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Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Healthiest Chocolate


Cacao beans are one of the richest natural sources of antioxidants. Traditionally they are roasted, fermented and crushed to make chocolate liquor, which is separated into cocoa butter and cocoa mass, which is crushed into cocoa powder. These components, in varying amounts, are used to make chocolate.

Compounds like polyphenols, flavonols, proanthocyanidins, and catechins in cocoa powder have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and cancer, so the healthiest chocolates have the highest cocoa content.

When you're selecting chocolate, it's essential to read labels and scrutinize ingredients. Here are some things to look for:
  • Pick chocolate that is 72% to 85% dark. The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of cocoa powder (and the more bitter the flavor).
  • The only fat should come from cocoa butter. Avoid chocolates with added oils and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated ingredients of any kind.
  • Choose chocolates that list cocoa powder, cocoa mass, chocolate liquor, and/or cocoa butter before sugar.
  • Avoid products that contain corn syrup, agave, or artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid chocolate that conatins additives like emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives.
  • Avoid chocolate that contains Dutch-process or alkalinized cocoa powder. 
Dutch-process or alkalinized cocoa powder is made from cacao beans that have been treated with an alkalizing agent to neutralize natural acidity. Some manufacturers favor Dutch-process or alkalinized cocoa powder because it is more soluble, milder in flavor, and darker in color. But because alkalizing agents destroy healthy antioxidants, always opt for chocolate made with natural unprocessed and unsweetened cocoa powder instead.

Enjoy dark chocolate by itself, pair it with red wine, or use it to make Dark Chocolate Cranberry Clusters.

References:

Lewis J et al. 2010. Habitual chocolate intake and vascular disease: A prospective study of clinical outcomes in older women. Archives of Internal Medicine 170:1857.

Grassi D., Lippi C., Necozione S., Desideri G., and Ferri C. 2005. Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 81(3):611-4.

Grassi D., Necozione S., Lippi C., Croce G., Valeri L., Pasqualetti P., et al. 2005. Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension 46(2):398-405.

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