Your dark chocolate of choice should also be made from cocoa butter, not palm and/or coconut oils. Also look out for any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list. Now that huge commercial chocolate makers are responding to the love of dark chocolate and making their own versions, you have to be careful. A label that reads “dark chocolate” doesn’t automatically make it a healthy choice. The healthiest or best dark chocolate is made from cacao or cocoa that’s organic, minimally processed and definitely not dutched.
Good news for all chocolate lovers! Chocolate is actually quite healthy so no need to feel guilty indulging in your chocolate love every now and then. Dark chocolates and cocoa pack a big antioxidant punch and are rich in flavanols and polyphenols. A popular study conducted by Harvard experts and published in the online Journal Heart suggests that is actually good for your heart especially, the one with 70% cocoa. Too much chocolate can, of course, add to you daily calorific intake so moderation is the key here.
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When certain types of oxygen molecules are allowed to travel freely in the body, they cause what’s known as oxidative damage, which is the formation of free radicals. When antioxidant levels in the body are lower than that of free radicals — due to poor nutrition, toxin exposure or other factors — oxidation wreaks havoc in the body. The effect? Accelerated aging, damaged or mutated cells, broken-down tissue, the activation of harmful genes within DNA, and an overloaded immune system.
The antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene have all been shown to have positive effects on preventing macular degeneration, or age-related vision loss/blindness. Many foods that provide these nutrients also supply antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin, nicknamed the eye vitamins, and found in brightly colored foods like fruits and vegetables — especially leafy greens and types that are deep orange or yellow.
Various types of chocolate were analyzed, from milk chocolate to dark chocolate and baking cocoa. The variation of antioxidant content in chocolate ranged from 0.23 in white chocolate to 14.98 mmol/100 g in one individual dark chocolate sample. Mean antioxidant contents increased with increasing content of cocoa in the chocolate product (Pearson correlation r = 0.927, p < 0.001). Chocolate products with cocoa contents of 24-30%, 40-65% and 70-99% had mean antioxidant contents of 1.8, 7.2 and 10.9 mmol/100 g, respectively.
Currently, there are no government guidelines for consumers on how many antioxidants to consume and what kind of antioxidants to consume in their daily diet, as is the case with vitamins and minerals. A major barrier to such guidelines is a lack of consensus among nutrition researchers on uniform antioxidant measurements. Scientists will soon attempt to develop such a consensus at the First International Congress on Antioxidant Methods, held June 16-18 at the Caribe Royale Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Fla., with the ultimate goal of developing better nutritional data for consumers. ACS is the principal sponsor of the meeting.
The first high antioxidant foods that probably come to mind is probably fruits and vegetables, and for good reason! They rich in antioxidants and other healthy food components, such as slow release carbohydrates, protein and fiber. Here are the top 15 antioxidant fruits and vegetables commonly available in the U.S. Figures reflect antioxidant content in millimoles (mmol) per 100 g.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Nutrition demonstrated flavonoid-rich dark chocolate’s ability to improve cognitive ability, specifically in the elderly. This cross-sectional study of over 2,000 participants ages 70 to 74 years old looked at the relationship between the intake of chocolate, wine and tea (all rich in flavonoids) and cognitive performance. The study concludes that “intake of flavonoid-rich food, including chocolate, wine, and tea, is associated with better performance across several cognitive abilities and that the associations are dose dependent.” The researchers suggest that further studies should take into account other bioactive dietary substances in chocolate, wine and tea to ensure that it’s their flavonoid content that helps the brain so much. (9)
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.
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 average American consumes roughly 12 pounds of chocolate each year, and over $75 billion is spent annually worldwide on chocolate. (1) There is a lot of chocolate eating going on regularly, which is why I want to help you make the smart, healthy choice. That way you can have your chocolate without guilt and with health benefits of dark chocolate to boot!