What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are chemicals that prevent the oxidation of other compounds. To simplify this, think of a water line that begins to develop rust on the inside. Over time, this rust will continue to build up in the line until little or no water can flow through. Then, you add rust remover to the water line and it begins to remove the buildup, therefore increasing the flow. Think of your arteries as the water line, and the antioxidants as the rust remover.
Polyphenols are the main category of plant derived antioxidants. There are many subclasses of polyphenols which includes flavonoids, which also has subclasses. Among them are flavanols which contain the powerful catechin and epicatechin. Epicatechin (considered to be the most beneficial antioxidant) is heavily absorbed after the consumption of flavonoid rich chocolate.
Are all Dark Chocolates created equally?
Not all dark chocolates are the same. Since cocoa powder contains all the antioxidants, the higher the level of cocoa solids (combination of cocoa and cocoa butter), the higher the level of polyphenol antioxidants…usually. The exception to the rule is a dark chocolate that is “dutched”. This means that it is processed with alkali to help remove the bitterness.
This, however, removes most of the healthy antioxidants. It is generally considered that a dark chocolate containing a level of 70% or more cocoa solids will provide the greatest health benefits.
Top 9 reasons to eat >70% cocoa solids fine dark chocolate:
- Cocoa has the highest concentration of flavonoid antioxidants of any plant derived food grown on our planet. This is confirmed by the USDA database for flavonoid content of selected foods, released in 2007, as well as the highest ORAC value. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is higher in cocoa than anything else. This is the total of oxygen radicals which the body absorbs from a particular food.
- Lowers bad cholesterol (LDL’s). Polyphenols, the main category of powerful antioxidants found in plant derived foods such as red wine and teas, helps to prevent the oxidation of LDL’s, thus reducing its’ levels in the blood system.
- Increases blood flow throughout the vascular system. Flavonoids contribute to vasodilation, the enlargement of the inner diameter of veins and arteries. Studies show that the relaxation of muscle tissues surrounding arteries help to increase the blood flow. Increased blood flow is the key to most of the benefits derived through cocoa flavanols.
- May improve memory from increased blood flow in the brain. Research has shown promising results in an increased level of short term memory in healthy adults 2 hours after eating high cocoa dark chocolate. This has led researchers to study the effect on Alzheimer patients with the hope that it may be helpful to the memory, as well as reduce the risk of the disease in healthy adults and those showing signs of its’ oncoming.
- Helps regulate insulin sensitivity. Shortly after eating polyphenol rich dark chocolate, there is a significant increase in insulin sensitivity. Decreased fasting insulin and glucose concentrations as well as the glucose and insulin responses to the oral glucose challenge, had direct consequences of changes also in insulin resistance and sensitivity (HOMA-IR & QUICKI – ISI).
- Reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. By way of increased blood flow, platelet build up is significantly reduced, therefore inhibiting their ability to cause blood clots. Positive results are most important in the elderly since most deaths by those over 70 are related to the vascular system, primarily heart attack and stroke
- Saturated fat from cocoa butter…not so bad, and maybe good. One third of the fat in cocoa butter comes from stearic acid, which does not raise LDL cholesterol like most other saturated fats. Another third comes from oleic acid, a heart healthy monounsaturated fat. Stearic acid is converted in the liver to oleic acid.
- Reduces gathering of platelets and buildup of plaque in the arteries. Evidence shows that the level of epicatechin (the powerful antioxidant in chocolate) is increased after eating flavanol rich chocolate. Epicatechin augments the availability of nitric oxide in the vascular system, retarding the buildup of plaque. Furthermore, this facilitates increased blood flow which also inhibits the clumping of platelets which in turn form clots in the arteries.
- Chocolate, an aphrodisiac? While this has been debated, we do know that chocolate releases naturally occurring and mood enhancing phenylthylemine and serotonin from the brain into the human system. Typically, these two substances occur naturally in the brain and are released into the nervous system when we are happy, or when we are experiencing the feelings of love or passion.
Chocolates’ reputation as an aphrodisiac originates in the Mayan and Aztec cultures dating back nearly 2000 years. The Aztec emperor Montezuma used to drink 50 cups of chocolate every day. It was thought to invigorate men and make women less inhibited. More recently, in the 1700’s, Casanova (considered the greatest lover of all time) preferred chocolate to champagne as an aphrodisiac. Individual testing of this theory can be quite delicious and fun.
What food has the most Antioxidants?
Maybe blueberries, asparagus, green tea or raspberries? How about Dark Chocolate. That’s right! The antioxidant level in a high cocoa solids dark chocolate, is significantly higher than any other plant derived food.