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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chocolate to Improve Your Health?

There is good news chocolate lovers! Chocolate, even the overly sweet chocolates often found in American shelves, have health benefits that outweigh the negatives of the sugars and calories within. Now you may be wondering what the health benefits are. How can a sweet, loaded with sugar still be healthy? How do I know what the healthiest are?

First let's look at what chocolate is and which offer the greatest health benefits. Chocolate is either a raw or processed food that comes from the seeds of a tropical tree found in Central and South America. The seeds are grounded and form cocoa, which has a very bitter taste. To overcome this bitter taste it is often fermented to develop the flavor. Further processing often includes alkolizing, roasting, as well as adding sugars, other sweeteners, condensed milk, and fat, all in an effort to "enhance" the flavor. It used to be thought that dark chocolate was the best option when assessing chocolate for health benefits. Although this general statement is still valid in many cases, one should look more closely at the level of processing to better assess the chocolate. Essentially, the more processing cocoa receives the less health benefits it provides.

What health benefits does chocolate offer? Cocoa comes from a plant and in its raw form has a very high number of flavanoids. Flavanoids act as antioxidants, and as most people know, antioxidants are the chemical compounds that scavenge the body for free radicals. Free radicals cause damage to DNA and can lead to a great number of health problems. Many fruits and vegetables contain these flavanoids that assist in "cleaning" the body. Chocolate is remarkable in that it has up to eight times the number of flavanoids found in strawberries. To simplify the list of benefits I'll put them into bullets below:

- Chocolate appears to lower blood pressure

- Chocolate appears to reduce blood clots, reduce heart disease

- Chocolate may reduce inflammation

- Chocolate may reduce cell damage, and thereby have anti-cancer properties

How can I make my chocolate consumption healthier? Find organic minimally processed chocolate. You want to look for it with higher cocoa content, which normally means dark chocolate. You want to find chocolate with the least amount of sugar. Cold processed chocolates won't destroy as many of the beneficial components of chocolate as standard processing would. If you're looking for healthier chocolates try: Dagoba, Xocai, or 4noguilt (I have no affiliation to these companies).

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