You may be familiar with the myth that chocolate is bad for you, but cocoa powder has been proven to have several health benefits. In order to receive the greatest health benefits, look for pure or unprocessed cacao. Some chocolates contain added ingredients that negate the benefits of the cocoa. (See Reference 2). Unsweetened dark chocolates have higher concentrations of healthy, beneficial cacao and fewer additional ingredients.
Cacao and products like cocoa powder contain more flavonoid antioxidants than any other food. Pure cacao has four times the antioxidants of an equal amount of green tea. Antioxidants help to flush the body of harmful toxins and free radicals, which are believed to cause cancer and other chronic diseases. It is also suggested that cocoa powder's antioxidants have the power to reverse some of the cellular damage caused by these toxins. Keep in mind that the antioxidant powers are the greatest when cocoa is consumed in its purest forms.
The flavonoids in cocoa powder have been proven to provide a wide range of cardiovascular health benefits. Consuming up to one ounce of dark chocolate per day can help dilate blood vessels, improve circulation and reduce blood clotting. The Zutphen Elderly Study, published in 2005, studied the cocoa intake, blood pressure and cardiovascular mortality over a span of 15 years and found that "cocoa intake was inversely associated with systolic and diastolic blood pressure." The highest levels of cocoa intake produced the lowest levels of blood pressure. The study also found that cocoa consumption was inversely associated with cardiovascular and all-cause mortality, proving that regular consumption of cocoa is good for your cardiovascular health.
Cocoa consumption increases the levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters in our brains. Cacao increases the levels of serotonin and endorphins in the brain, which act as antidepressants and produce a feeling of pleasure. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, which may be helpful to those who suffer from depression. Phenylethylamine can be addictive, so chocolate consumption should be monitored. In order to receive the full mood-lifting benefits of cocoa, it's better to consume it in a pure form. Avoid processed chocolate that contains additives like sugar, milk, hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup. These additives may negate the health benefits and increase the level of fat in cocoa powder. Look for dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa, or certified organic cocoa-powder products to avoid these harmful additives.
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