Power Foods: Dark Chocolate

While those heart-shaped boxes of milky, cream-filled bonbons don't qualify, recent studies show that pure dark chocolate is actually good for you. That doesn't mean you should stack a massive supply next to the remote control and settle in for the winter. But in moderation, you can enjoy the glorious taste of dark chocolate guilt-free.

Double Dark-Chocolate and Ginger Biscotti
Spiced Hot Dark Chocolate

Health Benefits
Dark chocolate contains a high concentration of stearic acid (a saturated fatty acid with a neutral effect on cholesterol), essential minerals including magnesium, copper, potassium, manganese, and most significant, flavonoids. The latter are phytochemical plant pigments that act as natural antioxidants, neutralizing free radicals that can damage body tissue and cells. (Since dairy can interfere with the absorption of these antioxidants, only dark chocolate -- not milk -- offers benefits.)

Flavonoids also hinder platelet aggregation and improve blood-vessel flexibility, helping to prevent hardening of the arteries. Traditionally made (meaning minimally processed) dark chocolate actually contains more flavonoids per gram than any other food tested so far, including green tea, red wine, and blueberries. The good news doesn't stop there: The high percentage of cocoa in dark chocolate also gives it a low glycemic index, a ranking of carbohydrates according to their effect on our blood glucose levels. This means it produces only small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels (diabetics, take note).

How to Buy
Chocolate ranks among the most heavily sprayed crops, so it's important to choose organic. As with any agricultural product, the flavor of the cacao bean varies depending on the quality of the soil and the way it's processed.

For the greatest health benefit, buy traditionally prepared or "artisan" chocolate (most likely to contain more flavonoids because it's gently made with reduced heat) with at least 70 percent cocoa to guarantee the lowest glycemic index (try gourmet stores or Whole Foods). If kept away from moisture or humidity in a cool, dark place (around 65 degrees), properly stored dark chocolate can last up to a year. Here are a few helpful suggestions on what to look for at the store:

High-quality dark chocolate should have a high-gloss sheen, not a "bloomed" (blotchy, almost dusty) look.

Because it starts to soften at about 97 degrees, good chocolate should melt in your hand.

You should hear a solid snap when you crack off the corner of the bar, proof that it was tempered (or melted and cooled to the desired crystal structure) properly.

Text by Francine Maroukian; recipes by Sandra Gluck

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Comments (4)

  • Go4chocolate 21 Feb, 2008

    There is a chocolate that has solid science behind it if you care to check it out. The Universities of Utah and others are doing studies on Xocai. Every delicious dark nugget has an ORAC score on it that was determined on the finished product not on the ingredients.Go to go4chocolate.com to find out more.

  • cardenasjr 29 Jan, 2008

    Hi Koochie. You should eat foods with antioxidants on a daily basis. Foods such as fruits and vegetables. These antioxidants neutralize free radicals in our bodies that tend to tear and fray our DNA at the cellular level. Basic guidelines are at mypyramid.gov but most of us should shoot for 3 cups veggies 2 cups fruit daily. If you are more active and burn more calories then you will probably need a little bit more. Hope this helps!

  • mmsrjs 29 Jan, 2008

    Hi Koochie: you are right but don't let that stop you. It won't me, I can use all the heart hearlthy, antiovidents I can get from chocolate and all the other foods, we find under 'healthy foods'. I eat some every day, and my body seems to tell me when to stop, or how much I should eat. You know there is just a feeling you get. Thanks "Body

  • koochie 27 Jan, 2008

    ok, i have read many articles about the 'good' heart healthy, anti-oxitants to consume. But i NEVER see where any of these articles outline HOW MUCH or HOW OFTEN to eat them. Case in point being the above article on chocolate.

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