Choc a Little or Choc a Lot?

The amazing health benefits of dark chocolate whether it be a little or a lot need to be examined. Unfortunately, what Cadbury have done to chocolate through processing, has altered this naturally healthy food into a disease promoting product full of sugar.

The History of Chocolate 

The first solid bar of chocolate was introduced by an English Company J.S FRY and sons in 1847, but the history of chocolate goes back more than 4,000 years.

Throughout the history of chocolate, ‘ The food of the gods’ remains a symbol of Luxury, Wealth, and Power.
In the 14th-century Cacao beans were used as currency. Research has revealed that chocolate has some rather impressive health benefits. However, you will have to review your source, look for a high Coco content (80%), soy-free, and preferably organic. This will lead to optimum health benefits. There are numerous artisan chocolatiers around this wonderful country of ours that fit the bill!
In the 17th century, dark chocolate was considered a potential medicine, and areas of Europe used it to treat angina or heart pain.

Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?

Fast forward to 2011, a study has shown that dark chocolate helped diseased blood vessels to dilate, improving blood flow. (BMJ Heart Journal, 2011).
Dark chocolate also has the ability to block chemicals in the body that constrict blood vessels, (Heinrich Heine University). Thus, in turn, improving blood flow.
Remarkably Dark chocolate also reduces body inflammation. Less inflammation leads to less pain and overall a healthier person!
Dark chocolate is a powerful antioxidant. Which can reduce stress on our bodies and can help with maintaining a healthy Cholesterol level. Why wouldn’t you want to get your teeth into a couple of squares of ‘nature’s little gift’. Treat yourself and treat your body. It really is a win-win situation!
A study in Rome included twenty patients with an average age of seventy, who suffered from severe peripheral vascular disease. They were all asked to eat about 40g of Dark chocolate daily.
Investigators studied blood flow into the patient’s limbs before and after eating the dark chocolate.
They all performed treadmill exercise testing and those eating dark chocolate against those not eating dark chocolate had amazing results.
Patients eating the dark chocolate had:
11 % increase in walking distance.
15 % increase in walking time.
57 % increase in Nitric Oxide which helps relaxation and dilation of arteries.
Two markers associated with constriction of arteries went down by 23 to 37 %
In summary, dark chocolate improved blood flow which significantly improved their performance.
Not all chocolate is created equal, let’s discuss milk chocolate first.
Milk chocolate has no benefits, let me say it again to emphasise it, no health benefits at all.
Dark Chocolate is the healthy chocolate, let me explain some of the terms used to describe dark chocolate.
Cacao (kakow) refers to the plant, a small evergreen tree that produces seeds known as Cocoa Beans. This is prior to processing.
The best health benefits of dark chocolate come from the raw Cocoa beans (unroasted) and unfortunately, many companies roast the beans and then grind them into a powder, it is this powder that is used in the chocolate making. You can also buy organic raw Cacao Nibs. This can be a fantastic addition to Walnuts, Brazil nuts or any nuts for your do-it-yourself breakfast cereal.

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate.

The higher the percentage of Cocoa the more bitter the chocolate  and the healthier it is. The bitterness comes from the polyphenolsFlavinoids, and Resveratrol (found in Red Wine) which act as:
1 Antioxidants.
2 Anti-inflammatory.
3 Lower Ldl Cholesterol.
4 Increase Hdl Cholesterol. (This will overall lower cholesterol ratio, which is the desired effect)
5 Protect our nervous systems.
In fact cocoa has a higher anti-oxidant capacity than green tea, black tea, or even red wine. Why are we just hearing about this now?

What is In Dark Chocolate?

The Netherlands Journal of Medicine also reviewed the many health benefits of Cocoa, noting that it contains:
1 Healthy Fats.
2 Antioxidants.
3 Minerals like Potassium, Magnesium, Copper, Iron, and Zinc.
4 Valeric Acid which acts as a stress reducer despite the presence of stimulants like
5 Theobromine has been shown to be very effective at melting away coughs. The next cough bottle should have Cocoa in it!
6 Resveratrol which is the antioxidant also found in red wine.
Now we know that dark chocolate is full of healthy nutrition while milk chocolate and white chocolate is full of nothing but sugar.
The most effective way to get good nutrition into our bodies is to source our foods as close to their naturally occurring state and as unprocessed as possible, so it’s that easy,
‘Eat more Raw Cocoa’.

Cautions to Take When Eating Dark Chocolate.

However,  due to dark chocolate being high in caffeine it can cause problems such as jitteriness, headaches, or even increased heart palpitations. So, for people who are sensitive to coffee or caffeine, be warned!
Dark chocolate can also affect certain drugs, such as blood thinners, e.g Warfarin. Be careful as you may experience more bruising if you increase Cocoa in your diet. However, the most important thing to remember with warfarin is to get your INRs checked regularly.
People who are prone to headaches should also be careful.
Diabetics should also beware that caffeine can raise blood sugar levels. So, monitor your blood sugar levels carefully.
The Contraceptive Pill or HRT can reduce the body’s ability to breakdown caffeine and so jitteriness or headaches can arise if you increase your caffeine intake.
Large doses of cocoa could lower blood pressure so be careful if you are on BP medicine. Again, it’s just a case of continually monitoring your blood pressure.
One other fact to mention is that dark chocolate is heavy on calories, so, beware! It may be a healthy food but maybe our favorite treat should be kept dark and at only a couple of squares at a time.
Dark chocolate’s future is very bright and the more antioxidant-rich foods you eat the better you will feel and the healthier you will be. This is the mantra that I live by
‘Food is my medicine!’

Edward O’Reilly

Lifestyle Pharmacist 

087 205 1039


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