All chocolate begins with cocoa beans, the fruit of a small evergreen tree of the species Theobroma cacao (also called a cocoa tree). The cocoa tree is a native of the Amazon basin and other tropical areas of South and Central America. These days, cacao trees grow in three main regions: West Africa, South and Central Americas, Southeast Asia and Oceania. Top-producing cocoa countries include the following: Côte d'Ivoire / Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador.
Theobroma Cacao literally translates as "food of the gods". The ancient Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs believed it was a source of power. They were consuming chocolate as a drink dating to at least 3500 years ago. To prepare the beverage the beans were roasted and ground; then water was added and blended with specially carved tool called a Molinillo, a traditional Mexican whisk. Once blended, it was poured into another vessel and then this process was repeated until it was blended to perfection. History reports that those who drank theobroma felt increased energy, focus, stamina, happiness, and virility. Today, scientists are discovering new, valuable information that the ancients understood or experienced for years: chocolate is good for you.
As more studies associate an increasing number of its health benefits, dark chocolate is turning out to be a powerful superfood that ranks right up there among the most anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods known to mankind. It is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. It contains a good amount of soluble fiber, which has many benefits, including moderating blood glucose levels and lowering cholesterol. The fatty acid profile of dark chocolate is excellent. Cocoa consists mainly of stearic acid, which is a saturated fat and oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. In clinical studies, both of these acids were found to be associated with lowered cholesterol in comparison with other saturated fatty acids.
Dark chocolate has a lot of B vitamins and vitamin K. It’s also high in minerals, such as potassium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, iron, magnesium and copper. These minerals activate enzymes, proteins your cells need to function properly and support other physiological functions, including wound healing. The copper and potassium in dark chocolate help prevent against stroke and cardiovascular ailments. The iron protects against iron deficiency anemia, and the magnesium helps prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Dark chocolate is packed with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. Researchers believe antioxidants help fight the cell damage caused by too many free radicals in the body and reducing the risk of certain diseases.
Cocoa is rich in antioxidant flavonoids called Flavonols. They are what give the pungent taste to cocoa. According to a UC Davis Department of Nutrition fact sheet, flavonols have been shown to be effective in increasing antioxidant activity in blood cells while decreasing DNA damage, or "oxidation" of certain cells. Research into the benefits of flavonoids has shown a positive influence in lowering blood pressure, reducing blood clotting and improving blood flow to the heart and brain. That means that flavonols may be an important part of maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.
Dark chocolate is considered to be one of the most anti-inflammatory foods. One study found that a human gut bacteria breaks down and ferments the components in dark chocolate, turning them into anti-inflammatory compounds that benefit your health.
Cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL, "bad" cholesterol in men, due to an abundance of powerful antioxidants that do make it into the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage. It also increases HDL, "good" cholesterol and reduces insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
Dark chocolate may also improve the function of the brain. A 2009 Oxford University study on the effects of flavonoids on memory, showed that dark chocolate consumption appeared to improve cognitive abilities.
Cocoa contains mild stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which have been shown to produce higher levels of physical energy and mental alertness and may be a key reason cocoa can improve brain function in the short term. Theobromine has also been shown to harden tooth enamel, which means that dark chocolate, unlike most other sweets, lowers your risk of getting cavities. Theobromine can also help to suppress coughs.
Dark Chocolate carries other potent plant "chemicals", including anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word for "bliss", which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and anxiety. Another chemical that has positive effect on your mood - phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you're falling in love. PEA encourages your brain to release endorphins, so eating dark chocolate will make you feel happier.
Another great news is dark chocolate can have significant beauty benefits. Cocoa helps reduce stress hormones, which means less collagen breakdown in the skin, and fewer wrinkles. Cocoa helps your skin look its best, by protecting it against sun-induced damage, improving blood flow to the skin and increasing skin density and hydration. All of this is very important for a young-looking skin!
There are likely many more healthy dark chocolate compounds that have yet to be discovered…
References: 7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate, Scientists Probe Dark Chocolate's Health Secrets, Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate, Why Is Dark Chocolate Good for You? Thank Your Microbes, Beauty Benefits of Dark Chocolate, Healing Foods Pyramid, Types of chocolate, The production of chocolate, The Cacao Tree, What is Dark Chocolate,
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