The health benefits of dark chocolate have only recently made it into mainstream thinking. It shouldn't have really surprised anyone — chocolate comes from the seed of a tropical tree, which means it inherently has many of the health benefits of other plant seeds.
But it's even better than that — raw chocolate (or cacao) actually contains the highest levels of antioxidants of any food on earth, with a full spectrum of nutrients found naturally in all nuts and seeds. However, most of the chocolate consumed in western cultures comes in the form of highly processed and refined milk chocolate, which does not have any of the benefits of less-processed dark varieties.
Antioxidants, sometimes referred to as phytonutrients, protect the body from free radical damage and can help to prevent premature aging and chronic diseases.
Antioxidants are found in all fruits and vegetables, to some degree. Unfortunately, most people don't consume enough antioxidants in their diet to offset the harmful effects of free radicals. In addition, antioxidant levels in your body decline as you age. This combination places most individuals at an elevated risk for free radical damage and degenerative diseases.
See Antioxidant Facts for more about antioxidants.
Dozens of clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate the health benefits of dark chocolate — and the results are overwhelmingly positive. These include benefits for your cardiovascular system, prevention of osteoporosis, cancer prevention, and improved mental alertness. Dark chocolate also possesses powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.
Cardiovascular benefits of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains important antioxidants called phenols. These phenols can decrease blood pressure, improve your cholesterol ratio, and increase your insulin sensitivity.
The flavonoids in dark chocolate counteract free radicals, the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease. Free radicals cause oxidation of LDL cholesterol and injury to the walls of your arteries, which leads to the plaque buildup that is associated with heart disease. Flavonoids also prevent platelets from sticking together, which lowers the risk for blood clots, and dilate the arteries to improve blood flow.
Anti-inflammatory effects. Flavonoid compounds in dark chocolate exert strong anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the same enzyme that is the target of over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
Prevention of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease where bone mineral density declines, which raises the risk for fractures. Women who consume greater amounts of antioxidants like those in dark chocolate have higher bone mineral density levels than those who consume lower levels. This makes dark chocolate a great addition to the diet in anyone with low bone density or susceptibility to fracture.
Dark chocolate increases brain chemicals that help you stay focused and alert. This suggests that dark chocolate could be useful in enhancing brain function for people fighting fatigue and sleep deprivation. Dark chocolate also boosts blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours, and may help to increase performance in tasks that require an alert mind.
Dark chocolate may also increase happiness. When dark chocolate is consumed, it triggers the production of endorphins in the body, which create a feeling of happiness.
Benefits of dark chocolate include help with weight loss! Dark chocolate has appetite suppressant properties which help curb your cravings. And if you eat the darkest varieties of chocolate, it only takes small amounts to enjoy these benefits. Studies show that eating just three-quarters of an ounce of dark chocolate (about 100 calories) every 3 days lowers C-reactive protein levels, a strong marker of cardiovascular disease risk.
As mentioned above, the benefits of chocolate are only available from deep, dark varieties. Milk chocolate is a highly-processed food and has virtually none of the benefits of dark chocolate.
When you're choosing a dark chocolate bar, the higher percentage of cacao, the better. If you're accustomed to milk chocolate, you may want to start with a dark chocolate bar that's lower in cocoa, and gradually switch to bars with a higher cocoa content. Again, the higher the better.
My favorite way to enjoy the full benefits of dark chocolate is with Navitas Naturals' Sweetened Raw Chocolate Nibs. Raw chocolate is the least processed and most nutritious type of chocolate.
These nibs are lightly coated with organic cacao liquor and sweetened with organic cane juice, which cuts some of the natural bitterness of the raw chocolate and enhances the chocolate flavor. This makes for a great improvement in the taste over plain raw chocolate, although they're not as tasty as typical dark chocolate bars. Basically, it's a trade off between taste and nutritional value.
You can eat these as a snack right out of the bag, or mix them into granola, trail mix, or your favorite chocolate recipes.
Navitas Naturals also offers a raw chocolate powder, as well as other superfoods such as hemp, maca, chia, acai, goji and many others.
Navitas Naturals supports fair-trade policies and sustainable organic agriculture. Their foods are certified organic, gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, raw, and certified kosher.
One of the easiest ways to add the benefits of raw chocolate to your daily routine is by using it as an ingredient in a smoothie.
Superfoods like raw chocolate can turn your ordinary smoothie into a nutrient-dense meal with the antioxidant benefits of 6 servings of fruits and vegetables — your entire minimum daily requirement! Not to mention the taste benefits!
If you're not into smoothies yet, you should be... they're hands-down the best way to get you going in the morning and keep you going. Anytime you want a quick and amazingly-healthy meal without having to cook, a smoothie fits the bill!
You can discover How to Make Smoothies the Healthy Way elsewhere on this website.
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