As you may know, dark chocolate, in addition to being unbelievably delicious, has some pretty incredible health benefits. We’re going to get into those—but before we do, we wanted to reiterate some things from our earlier blog Dark Chocolate Part 1.
Make Sure You’re Really Getting It
You see, if you’re after the robust health benefits you obtain from eating dark chocolate, you must first be sure you’re getting real dark chocolate. As we covered in that first blog, the best way to make sure of this is to check the ingredients list on the package. Look for “cocoa butter,” “chocolate liquor,” “unsweetened chocolate” or even just “chocolate” toward the top of the list. If one or more of these terms are there, that means that the product you are purchasing contains precious cocoa butter—the make-or-break ingredient that means real dark chocolate or not. If the term “cocoa powder” is there alone, without some of these other ingredients that tell you the cocoa butter is also there, that’s a clue that it isn’t real, or dark, chocolate. And…you won’t be getting those health benefits.
One of the top health benefits of dark chocolate is that it is a great source of antioxidants. While the term “antioxidants” is kicked around pretty freely, antioxidant function is not often described, other than to say that antioxidants counter the destructive action of free radicals.
But…What’s a Free Radical?
Basically, a free radical is an atom that is missing an electron. To solve this problem, free radicals go around stealing electrons from other atoms, destabilizing them—a process known as “oxidative stress.” Free radicals damage cells, increase the risk of heart disease, encourage bad cholesterol (LDL) to stick to coronary walls, contribute to joint inflammation, and cause all kinds of other nasty problems.
Antioxidants arrive on the scene and provide that extra electron that free radicals are looking for, so that this damage is reduced. They may also provide a boost to heart health by reducing bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol. They also might reduce instances of inflammation, maintain good eyesight, and might even prevent certain cancers.
The more antioxidants you can take in, the better your health will be. Some of the foods rich in antioxidants include strawberries, blueberries, pecans, artichokes, and kale. But guess what’s right at the top of the list of antioxidant-rich foods? You guessed it…dark chocolate.
It Even Passes the ORAC Test
ORAC, an acronym for “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity” is a measure of antioxidant activity. All kinds of foods are tested for ORAC, just to see how well the antioxidants in them counter free radicals.
Guess what? Dark chocolate rates very highly—in fact raw, unprocessed cocoa beans score right near the top of all foods that have gone through the ORAC test.
Other Incredible Dark Chocolate Health Benefits
Aside from dark chocolate’s antioxidant health benefits, studies have shown that dark chocolate may provide several others. One is that it could improve blood flow and lower blood pressure. It might contribute to appetite control and weight loss. It might also very well improve brain function, with positive effects on mood, cognitive function, and stress.
Why Doesn’t Everyone Use It?
The question might occur to you that if dark chocolate has so many benefits, why aren’t more companies using it in snacks, candy bars, protein bars and the like?
First, it is more expensive than its many substitutes.
Second, producing real dark chocolate is a demanding process. It has to be tempered (solidified) carefully, first by heating in a narrow temperature range, then cooling for a very specific time to a lower temperature. This sets up a stable crystalline structure in the chocolate. This structure occasionally causes finished dark chocolate products, when later exposed to heat, to “bloom”—light white dust appears on the surface of the chocolate. But this is yet another way that you know you’re getting the real thing.
If it’s so difficult to produce, then why do we do it?
Simple. We’re professional nutritionists. With all the benefits of dark chocolate, we thought it was well worth the trouble.