used chocolate some 3,500 years ago. It was extracted from the seeds of the cacao tree, which were fermented, dried, cleaned, and roasted. Then shell is then removed and the beans are crushed into a liquid. This liquid can be processed into either cocoa butter or cocoa solids.
This was effectively the first organic chocolate, and had a strong bitter taste. As the civilized world became aware of chocolate, the expense in procuring and processing it made it a delicacy that only the wealthy could afford.
This was until an entrepreneur named Milton Hershey in 1903 combined milk and sugar with this bitter dark chocolate in a commercial process that yielded what we know today as milk chocolate, and reduced the price to a point where everyone could afford it.
The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Just what are the benefits that you can expect from indulging (in moderation of course) in the occasional healthy chocolate treat?
- Polyphenols in chocolate tend to reduce inflammation
- Improved endothelial function (better blood pressure control)
- Improvement in insulin sensitivity and blood flow
- Lowered LDL levels and increased HDL levels
- Polyphenols block the action of certain enzymes cancers need for growth
Those are just a few of the potential benefits of healthy chocolate consumption, but let me make emphasize once again that gorging yourself with chocolate is not a healthful practice. Chocolate is a beneficial food when used in moderation!
It’s an occasional treat that has the added benefit of being healthy for you in the right form and amount. That’s how you should look at it, and try always to remember to indulge only in moderation.
The health benefits of dark chocolate especially organic chocolate are what I mean when I use the term healthful in regard to chocolate. This is chocolate minus the milk, sugar, and other additives used in processing of milk chocolate.
Please don’t take this to mean that everything with chocolate in it is healthful. That is not the case. Women are especially fond of chocolate and I don’t want this article taken as a license to indulge without limit.
Let me tell you about what you should be looking for to obtain real benefits and not just load yourself with fat and sugar. There are many types of chocolate products out there, but let’s key in on the ones that will both taste good and fit into your wellness lifestyle.
Look for the darkest chocolate you can find. You want at least 70% real cocoa, as more than that may be to bitter for you to tolerate
Avoid milk chocolate as the milk in it blocks the absorption of the beneficial polyphenols
Consume small amounts, (under 30 grams per day)
Read the label carefully and avoid any product with hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup as these ingredients cancel out the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Remember that only dark organic chocolate provides the benefits of high levels of polyphenols that are beneficial. That is the healthy chocolate you are looking for. All other forms contain fat, sugar, and can even contain unhealthy levels of lead.
Never give chocolate to your pets. Animals are unable to metabolize theobromine in chocolate and thus it is toxic to them. If your pet consumes chocolate contact a veterinarian for instructions on what you should do to help your pet.
The Dark Side of Chocolate
It is a known fact that women love chocolate, but few actually understand what is behind this craving. There are several chemical compounds in chocolate that have mood altering effects, and likely account for these cravings.
Theobromine – mildly addictive CNS stimulant chemically related to caffeine
Caffeine – stronger CNS (central nervous system) stimulant than theobromine
Phenethylamine – compound associated with feelings of happiness and satisfaction
The above compounds may also have the effect of boosting seratonin levels in the brain, which is also linked with feelings of well-being and satisfaction. Its clear that healthy chocolate definitely affects the pleasure centers of the brain and thus can be mildly addictive.
Like anything else, even healthy chocolate can be overdone. Do not forgo other healthy food choices because you wish to believe that all you need is to consume organic chocolate to get your daily quota of antioxidants and such. It just doesn’t work that way.
Though it is not the most healthy food choice, there ARE benefits to eating dark chocolate. Rather than abuse this fact choose to enjoy a high quality chocolate with moderation.
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