Chocolate is extremely rich in antioxidants.
The many valuable nutrients in chocolate include antioxidants, protein and essential minerals. Most significantly, raw chocolate (or cacao) contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the world. These antioxidants include flavonoids such as polyphenols, catechins, and epicatechins, the same antioxidants that are present in red wine and green tea.
Antioxidants, sometimes referred to as phytonutrients, protect the body from free radical damage and can help to prevent premature aging and chronic diseases.
Over the years, chocolate has been processed more for taste than for nutritional value. As a result, many of the nutrients in chocolate are lost when the cacao is processed. Recently, however, manufacturers have found ways of processing cocoa to keep more of the flavonoids in the final product. To really get the most nutrients in chocolate, make sure to get minimally-processed raw or dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content is a rich source of epicatechin and gallic acid, two antioxidants which are thought to possess cardio-protective properties. Compared to red wine and green tea, two other foods high in these antioxidants, raw chocolate has twice the amount of gallic acid as red wine and about 4 times as much as green tea. For the flavonoid epicatechin, chocolate has 3 times as much as red wine and 12 times as much as green tea.
See Antioxidant Facts for more about antioxidants.
A one-ounce (28g) serving of chocolate contains 130-150 calories (most of them from fat), with 9-12g of fat. Raw chocolate, however, also has 9g of fiber and 4g of protein, whereas dark and milk chocolate has very little of either.
Cacao is the best natural food source of the following nutrients:
Magnesium: Cacao is one of the best food sources of magnesium. Magnesium is one of the great alkaline minerals. Magnesium balances brain chemistry and builds strong bones. It also helps to keep the heart beating steadily, aids stable blood sugar levels and helps keep blood pressure at an healthy level. Magnesium is the most deficient major mineral in the Standard American Diet, with over 80% of Americans chronically deficient.
Potassium, Iron and Zinc: Iron carries oxygen around the body and helps you to make energy from food. Potassium keeps your kidneys healthy and muscles functioning, while zinc is needed for a strong immune system and cell division.
Chromium is an important trace mineral that helps balance blood sugar. Nearly 80% of Americans are deficient in this trace mineral.
Anandamide is an endorphin that the human body naturally produces after exercise. Anandamide has only been found in one plant — cacao. Anandamide is known as the "bliss chemical" because it's released in your brain when you're feeling great.
Theobromine: Cacao usually contains about 1% theobromine. Theobromine is an effective anti-bacterial substance and kills the primary bacteria that causes cavities. Theobromine is a chemical relative of caffeine, but is not a stimulant. Theobromine dilates the cardiovascular system and is one of the major reasons why cacao is a valuable part of a heart-healthy diet.
Manganese helps assist iron in the oxygenation of the blood and formation of hemoglobin. Interestingly, manganese is also concentrated in tears.
Zinc plays a critical role in the immune system, liver, pancreas, and skin. Additionally, zinc is involved in thousands of enzymatic reactions throughout the human body.
Copper is an essential trace mineral. In the human body, copper helps to build healthy blood.
Phenethylamine (PEA) is found in abundance in cacao, and plays a role in increasing focus and alertness. PEA is heat sensitive, so much of the PEA in conventionally-processed chocolate is missing.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is transformed into important stress-protective neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan is also heat sensitive and therefore it is absent in conventionally-processed chocolate.
Serotonin is the primary neurotransmitter in the human body, similar in its chemistry to tryptophan and melatonin. Serotonin helps build up your “stress defense shield.”
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 cacao, and gradually switch to bars with a higher cacao content. Again, the higher the better.
Discover more of the Benefits of Dark Chocolate
and learn how to choose the healthiest type of chocolate to eat.
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