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Chocolate, Good and Good For You

Chocolate, Good and Good For You
Chocolate
Chocolate is prepared from Theobroma cacao seeds, roasted and ground.

Yes, chocolate isn’t only good for you, but research suggests that you should eat a little bit of it everyday. Now that is advice that I can easily follow.

But do not race down to the supermarket and pick up any candy bar you come across. When it comes to the health benefits of chocolate, not all of it are created equal. Dark chocolate without a doubt is superior to its milk or white counterpart (which really isn’t chocolate anyway).

The Darker the Better

Some people just love milk chocolate, but when it comes to the health benefits you want to go for dark (Keen). So what is the difference? Dark chocolate has less sugar and contains more cocoa. Cocoa, beans are naturally bitter, kind of like coffee. They are not sweet, yet have a pleasant taste.

Many foods like bell peppers are more nutritious in their raw state. The same goes for chocolate, the darker the less processed it is, which in this case means containing more nutrients.

Nutritionist Emily Bender states that some chocolates contain high levels of sugars, damaged fats and artificial flavors. One study says that “depending on harvesting and processing procedures, as much as 90 percent of the flavonoids can be lost during processing “ (Keen). Raw cocoa plant contain flavonoids which are chemical metabolites of antioxidant function.

This shows how processing can severely alter the nutritional value of chocolate. In many health food stores, you can buy unprocessed cocoa beans (cocoa nibs). They are very healthy, rich in antioxidants and magnesium.

Interestingly, many women crave chocolate during their menstrual periods, but it is really the magnesium they are craving. Chocolate is one of the richest sources of magnesium and it helps prevents cramping being a natural muscle relaxant. Bender adds that some people recommend unheated raw cocoa which doesn’t have damaged enzymes.

Why is Chocolate So Good for You?

In a study conducted in Italy on 4849 people, it was found that 20 grams every three days was the magic number to help reduce inflammation (Guiseppe). Other studies have also found that similar amounts were enough to cause beneficial health effects.

Inflammation has become a buzzword in the health community and has been connected to diseases like autoimmune, gums and heart diseases. It seems that the more inflammation you have, the more likely you are to develop a disease on top of it.

Chocolate, or to be more specific, cocoa, is “rich in antioxidants and flavonoids,” states Bender. Antioxidants and flavonoids (also known as Vitamin P) help the body clean up damaged cells to keep functioning smoothly. They protect against cancer and heart problems as well.

Even more, according to a study, cocoa powder and extracts were found to have a greater antioxidant capacity than some foods such as green and black tea, blueberry, garlic, and strawberry (Keen). They are also found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, but many people fail to eat enough amounts to enjoy their health benefits.

Amazingly, the authors of another study found that dark chocolate improved insulin function and decreased blood pressure, while the white one had no effect. This is good news for diabetics and heart patients. The Italian study found that while consuming a typical Italian diet, supplementing it with 100 grams of dark chocolate per day is enough to gain the benefits (Fraga).

Another study involving 28 healthy volunteers found that their heart health improved after one week of consuming 700 mg of flavonoids daily in the form of dark chocolate (Hammed).

How to Pick Best Bar

I love chocolate, and I do not mean I love the sugar in it- I love the bitter sweetness of chocolate itself. Many people do not enjoy the flavor of dark chocolate because it is missing the familiar creamy sweetness of milk chocolate. This doesn’t mean that you only have to eat dark ones, but if you want to reap the most health benefits of it, it has to be dark.

If you are used to white variants, you can start off with a bar that is 45% cocoa and then work your way up. If you are ready to select your dark bar, here are a couple of things to look for.

First, organic is always better. Most organic chocolate grows in optimum growing conditions. This helps ensure that most nutrients (like the flavonoids and antioxidants) are there. Bender advises to look for a chocolate that is organic, fair trade, high in cocoa content and contains no artificial ingredients or additives.

Second, as various studies state, dark types alone has the health boosting effects. There are various percentages available on the market. My favorite brand available in the UAE is Black and Gold.

Markets like Whole Foods offer a staggering array of chocolates that range from plain to infused with Mexican cinnamon and chili. Depending on your geographical location, your options will vary. Many companies only sell medicinal quality chocolate products from drinks to raw cocoa nibs. Personally, I opt for the sugar free cocoa nibs.

Over the last 10 years research has shown that regular consumption of dark bars can have many health benefits. But as with everything, moderation is key. You don’t want to over consume chocolate as it might cause constipation.

This article is from Science’s archive, originally published on an earlier date.

References:

  1. Keen, Carl L Roberta R Holt, Patricia I Oteiza, César G Fraga and Harold H Schmitz, Cocoa antioxidants and cardiovascular health.”(American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 81: 1, 298S-303S, January 2005) http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/81/1/298S
  2. Deardorff, Julie, “How to pick healthy chocolate” Chicago Tribune November 10, 2009 http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/features_julieshealthclub/2009/11/how-to-pick-healthy-chocolate.html
  3. 2005 Mar;81(3):541-2.) http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/81/3/541
  4. Hamed MSGambert SBliden KPBailon OSingla AAntonino MJHamed FTantry USGurbel PADark chocolate effect on platelet activity, C-reactive protein and lipid profile: a pilot study.(South Med J. 2008 Dec;101(12):1203-8.)
  5. Selmi CCocchi CALanfredini MKeen CLGershwin ME. “Chocolate at heart: the anti-inflammatory impact of cocoa flavanols.” (Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Nov;52(11):1340-8.)
  6. di Giuseppe, Romina3, Augusto Di Castelnuovo3, Floriana Centritto3, Francesco Zito3, Amalia De Curtis3, Simona Costanzo3, Branislav Vohnout3, Sabina Sieri4, Vittorio Krogh4, Maria Benedetta Donati3, Giovanni de Gaetano3 and Licia Iacoviello3,* Regular Consumption of Dark Chocolate Is Associated with Low Serum Concentrations of C-Reactive Protein in a Healthy Italian Population (J. Nutr. 138:1939-1945, October 2008)http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/138/10/1939
  7. http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/news/20091113/dark-chocolate-takes-biteout-of-stress


About Anisa Abeytia

Anisa Abeytia, B.A. USC , M.A., Stanford is an integrative health specialist currently pursuing a M.S. in Holistic Nutrition. Over the past ten years Anisa has pursued various fields of holistic and traditional medicine. She has studied at the oldest herbal school in the United States and pursued a two year certificate program in Islamic Healing. She writes regularly on the topics of health and nutrition. She maintains the website Women's Healing Circle, a site dedicated to the natural health of women and their families.

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