Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, chocolate may be one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet. Studies have shown that chocolate, dark varieties specifically, may even improve your cardiovascular health!
Sadly, there is no established serving size of chocolate to help you reap its cardiovascular benefits. However, we do know that you no longer need to feel guilty if you occasionally enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate!
From a Tropical Tree to your Grocery Store
The chocolate treats on store shelves are the finished product of a long journey that began as a pod on a Cacao tree. Seeds are extracted from the pod and fermented, dried, and then roasted into the more familiar cocoa bean.
The shells of the bean are then separated from the center, which is known as the cocoa nibs. These nibs are ground into a liquid called chocolate liquor. The liquor is further refined into the cocoa solids and chocolate that we eat.
Remember the bean shell? After being removed from the nib, the cocoa bean shell is ground into cocoa powder, which is used in baking and popular beverages.
What are the most common types of chocolate?
Most chocolate falls into one of three categories: milk chocolate, dark chocolate or white chocolate. Chocolate's darkness is determined by the proportion of cocoa solids mixed with cocoa butter and sugar.
- Dark Chocolate - Made by mixing cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar.
- Milk Chocolate - Made by adding milk powder and vanilla flavoring to traditional dark chocolate
- White Chocolate – A mixture of sugar, milk, and cocoa butter. White chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids; it is classified as a chocolate derivative rather than a traditional chocolate variety.
Is chocolate good for your heart?
The cocoa bean is rich in a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids, which may help protect your cardiovascular system. Flavonoids help protect plants from toxins and help repair cellular damage. When you eat flavonoid-rich foods, you may also benefit from their antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants are substances that inhibit oxidation, a process that results in free radical production. Free radicals lead to inflammation and cellular damage, a prerequisite of most major diseases. Free radicals are unavoidable in our environment, so antioxidants help to combat day to day exposure.
Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate. In addition to their antioxidant qualities, research shows that flavanols may help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart.
Is chocolate healthy?
In its purest form, cocoa has a very strong, pungent taste, which comes from the flavanols. As raw cocoa is processed, the flavanols are removed and the food attains its sweet and pleasing taste. As a result, the more that cocoa is processed, the less healthy it becomes. It’s important to understand that not all forms of chocolate are created equal!
Most commercial chocolates are highly processed. Although it was once believed that dark chocolate contained the highest levels of flavanols. However recent research indicates that this rule of thumb may not be true.
The good news is that most major chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways to preserve the flavanols in their processed chocolates. But for now, your best choices are likely dark chocolate.
To reap the health benefits of chocolate, we recommend choosing dark chocolate bars that are at least 70% cocoa. More cocoa means more flavonoids – the powerful heart-healthy antioxidants we discussed above. Check out a few of our favorite below!
- Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate – 70% cacao, free of nuts, dairy, wheat, gluten
- Green and Black's Organic Dark Chocolate – 85% cacao, bold, savory flavor with a hint of organic vanilla
- Equal Exchange Organic Extreme Dark Chocolate Bar – 88% cacao, smooth, rich, the perfect combination of salty and sweet