Chocolate Versus Vegetables
You may have heard that the health benefits of chocolate rival those of fruits and vegetables. Chocolate is said to have one of the highest antioxidant activity levels of any food in the world, and it has been associated with cardiovascular benefits, improved memory, and improved mood. Are the health claims all hype? We are probably all hoping our favorite afternoon snack will become a fixture among our five to nine daily servings of fruits and veggies, but how does chocolate really stack up?
Chocolate Can Help You Reach Supercentenarian Status
The oldest known person to have ever lived was a French woman named Jeanne Louise Calment, who died at the age of 122.122! Some of Jeanne’s healthy habits included treating her skin with olive oil and drinking port wine. She was also known to eat two pounds of chocolate per week! Could chocolate be the secret to her ridiculous longevity? There are too many variables to tell, but let’s take a look at what the research says about chocolate and health…
Flavonoids: The Good Stuff
Chocolate is quite the nutritious treat. To start, chocolate is an excellent source of magnesium, of which about 57% of us may not get enough. Chocolate also has one of the highest antioxidant scores (ORAC values) of any food in the world, with raw chocolate scoring the highest. ORAC values represent only test-tube antioxidant activity, but they may still provide insights into the health benefits of foods. Credit for chocolate’s high antioxidant score has been assigned to its flavonoids: plant nutrients that are also found in fruits, vegetables, coffee, and red wine. The benefits of eating flavonoid-rich foods are more indirect—these compounds trigger detox enzymes and increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood, as they are rapidly broken down and excreted. There is little doubt that flavonoids pack a real health punch during their brief excursion through the body, as numerous studies have linked them to protection against heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease.
Chocolate gets you pumped
Mounting evidence suggests that chocolate supports heart health. Chocolate helps to keep blood vessels healthy, and chocolate consumption is correlated with lower risk of stroke in men and cardiovascular disease in women. If that wasn’t enough, eating chocolate could make your memory sharper and take the edge off your stress. And get this: eating chocolate more often may help keep the weight off—frequent chocolate consumption has been associated with lower body mass index. Reader be warned: These amazing health benefits are associated with moderate amounts of chocolate (one to two ounces a week), so don’t overdo it.
Experts seem to agree that chocolate is a vegetable. Well, maybe not a vegetable exactly, but definitely a healthy treat. However, quality matters! Dark chocolate is preferred, as dark chocolate has higher levels of flavonoid compounds. Look for at least 60% cacao content, but keep in mind that cacao content does not tell the whole story—cacao content includes the fatty cacao butter, which is not as rich in flavonoids. Note that raw chocolate may have even higher levels of flavonoids and other nutrients, since the cacao is not exposed to harsh high temperatures. You may want to make an ethical consideration, too: child slavery is still a problem in the chocolate industry. Look for fair-trade-certified chocolate made from cocoa beans that are grown in regions outside of West Africa.
If your chocolate meets all of these requirements, what are you waiting for? Have a piece!