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A dash of chocolate does a body good

By Bryan Goodland; courtesy photo

Chocolate heart candy

Ask any kid if they’d rather eat a piece of chocolate or a serving of Brussels sprouts – does the question even need to be asked? Everyone wants to eat things that taste good, but as adults we understand that not everything that tastes good is actually good for the body. For years chocolate manufacturers have touted the health benefits of the treat, when a little sugar rush might be in need. Which begs the question, “Is chocolate really healthy?”

February finds store shelves lined with beautiful heart-shaped boxes filled with a variety of chocolate delicacies. Consumers will buy nearly 58 million pounds of chocolate leading up to Valentine’s Day. Depending on the type of chocolate selected, there may even be some health benefits.

Chocolate comes from a cacao pod, more specifically the seeds (beans) of this pod. The beans are fermented, dried and then roasted, similar to processing coffee beans. Although chocolate originates from a single source (the bean), how it is made varies widely and the process greatly affects the health benefits.

Dark chocolate has a reputation as a healthier choice when it comes to chocolate selection. The process retains more of the cocoa solids from the beans, which have more beneficial nutrients. Milk chocolate on the other hand has fewer cocoa solids and has added cocoa butter, milk and sugar that make up a higher percentage of the product. Some chocolate can contain butter fat, vegetable oil and a variety of artificial colors and additives. Obviously, the less fat and artificial additives the better.

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, a type of polyphenol, which in turn contains antioxidants, known for stopping the process of free radicals and the damaging of cells. Chocolate also contains minerals like magnesium, copper and zinc. All of these minerals and antioxidants have been linked to lowering blood pressure, cholesterol health, heart health and even some positive effects on brain function.

To choose the most beneficial chocolate, look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa. Another consideration – cocoa vs. cacao; they are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. To make cacao, the cacao bean is minimally processed using low heat and the cacao butter is removed, which is then milled into cacao powder. The thought is that the lower heat allows more nutrients to stay intact. Cocoa, on the other hand, is made by using high heat to extract the cacao butter and then it is milled into cocoa powder. Many manufacturers also add preservatives, textural agents, sugar and/or sweeteners to the end result. When reading the nutritional content of a chocolate bar, noting whether cocoa or cacao is used and the percentage of the product is relevant in determining health benefits.

Whatever box of chocolates finds its way home from the store this Valentine’s Day, know that there may be some health benefits tied into all that deliciousness. Remember just like everything else, moderation is the key.



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