Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Posted from SuperFoodsRX.com

Dark Chocolate - Superfood!

Dark Chocolate

We’ve saved the best news for when
you need it the most. As you slog through
the winter doldrums, here’s the health
 update that could carry you through until
spring: Dark chocolate is a SuperFood.
 For many of us, this is a dream come true.
The interesting thing is that many people
have told me that once they think of chocolate
as a food that’s beneficial to health, even
 though they still love and enjoy it, because
 it’s no longer “forbidden,” they’re somehow
 less tempted to gorge on it.This news doesn’t
mean that you should toss out the oatmeal and
 fill your cabinets with chocolate. Pause for a
 moment and let the chocolate watchwords sink in:
• Keep your daily dark chocolate intake to about 100 calories per day.
• Eat only dark chocolate.

First, and most important, is the amount of chocolate: You can’t eat as much as you want. It’s high in calories and if you eat too much of it you can gain weight. Depending on your weight and activity level, chocolate should be a small treat, a little healthy indulgence that will have to be accounted for in your overall calorie intake/activity equation.
When you do indulge in chocolate and you’re looking for a health benefit, choose dark chocolate. Milk chocolate or white chocolate (the latter isn’t even real chocolate) won’t do. While both contain some of the beneficial polyphenols (though in lower amounts than dark chocolate), preliminary data suggest that the presence of milk in the chocolate somehow mitigates the effectiveness of the polyphenols.
Here, in a nutshell, is the good news: Dark chocolate seems to contribute to lowering blood pressure, increasing blood flow, and ultimately contributing to a healthy heart.
It’s a myth that chocolate is loaded with caffeine. While there is some caffeine in chocolate, it’s not much. In a typical chocolate bar, the caffeine content ranges from 1 to 11 mg. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 137 mg of caffeine.

What Makes Dark Chocolate a SuperFood?

Yes, there’s the taste … the creamy melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. But when it comes to health, it’s none of the above. It’s the polyphenols. Whoever first thought to smash a yellow, hard-shelled cocoa pod, scoop out the cocoa beans meshed in the pulpy inside, and turn them into one of nature’s most delicious and versatile foods? We can only be grateful. The cocoa beans that yield the chocolate we love come primarily from Africa, Asia, or Latin America. It takes approximately four hundred cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate. The beans are processed into a sticky paste called chocolate liquor, which is then used to make chocolate products. The humble chocolate bar is the product of cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, and sometimes powdered cocoa, which is combined with sugar, emulsifiers, and sometimes milk. Chocolate is about 30 percent fat, 5 percent protein, 61 percent carbohydrate, and 3 percent moisture and minerals. The magic in the mix as far as health benefits are concerned is the polyphenols, specifically the flavonols.

Flavonols are plant compounds with potent antioxidant properties. Cocoa beans, along with red wine, tea, cranberries, and other fruits, contain large amounts of flavonols. Research is now suggesting that the flavonols in chocolate are responsible for the ability to maintain healthy blood pressure, promote blood flow, and promote heart health.

Chocolate and Blood Pressure

In the early 1908, a physician and researcher at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Norman K. Hollenberg, was interested to observe that the Kuna Indians, the indigenous residents of the San Bias Islands of Panama, rarely develop high blood pressure even as they aged. Studies indicated that neither their salt intake nor obesity was a factor in this seeming immunity. Moreover, when the islanders moved to the mainland, their incidence for hypertension soared to typical levels, so their protection from hypertension was probably not due to genetics. Hollenberg noticed one facet of Indian culture that might play a role: The San Bias Is- land Kuna routinely drank about five cups of locally grown, minimally processed, high-flavonol cocoa each day. He gave his study subjects cocoa with either high or low amounts of flavonols. Those who drank the high-flavonol cocoa had more nitric oxide activity than those drinking the low-flavonol cocoa. The connection between the ability of the nitric oxide to relax the blood vessels and improve circulation and thus prevent hypertension seemed obvious. Hollenberg is continuing his investigation. He recently completed a pilot study that found that subjects who drank a cup of high-flavonol cocoa had a resulting increased flow of blood to the brain that averaged 33 percent.

Another interesting study looked at the blood flow effects of high-flavonol cocoa compared with low-dose aspirin. The study compared how blood platelets reacted to a flavonol-rich cocoa drink versus a blood-thinning dose of 8i-mg aspirin. It seems that the twenty- to forty-year-olds who participated in this study enjoyed similar blood-thinning results from both the cocoa and the low-dose aspirin. It must be noted that the effects of the flavonol-rich cocoa were more transitory than those of the aspirin.

Sip your way to winter health…. Need another reason to curl up by the tire with a mug of cocoa? In a recent study, researchers at Cornell University found that a mug of hot cocoa has nearly twice the antioxidants of a glass of red wine and up to three times those found in a cup of green tea. Make your cocoa with 1 % low-fat milk, nonfat milk, or soymilk and sweeten it with minimal sugar. Avoid cocoa mixes, as they are high in sugar or artificial sweeteners and some contain trans fats. And Dutch-process cocoa is cocoa powder that has been treated with alkaline compounds to neutralize the natural acids. It’s slightly milder than natural cocoa, but it has lower levels of flavonols so, for health purposes, stick with natural cocoa.

Chocolate and Atherosclerosis

Research suggests that atherosclerosis begins and progresses as a gradual inflammatory process. It normally involves years of chronic injury to the lining of the blood vessels. As the lining—or endothelial cells—is damaged, atherosclerotic plaques, or fatty deposits, are formed on the walls of the blood vessels. These plaques both impede the flow of blood and can rupture, leading to a blood clot, which could precipitate a heart attack or stroke.

Chocolate to the rescue. The polyphenols in chocolate act to relax the smooth muscle of the blood vessels. In addition, it seems that these polyphenols also inhibit the clotting of the blood. In a 2001 study, volunteer subjects were given a commercial chocolate bar (Dove Dark) containing 148 mg of flavonols. The end result was that the volunteers showed reduced levels of inflammation and beneficial delays in blood clotting at two and six hours after ingesting the chocolate.

What About the Fat?

Ordinarily, foods that are high in fat would never make it to SuperFood status. Chocolate is the rare exception for a variety of reasons. While chocolate is approximately 30 percent fat, the fat in it, known as cocoa butter, is approximately 35 percent oleic acid and 35 ,percent stearic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat that has been shown to have a slight cholesterol-lowering effect. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, but it does not raise blood cholesterol levels. At least two studies have shown that chocolate consumption does not raise blood cholesterol in humans. Indeed, in one three-week trial, forty-five healthy volunteers were given 75 grams daily of either white chocolate, dark chocolate, or dark chocolate enriched with polyphenols. As you might guess, since white chocolate has no chocolate liquor and isn’t real chocolate, it had no effect, but the dark chocolate increased HDL (”good” cholesterol) by n percent and the enriched chocolate increased HDL by 14 percent. As higher HDLs are known to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, the argument for including chocolate in your diet is strong.

Some Buyer's Tips

When buying chocolate select dark chocolate with a high level of cocoa solids. The higher the amount of cocoa solids, the more polyphenols the chocolate will contain. Manufacturers are getting wise to consumer interest and you’ll soon notice more of this type of labeling on chocolate. Look for at least 70 percent cocoa solids. Nn independent analysis was conducted to learn the total polyphenol content of various commercially available chocolates, and here are the results:

Total Polyphenol Content of a Single 40-Gram Serving of Chocolate

Newman’s Own Sweet Dark Chocolate - 955 mg/40 grams
Dove Silky Dark Chocolate - 811 mg
Endangered Species Chocolate Company Wolf Bar – 811mg
(with cranberries and almonds)
Cadbury Royal Dark Indulgent Dark Chocolate – 765mg
Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate – 739mg
Chocolate de Dina Extra Dark Chocolate with Green Tea – 676mg

Using Chocolate

The best way to get chocolate into your life—for your health—is to eat just a square or two daily. One hundred calories of one of the chocolate bars I’ve listed (eaten in divided doses) is a tasty health-promoting strategy.
Don’t think that any chocolate dessert is now a health food. Fresh fruit is still the best sweet treat there is. You can enjoy eating a square or two of chocolate as an evening treat after dinner. Even just one or two pieces are satisfying.

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