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Dark chocolate: To eat or not to eat

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Chocolate is one indulgence available in the market that makes one go weak in the knees, be it a baby, a child or an adult! This is one ingredient that has seen the most diversity in the form of various shapes and sizes and it is one ingredient that has seen the most experimentation.

How is dark chocolate made?

The main content of any dark chocolate is cocoa beans. These beans are actually seeds of fruits of the Theobroma cacao tree. They are dried to make hard beans so that they can be easily processed in making chocolate bars. The fruit in its tender form actually has a sweet and tangy taste. As it matures, the seeds are separated and dried to make cacao beans. These dried beans develop the bitter taste that we associate with cacao.

A hardcore dark chocolate bar is made using only cacao beans, cacao butter and sugar. The higher the content of cacao used, the lower is the content of sugar in it.

Nutritional value:

Here is some excellent news for dark chocolate lovers. It is amazing how nutritious one bar of dark chocolate can be!

The main content of dark chocolate is cacao. The higher the content of cacao, the more its nutritional value. Let’s have a look at the nutritional value of a 100g bar of dark chocolate with minimum 70% cacao content.
Dark chocolate is rich in minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorous and zinc.

Of these, in terms of recommended dietary allowance (RDA), one bar of dark chocolate contains a rich source of:

98% RDA of manganese
89% RDA of copper
67% RDA of iron
58% RDA of magnesium

It is a good source of soluble fiber. The fat content in cacao is rich in saturated and mono saturated fats and is full of polyphenols, which help in balancing the cholesterol in the body.

Other than this, it has mild nutritional content of vitamins and other minerals, with minimal quantities of unhealthy polyunsaturated fats. It also has traces of caffeine and Theo bromine but the proportionate quantities of these stimulants are small enough to not cause any harm. A 100-gram bar also adds 600 calories and moderate quantity of sugar to your system.

So though dark chocolate bars have more nutritional value than harmful effects, it is advisable to limit the intake to a few pieces a day and not consume a whole bar of 100-gram chocolate everyday. As they say “Excess of anything, whether good or bad is unhealthy for your body”.

Intake of dark chocolate in small quantities on a daily basis helps in maintaining an overall well being and following are a few benefits:

  • Increases good and reduces bad cholesterol:

Increases good and reduces bad cholesterol
Dark chocolate is a rich source of cocoa polyphenols and mono saturated fat oleic acid and saturated fat stearic and palmitic acid. All three of these acids are derived from cocoa butter used in chocolate making.
* Oleic acid is a rich source of omega9 fatty acid, which is also found olive oil.
* Stearic acid though a saturated fat, has a neglible effect on cholesterol whether good or bad.
* On the other hand though palmitic acid has a tendency to increase cholesterol, its proportion in a 100-gram bar is not high enough to cause any harm.
A lot of studies have been conducted to prove the effects and health benefits of dark chocolate on cholesterol levels in human beings.
* Just a week of dark chocolate consumption helped in improving lipid profiles in both men and women. It also helped in reducing inflammation for
* A dark chocolate bar, rich in cocoa polyphenols, if consumed regularly only for three weeks has been known to up the HDL cholesterol levels. These
are known to be good for the body.
* Just half a month of dark chocolate consumption reduces LDL cholesterol (considered bad for the body) by 6-7%.

  • Helps in controlling the onset of heart ailments:

Heart ailments
Flavonoids are another compound found in dark chocolate, of which flavanols are the main constituent.
* Flavonoids are known to be low in toxicity, which help in improving the blood flow in the body as well as the brain by balancing the blood
* Flavanols reduce the risk of developing blood clots by helping in making platelets in the blood less sticky.
* As opposed to white chocolate, which has zero flavanols, controlled dark chocolate consumption with minimum 70% cacao, over a period of time has
been known to improve blood circulation resulting in reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
* They also aid in white blood cells not sticking to the walls of blood vessels and improving the flexibility of arteries. These are the major
causes of artery clogging which can be minimized.
* Copper and potassium also help in preventing strokes.

  • Improves iron content in body:

Improves iron
Dark chocolate contains almost 67% of daily requirement of iron in a 100-gram bar. This helps in fighting anemia in the body, and helps in improving overall well being and stamina of a person.

  • Amongst top 10 Anti oxidant rich Super foods!

Super food
Dark chocolate has been put in the same league as super fruits like pomegranates, acai berry, blueberry and cranberries. The combination of flavonol, polyphenol and anti oxidants impart the same if not better benefits than the above-mentioned fruits.

Anti oxidants are a mix of vitamins, minerals and plant compounds called phytochemicals.

Antioxidants help in fighting the free radicals present in the body. Free radicals are created when the cellular processes in the body fighting against external pollutants produce imbalanced compounds.

Anti oxidants help in neutralizing the effects of these radicals, thus preventing various forms of cancer. They also help in prolonging the effects of aging.

It is very important to remember that the bar of dark chocolate should not be alkalized. Alkalization of dark chocolate destroys polyphenol compounds, thus reducing its anti oxidants.

The higher the content of non-alkalized cacao in the chocolate more is the proportion of antioxidants.

  • Helps in cancer prevention:

Dark chocolate and cancer prevention
Though not yet proven, researchers are conducting studies to find the link between dark chocolate and cancer prevention. They think that the presence of antioxidants help in controlling free radicals in the system, which are majorly responsible for cancer.

  • Maintaining good blood pressure and controlling diabetes:

Diabetic people
Studies conducted on diabetic people have shown that just in a matter of 8 weeks, when 25 grams of dark chocolate was consumed daily, the patient recorded lower blood pressure and reduced fasting sugar.

On the other hand white chocolate consumption for the same period of time did not show any improvement in the patient.

The thing to keep in mind is that the higher the content of cacao in the chocolate bar, the lower would be the added the sugar content, resulting in better benefits, especially for diabetics.

  • Helps in improving vision:

Increase the blood flow to the retina in the eyes
The flavanols have been known to increase the blood flow to the retina in the eyes, helping in reducing their oxidative stress, thus improving their visual performance.

  • Improves brain function:

Improves brain
Dark chocolate contains mild quantity of caffeine. It is just enough to stimulate the senses, but not as high as coffee to be harmful or addictive. A daily portion of 45 grams of dark chocolate has 27 milligrams of caffeine, whereas even a small cup of coffee contains 200 milligrams of caffeine.

Dark chocolate is known to have e same benefits as wine and tea for the brain.

Another composition of dark chocolate is phenyl ethylamine (PEA). The brain creates the same chemical when a person is feeling happy and loved. This chemical promotes the brain to release endorphins in the body, making a person feel happier.
Research suggests that the flavanols help in improving blood flow to the brain, helping in conditions like dementia, and reducing the risk of getting a stroke.

  • Provides natural UV protection:

UV protection
Studies and researches show that dark chocolate consumed over a long period of time, works a s a natural UV protector from the harmful rays of the sun. The flavanols reduce the stress hormones that are responsible for collagen breakdown of the skin, thus improving its blood flow and hydration.

  • Protects the teeth:

Protects the teeth
Theo bromine, one of the main components of cacao, has been known to help in hardening the tooth enamel. This leads to better protection of the teeth from cavities.

Sugar is one of the main reasons for cavities. The higher the content of cacao in a bar, lower is the content of sugar.

Unlike other forms of chocolate, with dark chocolate one can eat their way to healthy teeth!

  • Aids in controlling Asthma:

Controlling asthma
For people suffering from chronic bronchitis, this can be a blessing in disguise. Caffeine, Theo bromine and theophylline are three components found in dark chocolate that amalgamate together and help in deconstructing bronchial passages. They also help in suppressing frequent bouts of cough in asthmatic patients.

  • How to know if your dark chocolate is pure and healthy?

Dark chocolate is pure and healthy
With the market flooded with different varieties of chocolates, it becomes very difficult to determine whether what you are buying, especially if bought in the name of healthy eating, is actually healthy or not.

A few things that can be kept in mind if out to purchase a bar of dark chocolate are:

* It should have minimum 70% cacao content.
* Authentic dark chocolate bar will always have cacao as the first listed ingredient and not sugar.
* The bar should not mention, “processed with alkali”. Such a bar is low on flavonols, which ultimately reduces the nutritional value of the bar.
* It should not have soy letchin as a listed ingredient.
* The content should have cocoa butter and not hydrogenated oils, coconut oil or palm oil listed in the ingredients.
* Dark Bars with almonds or other nuts will increase their nutritional value, but anything with marshmallows, caramels and other sweeting products should be avoided.

How to incorporate dark chocolate in your daily life:

How to eat dark chocolate in your daily life

After reading the numerous benefits that dark chocolate provides, one might be tempted to gorge on a bar of dark chocolate everyday! But it is very important to keep in mind that only small quantities, not more than 25 grams or one ounce should be eaten in a day, especially if you plan to eat it everyday. A smart way to avoid over indulgence is o incorporate it in recipes, especially if you do not have a liking for bitter chocolates.

A few tips to healthy chocolate eating.

Your body and mind feeling healthy and happy
* A few bricks from the bar can be eaten everyday after your dinner. It satisfies your urge for something sweet, plus leaves your body and mind
feeling healthy and happy.
* It can be used in baking cakes. In this case, automatically the per portion content of dark chocolate will be limited.
* Chocolate bar can be melted to make chocolate sauce. This can be used as a dip with the fruits especially with strawberries. This is a double
whammy, as you get the benefits of fruits as well as dark chocolate.
* For meat lovers, it can be used as a glaze for the pork ribs.
* Chocolate cookies are another hit amongst chocolate lovers.

Combinations to avoid!

Combinations to avoid
* Hot chocolate is one of the favorite drinks for chocolate lovers in winters, and cold chocolate milk shake in the summers. But surprisingly this
should be avoided; studies have shown that milk has a tendency to bind itself with the flavonoids in cacao, thus making them unavailable to the
body for absorption.
* By this theory, we should definitely enjoy our chocolate ice creams, but should not be expecting them to give us any nutritional benefits!

Because of its bitter taste, dark chocolate is not everyone’s cup of tea. But developing the habit and taste for eating it, can be a fun way of maintaining good health and high spirits. Getting teenagers in the habit of eating controlled portions of dark chocolate everyday can go a long way in maintaining their good health and well being.

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