Dark chocolate seems to be one of the latest products to hit the "health food" product circuit. The Dove dark chocolate bar and Xocai healthy dark chocolate are just two examples. The battle cry is that dark chocolate is bursting with anti-oxidants that help to prevent heart disease and stroke. Sounds great!
What are anti-oxidants and do we really need them?
Antioxidants are substances or nutrients in our foods which can prevent or slow the oxidative damage to our body. When our body cells use oxygen, they naturally produce free radicals, or by-products, which can cause damage. Antioxidants act as "free radical scavengers" and hence prevent and repair damage done by these free radicals. Health problems such as heart disease, macular degeneration, diabetes, cancer are all contributed by oxidative damage. Indeed, a recent study conducted by researchers from London found that 5 servings of fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of stroke by 25 percent. Antioxidants may also enhance immune defense and therefore lower the risk of cancer and infection.
Research conducted by scientists from Holland's National Institute of Public Health and Environment shows that chocolates contain antioxidants called Catechins and Phenols. These antioxidants could prevent heart diseases and cancer.
Chocolate is like red wine in that it is said to protect against heart disease and it also contains phenols. These reduce the presence of free radicals that damage cells and DNA. Phenols are said to prevent fat like substances in the blood stream from oxidizing and clogging the arteries.
OK, that sounds pretty important to me. Anti-oxidants are a good thing!
According to the research, dark chocolate, not white chocolate, lowers high blood pressure. This study is from Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and his colleagues at the University of Cologne in Germany. Their report appears in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Taubert's team signed up six men and seven women aged 55-64. All had just been diagnosed with mild high blood pressure -- on average, systolic blood pressure of 153 and diastolic blood pressure of 84. Every day for two weeks, they ate a candy bar and were asked to balance its 480 calories by not eating other foods similar in nutrients and calories. Half the patients got dark chocolate and half got white chocolate.
Those who ate dark chocolate had a significant drop in blood pressure by an average of 5 points for systolic and an average of 2 points for diastolic blood pressure. Those who ate white chocolate did not.
But that is no license to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure, if you've reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure, say the researchers. But you have to balance the extra calories by eating less of other things.
Chocolate also has not been proven to cause cavities or tooth decay. Rather, it helps to hinder mouth bacteria and stop dental decay.
Research shows that the cocoa butter in the chocolate coats the teeth and may help protect them by preventing plaque from forming. The sugar in the chocolate does contribute to cavities, but no more than the sugar in any other food. Scientists believe that the antibacterial agents in the cocoa beans help to offset its high sugar levels. Go figure!
The studies seem to show that dark chocolate does indeed help boost the immune system and therefore help in the prevention of cancer and other immune system problems. In addition, cardiac and stroke chances are decreased by the anti-oxidant benefit of this tasty treat.
So, it would seem that dark chocolate has the research behind it to actually call itself "healthy". Eaten in moderation, with other nutrient rich foods in your diet it can not only be a benefit to your health, but certainly an enjoyable addition!