Tag Archives: Dark Chocolate

Chocolate Buzz and Relevance to Cancer Prevention

By Hui Xie-Zukauskas

chocolate_heart_sxcWhat is the reality of chocolate? How to maximize your benefit for cancer prevention and your experience of pleasurable eating as well? This blog post helps.

Many people fall in love with chocolate, I’m one of them. It’s a tasty food or a delicious treat all year long, regardless of the buzz in February. Now, let’s take a look at what’s in it and how it serves us.

The Anatomy of Chocolate

There are two categories of chocolate: milk and dark.

A basic component of dark chocolate is cocoa bean, the seed of cacao tree (called Theobroma cacao). Cocoa bean is a rich, natural source of some specific antioxidants such as polyphenols or procyanidins, flavanoids, resveratrol, and catechins; just like those nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and tea. Interestingly, cocoa bean contains little caffeine.

After all, chocolate is a calorie-rich food with sugar and fat as well as other additives, which may explain limitations of milk chocolate. Milk chocolate might contain enough phenylethyamine and/or theobromine to stimulate mood or sexual sensation, but with less cocoa, more milk, and probably more sugar, it provides little health benefits.

Essentially, cocoa-derived polyphenols and/or flavonoids are effective antioxidants, promoting good health and preventing many diseases.

So, the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more antioxidants; or simply speaking, the darker the chocolate, the more beneficial for you.

The Hub of Cancer

Cancer is a complex process of multiple chronic diseases. Apparently, some lifestyle-related factors (e.g. tobacco use or smoking, excess alcohol intake, and poor nutrition) play an enhancing role. However, virtually all human cancers involve the initial effects of cancer-causing agents (i.e. carcinogens) that are toxic to the genetic materials such as DNA.

All free radicals, the harmful molecules generated from our normal metabolism or taken from external sources, can modify DNA, and one of the consequences is oxidative damage to DNA. Research points it out clearly that free radicals are involved in both the initiation and progression of cancer, which explains why antioxidants, particularly those naturally occurring, are cancer protective.

The Delightful Benefits of Dark Chocolate

As mentioned above, health benefits of dark chocolate including cancer prevention depend largely on the type and the amount of chocolate you consume. Scientific findings suggest the following strong characters of cocoa-derived antioxidants:

  1. Anti-inflammatory property: it may lower your risks of cancer and chronic diseases.
  2. Anti-growth and anti-proliferation effects on abnormal cells: they may slow down the developmental process of cancerous cells in your body.
  3. Antioxidants defense and chemopreventive effects: they may protect you from adverse effects of free radicals.

Keep it in mind that research evidence for any beneficial effects of cocoa has been gathered predominantly from laboratory experiments or animal models.

A Word of Wisdom

When all’s said and done, in moderation, regular intake of dark chocolate is health beneficial, so is frequent consumption of foods packed with effective antioxidants.


Image Credit: by Ambrozjo

Dark Chocolate Mini Review (Part 2)

How can you maximize dark chocolate’s cancer prevention benefits while enjoying the pleasure?

This is my focus on this part of the Dark Chocolate Mini Review. I strongly recommend you follow these guidelines in the choice and consumption of dark chocolate:

1. Eat dark chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa. Keep in mind, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more flavonoids.

2. Find dark chocolate made from the least destructive processing technologies, or those created as close to its original raw state (unprocessed cacao).

3. Check the ingredients. Read the label. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details”. Examine the nutrition facts. Avoid trans fat, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), artificial sweeteners, and anything that will compromise your health. Limit saturated fat too.

4. Select chocolate with a low sugar content, especially if you have certain health challenges. Chocolate is a calories-dense food, with fat, sugar, and other additives and preservatives added by the manufacturer.

5. Consume dark chocolate in moderation. By moderation, I mean having 1-2 oz a day or no more than 14 oz. a week.

6. Integrate it into a healthy lifestyle. Remember dark chocolate is not a substitute for a healthy diet. So eat it regularly along with a balanced, antioxidant-rich diet and exercise.

7. Consider real cocoa powder (not the instant hot chocolate). Research shows that pure cocoa powder has the most antioxidants, followed by dark chocolate, then milk chocolate.

Finally, I don’t sell chocolate nor do I receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them. My review is based purely on both solid science and my opinion after tasting various products over the years.

My experience? When I open a box of chocolate, I feel like I’m opening a world of mystery, joy and vitality. Once various shapes of chocolate appear in front of me, I pick up one piece and put it in my mouth for a bite. As it melts, I feel delightful, euphoric — a smile lighting up my face. Whoever thought something so dark could bring such brightness! Mmm…

Take home message: You can indulge yourself in dark chocolate moderately and regularly, without guilt!

What experience or tip would you like to share? And if you like this post, please share it.

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Dark Chocolate Mini Review

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