Many of us take the bait at the word “antioxidant,” buying health and beauty products without knowing exactly how these mysterious compounds actually benefit us. Let's clear that up: “Antioxidants act like little bodyguards to protect our cells from damage that can lead to premature aging and disease,” explains Cynthia Sass, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. They neutralize harmful free radicals, molecules that play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and more.
The research is piling up that soda is bad for your brain, as are other added sugars. An animal study from Oregon State University found that a high-sugar diet led to cognitive impairments, including memory problems. And a UK study recently found the “tipping point” at which blood sugar negatively affects the progression of Alzheimer’s. “Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets,” study author Dr. Omar Kassaar of the University of Bath said in a press release. 

But these benefits could have an even bigger impact: Flavonoids foundin dark chocolate may someday be useful in potentially treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. One study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found an association between eating chocolate and reduced risk of cognitive decline, perhaps due to protective effects of the cocoa flavanols.
Some nutrients are destroyed in the process of making chocolate available for the general market. Make sure the chocolate you buy is within the healthy range. Check the label: chocolate with a 60 percent or higher cocoa content is packed full of nutrients and antioxidants. Often called bittersweet, it has minimal sugar. The best way to get all the nutrients from chocolate is simply to use unsweetened cocoa nibs. The bitter, crunchy, seed-like snack isn't the best-tasting treat, but its nutritional profile makes it worthwhile.
Enter milk, sugar, and butter—good for your taste buds, not always good for your health. Besides adding calories, these can dilute the benefits of cacao. So snack smart: Stick to healthy chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao (or cocoa, which is cacao in its roasted, ground form). As long as the content is that high, says Mary Engler, Ph.D., a professor of physiological nursing at the University of California at San Francisco, you can reap the benefits from eating only small amounts. Because of its high fat and sugar content, limit yourself to 7 ounces, or about four dark chocolate bars, a week.
Now that you understand the negative effects of sugar on your body and mind, it’s time to be more careful when choosing foods. The first step is getting educated about how to find added sugars. When it comes to convenience and packaged foods, let the ingredients label be your guide—you’d be surprised how many low carb or “diet” foods contain added sugar.

While antioxidant content is important for many reasons (mainly as a protection against free radicals that can cause disease and degeneration of the body), foods with low numbers don’t necessarily have to be banished from your diet. Foods contain other nutrients that will round out your healthy eating regime. This scale is just a useful way to add more antioxidant rich foods into your meals.
The Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands of Panama, who drink roughly three cups of a cacao beverage daily and have a very low prevalence of hypertension, myocardial infarction and stroke compared to those on the mainland, are a good example of chocolate’s benefits at work. In addition, studies have found that their blood pressure doesn’t rise with age (4).
Chocolate’s lengthy history is believed to go all the way back to 1900 B.C. This is when the the Aztec civilization believed that cacao seeds were a gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. They used the seeds to prepare a bitter, frothy beverage that also included spices, wine or corn puree. (22) It was very different from today’s super sweet milk chocolate treats but closer to a very minimally processed dark chocolate made from raw cacao.
This is the most antioxidant rich category in the present study and is also the category with largest variation between products. Half of the products have antioxidant values above the 90th percentile of the complete Antioxidant Food Table and the mean and median values are 91.7 and 14.2 mmol/100 g, respectively. The 59 products included originate from India, Japan, Mexico and Peru. Sangre de Grado (Dragon's Blood) from Peru has the highest antioxidant content of all the products in the database (2897.1 mmol/100 g). Other antioxidant rich products are Triphala, Amalaki and Arjuna from India and Goshuyu-tou, a traditional kampo medicine from Japan, with antioxidant values in the range of 132.6 to 706.3 mmol/100 g. Only four products in this category have values less than 2.0 mmol/100 g.

You know saturated fats are bad for your heart, but sugar can also have a damaging effect on your cardiac health. A high intake of added sugars seems to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. One study that took place over 15 years indicated that people who consume 25 percent or more of calories from sugar were more than twice as likely as those who consumed less than 10 percent of calories from sugar to die from heart disease. Simply eating a high-sugar diet significantly increases your risk of heart problems.
An unhealthy liver is just one of the many effects of sugar on the body, especially when it’s consumed in large amounts.  “Fructose is metabolized in the liver, and consuming too much can lead to the production of fat in the liver, which is another path to adverse metabolic health,” Dr. Malik says. According to the University of California San Francisco, rates of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as scarring of the liver, have doubled since 1980. Follow these 9 tricks to reverse a sugar binge.
feeling from consuming sugar, which can make it a tough habit to break. You want to feel good, so you continue reaching for the foods that give you that good feeling. Finding other ways to reward yourself can help replace that feel-good response you get from sugar. Slowly reducing your sugar consumption can also be an effective way to break free from the chains of sugar to slowly improve your overall health.

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.
Interestingly, the antioxidant content in human breast milk is comparable to that in pomegranate juice, strawberries and coffee and on average higher than the antioxidant content observed in the commercially available infant formulas analyzed in our study. Breakfast cereals are also potential important sources of antioxidants; some of these products have antioxidant contents comparable to berries, which are fairly high, compared to other grain products and may be due to antioxidants added to the products in fortification process.
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.
Research shows that high antioxidant foods counteract the effects of oxidative stress. In fact, there are hundreds of different substances that act as antioxidants. The most recognizable among them are beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and manganese, glutathione, melatonin, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, flavonoids, and phytoestrogens.

Refined carbs, like those in white bread and pasta, quickly cause a rise in glucose in the bloodstream, so you might feel extra energized—for a while. But this short-term fix can actually leave you more sluggish later on (when you eventually crash). Instead, opt for protein-rich snacks between meals, such as Greek yogurt with fresh berries or fresh veggies and hummus. They help stabilize blood sugar and keep you going longer.


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.
There is not necessarily a direct relationship between the antioxidant content of a food sample consumed and the subsequent antioxidant activity in the target cell. Factors influencing the bioavailability of phytochemical antioxidants, include the food matrix, absorption and metabolism [24-27]. Also, the methods measuring total antioxidant capacity do not identify single antioxidant compounds, and they are therefore of limited use when investigating the mechanisms involved. This is however, not the scope of this article. With the present study, food samples with high antioxidant content are identified, but further investigation into each individual food and phytochemical antioxidant compound is needed to identify those which may have biological relevance and the mechanisms involved.
But these benefits could have an even bigger impact: Flavonoids foundin dark chocolate may someday be useful in potentially treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. One study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found an association between eating chocolate and reduced risk of cognitive decline, perhaps due to protective effects of the cocoa flavanols.
When it comes to your kidneys, it's easy to think that salt is the harmful white crystal. This is because we are constantly being told that eating too much salt is stressful on our kidney-shaped organs. However, this does not appear to be true. Indeed, the evidence in the literature shows that overconsuming sugar drives chronic kidney disease, whereas not consuming enough salt can actually cause kidney issues. In fact, one study concluded kidney function actually deteriorates with a low-salt diet due to impaired blood flow to the kidneys.
A plant-based diet protects against chronic oxidative stress-related diseases. Dietary plants contain variable chemical families and amounts of antioxidants. It has been hypothesized that plant antioxidants may contribute to the beneficial health effects of dietary plants. Our objective was to develop a comprehensive food database consisting of the total antioxidant content of typical foods as well as other dietary items such as traditional medicine plants, herbs and spices and dietary supplements. This database is intended for use in a wide range of nutritional research, from in vitro and cell and animal studies, to clinical trials and nutritional epidemiological studies.
Sources of antioxidants in your diet offer much-needed help in counteracting the damage done by things like blue light or sun exposure, a poor diet, smoking or using other drugs, taking medications, toxicity or chemical exposure, even high amounts of stress and other natural factors that increase the risk of age-related problems. In the process of fighting free radical damage, antioxidants protect healthy cells while halting the growth of malignant or cancerous cells.
Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and carotenoids, may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Other naturally occurring antioxidants include flavonoids, tannins, phenols and lignans. Plant-based foods are the best sources. These include fruits, vegetables and their juices, whole-grain products, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and even cocoa.
The body can cope with some free radicals and needs them to function effectively. However, the damage caused by an overload of free radicals over time may become irreversible and lead to certain diseases, including heart disease, liver disease and some cancers (such as oral, oesophageal, stomach and bowel cancers). Oxidation can be accelerated by stress, cigarette smoking, alcohol, sunlight, pollution and other factors.
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.

Another possible allergen to watch out for in dark chocolate (even organic brands) is soy lecithin, which is commonly added as an emulsifying agent. Soy lecithin does contain trace amounts of soy proteins, and these have been found to include soy allergens. However, soy lecithin does not appear to contain sufficient soy protein residues to induce allergic reactions in the majority of soy-allergic consumers. (26)


Studies show that the darker the chocolate, the better. Eat only less-processed chocolate that contains at least 65 percent cacao, recommends Joy DuBost, PhD, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. Not only does dark chocolate have a higher concentration of antioxidants than milk chocolate, but milk chocolate is also higher in added sugar and unhealthy fats. Still, the daily dose of antioxidants in dark chocolate doesn’t give you license to indulge in a dessert free-for-all — dark chocolate is still loaded with fat and calories — so eat a max of 1 to 2 ounces a day. If you do, research says you’ll reap these 9 benefits.
I have always loved dark chocolate, and I actually prefer it over other types of chocolate! Because of that, it makes me really excited to hear that there are some health benefits to eating it! It’s interesting how you point out that dark chocolate has antioxidants that stimulate the lining of the arteries so that blood flow can improve. Blood flow is actually something that many people in my family struggle with. I’ll have to suggest they start eating more dark chocolate! I imagine that giving them dark chocolate would be a great gift and also a way to help them out!
A study published in International Journal of Cardiology had subjects either consume a daily dose of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate or non-flavonoid white chocolate for two weeks. The results showed that flavonoid-rich dark chocolate intake significantly improved heart circulation in healthy adults. On the other hand, white chocolate with zero flavonoids to brag about had no positive health effects on the subjects. (6)
The battle of good and evil between these two white crystals rages on in our bodies. Indeed, the assault on our bodies from overconsuming sugar is wreaking metabolic havoc. When you overeat sugar, this causes an increase in insulin (a fat-storing hormone), insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, whereas eating more salt actually can improve type 2 diabetes.
Oxidative stress is believed to play a central role in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases, but a nutrient-dense diet seems to lower one’s risk. The Journal of the American Medical Association of Neurology reports that higher intake of foods rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, may modestly reduce long-term risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. (10)
The cocoa butter found in dark chocolate contains equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. It’s true that stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fat, but research shows that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, which means it doesn’t raise it or lower it. The palmitic acid in dark chocolate can increase cholesterol levels, but thankfully it only makes up about a small portion of the fat in dark chocolate — plus dark chocolate has a lot of great plant nutrients that make up for palmitic acid.
No, it’s not your imagination; some research supports the idea that chocolate really can boost your mood. It’s the fatty acids that do the trick, and dark chocolate contains two saturated fatty acids — palmitic and stearic acids — in addition to its health-boosting flavonoids. More research needs to be done, DuBost says, but studies have found that chocolate in particular can make you feel happier and improve your mood. The theory is that chocolate stimulates the neural activity in the regions of the brain associated with pleasure and reward, she says.
In addition to confirming the well-publicized high antioxidant ranking of such foods as cranberries and blueberries, the researchers found that Russet potatoes, pecans and even cinnamon are all excellent, although lesser-known, sources of antioxidants, which are thought to fight cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's. The study appears in the June 9 print edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
Many of us take the bait at the word “antioxidant,” buying health and beauty products without knowing exactly how these mysterious compounds actually benefit us. Let's clear that up: “Antioxidants act like little bodyguards to protect our cells from damage that can lead to premature aging and disease,” explains Cynthia Sass, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. They neutralize harmful free radicals, molecules that play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and more.
Studies have found that high intakes of vitamin A, vitamin C and other antioxidants could help prevent or treat several forms of cancer thanks to their ability to control malignant cells in the body and cause cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (destruction) of cancer cells. Retinoic acid, derived from vitamin A, is one chemical that plays important roles in cell development and differentiation as well as cancer treatment. 
If you have high blood sugar, you could be on the road to diabetes already. “Insulin resistance requires the pancreas to produce more insulin since tissues are not as sensitive to it,” Ed Saltzman, MD, a scientist in the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University says. “Over time, the pancreas can become fatigued by this excess production and stop being able to secrete adequate insulin. When this occurs, type 2 diabetes may develop.” These are the sneaky sources of added sugar you don’t realize you’re eating.
In the nuts and seeds category we analyzed 90 different products, with antioxidant contents varying from 0.03 mmol/100 g in poppy seeds to 33.3 mmol/100 g in walnuts, with pellicle and purchased with nut shell intact. Pecans with pellicle, sunflower seeds and chestnuts with pellicle, have mean antioxidant content in the range of 4.7 to 8.5 mmol/100 g (Table ​(Table3).3). Walnuts, chestnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds have higher values when analyzed with the pellicle intact compared to without pellicle.
According to the FDA, chocolates are unfortunately one of the most common sources of undeclared milk linked to consumer reactions. In addition, recent testing by the FDA found that you can’t always tell if a dark chocolate has milk just by reading the ingredient list. Many manufacturers make their dark chocolate on the same equipment that they use for milk chocolate production so traces of milk end up in the dark chocolate too. (25)  If you’re concerned about milk possibly being in your dark chocolate, contact the manufacturer.

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.
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.
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