The Health Benefits to Eat Dark Chocolate

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For hundreds of years, people have consumed chocolate in some way. It was mostly available during this period as liquid cacao prepared from cacao beans.

Since then, some cultures—but not all—have added sugar, milk, and flashy packaging. Meanwhile, others who continue to consume cacao more conventionally have sparked a discussion over whether chocolate might be beneficial to our health.

According to Marji McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, the Kuna Indians, who reside on the San Blas Islands in Panama, have low blood pressure that doesn’t increase with age, low rates of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and cancer, and they tend to live long lives.

Furthermore, their food has the same amount of salt as the typical American diet, despite the scientific agreement that too much salt can raise blood pressure.

McCullough visited the Kuna Indians to learn precisely what they eat on a regular basis. She found that they were regularly ingesting four cups of cocoa, which is made by combining cacao beans with water and a small bit of sugar.

McCullough, however, cannot conclusively link the Kuna Indians’ excellent health to their consumption of cocoa, especially given that they also consumed four times as much fish and twice as much fruit than the typical American diet. Additionally, they lead more active lifestyles than people in the West do in general.

Numerous previous observational studies have examined the heart advantages of dark chocolate, but they could be skewed because frequent chocolate consumers are less likely to worry about their weight, claims JoAnn Manson, a Harvard Medical School professor of medicine. They might also be healthier to begin with, she adds.

A 100g serving of chocolate per day, including milk chocolate, was linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke in one study that examined the diets and health of 20,000 adults. Although they took into account other potential influences, such as smoking and exercise habits, they noted that there may be other causes besides chocolate.

A sizable clinical trial that might account for additional potential causes, such as dietary and lifestyle factors, followed. It was predicated on the intuition that cacao’s high concentration of flavonoids, plant components also present in berries and tea, would be responsible for the possible health advantages of the food.

According to the results of the 21,000-person Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study, consuming 400 to 500mg of cocoa flavanol supplements daily can lower blood pressure and inflammatory levels, which lowers a person’s risk of dying from heart disease.

Because the content of flavonoids can vary greatly between different chocolate brands based on the harvesting, manufacturing, and processing, adds Manson, who was also the trial’s primary investigator, the researchers utilised supplements rather than actual cacao.

Although studies have shown that the manufacturing process lowers the flavanol concentration of dark chocolate, it may still contain up to four times as many flavonoids as tea.

As a result, Gunter Kuhnle, professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading, says there is currently no agreement on the quantity of cocoa flavanols required to show any health advantages.

While more recent research suggests that roughly 500mg per day is more likely to have a positive impact on human health, the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) states that about 200mg of cocoa flavonoids, or 10g of dark chocolate, is helpful. That is almost the same as one small, 30g bar of chocolate.

No method of increasing the flavanol content of chocolates, according to Kuhnle, will turn them into a “health food.”

There is also something else about dark chocolate that we don’t fully understand. It is one of the few places, excluding coffee, where you may find theobromine, a plant chemical.

Theobromine may be more pleasant than a caffeine high if you consume a lot of dark chocolate, according to him.

According to several researchers, chocolate doesn’t actually need to be avoided despite the misconception that it raises the risk of heart disease.

Choosing dark chocolate with a greater cocoa content than what is found in milk chocolate will help you avoid the sugar that is typically added to it.

The shadow side of chocolate

Additionally, the other ingredients in dark chocolate—sugar and saturated fat—are disregarded when studying the effects of cocoa flavanol supplementation. Because cocoa butter is so high in saturated fat and has been related to an elevated risk of heart disease, dark chocolate frequently contains this ingredient.

According to Aedin Cassidy, professor at the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University in Belfast, “the fats in chocolate come from cocoa butter, but while evidence says stearic acid has no effect on cholesterol, but one-third of cocoa butter’s fat is saturated and harmful to health.

Additionally, according to Duane Mellor, a dietitian at Aston Medical School, eating little amounts of dark chocolate may aid in breaking bad eating patterns.

The issue is that a chocolate bar’s taste gets more bitter as its cocoa flavonoid level rises, and the less marketable a chocolate bar becomes.

To further complicate matters, it’s probable that sugar and fat contribute to the chocolate’s flavonoids becoming more bioavailable, or more readily absorbed by the body.

According to him, one method of making some of these complex chemical components, known as flavanols, more accessible is by coating them with sugar.

Simply said, there isn’t enough evidence for anyone to analyse the amount of sugar and cocoa flavanol in chocolate to determine where the sweet spot is.

Furthermore, it is currently impossible to determine how many cocoa flavanols you are consuming.

Given the amount of sugar and fat in most chocolates, any health benefits from flavanols are probably insignificant in comparison to the negative effects of overeating. Chocolate is not a healthy food. say Kuhnle.

The pursuit of flavour

Smaller “bean-to-bar” enterprises that produce higher percentages of cocoa seem to be on the rise, with an emphasis on maintaining taste rather than any potential health advantages.

But what if maintaining the flavour of the cocoa bean also produces a chocolate bar that is healthier?

According to Martyn O’Dare, co-founder of the chocolate company Firetree Chocolate, cocoa beans grown on the Solomon Islands in the Pacific are harvested at precisely the right time of ripeness.

The cocoa pods are subsequently split apart by the farmers, who then begin the fermentation process, which lasts six days. The dried beans are then shipped to Firetree in the UK to be roasted whole.

This is how it was done in the past, but O’Dare claims that things altered in the early 20th century.

According to him, farmers provided two crops to the chocolate industry: the major crop, which was harvested from November to January, and the mid-crop, which was gathered from January to June.

“The mid-crops weren’t initially marketed because they were smaller and marginally inferior. When businesses began to purchase them at a discount, farmers realised they were selling high-quality beans for less money and began combining the mid-crop with the main crop “He claims.

“As a result, chocolate manufacturers received beans of various sizes, requiring various roasting durations. So they started cracking up the shells in order to roast only the nibs.”

Whether or not this rumour is true, the fact remains that smaller chocolate producers may have a point: roasting the whole bean rather than just the nibs frequently necessitates roasting at a lower temperature for a longer period of time.

We are aware that if we overcook vegetables, fewer nutrients are preserved. It remains to be seen whether the same can be true about dark chocolate and the fruit from whence it originates, the cacao bean; more research is required.

Despite the fact that flavanols are present in a wide variety of foods in addition to chocolate, research indicate that dark chocolate can be a part of a balanced diet.

As long as you don’t consume too many calories, it’s acceptable to occasionally indulge in high-percentage dark chocolate, but Manson advises against viewing it as a healthy food to consume more of.

Try to enhance your intake of flavanols through your diet by consuming tea, berries, grapes, and other fruits, along with a moderate amount of high-cacao chocolate, advises the author.

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