Chocolate Contains More Than 300 Natural Chemical Compounds
Each bite of chocolate has a complex chemical structure that contains an incredible amount of constituents with many health and pleasure inducing properties.
Chocolate’s basic ingredients include cocoa beans, which give chocolate its distinctive and delicious flavor.
However, its most important chemical compounds are known as flavonols, a type of flavonoids found only in the seeds of cacao plants. Flavonols are potent antioxidants that protect cells against damage caused by free radicals. These antioxidants are one of the main reasons why chocolate is good for your health
Owing to its high content of flavonoids, only two tablespoons of natural cocoa have more antioxidant capacity than 3 ½ cups of green tea, ¾ a cup of blueberries and 1 1/3 glasses of red wine!
As far as fats are concerned, chocolate contains oleic, stearic and palmitic acid. Oleic acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat found also in olive oil, while steraic acid is a saturated fat that does not affect cholesterol levels at all.
Being a plant-based food, chocolate is also rich in minerals, such as copper, magnesium, potassium and iron, which are of essential importance for our health.
Dietary cautions and tips:
- Never drink a glass of milk while eating chocolate, for it will greatly reduce the absorption of antioxidants.
- Avoid eating chocolates that contain milk or ingredients such as caramel, nougat or other fillings. The more the chocolate is processed, the fewer antioxidant flavonoids and health benefits it has. Eat pure dark chocolate, flavored only with some nuts, orange peel or similar.
Dark chocolate is four times higher in flavonoids than milk chocolate, while white chocolate contains none of these.
- There are no established amounts of chocolate per day, but scientists however, suggest eating moderate portions, i.e. about 1 ounce daily.
Eating Chocolate Helps Improve Heart Health
A small bar of chocolate a day may help protect your cardiovascular system and keep your heart healthy. The reason for this lies in its high amount of flavonoids, which defend our body against free radicals that lead to heart diseases.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of dark chocolate for heart health:
- Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure. One study has shown that cocoa flavonoids help the body process nitric oxide (NO), a compound that is particularly important in the regulation of blood flow and blood pressure.
- Dark chocolate has also been proven to reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), which is considered to be one of the major causes of coronary diseases. In fact, the polyphenols contained in chocolate inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, preventing it from sticking to artery walls.
Research also shows that stearic acid found in cocoa plants does not raise cholesterol levels at all. Palmitic acid can influence cholesterol, but it makes up only 1/3 of total fats contained in chocolate.
- The polyphenols in chocolate can prevent blood platelets from sticking together and forming blood clots. In other words, chocolate also thins the blood and acts similarly to aspirin.
- Last but not least important, studies have shown that antioxidants found in cocoa plants are very effective in removing the plaque from the artery walls.
Chocolate Contains Mood-elevating Ingredients
First of all, it tastes good. Secondly, it contains compounds that have stimulant, anti-depressant and pleasure inducing properties. Perhaps, this is one of the most pleasant reasons why chocolate is good for our health!
Now, let’s see what chocolate does to our mood:
- Chocolate contains resveratrol, an immune system booster and antioxidant found also in red wine, which has the ability to stimulate the production of opioids in the brain. Our body’s natural opiods include endorphins that help control pain, while enhancing the sense of well being and inducing slight euphoric feelings. That is why many people eat chocolate when depressed.
Raised levels of opioids also increase the brain dopamine activity, which generates feelings of reward, motivation and satisfaction.
- Another very important compound of chocolate is called phenethylamine, which also stimulates the release of endorphins, enhances the action of dopamine and produces pleasurable feelings. Phenethylamine is a chemical released in our brain when we become infatuated and fall in love.
In fact, according to one study, melting chocolate in the mouth can generate feelings of pleasure and excitement that last longer than those induced by passionate kissing.
- The third important substance contained in chocolate, which positively affects our mood, is known as anandamide. Its name derives from the Sanskrit word “ananda”, meaning peaceful bliss. It affects the brain cannabinoid receptors, which are the same receptor sites stimulated by THC that is the main psychoactive constituent of marijuana. THC produces feelings of elation and exhilaration, as well as many other pleasurable sensations.
However, anandamide is broken down quickly in the body and a normal person would have to consume 25 pounds (11,3 kg) of chocolate at one time, in order to feel effects similar to those generated by marijuana.
Nevertheless, this may partially explain why chocolate is so addictive!