by Katherine Matutes, Ph.D.
You can feel good about treating your sweetheart to a dose of heart-healthy dark chocolate on this Valentine's Day.
Compelling research about the health benefits of chocolate continues to support the premise that dark chocolate may actually be good for you … in moderation, of course.
But what exactly is dark chocolate? Why is it good for you, and just how much is considered moderate?
Both dark and milk chocolate are made from the fermented, dried beans of the Theobroma cacao tree. Dried cocoa beans are roasted and shelled. The shells are discarded and the remaining bean is broken into bits called “nibs.” The nibs are ultimately transformed through several more steps into cocoa solids.
The cocoa solids are mixed with other ingredients, such as cocoa fat, sugar and binding agents to hold the ingredients together. It’s this ratio of ingredients that determines if the final product is classified as dark or milk.
Dark chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa solids and can range from 30% for sweet dark to 80% for extremely dark bars. Milk chocolate on the other hand will have less than 30% cocoa solids and more fat and sugar.
Dark chocolate provides health benefits because it contains more of the cocoa solids, which are rich in flavanols. Flavanols are plant chemicals also found in dark berries, red wine and tea that have been shown to reduce blood pressure, reduce the stickiness of red blood cells (important for reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes). Flavanols’ powerful antioxidant capacity also reduces the cellular damage caused by free radicals.
According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, raw cocoa powder's antioxidant level exceeds that of other flavanol-rich foods, with nearly double the amount of antioxidants of a glass of red wine, more than double the amount of green tea and nearly five times more than black tea.
How much is beneficial for you?
Studies indicate that an average of 6 grams of chocolate per day (one square of a chocolate bar) of at least 70% cocoa is required to consume enough of the flavanols to have an impact on your health.
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