By Eileen Ferrer, Skinny Gene Nutritionist
I LOVE chocolate in all its glory – milk, white, dark, with nuts, in liquid form, smothered on a piece of fruit, yum! But knowing that it can be good for my health is a definite plus. I would try to put it in everything, just like I do with chia seeds. However, it is not the quantity of chocolate you eat to access those health benefits, but the specific compounds in chocolate itself.
Truth is, chocolate is too good for us to be feared by us. It’s time to de-demonize this delectable treat, which has a long history of health benefits.
Chocolate has an extensive history dating back thousands of years ago to the time of the Mayans and Aztec civilizations. Then it was introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages to be the chocolate we know today as a sweet, silky and delightful confection. In recent time, extensive research has been highlighted in various media outlets proclaiming links to reduced risks of heart attack, diabetes and stroke, as well as improving brain function. These health benefits are derived from cocoa beans of the cacao tree, where the principal compound of the cocoa bean is polyphenols.
Polyphenols act as an antioxidant in which they help the body’s cells against free radicals that are formed by everyday processes of the body such as, breathing and environmental contaminants (i.e. pollution or cigarette smoke). Furthermore, antioxidants from cocoa have anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective (protects the heart), antiheptoxic (protects the liver), antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergenic, and anticarcinogenic effects.
Within the polyphenol group, one nutrient abundant in cocoa and chocolate are flavonoids. Flavonoids are typically found in a variety of fruits and vegetables with the main type of flavonoids being flavanols. Flavanols are responsible for providing the strong and bitter taste of cocoa, which can be a familiar taste of dark chocolate where flavanols are most prevalent. It is these flavanols that have the positive effects on the heart by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.
In addition, it has been suggested that chocolate can help reduce belly fat. Though it can pack on the calories and the pounds if consumed in abundance, choosing dark chocolate may be a better option. Dark chocolate consumed moderately, one ounce three times a week, can possess the benefits of curbing appetite; therefore, reducing belly fat.
Most people like me need a chocolate fix once in a while, but we have to do so in moderation. Much of the commercial chocolate sold contains added fat, sugar, calories, and preservatives. But don’t feel guilty sneaking a little piece of dark chocolate, it can keep your heart healthy.