Editor’s Note: Did you have a healthy Halloween? Today’s guest blogger, Kitty Holman, writes about her healthy substitute for those tempting Halloween leftovers that beckon to us all with their reduced price stickers!
I hustled quickly past my local supermarket’s Halloween candy aisle, chock full of bags of unhealthy bite-sized chocolates like Snickers and Milky Ways.
While I managed to get through another Halloween season with my waistline unaffected by these little sweets, the experience got me thinking about one of my favorite foods, dark chocolate, and how greatly its health benefits contrast with the non-food status of today’s over-processed milk chocolate.
The potential health benefits of dark chocolate are well-known. First, chocolate and cocoa both possess beneficial flavonoids called flavanols, which have antioxidant qualities that may act as a barrier to destructive free radicals in your system. Free radicals are believed to cause cellular damage leading to cancer, aging and numerous diseases.
Research has also indicated that the flavanols found in cocoa and chocolate have a positive influence on your vascular health by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the heart and brain, making the platelets in your blood less likely to clot and even lowering your cholesterol, according to Cleveland Clinic’s Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute.
Not all dark chocolate is created equal, however. A problem arises when chocolate manufacturers process much of the flavanols out of chocolate or use flavor additives in an effort to improve the chocolate’s flavor. After all, flavanols cause a characteristic bitter taste to dark chocolate that hasn’t been through a lot of processing.
The loss of flavanols through heavy processing such as fermentation, alkalizing or roasting cuts back on chocolate’s health benefits just like the removal of the wheat germ and bran from whole grains takes away from their health benefits.
As a rule of thumb, you should look for dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao and a low level of processing. If it has so many preservatives that it will last forever on a shelf somewhere, avoid it.
In general, look at the ingredients listing and choose the purest dark chocolate you can with as few additives as possible. As for straight cocoa powder, it is best to use powder that has not been through Dutch processing to neutralize its acidity, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Also, remember that you can’t just stuff your face with dark chocolate because of its health benefits (even though I’d certainly enjoy doing so). We must be mindful that dark chocolate contains sugar, calories and saturated fat.
While there is no established serving size of chocolate that will best help you achieve heart-healthy benefits, it’s a smart move to consume it in moderation, such as one ounce a day a few times a week. After all, you can incorporate other foods rich in flavonoids, such as teas, red wine, apples, cranberries and onions into your diet as well.
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Wow, a few things I didn’t know about dark chocolate, like roasting reduces it’s health benefits! Hmmm, if that’s true, then I wonder if roasted nuts are less nutritious than the raw, too? Anyone know, or will this be a future post?