Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
Dark Chocolate and it's Health Benefits
Antioxidants are important components of the diet that have the ability to reduce the risk for a variety of different chronic conditions. Antioxidants, sometimes referred to as phytonutrients, make up a large part of why dark chocolate is so healthful. Dark chocolate is abundant in an antioxidant group called flavonoids. Flavinoids have attracted great interest lately because of their profound effects on reducing cardiovascular disease risk. Although fruits, vegetables, aloe vera juice and wine are commonly thought to be the richest source of flavonoids, dark chocolate actually contains more flavonoids per serving than any of these sources (Steinberg 2003).
Critics of dark chocolate frequently cite its high saturated fat content. However, the primary type of fat found in dark chocolate is stearic acid, which does not promote plaque buildup in the arteries. In fact, this "healthy saturated fat" actually lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and the total:HDL cholesterol ratio (Mensink 2003).
Dark chocolate has a better nutritional profile than milk chocolate. In fact, the ORAC score of a serving of dark chocolate, which is a measure of a food's antioxidant capacity, is 13 mmol about double that of milk chocolate and 5-10 times greater than fruits and wine (Steinberg 2003). An additional benefit of dark chocolate versus milk chocolate is that the percentage of flavonoids that is absorbed is greater because the milk in milk chocolate reduces flavonoid intestinal absorption (Serafini 2003).
Dozens of clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate the health benefits of dark chocolate and the results are overwhelmingly positive. Dark chocolate has shown the most impressive results by reducing cardiovascular disease risk. Eating just three quarters of an ounce of dark chocolate each day reduces cardiovascular disease risk by 10.5% (Franco 2004). Dark chocolate exerts these effects in several ways high antioxidant activity, reducing platelet activity, anti-inflammatory effects, increases in HDL, lowered blood pressure, and improved blood vessel function to name a few.
A review of 133 studies showed that daily flavonoid consumption dilated blood vessels and reduced systolic blood pressure by 6 points and diastolic by 3 points (Hooper 2008). Another study showed that after 1 week of dark chocolate consumption, LDL fell by 8 points, HDL rose by 6 points, and platelet activity an indicator of blood clot risk fell about 40%. Finally, vascular inflammation fell by over 20% (Hamed 2008). Since heart disease is often linked with diabetes, dark chocolate packs another healthy punch improved insulin sensitivity. Many diabetic patients produce adequate levels of insulin; however, their body has become desensitized to the effects of insulin and it has little or no effect on lowering blood sugar levels. A 15-day regimen of eating dark chocolate improved insulin sensitivity in healthy adults and these improvements were greater compared to subjects who were fed white chocolate (Grassi 2005).
For those who are concerned with maintaining a healthy weight, there is no reason to avoid chocolate since only small amounts need to be eaten to enjoy these benefits. One study showed that eating just thre quarters of an ounce of dark chocolate every 3 days lowers C-reactive protein levels a strong marker of cardiovascular disease risk (di Giuseppe 2008). This amount of chocolate equates to adding about 100 calories every 3 days to the diet a calorie intake so low that it will have no detrimental effect on weight loss efforts.
Overall, there are plenty of good reasons to eat small amounts of dark chocolate on a regular basis. Not only can dark chocolate improve your health, but you'll also feel great literally. Dark chocolate is a proven mood enhancer that reduces fatigue and improves vigor (Parker 2006, Radin 2007). What more can you ask for? Dark chocolate, in moderation, coupled with a healthy diet rich in natural vitamins , may just be a perfect food.
Dr. Linda Kennedy MS SLP ND
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Title: Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate