Superfood of the Week: Chocolate

Ingredients | | February 8, 2010 at 10:13 am
Photo by coconut wireless.

Photo by coconut wireless.

The cocoa bean, essentially chocolate in its raw form, is loaded with health benefits and nutrients. It’s not just marketing hype, there’s a lot of research on this (as if you needed an excuse!).

In it’s pure form, cacao is higher in antioxidant flavonoids than green tea, red wine, and blueberries. Here’s what the raw, unprocessed stuff can do for you:

  • Improve cardiovascular health- These flavonoids are hard at work in your body to reduce the risk of blood clots, decrease oxidation of cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Protect against toxins and reduce risk of some cancers- These powerful antioxidants fight free radicals and the oxidative damage they cause to your DNA and cells.
  • Dilate blood vessels/ decrease blood pressure- Pure cacao releases a chemical in your blood called nitric oxide which dilates your arteries and improves blood flow through the arteries.
  • Get smart- A recent study showed that the flavanols in dark chocolate increases the blood flow to your brain for a couple of hours. Probably due to the release of nitric oxide and dilation of the cerebral blood vessels bringing more oxygen to the brain.

Get your RDA of the periodic table:

  • The cacao bean is loaded with minerals, including magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese. Chocolate is one of the best sources of magnesium, which is why some people that crave chocolate may have low magnesium levels. This magnesium content contributes to the vasodilation of blood vessels, as magnesium relaxes the muscle around the arteries, hence lowering blood pressure. Magnesium also promotes bone health–bonus.

Get your RDA of mood lifting neurotransmitters:

  • Serotonin- Cacao raises serotonin levels in our brains which acts as an anti-depressant and give us a sense of well being.
  • Anandamine- This “bliss chemical” increases in our brain when we eat chocolate or when we are feeling great.
  • Endorphins- These are the same chemicals that create the “runners high” after exercise.
  • Phenylethylamine- This chemical is also created in our brains when we are in love, elevates our mood and increases focus. The true magic of chocolate is perhaps hidden somewhere in here.

Some people are sensitive to the methylxanthine in chocolate (specifically theobromine), a substance also found in coffee and tea, and this may trigger headaches and other symptoms, in which case you just should avoid this treat.

Most importantly, if the chocolate is of low quality and highly processed, all of these nutrients are destroyed and the health benefits are out the window. Read labels and this Valentine’s Day find a pure dark chocolate with 70% cocoa, preferably cold pressed, or use raw cacao powder for your beverages and baking. Raw cacao nibs are great to add to food or baked goods. Get more information about healthy chocolate with Dr. Kassam’s informative video.

Of course, even a high quality 70% dark chocolate should be enjoyed in moderation, as a substitute for less healthy desserts and treats like carb filled cookies, cakes and pastries. Drop us a note and let us know what your favorite chocolate is!

NishantDr. Nishant Rao is a co-founder of WellWire.com. He is a well-traveled naturopathic doctor and new father, practicing an integrative approach to create wellness in and around Los Angeles. Become a patient or discover his practice.

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