Crazy for Cocoa
“Don’t worry, dark chocolate is good for you!” …We’ve all heard that one before— especially when struggling through a diet. But, how healthy is chocolate? How much (or how little) do you need to reap the nutritional benefits? Is it just dark chocolate or can it be found in other chocolate products as well? Let’s investigate…
We were dying to know… Is chocolate healthy?
Unfortunately, the answer is not as straight forward as we would have hoped! Dark chocolate is said to contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. It has also been touted to increase blood flow, improve heart health, and decrease cholesterol. But, has this been scientifically proven?
The vast majority of the nutrients found in chocolate come from the cocoa bean. The chocolate products we know and love all start with raw cacao beans. Grown mostly in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia, the cocoa pod is a fruit that contains roughly 50 large cocoa, or cacao, seeds per pod. These seeds hold all the nutrients.
The nutritional content of a raw cacao bean
Originally dubbed “food of the Gods”, the cacao (or cocoa) bean is known to contain over 300 healthy compounds.
Before we get into the health claims that are made about antioxidants, it is important to understand that the science behind the effects of antioxidants is controversial. Many of the research undertakings are performed “in vitro,” which means the test occur in the lab as opposed to in the human body.
While the results indicated that consuming cocoa can improve blood vessel function and hearth health, this might not be true for everyone. Additionally, how your body uses the antioxidants that it ingests is quite unclear, thus there are no chocolate products on the market that make health claims and are backed by the FDA.
A 2006 study focused on the link between dark chocolate and its ability to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in men. The study included 470 elderly men and measured their blood pressure at the start of the study, five years later, and incorporated a fifteen year follow up. The men consumed cocoa-containing foods, which over the course of the study, reduced blood pressure and subsequently, the risk of cardiovascular death.
In addition to catechins, cocoa also contains the antioxidant epicatechin. Like flavanols and catechins, epicatechin is compound in dark chocolate. The University of California, Davis performed a study that concluded the following: “100 grams of cocoa contain 26.2 milligrams of epicatechin. A comparable amount of dark chocolate has 12 milligrams of catechin and 41.5 milligrams of epicatechin, while 100 grams of milk chocolate contain 2.1 milligrams of catechin and 6.3 milligrams of epicatechin.” Thus, further proving that the various types of antioxicants and nutrients found in raw cocoa will decrease depending on the processing and roasting of the cocoa bean. Because of this, you should get the most nutrients from dark chocolate.
Certain types of flavanols in cocoa can influence the circulatory system.
Compared to a yodel or a piece of cake, dark chocolate is obviously the better option. However, you still want to be mindful of the extra fat and sugar that you are eating along with the cocoa!
The Bottom Line:
The nutrients found in chocolate come from the raw cocoa bean. As the cocoa bean is roasted, refined, and processed to created a delicious sweet treat, the dense nutrient compounds can be lost in the process. A serving of dark chocolate will provide you with some vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but the most powerful source of these healthy compounds is from raw cocoa products.
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