At the center of chocolate’s health benefits are flavonoids. These plant pigments are responsible for many of the health benefits of many fruits and medicinal plants, but chocolate may be a much more sensually pleasing vehicle. In addition, there is evidence that not only is chocolate rich in flavonoids, but that factors in chocolate somehow dramatically increase absorption of these compounds. The key flavonoids are proanthocyanidins (also called procyanidins) similar to those found in grape seed extract, apples, berries, and pine bark extract. Chocolate is very well endowed with these compounds. In fact, procyanidins constitute from 12 percent to as much as 48 percent of the dry weight of the cocoa bean. Cocoa powder can contain as much as 10 percent flavonoids on a dry-weight basis.
One of the key areas of research into the benefits of chocolate consumption is its effect on cardiovascular disease.
- Unlike the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products, the saturated fats found in chocolate do not elevate cholesterol levels.
- Chocolate – specifically dark chocolate – contains up to four times the antioxidants found in tea.
- A 1.5 ounce piece of chocolate contains nearly the same amount of phenols as a 5 oz. glass of red wine, with an antioxidant effect equal to or greater than that of the wine.
- Chocolate can be a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants, which are especially important in protecting against damage to cholesterol and the lining of the arteries
- Chocolate flavonoids prevent the excessive clumping together of blood platelets that can cause blood clots
- Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a neurotransmitter that is released by neurons at moments of emotional euphoria, including feelings of love.
In order to provide the most healthful choices of chocolate products, avoid chocolate candies and treats made with hydrogenated fats or refined flour, neither of which promotes health. For the biggest flavonoid bang for your caloric buck, choose high-quality semisweet, dark chocolate with the highest cocoa content that suites your palate. Also, pass on products labeled “artificial chocolate” or “chocolate-flavored”. These imitations are not even close to the real thing in flavor, texture or health benefits.