Antioxidants – The Not-So-Sweet Things Chocolate Has to Say about Free Radicals
One of the most compelling reasons to make chocolate a part of your regular diet may be for the antioxidants it provides.
Few foods, and certainly not dessert foods, have as much therapeutic potential as this “candy” aisle treat, as evidenced by a wide range of accumulating scientific research linking its consumption to over 40 distinct health benefits.2
While most of us have heard about the importance of antioxidants, a primer might help, beginning with the explanation that the formation of free radicals – atoms, ions and molecules with unpaired electrons – in your cells can damage your DNA to the point that your risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer are elevated.
This is why the antioxidant polyphenols in chocolate are so valuable, as they have the ability to stop free radical mediated oxidation. This helps to decrease your risk of those and other diseases by directly interfering with one of the major preventable causes of chronic degenerative diseases.
Chocolate Boosts Heart Health
Regular chocolate eaters welcome a host of benefits for their hearts, including lower blood pressure, lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease.
One of the reasons dark chocolate is especially heart-healthy is its inflammation-fighting properties, which reduce cardiovascular risk.
High Pressure Mood Improver?
One of the most alluring effects of chocolate consumption is its improvement in mood. Your mood matters even more when you’re stressed. Luckily, chocolate can help even in high-pressure situations, according to one study. Participants were asked to complete serial subtraction tasks of threes and sevens (counting down by 3s and 7s), and a rapid visual information-processing task to test sustained attention. Those who consumed cocoa flavored drinks prior to the trial had overall better cognitive performance and reported less ‘mental fatigue’ than the control group.
Chocolate improves blood flow
In 2008 Harvard scientists forced test subjects to undergo “two weeks of enhanced chocolate intake.” A fortnight of chocolate face-stuffing, they found, sped up blood flow through their subject’s middle cerebral arteries. In other words, more chocolate means more blood to your brain.
Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Brain
Dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain as well as to the heart, so it can help improve cognitive function. Dark chocolate also helps reduce your risk of stroke.
Dark chocolate also contains several chemical compounds that have a positive effect on your mood and cognitive health. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release endorphins, so eating dark chocolate will make you feel happier.
Dark chocolate also contains caffeine, a mild stimulant. However, dark chocolate contains much less caffeine than coffee. A 1.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 27 mg of caffeine, compared to the 200 mg found in an eight ounce cup of coffee.
Chocolate is High in Vitamins and Minerals
Dark chocolate contains a number of vitamins and minerals that can support your health. Dark chocolate contains some of the following vitamins and minerals in high concentrations:
The copper and potassium in dark chocolate help prevent against stroke and cardiovascular ailments. The iron in chocolate protects against iron deficiency anemia, and the magnesium in chocolate helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Chocolate can protect your skin
German researchers found that the flavonoids in dark chocolate absorb UV light, help protect and increase blood flow to the skin, and improve skin’s hydration and complexion.
Conclusion: It is good to know that chocolate contains ingredients beneficial to health. However, it does not necessarily mean you should eat more chocolate products. Chocolate bars and candies are often high in fat, sugar and calories. Moderation is always the key – having a decadent piece of chocolate once in a while is not going to harm your health, either. If you have a choice, choose dark chocolate for its higher flavonoid content!
If you would like to include more foods with high levels of antioxidants, fruits & vegetables as well as whole grains would be a better bet as they are low in calories and high in vitamins and fiber. For a sensible heart smart diet, emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish and choose skinless lean meats.