Friday, October 26, 2012

Dark Chocolate: A Healthy Comfort Food

This week we're talking about healthy comfort foods, and few foods in the world have been considered as comforting as CHOCOLATE, so there's no better way to wrap up!  We’ve been starting to hear for a while now that dark chocolate is not only not bad for you, it’s actually being considered a health food.  But this can’t be true, right?  It has to be a hoax by the chocolate companies to get us to buy more candy, doesn’t it?  Actually, more and more studies are finding that dark chocolate, in moderation, is very good for your health.

English: Dark chocolate. EspaƱol: Chocolate negro.
Dark chocolate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Dark chocolate is chock full of antioxidants.  These are the powerful chemicals that neutralize free radicals.  These are dangerous particles from the food you eat, the air you breathe, the cosmetics you put on your skin, and from pretty much everywhere.  In short, antioxidants prevent cell damage that can cause everything from heart disease to cancer. 

Dark chocolate also contains plant phenols, which have been shown to lower blood pressure.  Many studies have been done, not just on plant phenols, but on dark chocolate specifically, that have shown by eating a small amount of dark chocolate each day, you can actually help to treat moderate high blood pressure.  The key is replacing other similar foods in your diet with dark chocolate to compensate for the added calories.  Just remember that dark chocolate does not replace eating your vegetables!

Many people look at dark chocolate labels and assume it’s bad for you because of the fat content, but not all fat is bad for you (I emphasized this because so many people have this misconception).  Dark chocolate can contain different kinds of fat, but it does contain quite a bit of fats that are good for you.  They help keep your body running properly and even can help prevent certain diseases.

When it comes to picking dark chocolate, you need to be particular.  My mom often picks up dark chocolate at the grocery store because she’s heard from her friends and the news how good it is for you.  The problem is, if you look at most regular store brand “dark chocolate”, it’s probably at most 59% cacao, and even that’s on the high side realistically.  To be truly healthy, dark chocolate should be at least 65% cacao.

English: Bars of black Swiss Chocolate. From l...
Bars of black Swiss Chocolate. From left to right: About 75% cacao; With chili; Normal black chocolate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While you may be able to find it at a regular grocery store, you’re probably better off looking at an organic market or health food store.  Regular stores often don’t carry it because most people don’t consider true dark chocolate as tasty as regular chocolate.  You can find dark chocolate at most organic markets and health food stores, as well as health-oriented chains like Trader Joe's.  The beauty of these places is that you can also often find different varieties like cherry chocolate and other flavors.  They provide a tasty treat without removing any of the health benefits.

So, if dark chocolate is so good for you, why don’t you get the same benefits from milk chocolate or white chocolate?  While you may not know this - it's not just the added sugar - it's the milk.  Some chemicals in milk tend to interfere with many of the powerful, healthy chemicals in the chocolate.  That means not only should you go for darker chocolates, you should also never wash down your healthy snack with a glass of milk.  If you must drink milk, hold off until later in the day.

Like everything else, dark chocolate is good for you in moderation, so this doesn't mean you should pig out on it every day. But just a like a small glass of red wine, a small piece of dark chocolate daily can be a healthy and tasty treat.

You Can Even Buy Dark Chocolate Online:

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