When you see the chocolate candy bars that line the shelves of your local grocery stores and gas stations, it’s easy to forget where chocolate actually comes from, an antioxidant rich little seed. Those milk-chocolate bars have been pumped so full of unnecessary sugars and fats that they barely resemble the original dark purplish-brown plant-based food they come from. Dark chocolate is another thing entirely, being much closer to what nature initially designed. In moderation not only is dark chocolate and cacao a wonderful treat, but also very good for you.
Heart Health: Dark chocolate comes stocked with antioxidants that protect cells from free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules that contribute to cellular damage and aging. Antioxidants also prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Oxidation makes cholesterol sticky, leading to clots and plaque buildup. Dark chocolate has more antioxidants than blueberries or even red wine. It lowers blood pressure as it relaxes and widens the arteries, leaving them healthy and flexible. By removing plaque buildup, it also helps prevents heart and vascular disease.
Diabetes: Diabetics have to watch their sugar intake. Milk chocolate can raise sugar levels too fast. On the other hand, dark chocolate has a low glycemic index. This semi-sweet treat doesn’t cause sugar spikes like other candies, but still provides the satisfied feeling we get when eating something decadent, like a delicacy or dessert.
Minerals: Highly processed chocolate loses much of the original minerals found in cacao beans as it is cooked and diluted multiple times. Dark chocolate and cacao are only fermented, far less processed, and naturally rich in vital minerals. They contain copper, magnesium, potassium, and iron.
Memory: Sweets often contribute to hyperactivity and brain fogs when you crash from the sugar high, but dark chocolate may actually improve memory and focus. Eat a small square before a test or before a high stress work-day and notice the difference it makes.
Tooth Decay: Candy leads to tooth decay. We all know this to be true, have known it since we were children and were scolded by the dentist or our parents about sweets. But dark chocolate kills the bacteria responsible for creating the acids that lead to cavities and tooth decay. How’s that for an unexpected bonus in a sweet?
Well Being: Dark chocolate contains serotonin and precursors to serotonin, our brain’s natural feel good molecule. Many people feel a rush of well-being when eating chocolate, dark chocolate, and cacao. These also boost production of serotonin and other endorphins and neurotransmitters that result in feelings of deep pleasure, decreased pain, reduced stress, less fatigue, and increased contentment.
Fat: Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate contains no added butter fat or sugars. The cocoa butter in dark chocolate is mainly made of oleic acid, a heart healthy fat, and stearic acid, a fat that doesn’t affect cholesterol levels. Only a third of the fat in dark chocolate can affect cholesterol. This means we shouldn’t go all chocolate all the time anytime soon, but in moderation it’s a great addition to a healthy diet.
Several squares of dark chocolate a week is a delicious way to reward yourself with some healthy sweets and get plenty of healthful benefits along with it. Don’t forget to reach for other foods high in antioxidants too, like apples, berries, and plums, to keep protecting against cellular aging, carcinogens, and oxidative damage.