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Dark Chocolate: Health Benefits

Just about everyone loves chocolate. Anyone with a sweet tooth likely has a favorite chocolate treat or brand they most enjoy. Worldwide, more than $75 billion is spent on chocolate delights every year! With Valentine's Day just around the corner, you can be sure that a lot of chocolate will be purchased, shared and consumed. But, not all chocolate is created equal, and there are definitive health benefits in dark chocolate that are not found in other chocolates that are highly processed. If you plan to give someone the delights of a chocolate treat, make sure you choose the right kind!

Long before chocolate was such an easily attainable treat, cultures prized and used it for its healing and medicinal properties. Now, the healthcare community is again realizing how chocolate can yield positive benefits for a number of health conditions.

Here are three delicious reasons to indulge in some dark chocolate this month:

  • Positive Heart Benefits. Heart Health month is celebrated in February, and how better to celebrate than with a delicious food proven to improve heart health. The flavanols in dark chocolate are proven to help lower blood cholesterol and improve blood flow to the heart and the brain. They can also help reduce the risk of stroke by making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.

  • Cognitive Function. Studies have proven that dark chocolate has the ability to improve cognitive function, specifically in the older population. The flavanols in dark chocolate are associated with increased blood flow to the brain which could reduce dementia and stroke. A quick snack of dark chocolate during that mid-afternoon slump can also help you focus and concentrate better if your mind is wandering.

  • Antioxidants. Okay, so dark chocolate isn't exactly in the Superman realm, but it does have the ability to fight free radicals. Dark chocolate contains two groups of antioxidants: flavonoids and polyphenols. The cocoa in dark chocolate contains the highest content of these antioxidants (even more than wine!) so the higher the percentage of dark chocolate in your special treat, the more antioxidants introduced in your body to fight against the free radicals.

Dark chocolate actually has higher levels of antioxidants that many fruits dubbed as "superfoods", like blueberries, acai berries and cranberries. Pomegranates do edge out chocolate in this category, but there are a number of chocolate treats available that combine these two products.

Additionally, dark chocolate yields high levels of magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium and iron, among other minerals that our bodies need for optimal health and performance.

There are a lot of different brands and varieties of dark chocolate available. Here's a brief rundown of how to decipher what the information on the package means:

The percentage noted on a chocolate bar will tell you how much of the bar (by weight) is made from pure cacao beans. The higher the percentage, the less sweet the chocolate will taste, and the richer the chocolate flavor will be. For example, a chocolate bar that says "70% cacao" means that there is 30% of sugar in the bar, so there will be a more intense chocolate flavor and the taste will be less sweet. A 55% dark chocolate bar contains 45% sugar/sweetners. If you want to reap the benefits of the flavonoids and polyphenols in dark chocolate, you want to choose one that is at least 70% cacao.

Dark chocolate, while chock full of positive health benefits, has to be enjoyed in moderation. A balanced diet of healthy fruits and vegetables must still be a focus of our long-term dietary habits.
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Sunday, December 16, 2018

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