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Since we are just coming through the biggest chocolate "holiday" of the year (Valentines), let's chat cacao...

I have long recommended eating dark chocolate, and with good reason: dark chocolate provides polyphenols with a high antioxidant activity, and of all the chocolates, has fewer unhealthy fats and sugars. Recent research is also showing that eating a few pieces of dark chocolate each week (choose 70 percent or higher pure cocoa solids) is a heart-healthy and stress (specifically cortisol) reducing treat, too...

Chocolate: melting away our barriers

Chocolate is a food that soothes: race, gender, politics, sports, and culture across nations. It seems to be the one tasty delight that can transcend our barriers and bring people from all walks of life together. Seriously though, did you know that chocolate has been bringing people together for over 4,000 years? The earliest account of chocolate consumption goes back to 1900 B.C. in the Early Formative period. Ancient ceramic containers holding cacao residue were discovered at the El Manati archaeological site in Veracruz, Mexico.

Today, chocolate is a $50 billion industry and is sold all over the world. Its unique flavor simply can't be found in any other treat. But if there's one kind of chocolate you should be eating, it should be dark chocolate.
I recommend eating dark chocolate because of the many health benefits it provides. The processed chocolate bars most people are used to eating are actually unhealthy and contain very little nutrients. What makes dark chocolate superior to other forms of chocolate anyway?

Dark Chocolate: One Chocolate to Rule Them All

The answer lies in the cacao percentage. Dark chocolate contains a high percentage of cacao. Cacao contains almost 400 varieties of polyphenol, which provides various health benefits. The same polyphenols found in cacao are also the reason for its bitter flavor. The higher the polyphenol varieties found, the more bitter the taste.

In contrast, the chocolate you're used to eating gets its sweet flavor mainly from pasteurized milk and sugar. As you know, too much sugar in your system can lead to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. The milk can also interfere with the digestion of what little nutrients are left in the cacao. It goes without saying that processed chocolate also has very little healthy cacao involved.

Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Now that we've established that polyphenols are found in chocolate, let's look at the important benefits they can do for you:

  • Type 2 diabetes maintenance: dark chocolate can help stabilize your blood sugar and fat metabolism, resulting in reduced insulin resistance.
  • Brain health: epicatechin found in dark chocolate can protect your brain by moderating inflammation in your central nervous system, resulting in lowered chances for stroke.
  • Heart health:  dark chocolate can help lower your risk of heart attack by reducing the clumping of platelets in your arteries and veins.
  • Raise good (HDL) cholesterol: The cocoa butter in dark chocolate is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that scientists believe can raise HDL, or good, cholesterol.
  • 4. Mood enhancer: polyphenols found in dark chocolate can also help reduce anxiety and depression.
  • Fight free radicals: Plant foods rich in flavonoids and antioxidants are beneficial to humans: antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which have been linked to heart disease and other health concerns. Dark chocolate comes from the cacao plant, which provides these compounds.

Choosing the Best Chocolate to Purchase

I recommend purchasing dark chocolate with high cocoa percentage, preferably at 70 percent. If you want 100 percent of the benefits, eating raw cacao nibs is an option.

When it comes to frequency of chocolate consumption, a "pinch" two to three times a day is optimal to keep cacao nutrients in the bloodstream. However, make sure that you're consuming high-quality dark chocolate, and that you don't go overboard in terms of quantity.

I understand that the taste of raw cacao nibs may not appeal to everyone. That being said, you can look for chocolate that's as minimally processed as possible. That's because the closer chocolate is to its natural state, the more benefits you can gain. Try to strike a balance between nutrition and taste.

Long story short: Less milk; more dark. A pinch of dark (70% or higher), minimally processed chocolate per day may help keep the doctor away. Live a little.

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