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10 Things You Didn't Know About Chocolate

Think you have to avoid chocolate if you are trying to stick to a healthy eating plan? Think again!

Chocolate. Has a more beloved, delectable, swoon-worthy food ever existed? I think not. It is consistently ranked as the number one food that women crave (my guess is that it ranks pretty high up on men’s list of craveable foods, too). Chocolate is so delicious that it is often described as not only indulgent but downright sinful. But you do not have to feel guilty about occasionally enjoying a small bit of chocolate. A little chocolate — the darker the better — in moderation, confers a host of health benefits.

Chocolate is Chock-Full of Antioxidants

Of all of the foods in the entire world, chocolate houses the largest concentration of antioxidants. In fact, chocolate has more antioxidants than blueberries, goji berries, acai berries, pomegranates, and red wine combined! Common types of antioxidants found in chocolate include polyphenols, epicatechins, and catechins.

Chocolate Helps Protect Your Heart

Chocolate’s abundance of antioxidants — particularly its flavonols — helps improve your heart healthy by improving cholesterol ratios, lowering your blood pressure, increasing the flexibility of your blood vessels, and reducing the amount of plaque in your arteries.

Chocolate Can Cut Cancer Risk

Dark chocolate with seventy percent cacao or higher has been shown in multiple scientific studies to lower the risk of lung, skin, and prostate cancer. Researchers attribute dark chocolate’s cancer-preventing abilities to its bounty of flavonols, polyphenols, and proanthocyanidins, all of which assist in curtailing cancer cell growth. In addition to these antioxidants, chocolate also contains pentamer compounds, which disband specific proteins that strengthen cancer cells’ ability to constantly divide and grow, according to research out of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center (Georgetown University).

The higher the percentage of cacao you consume, the greater the supply of cancer-cutting compounds.

Chocolate Boosts Your Mood and Helps Prevent Cognitive Decline

Researchers at Harvard Medical School believe that consuming chocolate may improve cognitive functioning and decrease memory deterioration in older adults because chocolate consumption ups blood flow in key areas of the brain due to its theobromine content. Eating chocolate has also been proven to significantly reduce levels of stress hormones and increase production of feel-good endorphins and hormones such as serotonin.

Chocolate is a Vegetable — Sort Of

When you are biting into an exquisite piece of dark chocolate, remind any judgemental friends standing nearby that you are just trying to eat more vegetables. You heard me right — milk and dark chocolate both are made from the cacao bean, which is plucked off of the cacao tree, which is actually a type of evergreen.

Types of Chocolate Confections Number in the Thousands, but There Are Only Three Types of Cacao Beans in the World

The Forastero variety is the most common cacao bean as it totals 65-75 percent of the entire harvest of the world’s chocolate. Criollo is the rarest and highest-quality type of cacao bean available and it makes up a mere 6-10 percent of the global harvest. The Trinitario cacao bean, which is a cross between Forastero and Criollo, tallies about 25-35 percent of the world’s chocolate.

Chocolate is Rich in Health-Promoting Minerals

A 100-gram bar of dark chocolate (one with 70-85 percent cocoa) provides:

  • 98 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for manganese
  • 89 percent of the RDA for copper
  • 67 percent of the RDA for iron
  • Chocolate also contains other important minerals such as zinc, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium

Chocolate Is Most Popular Among Europeans

Although Americans often get flack for our excessive consumption of indulgent foods, you may be surprised to learn that among the twenty countries that consume the largest amount of chocolate, eighty percent of those countries are in located in Europe.

Chocolate Making Is Not Easy

Need another reason to adore chocolate? A lot of hard work goes into each piece of chocolate. It takes nearly 400 cacao beans to produce a single pound of chocolate, so take time to truly savor each morsel of the yummy stuff.

Chocolate’s Melting Point is Unique

Chocolate melts at 93 degrees Fahrenheit, just below normal human body temperature. It is the only edible food substance to carry such a unique trait and the fact that it melts at such a low temperature is one of the reasons it easily coats your tongue, imparting such a luscious, velvety texture in your mouth.

The Bottom Line: The darker the chocolate (the higher percentage of cacao), the more beneficial nutrients you are going to get. When you buy cocoa powder, seek out one that hasn’t undergone Dutch processing as this type will retain more of its antioxidants because it is less processed. Try to opt for no sugar added chocolates with more natural, non-nutritive sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit. Since most commercial chocolate is still high in fat, be sure to be mindful of portion size. And, of course, consume chocolate as part of an overall healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.


[Image via Shutterstock]

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