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The Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Posted on March 21, 2017, 6 a.m. in Functional Foods Cardio-Vascular Diabetes

Studies have shown that dark chocolate has numerous science-backed health benefits.

Without a doubt, dark chocolate has remained one of the most treasured foods in the world since 2000BC. The first connoisseurs of the dark chocolate were the Maya of Central American. The first step is extracting seeds (also known as beans) from their pods. Next, the seeds undergo fermentation before being dried and roasted to produce cocoa beans. The next step is separating these bean shells from cocoa nibs (or the meat). Grinding the nibs then produces chocolate liquor, which is separated from cocoa butter. Refining the liquor then creates cocoa solids and the ready-to-eat chocolate. Lastly, remove the nibs before grinding the cocoa bean into cocoa powder for baking and preparing beverages.

The contents of dark chocolate include:

  • 50-90% cocoa solids
  • Cocoa butter
  • Sugar

On the other hand, milk chocolate consists of:

  • 10-50% cocoa solids
  • Cocoa butter
  • Milk
  • Sugar

Ideally, dark chocolate never contains milk. However, some traces of milk might find their way into it because of cross-contamination, which takes place while processing the chocolate. This happens because the machine used for producing milk is the same one for dark chocolate. In some lower quality dark chocolates, you might see vegetable oils, butterfat, flavors and artificial colors. Cocoa solids are not in white chocolate. This is because white chocolate is from milk, sugar, and cocoa butter.

Dark chocolate is rich in the following:

  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorus
  • Flavanols
  • Health Notes

Cocoa is rich in flavanols, which are essential in protecting the heart. Dark chocolate has around 2-3 times more flavanols than milk chocolate. The body relies on flavanols to produce nitric oxide in the inner linings of the blood cells. Nitric oxide is essential for relaxing blood vessels and improving blood flow; thus, reducing blood pressure. In the short term, studies have shown that the flavanols found in chocolate are capable of increasing insulin sensitivity. In the long-term, studies prove that flavanols reduce the risk of diabetes quite significantly.

Cocoa flavanols are full of numerous benefits as studies prove. A study carried out among an isolated tribe living in Panama – the Kuna Indians – shows high cocoa intake is related to blood pressure. Cases of hypertension were completely unheard of in this group. When they changed their diets after relocating to urban environments, there was an increased rate of high blood pressure. More importantly, deaths from cancer, heart diseases and diabetes among Kuna Indians are lower compared to their peers in urban centers.

Higher intake of cocoa or chocolate leads to reduced risk of heart diseases as well as mortality. This is because it reduces inflammation and blood pressure. Dark chocolate is rich in calories. Excessive consumption of dark chocolate can lead to weight gain and obesity. Chocolate and nuts are responsible for inducing satiety. The moderate amounts of saturated fat found in chocolate can interfere with blood lipid levels.

Purchase and Storage

  • Get the most flavanols from 70%+ dark chocolate.
  • Store the chocolate in tightly sealed containers in cool dry areas. Do not refrigerate it.
  • It can last up to two years with proper storage

Serve

  • Heat it gradually to avoid scorching.
  • Serve with fresh fruit or nuts.
  • Blend with frozen banana to create chocolate ice cream.

Did you know

  • You can treat cocoa with alkali to boost its flavor and appearance
  • Caffeine content is higher if percentage of cocoa solids is also high
  • Avoid throwing the chocolate out simply because it has developed bloom
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Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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