Chocolate – The ‘Other’ Food Group!

Being a lifelong chocoholic, I have often joked that chocolate is nutritious food, since it is from a bean (a vegetable), and by this I validated my habit.

But although I would have loved to title this post “The Healing Properties of Chocolate” or “Chocolate Superfood”, I did not,  because although there are powerful anti-oxidant properties in the flavanoids that chocolate contains, it is, sadly, no substitute for fruits and vegetables which contain more than just these nutritious properties.

So, tongue in cheek, I lovingly entitled it ‘Chocloate – The Other Food Group’. Still, chocolate does have beneficial properties!

The Healing Properties of Chocolate

The powerful antioxidants in chocolate are flavanols and procyanidins. These are two compounds of the flavonoid family, which is a category of polyphenols. Flavanoids also include resveratrol, found in grapes and EGCG, which is present in green tea.

Consuming the flavanoids in chocolate and cocoa increases the antioxidant levels in the blood, protecting cells from free radical damage. This also protects DNA from cancer causing damage.

In addition, it helps prevent damage to the heart and blood vessels, also helping to control inflammation. It may also decrease platelet activity, which contributes to heart health (baby aspirin is recommended for the same reason).

One study stipulates that a 20 g square of dark (semi-sweet) chocolate every three days is the ideal dose for cardiovascular benefits, but that increasing that amount provides no additional benefit.

Chocolate has also been shown to have the ability to contribute to the correction of stress related hormone imbalances. Eating about 1.5 oz. of dark chocolate daily for two weeks was shown to lower stress hormone levels in people who complained of feeling extremely stressed.

Chocolate also contains tannins, another antioxidant which is from its pigmentation (a phytochemical nutrient). It also contains a small amount of protein in addition to energy producing carbohydrates.

Not a Perfect Superfood

Chocolate does contains a high amount of stearic acid, which is a saturated fat of the kind to be avoided.

It has been directly linked to elevated LDL cholesterol levels (the bad cholesterol, low density lipoprotein) as well as atherosclerosis, which is  linked to increased risks of coronary artery disease due accelerating oxidative properties.

However, there is also a bit of monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, in chocolate. So, it is not all bad.

Milk chocolate will contain a higher content of the bad fats, along with a higher sugar content.

Even three ounces of Toll House semi-sweet chocolate contain 420 calories, 210 (50%) from fat and 168 (40%) from sugar.

Chocolate also contains some caffeine. In unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate you will usually find about five to 10 milligrams of caffeine per ounce (typically caffeine content increases with darker chocolate). A cup of coffee normally contains about ten to fifteen times the amount of caffeine in one ounce of chocolate.

So Enjoy Chocolate in Moderation!

So although chocolate is not health food, it is good! Us chocolate lovers will never give up our chocolate, but I can agree that I’ll stick with dark chocolate in moderation, and otherwise consume it on special occasions and holidays 🙂

Yes, the dark chocolates are best, since they normally contain less fat, and more of the flavanoids.

Also, the milk in milk chocolate will reduce the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants present since it coats and prevents their absorption in the body during digestion.

Antioxidants are better supplied by vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, which also contain many other healthful nutrients.

A good chart on the nutritional information for various types of chocolate can be found at http://www.cacaoweb.net/nutrition.html.

So enjoy your chocolate over the holidays, and eat chocolate in moderation!


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