Recipe for this healthy Devil’s Food Cake is coming to this website very soon!
Dark Chocolate and Heart Disease Prevention
What makes dark chocolate so special is its abundant supply of a type of antioxidant called flavonoids, notably one called epicatechin. Flavonoids are potent health defenders of all cells in our bodies and these microscopic chemicals have been linked to enhancing the power of vitamin C, protecting our cells from oxidative damage (oxygen damage accelerates the aging process), and the prevention of cancer, heart attack, asthma stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They do an extraordinary job of fighting free radicals, and in doing so, they boost our immunity to viral and bacterial diseases, stave off cancer, and reduce excess inflammation. Free radicals are what cause us to age and lose our health over time, so any substance that fights them is very good for us. More than 6,000 different flavonoids have now been discovered; they come in different classes with scientific names like flavonols, flavones, and anthocyanins (and other names you don’t need to know). The only thing you need to remember is which foods are richest in these compounds. Dark chocolate is one of these essential foods!
Epicatechin is an incredible substance, because when we consume it, it triggers the release of other chemicals that increase blood flow in our arteries, prevent cholesterol from building up in blood vessels, and weaken the immune response that leads to clogged arteries. In fact, consuming just 30 calories of dark chocolate each day has been shown to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The more efficiently our blood can flow, the greater the health of our hearts will be. To put it simply, dark chocolate consumption can protect us from atherosclerosis and, hence, heart disease. Heart disease is the #1 killer in America, taking the lives of almost 600,000 Americans annually.
A 2004 study conducted at the University of California, San Francisco found that the specific flavonoids found in dark chocolate improve blood vessel function by preventing stiffness, and as such, provide us with enhanced protection against cardiovascular disease.
Dark Chocolate and Skin Cancer Prevention
A study conducted by German researchers at Heinrich-Heine University found that women who drank a dark chocolate hot cocoa, versus a “chocolate” placebo beverage devoid of flavonoids, had smoother and moister skin compared to those drinking the placebo beverage. Upon exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, the skin of the women drinking the dark chocolate hot cocoa did not become as red, which is an indication of skin damage. The women who drank the high-flavonoid cocoa had a 15 percent less skin reddening from UV light after 6 weeks of hot chocolate drinking and 25 percent less after 12 weeks on the trial. The women drank the cocoa drink once every day along with breakfast. I officially adore this study!
A leafy-green vegetable rich diet has also been found to provide skin protection in an enlightening study conducted in Australia. Researches analyzed the diet, skin color, and sunlight exposure of 1,360 adults, aged 25-75, who participated in a community-based skin cancer study from 1992-2002. Two main eating patterns were identified: a meat and fat pattern and a vegetable and fruit pattern. Interestingly, the meat and fat pattern diet was positively associated with development of skin cancer, and even more strongly associated in participants with a skin cancer history. Increased consumption of the vegetable and fruit dietary pattern reduced skin cancer occurrence by 54%, with the protective effect mostly attributed to the consumption of green, leafy vegetables. In conclusion, the researchers deemed that a dietary pattern characterized by high meat and fat intakes increases skin cancer odds, while a dietary pattern characterized by higher consumption of green vegetables decreases it.
Dark Chocolate and Brain Health
The risk factors for standard dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are actually the same risk factors that predispose one for heart disease. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries that occurs when fat, cholesterol, and other nasty substances build up in the walls of arteries), decreased oxygenation due to circulatory impediment, and inflammation due to oxidative stress (free-radical activity) are the primary causes of both types of dementia. It makes sense when you think about it. The heart is the messenger of essential elements to many parts of the body, the brain being one of them. Excess cholesterol in the blood leads to increased cholesterol in the brain, and this increased cholesterol in the brain promotes the production of plaques. One study found that high blood pressure increased the risk of Alzheimer’s by damaging blood vessels. And you can bet that being overweight or obese is also a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s, just as it is a risk factor for heart disease.
Random chocolaty fun facts:
1) Chocolate was viewed as an aphrodisiac in the French royal court. Casanova, the infamous womanizer, was known to drink chocolate before his romantic escapades.
2) In 1868, the first Valentine’s Day box of chocolates was introduced by Richard Cadbury, the second son of the Quaker John Cadbury, founder of Cadbury’s cocoa and chocolate company.
3) There is no evidence that chocolate actually acts as an aphrodisiac. Chocolate does contain phenylethylamine (PEA), a.k.a. “the love drug,” which has been linked to the regulation of physical energy, mood, and attention. However, we have no evidence that the PEA in food increases PEA levels in the brain. Hmm I know some people may disagree!
How much dark chocolate is enough for protection?
Even just one .35 ounce square of 88% dark chocolate by the Endangered Species Chocolate Company is enough! This is less than 2 tablespoons worth, so a little can go a long way! I eat a cocoa-containing homemade muffin, cookie or pie slice a few times per week and that does the trick. Check out the recipe section of this website for some great chocolaty recipes. To be noted: I am editing a healthy desserts cookbook with plenty of chocolaty recipes as I write these words!
Fair Trade Chocolate is the way to go!
Some cocoa shipped to the United States is from West Africa, where child slavery is commonly practiced. Children are abducted from their families or sold for a pittance to cocoa farm owners and work 80-100 hour weeks without pay, much food, any education or contact with their families. Many of them are physically abused. You can easily avoid buying chocolate produced via these inhumane practices by only purchasing chocolate that has a Fair Trade certification label on it.