While it’s good for your brain and digestive health, dark chocolate can benefit your heart even more. Research shows that the flavonoids naturally found in chocolate can help lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol. Flavonoids can also significantly decrease systolic blood pressure in healthy older adults. Dark chocolate has also been found to improve insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction, both of which have a positive effect on the heart. In fact, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, in individuals who suffered a previous heart attack, eating chocolate twice a week compared with never eating chocolate has been shown to lower the risk of death from heart disease by 66 percent.
In my opinion, there is no safe amount of processed or refined sugar. Naturally contained sugars in fruit and vegetables are balanced by the fiber, vitamins, enzymes and other properties of the fruit/vegetable which slow sugar digestion and help the body deal with it more easily. Processed varieties, on the other hand, provide none of these benefits and instead create these harmful effects of sugar in the body:
There’s still debate over which antioxidants may offer help preventing or treating diseases when consumed in concentrated dosages. Some research has shown that antioxidants like lutein and glutathione may be beneficial when taken in supplement form — for example, in preventing vision loss, joint problems or diabetes. But other research doesn’t always show the same results and sometimes even that certain supplements like vitamin A or vitamin C may be harmful in high amounts.
But there are lesser-known reasons you should indulge in the (bitter)sweet stuff. Dark chocolate has been scientifically proven to keep your brain sharp, your ticker ticking and your skin shielded from the sun’s harmful rays (yes, really). Dark chocolate can be the key to beating that midday slump, accoriding to a new study from Northern Arizona University found.
Can't remember where you put your keys or why you walked into a particular room? Chocolate may help: Recent research suggests that antioxidants called flavanols found in cocoa can helpimprove function in the area of the brain responsible for this type of age-related memory loss. Participants in the study were placed on a special diet high in raw cocoa flavanols called epicatechin. At the end of the three-month period they scored significantly higher on memory tests than the control group.
Many foods have way more sugar than you realize. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines say no more than 10 percent of your calories should come from added sugar—for a 2,000 calorie diet that’s 200. The American Heart Association is stricter, with a limit of 100 calories for women and 150 for men. “The term ‘added sugars’ indicates sugars that are added to processed and prepared foods, as well as sugars added at the time of consumption,” says Dr. Saltzman. “Most research focuses on these added sugars as potentially harmful.” For example, if you have a Milky Way, which contains 31 grams (124 calories) of added sugar, you’re practically at your limit already. Bottom line? Read nutrition labels to see how much you’re getting. Next, read up on the 40 sneaky names for sugar you may not recognize.
The FRAP assay of Benzie and Strain  was used with minor modifications that allowed quantification of most water- and fat-soluble antioxidants [16,17]. A Technicon RA 1000 system (Technicon instruments corporation, New York, USA) was used for the measurements of absorption changes that appear when the TPTZ-Fe3+ complex reduces to the TPTZ-Fe2+ form in the presence of antioxidants. An intense blue color with absorption maximum at 593 nm develops. The measurements were performed at 600 nm after 4 min incubation. An aqueous solution of 500 μmol/L FeSO4 × 7 H2O was used for calibration of the instrument. Validation of the assay is described in Halvorsen et al. 2002 . Briefly, the within-day repeatability measured as relative standard deviation (RSD) in standard solutions ranged from 0.4% to 6%. The between-day repeatability was < 3%. The variation in the values for replicate food items obtained from the same source were typically between 3 and 10 RSD%.
Prior says that the data should prove useful for consumers seeking to include more antioxidants in their diet. But he cautions that total antioxidant capacity of the foods does not necessarily reflect their potential health benefit, which depends on how they are absorbed and utilized in the body. Researchers are still trying to better understand this process, he adds.
Small-scale studies have indicated for quite some time that regular intake of cocoa can have a positive effect in fighting cardiovascular disease. A more recent study on cocoa's cardiovascular benefits, done in 2006, proved this among a larger study group of 470 men, all tested while consuming different daily doses of cocoa. The conclusions were that cocoa does indeed lower the chances and significance of cardiovascular disease.
A recent study by Swedish researchers found that women who ate high amounts of chocolate — about two candy bars per week — had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke. In a similar study, British researchers also found that people who ate more chocolate were 30 percent less likely to have a stroke. However, researchers added that more study is needed to determine the exact amount and types of flavonoid-rich chocolates that would be most help lessen stroke risk.
The two opposing extracts were essentially left in vivo (outside of the human body) to battle each other. The resulting statistics show that chocolate's antioxidants (at least, in vivo) are extremely effective at reducing free radicals. While they may behave differently in the body, relevant studies also show that chocolate is effective at battling free radicals in vitro.
The Western lifestyle — with its processed foods, reliance on medications, and high exposure to chemicals or environmental pollutants — seems to lay the foundation for the proliferation of free radicals. Because many of us are exposed to such high rates of oxidative stress from a young age, more than ever we need the power of antioxidants, which means we need to consume high antioxidant foods.
Spinach is one of the richest sources of antioxidants, with one cup containing over 3,600 IU of beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant known for its anti-cancer, anti-aging properties, and heart protecting properties. Spinach also offers an abundance of the antioxidant, lutein, which is beneficial in protecting your eyes from macular degeneration and cataracts.
A recent study published in Hypertension showed that performance on cognitive tests significantly improved in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment if they consumed a daily cocoa drink containing high levels of flavanols for eight weeks, compared to those who consumed a low-flavanol cocoa drink. (Flavonols are a member of the polyphenol family—compounds found in natural plant food sources that have antioxidant properties.) Because dark chocolate contains more cocoa solids than other types of chocolate, it naturally contains more flavanols.
And as it turns out, that kind of emotional eating might not be such a bad thing. You know what kind of havoc stress and its sneaky sidekick cortisol can wreak on your body. Swiss scientists (who else?) found that when very anxious people ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced and the metabolic effects of stress were partially mitigated. After a breakup, break out a dark chocolate bar rather than a pint of ice cream.
Dark chocolate may have something in common with carrots: Researchers from the University of Reading in England tested the eyesight of 30 healthy adults, 18 to 25 years old, after they ate white and dark chocolates. The subjects performed better on vision tests after eating the dark chocolate. It could be that the flavanols in dark chocolate, which improve blood flow to the brain, improve blood flow to the retina as well — and white chocolate doesn’t have nearly the same amount of flavanols as dark chocolate.
When you consume refined sugar, your sweet taste receptors signal the brain’s reward system in a way that is much more potent than consuming a piece of fruit—your brain lights up like a pinball machine due to the intense release of dopamine. Unfortunately, those sweet taste receptors don’t signal you to stop eating when you’ve had too much sugar. In fact, the more sugar you eat, the more you crave, creating a vicious cycle of sugar dependence. On the other hand, if you eat loads of the other white crystal (salt), your salt taste receptors "flip" and provide you with an aversion signal. In other words, if you consume too much salt in a meal, your body has a built-in safety mechanism causing you to crave less salt later in the day. Your body is extremely smart when it comes to regulating the intake of essential minerals, especially one as important as salt.
What Does It All Mean?The antioxidant powerhouses aren’t the ones most people think of. It also means that making little tweaks to the foods we already eat can impact our health in a major way. A daily dose of all-the-kale-you-can-eat will help undo some damaging influence of free radicals, but a casual dash of cinnamon across your fave breakfast bowl will do so much more.
The antioxidant measurements have been conducted over a period of eight years, from 2000 to 2008. The samples were procured from local stores and markets in Scandinavia, USA and Europe and from the African, Asian and South American continents. Many of the samples of plant material, like berries, mushrooms and herbs, were handpicked. Commercially procured food samples were stored according to the description on the packing and analyzed within four weeks. Handpicked samples were either stored at 4°C and analyzed within three days or frozen at -20°C and analyzed within four weeks. Products that needed preparation such as coffee, tea, processed vegetables etc. were prepared on the day of analysis. Furthermore, all samples were homogenized, dry samples were pulverized and solid samples were chopped in a food processor. After homogenizing, analytical aliquots were weighed. Included in the database are 1113 of the food samples obtained from the US Department of Agriculture National Food and Nutrient Analysis Program. They were collected, homogenized, and stored as previously described . Three replicates were weighed out for each sample. All samples were extracted in water/methanol, except vegetable oils which were extracted in 2-propanol and some fat-rich samples which were extracted in water/2-propanol. The extracts were mixed, sonicated in ice water bath for 15 min, mixed once more and centrifuged in 1.5 mL tubes at 12.402 × g for 2 min at 4°C. The concentration of antioxidants was measured in triplicate of the supernatant of the centrifuged samples.
Due to the higher cocoa content, dark chocolate has a much richer flavor than milk chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the richer the taste. Cocoa is naturally bitter and very strong-tasting. Chocolate-makers (especially makers of milk chocolate) mellow this flavor by processes, such as alkalizing, fermenting, roasting, and adding milk and/or sugar, all of which can destroy healthy flavanols, alter our ability to use them or negate their health effects all together with unhealthy additives.
Sugar addiction is a real and growing concern for a large majority of the world’s population. But how exactly does this happen? The Huffington Post explains that when a person consumes sugar, the tongue’s taste buds become activated and send signals to the brain, “lighting up reward pathways and causing a surge of feel-good hormones, like dopamine, to be released.”
Dark chocolate makes my list of 15 brain foods to boost focus and memory for good reason. Previous research showed that “acute as well as chronic ingestion of flavanol-rich cocoa is associated with increased blood flow to cerebral gray matter and it has been suggested that cocoa flavanols might be beneficial in conditions with reduced cerebral blood flow, including dementia and stroke.”
Based on concentrations of things like lutein and other carotenoids, examples of antioxidant foods that protect vision include spinach, kale, berries, broccoli and even egg yolks. Research shows that high-lutein sources like spinach are proven to help decrease eye related degeneration and improve visual acuity. (5) Similarly, flavonoid antioxidants found in berries, such as bilberries or grapes (also a great source of the antioxidant resveratrol), may be especially beneficial at supporting vision into older age.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are considered 'empty calories', mainly because they don't contain any useful nutrients. Some foods high in sugar are heavily processed, and the sweet stuff is added to make them more palatable and desirable. It's these foods that are not always easy to spot the sugar in, and often those that are marketed as 'healthy', or low in fat which can be the worst offenders. In some cases, ready meals could contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar per portion, a can of cola houses six and a bowl of dry Bran Flakes has three.
But dark chocolate’s superfood status is likely a bit overblown, says Alan Aragon, M.S., Men’s Health nutrition advisor. “Dark chocolate just happens to have beneficial compounds that favorably influence various health parameters when consumed judiciously.” In this case, judiciously means this: consume in moderation. Since chocolate is energy-dense (read: it’s got 150 to 170 calories per ounce), scarf it down indiscriminately and you’ll easily wind up taking down excess calories and weighing down the scale, he notes.
So what did the study show? The researchers found that the flavanol content of cocoa powder (30.1 milligrams per gram) was significantly greater than all of the other super fruit powders. It was also revealed that dark chocolate’s antioxidant capacity was higher than all of the super fruit juices except pomegranate. The total polyphenol content per serving was also highest for dark chocolate (about 1,000 milligrams per serving), which was significantly higher than all of the fruit juices except pomegranate juice. (11)