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    You Ask, I Answer: Chocolate With Benefits

    6a00d83451b19169e20115701502e1970b-500wiHow much truth is there in the idea that chocolate can be a health food?

    If it’s true, does that mean I am getting some health benefits from any chocolate product?

    – Alice Costello
    (Location Withheld)

    To answer this question, it is important to differentiate between cocoa and chocolate.

    Cocoa refers to the seed from the cacao fruit.  Chocolate, meanwhile, is a term that describes a product that, among other ingredients, contains cocoa.

    In the vast majority of cases, chocolate is composed of cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and other additional ingredients (i.e., almonds) or flavorings (i.e, vanilla).

    Many articles on this topic inaccurately mention the health benefits of chocolate.  In reality, the focus should be on cocoa.

    Cocoa contains a variety of flavonoids — a type of antioxidant — that have been found to have a protective effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

    To get the most out of cocoa, buy pure unsweetened cocoa powder and include it in a recipe (such as this no-bake brownie bites recipe I posted back in February).

    Flavonoids are negatively affected by processing, which is why you get negligible amounts in popular milk chocolate products like M&Ms or Kit Kat bars.

    That said, some chocolate bars contain higher flavonoid levels than others.  Here are some guidelines to help you find them:

    • Look for “cocoa powder” on the ingredient list.  If you see “alkali-treated” or “Dutch processed” varieties of cocoa powder listed, you are looking at major flavonoid loss
    • Look for chocolate bars that are comprised of at least 75% cocoa
    • Ideally, look for chocolate bars that are milk-free (such as Endangered Species) or contain negligible amounts (such as Dagoba), since certain components in milk appear to limit the absorption of antioxidants from cacao.

    If you seek out cocoa flavonoids in chocolate bars rather than cocoa powder, be sure to keep an eye on calories.

    And, also, as wonderful as the flavonoids in cocoa are,  there are plenty of other foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds) that offer various other varieties that are just as beneficial.

    Remember, health is determined by the totality of your diet, not the inclusion of any one food.

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    8 Comments

    1. KBellatti said on August 5th, 2009

      The higher the cocoa content, the better–and better tasting, IMHO. One key is to stay away from popular, mass-produced labels.

      Chocolate also has an enzyme that releases a chemical in the brain to help ease physical pain.

    2. Endangered Species Chocolate said on August 5th, 2009

      Hey, thanks for the shout out on here! This is a really informative article, it’s really too bad that more people do know about the incredible health benefits of chocolate (cacao). Also, chocolate releases powerful endorphins in the brain, which makes you “feel good.” That’s why many people believe that eating one small piece of chocolate a day helps with their attitudes. It should also be said that chocolate should always be eaten in moderation. Although, chocolate has many health benefits, over indulgence will cause serious weight gain which will negate any positive aspects. I would finally like to add that Endangered Species Chocolate is 100% ethically traded, which mean we do more than just pay a fair market price for our cocoa, we are actively working to improve the living conditions for our farmers and their families. All of our cocoa comes from small family-owned farms which ensures that the workers (usually family members) are treated humanly and they receive a fair wage. Over the past 5 years we have also installed numerous water pumps and filtration systems as well as donated thousands of dollars worth of school and medical supplies. Additionally, it is part of ESC mission to donate 10% of our annual net profits to organizations that support species, habitat and humanity, this year we have teamed up with The African Wildlife Federation and The Ocean Conservancy. For more information about ESC’s mission or our delicious premium chocolate products visit us at http://www.chocolatebar.com or email us at community@chocolatebar.com. As always…Savor Chocolate. Save Our Planet.

      Kyle
      Endangered Species Chocolate

    3. Andy Bellatti said on August 5th, 2009

      Hi Kyle,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing information on your trading practices and wonderful humanitarian and and community-building efforts!

    4. Brandon said on August 5th, 2009

      I need your help with something. You because you actively read research papers and dont appear to have a carb/grain bias, or have readers who have said bias.

      http://www.healthcentral.com/cholesterol/c/7986/17372/numbers-panel/

      This article is about triglycerides, small dense LDL (sd LDL), heart disease risk, and what helps create small dense LDL. Everything he says pretty much makes sense, and is nothing I haven’t heard before, but I have an issue with this statement: “Triglycerides are high usually due to excess weight and indulging in carbohydrates.” It makes sense, but I feel this guy is omitting dietary fat from the equation. He does have an obvious grain bias, seen best here: “Whole grains create small LDL!” from http://www.healthcentral.com/cholesterol/c/7986/15613/small-ldl/

      It’s been 3 years since I’ve seriously looked at metabolic pathways, so I may have forgotten a pathway. But wouldn’t dietary fat [in excess], also increase triglycerides and VLDL?! [and also sd LDL, according to this guys theory?!]

      One of the issues is that the only people that I’ve ever seen talk about sd LDL are pro-low carb/grain diet.

    5. Brandon said on August 5th, 2009

      I guess I already know a lot about types of fat (saturated, mono, poly, etc) and their effect on LDL, but what about small dense LDL?

    6. coco said on August 5th, 2009

      Great post about chocolates! Do you know anything about raw chocolates? What are their benefits? Are they better than standard chocolates? Thanks

    7. Andy Bellatti said on August 10th, 2009

      Brandon,

      Thanks for your question!

      Clinical studies have shown a definitive link between triglycerides levels and sugar/refined carbohydrate intake.

      I have to say I don’t see much of an anti-grain bias in those articles you sent me.

      When the doctor writes that “whole grains create small LDL!” he then adds the following parenthetical comment: (“at least what passes for whole grains on supermarket shelves.”) He is essentially saying that many processed foods that trumpet their high levels of whole grains are high in added sugars and/or contain a pinch of whole grains added in with LOTS of refined grains, which would in turn negatively affect triglyceride levels.

    8. Corey said on August 17th, 2009

      In fairness, however, I am a fan of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa. It’s processed with alkali, yes, so it loses a lot of antioxidants. However a tablespoon is only 5 calories and has 8% DV for fiber and 10% DV for iron. So for a measly 20 calories of cocoa thrown into a smoothie you’ve got 32% of your day’s fiber and 40% of your day’s iron. Easy way to get those nutrients for very little calories. Even a banana is around 100 calories for 12% DV for fiber. Granted of course that a banana has a lot more to offer, but with respect to fiber and iron the cocoa is a better deal. Just an observation.

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