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Dark Chocolate For Health
In a recent study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found an interestingly high correlation between countries that ate the most chocolate and the highest amounts of Nobel Prize-winning laureates. This study suggests that the consumption of dark chocolate could improve cognitive function. (1) I newly became a believer in the power of chocolate. Of course, in moderation!
Recently, I was having a consultation with a delightful woman from Georgia who was extremely sensitive to sugar but had a proclivity for dark chocolate. “One square a day,” she told me, “is all you need.” I told her that even dark chocolate had some sugar in it… but she was quick to tell me about her special source of 100% (no sugar) dark chocolate. I said, “A hundred percent? Doesn’t that taste like cardboard?” She responded, “You’ve never had really good dark chocolate before. Let me send you some!”
A week or so later, sure enough, I received a package in the mail with 4 different brands of her special dark chocolate. I was preparing to get on the phone for a magazine interview when the package arrived, and I gobbled down a few squares before the interview.
All I remember during the interview is that I couldn’t stop talking. My brain was completely lit up. I think I spoke for 50 minutes straight. I asked and answered most of my own questions and was talking a mile a minute. I remember hanging up and thinking, “Wow, this chocolate should be illegal!”
Perhaps I wasn’t used to 100% pure dark chocolate, but I have never had such a brain surge from chocolate before. So, before I delve into some of the science behind dark chocolate (cacao), let me list her chocolate suggestions in my favorite order:
- Genesis Raw Chocolate
- Chocolat Bonnat (made in France)
- Xtasy Raw Chocolate (made in Oregon)
- Pacari Premium Organic Raw Chocolate (made in Ecuador)
- Francois Pralus Biologique (organic, made in France)
Note: As a treat after a meal, I think a square or two is fine. On an empty stomach, however, I can’t imagine regular brain stimulation like that could be healthy long-term.
When choosing chocolate, what you want to look for is the amount of sugar added, and what kind of sugar it is. Obviously, the lower the sugar content, the better.
The first brand on the list, Genesis Chocolate, uses superfoods to create the sweet taste in their chocolate, one of which is called Yacón. Yacón is a low-glycemic tuber from Peru rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS) that looks similar to a sweet potato. One study showed that daily intake of yacón syrup produced a significant decrease in body weight, waist circumference and body mass index. (9) Yacón has also shown powerful prebiotic effects, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. (10)
Sweeteners that are advertised as being diabetic- and hypoglycemic-safe, such as Stevia, Luo Han Guo, and Xylitol (sugar alcohol) are OK options as well, as they seem to have little or no effect on blood sugar.
Pass the Dairy-Free Chocolate, Please
Many of the chocolates found in candies and milk chocolate bars are highly processed and offer very little cognitive or health benefits, if any, compared to dark chocolate or pure cacao.
In fact, in one study, the milk in milk chocolate was found to inhibit the benefits of the cacao flavonoids. (2) The findings indicate that milk may interfere with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate and may therefore negate the potential health benefits that can be derived from eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate. (2)
Other studies showed that dark chocolate indicated positive effects on cardiovascular health, (4-8) more so than milk or white chocolate. (3)
How have you noticed that eating dark chocolate or cacao boosts your brainpower?