Good news! Not only is chocolate delicious, there are numerous health benefits of chocolate to you from the compounds in the cocoa fruit.
The cocoa bean is a rich source of naturally occurring antioxidants. Cocoa powder and dark chocolate typically have the highest amount of antioxidants of any chocolate products because they contain the highest cocoa content. Therefore, these products give the greatest health benefits of chocolate.
Cocoa powder has the most antioxidants and therefore the greatest benefits of chocolate, according to a study presented at Experimental Biology 2005, an annual meeting of biological scientists. The study showed that cocoa powder contains more antioxidants than any other chocolate products and that processing chocolate decreases antioxidant content. Researchers associated with the Agricultural Research Service conducted the study.
In this study, scientists found that the ranking of antioxidant benefits of chocolate from highest amount to lowest were natural cocoa powder, unsweetened baking chocolate, alkalinized or "Dutch" cocoa powder, dark chocolate, semi sweet chocolate, and milk chocolate.
"Research on antioxidants is only in its infancy," explains Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at The Pennsylvania State University and author of research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. "We already know that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables results in an increase of antioxidants in our blood. We believe chocolate consumption may have the same effect."
Antioxidants in the blood stream essentially neutralize substances called free radicals - small reactive molecules that cause damage to cells - which scientists believe may be the triggers for serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease. They also may cause cognitive deterioration associated with aging.
Flavanols are the main flavonoids found in cocoa and chocolate. Research over the past decade has identified flavonoids as providing diverse beneficial physiological and antioxidant effects. Flavonoids are natural antioxidant compounds also found in fruits, vegetables, and certain beverages such as tea, red wine, and grape juice.
Studies have shown that chocolate contains a very high level of antioxidants, ranking far above nearly all other fruits and vegetables for antioxidant content.
Research conducted at the University of Scranton has demonstrated that the quality and quantity of the antioxidants in chocolate are very high even compared to other common foods and beverages with high levels such as black tea, red wine, raisins, strawberries and other plant products. Cocoa powder ranked the highest of the chocolate products, followed by dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Dark chocolate contained over twice the polyphenol antioxidants as prunes, which ranks highest among fruits. The following list shows foods ranked high for antioxidants.
Notice the chocolate benefits on top...
*ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is a measure of the ability of foods to subdue harmful oxygen free radicals that can damage our bodies.Source: Data from U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Journal of the American Chemical Society
"The findings provide further scientific evidence that cocoa is a rich source of antioxidant activity, such as other antioxidant-rich foods including red wine, cranberries and blueberries," said Chocolate Manufacturers Association President Lynn Bragg. "This research increases knowledge of a wonderfully familiar food, and comes at a time when we are finding new ways to use cocoa and chocolate (e.g., as an ingredient and flavor) in a variety of foods. There are benefits of chocolate for everyone and it can be enjoyed - in moderate portions - as part of a balanced diet."
Scientists say antioxidants may reduce the risk for developing heart disease, as well as offer some other potential health benefits (click to Heart & Chocolate page). A 1.5 ounce chocolate bar contains about the same amount of total phenolic compounds as a 5-ounce serving of red wine, which has been associated with a reduced risk for coronary heart disease.
If you have high blood pressure, a daily large bar-sized serving of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate might provide health benefits by lowering your blood pressure and improving insulin resistance, researchers report in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association. This study suggests that flavonoids in cocoa appear to have benefits for vascular function and glucose sensitivity as well. The carefully controlled study found that a daily serving of chocolate reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 15 and 9 points respectively. Flavonoid-rich foods should be part of an overall healthy diet, and some dark chocolate could be part of that diet, along with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Surprising health benefits of chocolate also include cacao is as a cough suppressant. Recent studies have found that theobromine, a compound found in cocoa, is more effective as a cough suppressant than prescription codeine. This molecule suppresses the "itch" signal from the nerve in the back of the throat that causes the cough reflex. It is possible to get an effective dose from 50g of dark chocolate (a “regular” size chocolate bar), which contains 2 to 10 times more cocoa than milk chocolate. Theobromine was also free from side effects in the blind tests. (Persistent Coughs Melt Away with Chocolate, New Scientist, 11-22-04)
Clearly there are numerous health benefits from consuming chocolate, especially products with high cocoa content such as cocoa powder and dark chocolate. There are also many ways to incorporate cocoa and chocolate into a diet in a way that enhances the flavor of other healthy foods. For some great ideas, click to Chocolate Recipes page.
Notice & Disclaimer: All content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.