There is a growing awareness concerning the health benefits related to Dark Chocolate– as an increasing number of studies bring conclusive evidence of how even minimal daily consumption can help lower the risk of some very serious diseases. However, not all dark chocolate is equal– as we shall soon see, the method of processing dark chocolate has a significant effect upon the level of its efficacy.
The raw cocoa beans from which chocolate is produced are a rich source of Flavanols ( a sub category of a larger group of Phytochemicals known as Flavanoids) which are essentially Antioxidants. As with other antioxidants, cocoa based flavanols subdue Free Radicals, by inhibiting negative changes in body chemistry. In addition to this, they have also been shown to prevent blood clots and are instrumental in reducing the body’s LDL type cholesterol .
There has been numerous studies on dark chocolate in recent years which has revealed further health benefits– such as an increase in blood flow to and from the brain. Although further tests are needed in this area,– early indications support the idea that cocoa containing high levels of flavanols may assist in restoring the balance of mood enhancing chemicals such as Oxytocin. If this hypothesis proves to be true, it means that cocoa might be helpful in the treatment of anxiety, depression and even dementia.
Although cocoa beans in their raw state are packed out with flavanols, any processing as when producing chocolate will inevitably reduce this amount. Therefore as hinted at earlier in this article, it is important to get information on the type of processing each chocolate brand has undergone, since this factor greatly influences the amount of of flavanols present in the chocolate.
The flavanols in cocoa by nature are bitter in taste, which is unfortunate, since any amount of processing to remove this bitterness will deplete the amount of flavanols. Certain manufacturers of dark chocolate will use an alkali in order to minimize this bitter taste. Any chocolate which has been alkalized in this way will cause a significant reduction in flavanols, it is therefore important to make sure that the brand of dark chocolate you purchase has not undergone this process, in order to retain the maximum amount of flavanols.
If your bar of chocolate says that it has been processed with alkali, then you know for certain that it is going to contain far less flavanols than its non alkali counterpart. Also beware of any product that is labeled as Dutch Chocolate– this is simply a fancy term for chocolate which has been processed with alkali.
Unfortunately it is many of the well known brands of chocolate which use an alkali in their manufacturing process and these are the ones you should avoid– they include Hershey’s Special Dark, Cadbury’s Bournville and Old Gold, Dark Chocolate M & M’s, Milky Way Midnight, Nestle Dark Hot Chocolate, and Brookside Dark Chocolate.
There are many boutique brands of chocolate available, which in general do not utilize alkali in their production process. A true dark chocolate will never have sugar listed as the first ingredient, and will always be listed below the cocoa ingredients.. Some of the more healthy brands of chocolate out there include Pascha, Sweetriot , Alter Eco, Ghirardelli Intense Dark,Godiva, Lindt, and Moser Roth.
In addition to choosing the right brand of chocolate, it is also important to understand that all chocolate is high in saturated fat, therefore eating huge amounts of chocolate each day, even the recommended type is going to be counter productive to your health.