There is no doubt that dark chocolate is good for your health. Past and new studies have confirmed most of the benefits we grew up associating with chocolate. Overall, chocolate improves the body and mind. With new evidences from recent studies, we finally have a clear understanding of the mechanisms by which chocolate improvesour health. Perhaps the most evident effect of chocolate is on mood. Chocoholics know this and their "addiction" is mostly due to craving "chocolate high."
However, moderate consumption of chocolate provides the best benefits. In moderation, the medicinal benefits of dark chocolate can protect you from a long list of chronic and age-related diseases. Tasty and medicinal, chocolate very well belongs to the group of functional foods known as superfoods.
The Antioxidant Power of Chocolate
Chocolate is packed full of polyphenol antioxidants like resveratrol. Therefore, it is an excellent food for reducing oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative damage is the result of free radicals such as reactive oxygen species released as byproducts of normal metabolism. These free radicals are harmful to cells and DNA. They are also the root cause of a number of diseases ranging from cancers to neurodegenerative diseases (for example, Alzheimer’s disease).
Antioxidants, such as the ones in chocolate, can mop up these harmful free radicals and protect your cells from oxidative damage. Therefore, the antioxidant power of chocolate is one major way by which this delicacy lowers your risks of chronic diseases.
Chocolate for a Healthy Heart
Besides cells and genetic materials, oxidative free radicals can also modify LDL (low density lipoproteins) cholesterol. Although commonly described as “bad cholesterol”, LDL cholesterol is inherently not bad but it can easily be turned dangerous when oxidized by free radicals. The oxidation of LDL cholesterol leads to the formation of plaques in the walls of the arteries. Over time, this causes the thickening and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attack and stroke.
Therefore, regular consumption of dark chocolate can improve your cardiovascular health by preventing the oxidation and calcification of cholesterol. Other ways by which chocolate can improve cardiovascular health include its ability to lower blood pressure and prevent blood clot formation.
The Wonders of Chocolate for the Brain
The many health benefits of chocolate extend beyond the heart. Another major organ benefitting from this tasty delicacy is the brain. Chocoholics crave chocolate not only because of its sugar and fat content but also because of the effects certain chocolate ingredients have on some brain chemicals.
There are a number of active ingredients in chocolate that can improve your mood and boost your energy level. The most obvious "feel-good" ingredients of chocolate are the alkaloids, caffeine and theobromine. Caffeine is a stimulant that inhibits adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It is able to keep you alert and active because of this inhibition.
However, there are other powerful constituents of chocolate that are also active in the brain. For example, chocolate contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Tryptophan is used to synthesize serotonin in the brain and serotonin is a major neurotransmitter responsible for the regulation of mood. When released in significant amounts, serotonin can banish depression and even promote elation.
Yet another important chocolate ingredient that is also active in the brain is phenylethylamine. Phenylethylamine acts as a neurotransmitter and is structurally similar to the popular stimulant, amphetamine. In addition, chocolate increases the level of the neurotransmitter known as anandamide. Anandamide can provide relief from emotional pain and depression. It is also involved in memory formation, cognition and the control of movement.
The Right Chocolate for You
Besides the health benefits described above, researchers have also found evidences for other benefits of chocolate. For example, chocolate consumption can lower inflammation in the body, reduce anxiety, significantly relieve stress and promote weight loss. Unfortunately, the health benefits of dark chocolate may be nullified by the unhealthy ingredients added to different brands of chocolate sold to the public.
Not only is the added sugar and unhealthy fats added to dark chocolate bad for your health, the milk found in certain chocolate brands can actually reduce the absorption of the antioxidant polyphenols found in raw dark chocolate. Therefore, make sure to choose the right chocolate when out shopping. Preferably, you should choose brands with little to no unhealthy additives. Alternative, you can make your own chocolate bars at home from cocoa beans.
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