First, I’m writing this mini review as both a medical scientist and a chocolate lover, not necessarily as an expert on chocolate. (As the title states, this is not a full-scale review on dark chocolate either).
As everyone is aware from personal experience, chocolate comes in many forms, including bars, candies, chocolate coated nuts or dried fruit, cookies, and cakes …. What you might not know is that dark chocolate is chocolate without milk as an additive.
Why is chocolate so popular?
1. It tastes delicious.
2. It serves as a snack, treat, or an energy booster.
3. It can be a nice gift.
4. Noticeably, dark chocolate offers health benefits.
Let me zoom in a bit here and summarize these health benefits, esp. cancer prevention benefits.
The basic ingredients in dark chocolate are cacao beans. The cacao bean is a plant-based food and naturally rich in antioxidants such as resveratrol and flavonoids. In fact, the cacao bean is one of the most concentrated natural sources of antioxidants that exist.
Next, I’ll focus on one of the antioxidants — flavonoids, also known as vitamin P, a powerful antioxidant.
How do flavonoids benefit us?
1. They help prevent heart disease.
2. They promote our blood flow and lower blood pressure.
3. They fight inflammation — a common problem in heart disease and cancer.
4. They have a stress-relieving effect.
5. They protect our DNA from any damage that could lead to cancer.
6. They could help kill cancer cells and inhibit tumor invasion.
Preclinical studies have shown that flavonoids in chocolate stop cell division, which could potentially inhibit development of cancer. In addition, the flavonoids appear to cut off the blood supply to tumors, which could suppress cancer and starve it to death.
So, what’s the key when choosing dark chocolate? The main component in dark chocolate that reduces cancer risks is found in the cacao bean, hence the substantial amount of antioxidants. So if you shop for dark chocolate, the higher percentage of cocoa (i.e. the bean is called after cacao has been processed), the higher level of flavonoids antioxidants.
The cocoa content of commercial dark chocolate bars can range from 30% (sweet dark) to 70%, 75%, or even above 85% for extremely dark bars. The percentage of cocoa solids in the bars is usually labeled.
What are the downsides of dark chocolate?
1. Dark chocolate tends to have a dry, chalky texture and a bitter taste because of the lack of milk additives.
2. During the processing, flavonoids content is reduced or destroyed, sometimes substantially. All the wonderful traits from dark chocolate are only as good as the process used to create the end product. It is said that some dark chocolate producers remove the flavanols (a structural subgroup of flavonoids) during processing to eliminate the bitter taste. By doing so, they’ve essentially diminished your potential health benefits.
3. Chocolate, in general, is a calorie rich food with sugar and fat contents. The health benefits of dark chocolate come from the antioxidants in the cacao solids. All of the other ingredients, like sugar, or any extras, like nougat and caramel, just add calories.
4. Chocolate contains a variety of other substances, some of which have addictive properties, e.g sugar, theobromine, etc.
What’s the rating?
Sorry, I don’t rate these products in 1 to 10, or A to D. I consider ratings to be subjective, because the best item to me doesn’t mean it’s the best for you. My favorite dark chocolates, such as Dove and Lindt, provide a high cocoa content (70% and up) while remaining tasty. Again, personally, dark chocolate with 85% cocoa is too bitter for me, compared with those with 70% cocoa. So you get the point.
(Shortly, my next post will follow and provide the guidelines on how to maximize dark chocolate’s health benefits, so stay tuned.)
Photo credit: by EverJean